Is movement fitness here to stay?

by Ryan Wagner

Without knowing you personally I’m willing to guess that there are (2) reasons you exercise:

1. To be able to do the things that you want to do

2. To be happy with your body

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, just for fun, let’s distill the two points above to their absolute essence:

To lose weight. Build muscle. Feel better.

Viola. The rest is just noise.

So, with that in mind, let’s try and see if we can answer the title of this post. But before we get knee deep in discussion, let’s frame this problem a little more and get our bearings, shall we?

What is movement fitness and who is doing it? 

Simply put, movement based fitness training focuses more on the movement pattern and less on training the individual parts. Here’s an example: If I were to train you in the bear crawl (no knees touching the ground) this would be my method to train one of your fundamental human movements. You would be learning to link your arms with their contralateral legs via a form of simple locomotion. Additionally, you’d be learning to connect (or reconnect!) your hips to your arms and upper body. Strength-wise, you’d be getting a great core workout while also building your legs and shoulders.

I imagine you can dream up a number of movement pattern exercises if you spent some time thinking about it. The general idea is that a movement pattern is going to be a compound movement involving multiple joints and muscles.

It’s a smart way to train. You see, once you take the red pill and start tumbling down the rabbit hole you learn about meridian lines and fascial anatomy and compensation patterns and so on. Before long, it becomes abundantly clear that your muscles work in patterns.

Muscles are not islands. Everything is connected.

Once you realize this, you begin to understand the power of training in patterns. Gray Cook, the internationally renowned physical therapist, believes that dysfunction in your body’s biomechanics can be well addressed by looking at the associated movement pattern versus just the individual body part that is actually the causing pain.

If the whole concept of training the patterns versus the parts sounds a little odd, I can’t blame you, as relatively few people are training this way. Sure, there are tens of thousands of followers for both Movnat and Ido Portal and their respective workshops, seminars and retreats are packed to the brim. But regarding the general public, only a narrow sliver are training their movement. Case in point, I have yet to see someone bring a pair of parallettes or a 6 foot long log to a park to train (unless I have a mirror, that is). So if the average person really just wants to look good naked, how does a trainer convince them that training movement patterns to achieve a deep squat or to enhance the mobility of their T-spine is going to help?

That’s the elephant in the room that Movnat, Ido Portal and all the other idiosyncratic movement blogs (Motus included) need to address question if movement fitness has any chance of surviving in the years to come.

Naturally, I’ve spent some time thinking about this dilemma and come up with what I think is a logical and promising solution. In all honesty, I’ll probably rewrite this post in (6) months because by then, the scene will be different. That being said, here’s what trainers and gyms need to do to help fan the flames of movement based fitness:

Step 1: Equate fitness to play

Why? Because in the literary world this is called a hook. Something to capture your audience’s attention.

Trainers need to get the general public to first stop and listen to them. And in today’s world, everyone has heard that Program XYZ will get them a six pack or lean out their arms or help them to lose 30 lbs. We are rather immune to snake oil.

People are jaded on these promises. All they really see is fitness and to them, fitness is obligatory.

Therefore, I think the natural evolution is that people are moving on to fitness that let’s them play and socialize

CrossFit was the first to really identify this trend (or, maybe they created it!). Every box has its community – it’s tribe – I think movement systems can (and should) take note.

Now this concept of equating fitness and play is not new by any means. I am guessing that the very first barbell ever lifted was done so with a smile – in the hopes of selling more barbells! And since then, trainers from all different walks of life have been training folks with similes on their faces and trying to get their clients to see fitness as something that’s more joyful and less obligatory.

Sometimes this works. Other times it works for only a little while. Regardless, making fitness fun is the only way to fan the flames of an emerging trend.

Step 2: Equate play to weight loss

This is the key selling point. It’s not worth repeating the statistics about the obesity epidemic because you are well aware; the takeaway is that almost everyone looking to join a booty boot camp, group training club, hire a personal trainer or pick up a kettlebell is looking to shed some unwanted fat.

But the beauty of adopting a fitness method that is fun is that now you can make a serious lifestyle change. And a lifestyle change is the only way you can lose weight and keep it off.

Step 3: Equate weight loss to mobility, strength and flexibility

Here’s the big problem with movement based fitness: It’s relatively undefined. It’s more like an art form and less like a program. Improvisation is paramount and reps and sets – ya, not so much.

And most people who grudgingly go to the gym just want to be told what to do. They want to finish their workout, complete their reps, earn a sweaty technical T-shirt and then call it a day. The last thing they want to do is to invent a workout that hits their major movement patterns.

But if I can begin to convince you that losing weight is the same thing as building strength, flexibility and mobility, then I’m really on to something. And it’s true. Muscle is metabolically demanding and will burn more calories and flexibility and enhanced mobility will help you to move appropriately so that you can build that strength.


My solution:

Hybrid workouts.

In order to get people sold on the idea that training movement patterns is key to their weight loss, strength gain and lifestyle change, I’m convinced a hybrid workout must be employed. Why? Because most people don’t have the patience to learn how to crawl again. But when paired with a more traditional group training session, crawling will feel more like a warm up. Some gyms are already doing this. Axistence Athletics in Denver has married Movnat with Olympic lifting.

Movement based fitness may indeed be the future, but easing into this future may be the only way to help coax it along and ensure its long term survival. And people love group training. It’s fun, it’s communal. People know each each. These are all great things. And group training works.

All that’s needed is to blend a little movement training into each session. To help people understand that 20 minutes of mobility work and pattern drills will only work to enhance the remaining 30 minutes of their scheduled workout.  For instance, a pull up bar or a pair of parallettes is really all that’s needed to augment an existing group training class. That, and some space to move around.

It’s certainly possible.

The takeaway

So can movement fitness methods stick around for many years to come? Sure, but it’s going to take some very charismatic people to make it happen. Erwan Le Corre and Ido Portal have proven to be up to the task to convert trainers and fitness nerds around the world – as their impressive videos and well designed websites may attest – but I worry that us fitness enthusiasts are the only ones really gravitating towards these methods.

Movement based methods can succeed. They have to. There are too many sedentary and overweight folks out there that are repulsed by the concept of traditional strength training. The bulging muscles, the egos, the superficiality. And people want to play. They want to go run around in the green grass of summer and climb trees and jump and duck and dive. But as we get older we feel that we can’t do these things. That it isn’t appropriate. But consider this: Today, in Colorado, Argentine tango is popular. So is aerial silk (expect a future blog post on the topic), SUP Yoga, pole dancing as exercise, the list goes on and on. People want to move. These more exotic methods are proof. And in response, trainers and fitness professionals the world over and nudging the boundaries of what we all consider ‘traditional fitness.’

So in closing, here’s your homework: Everyone: Move. Have fun. Trainers: Let’s dream up innovative ways to train new clients. To show them that fitness is indeed fun – purely because it allows them to do the things they want to do in life.

Now, one last thing: Get away from the computer and go play outside already!

Did I miss something? What’s your take? Sound off below in the comments.


Is movement fitness here to stay? by