Movement Training for Beginners – With List of Key Movements

By on October 12, 2020

Movement training is instantly engaging to watch. This is a far-cry from standing in the gym performing curls; instead being comprised of graceful flowing movements that almost look inhuman in some cases.

See also: Movement Training Explained: Ido Portal, Movement Flows, and More

Movement training for beginners

The question is: where do you even start? This post is an introduction to movement training for beginners and includes a list of useful moves with descriptions. I’ll be adding to this from time to time.

See also: How Our Modern Lifestyles Affect Fitness

Challenges of Learning Movement Flows

Many people who see the likes of “movement guru” Ido Portal and “Animal Flow” creator Mike Fitch perform their amazing flows want to know how they can learn something similar. Thus, they will invariably look for a list of moves they can learn, or try and follow along with YouTube videos.

The same moves go by different names depending on who you learn from

The problem they will run into, is that there is no “set” way of doing things and no single curriculum for those looking to learn. The same moves go by different names depending on who you learn from, and luminaries such as Ido Portal have yet to officially publish a book or guide for newcomers. Following an online training system like Animal Flow or GMB is a great option (I’ve tried both), but it costs money and often only teaches a few basic movements from that one style to begin with. (There’s a lot of merit to starting slow which these systems rightly recognize, but it can still be hard to find a “big picture.”)

Movement training for beginners is confusing and contradictory and no path seems to lead to the kind of stunning flows that you see online. I’m in the same boat – and I’m still learning – but I’ve gradually been able to pick up enough to at least start cobbling things together. So, I wanted to pass that on!

Movement Training for Beginners – Where to Learn the Moves?

You may watch an Instagram influencer perform a flow comprised of monkey and ape like moves and then wonder where they “got” the moves from. Chances are, in many cases, they just made them up! That doesn’t make them ineffective, unofficial, or in any way “worse” than they would be had they come from a book. The whole point is that there is no right or wrong approach. You are simply exploring the movements your body is capable of.

You attempt your own “flow” and end up feeling about as agile as a bull in a china shop!

But that doesn’t help you. And especially not if you attempt your own “flow” and end up feeling ridiculous and about as agile as a bull in a china shop! So where do you begin?

A good starting point is to try and “collect” as many movements as you can. As mentioned, Ido Portal and his creed draw on large wells of experience for their flows, mixing and matching movements from dance with those from gymnastics and calisthenics. Think of these individual movements as words that can be strung together into sentences as you transition between them. You can do the same, by trying different movement programs (Vahva Fitness, GMB, MovNat), by taking up new practices, or by drawing on your own prior experience.

Handstand

Influences

What’s really interesting to me, is that similar movement patterns appear across these disciplines. You see extremely similar positions in yoga, in capoeira, in shaolin kung fu, and in gymnastics. Why? Because these positions work: they are strong stances that take advantage of the mechanisms of the body, while also challenging your muscles and control a significant degree. Another great option if you’re interested in movement training for beginners then, is to take up some of these activities:

  • Dance
  • Capoeira
  • Wushu (Animal-Style Kung Fu)
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Calisthenics
  • Parkour
  • Gymnastics

But think about other sources of inspiration from your own training history that you could draw on too.

Also read: The Brain, Movement, and Training

Likewise, many of these movements share common ancestry–as the movement culture has evolved from the same roots in many cases and continues to so.

A List of Popular Moves for Movement Training for Beginners

OR you could start by picking out useful movements that work well in a flow and train useful skills and abilities.

Some common movements that are worth exploring and collecting are listed below. I have not found a guide like this anywhere else, so I hope it may be some use to those of you looking to start with functional movement training!

Movement Flows Movement List

The foot hand crawl
Called the “beast” in Animal Flow or the “bear crawl” in parkour. This involves taking a hands-and-knees position on all fours, and then slightly raising the knees off of the ground. This gently activates the core, and places some weight on the hands. Lean the weight back onto the legs and stretch out the arms and shoulders to enter the “loaded bear” stretch as it is called in Animal Flow. Crawl along a thin railing to further challenge your core stability and proprioception.  
Hindu push-up/dive bomberThe Hindu push up is a bodyweight move that starts from a position similar to downward dog, but then sweeps close to the ground until your legs are straight and your back is flexed upward. This combines the chest-building challenge of a push-up with great shoulder and back mobility development.  
Cossack squatThis is a good example of a bipedal movement that is well suited to movement flows. We have already explored the Cossack squat and its benefits for single leg strength and mobility. This is also great for transitioning between ground and bipedal movements, though, and can be used to get into a low squat position.  
Downward dog walkA yoga movement called “bear” by GMB, this movement involves pushing the buttocks into the air with the hands and feet on the ground and back straight. You then travel in this position.  
Sissy squatA squat that involves leaning back and letting the knees move over the toes with heels off the floor. Can be used to transition into macaco or bridge.  
Lizard crawlA classic quadrupedal movement with the torso kept close to the ground. This one includes a bit of core rotation and an amazing constant tension in the pecs and shoulders. You’ll be using a complex contralateral movement pattern and challenging hip mobility too!  
KongThe “kong” again goes by a variety of names (“Forward Ape” in Animal Flow, “Frogger” in GMB) but involves using the arms to travel from a squat position. From a low squat, place both hands on the ground and then swing the knees and feet through the gap in the middle. This can be developed into the “kong vault” in parkour, which is used to clear obstacles.  
The crab walk/Table topThis is a quadrupedal movement in which the pelvis points up at the ceiling. The legs are bent and equal weight is placed on the hands. These can be bent or straight and you can likewise keep the hips in a relaxed position, or raised as high as they can go in “table top” position (Ardha Purvottansasana in Yoga).
QDRThe QDR is Queda De Rins from Capoeira, and involves resting the weight primarily on one hand while holding the body upside down. The movement is also commonly used by breakdancers. This is a great tool for those getting used to being upside down for the first time, and for transitioning between moves – you can rotate around on the supporting hand in order to challenge and develop mobility.
Negativa/Kick ThroughA simple movement where the weight is on the ball of one foot with one or two hands touching the ground and the other leg straight out in front (raised or resting on the heel). This can be used as a transitional movement.  
UnderswitchA simple transition from the hand-foot crawl to the crab position, turning the upper body parallel to the ground.
MacacoThis is a kind of back handspring from a crouched position that leads over one shoulder. It requires–and therefore develops–excellent shoulder and spinal mobility. The crab reach is a great precursor to this movement.  
Ponte

Another capoeira movement. This one involves going from a “bear” position, to a back bridge, and then back to the bear in a seamless rotation through one direction. This is another excellent transitional movement, that develops shoulder and spinal mobility.
BridgeThe back bridg, or wheel pose (chakrasana), is a fantastic movement for developing thoracic mobility and shoulder mobility. Keep hands and feet on the floor with the back bent in an arch and head and chest pushed forward and up. It is named “bridge” because it resembles a bridge, but it could also be considered a bridge for its ability to act as a bridge between movements. This is what will enable you to perform macaco, which can lead in turn to back handsprings, and safer backflip progressions. That said, there are some (such as “back mechanic” Dr. Stuart McGill) that believe this movement places too much compressive pressure on the spine. Several movements serve as progressions toward the full back bridge, such as the confusingly named yoga “bridge pose” which supports the weight on the shoulders.
SquatA regular full squat is a basic movement pattern that is useful not only for flows, but also as general movement training preparation. The resting squat is largely regarded as a natural human movement that has been lost due to poor posture and bad habits. Time to get it back!
MonkeyThe monkey is a travelling form that is found in GMB and various other forms of movement training. It looks like kong/frogger but involves travelling sideways rather than forward.
Crab ReachThe crab reach simply involves getting into a crab position and then reaching behind over one shoulder (as though attempting to get into bridge or macaco). This is a great movement for thoracic mobility and shoulder mobility.
PlanchePlanche is a movement from gymnastics that involves holding your body weight on two hands with your body parallel to the ground and arms completely straight. This movement is extremely difficult but works as a great punctuation mark in your graceful flows. There are many easier variations you can use as you develop this ability.
CartwheelThe cartwheel is a useful movement for traveling sideways that gets you used to inverting the body. Carthweels can be performed slowly and from a squat position, especially as you gain more upper body strength and shoulder mobility.
HandstandAnother difficult calisthenics movement that can be great for varying tempo. It’s also a useful stepping stone to other movements like the handwalk, one handed-handstand, clapping handstand and more. Handstands can be performed in a number of ways, but generally the technique that is most widely praised involves keeping the back straight (rather than arched) and joints stacked.

Pointers

Note the heavy influence of capoeira! Capoeira is a form of martial arts that evolved in Brazil and was developed by enslaved Africans as a way for them to learn martial arts under the guise of dance. Breakdancing also takes many of its moves from capoeira.

There’s also a heavy yoga influence here. Yoga had “flows” long before Animal Flow!

Keep in mind that practicing these movements alone should not be considered a comprehensive training regime. Ido Portal in particular is keen to highlight the importance of adding hanging movements – something that is missing from many guides to movement training for beginners. If you train only with ground flows, you may end up working the pushing muscles disrportionately.

Handspring Movement Training for Beginners

Movement Training Tips for Beginners

Now you have the moves, what do you do with them?

You should aim to drill and rehearse these movements if you want to be able to use them to maximum effect. This is also what allows us to use movement training for progressive overload and adaptation. If you simply start crawling around the floor like monkey, you won’t offer enough consistent challenge to stimulate growth and strength gains. And it’s unlikely you’ll see much improvement in your form.

Ido Portal structures his training around the following framework:

Isolation -> Integration -> Improvisation

That is to say that you don’t start with the beautiful flow, but rather practice the movement you wish to develop and then incorporate it into your freeflowing improvisation. This is really how to begin movement training for beginners. That means there is still drilling of particular moves to be done, just like more “traditional” forms of training.

High rep bodyweight training
Squats

Something that really helped me was to start extremely slowly. If you can practice a movement with slow control, then you will be able to perform it quickly far more gracefully. Sometimes these movements may seem “too easy,” which in turn might lead you to think that they aren’t really working. But when you slow something simple all the way down – like the foot hand crawl (bear crawl) – you quickly realize just how much this taxes the core as you try to balance yourself while supported on just two or three points. This slowness also creates more of an isometric contraction in the working muscles – a very slow lizard crawl will rapidly blow up the chest.

You can borrow ideas from any discipline and create something distinctly your own.

Closing Comments

Finally: develop your own style. This is the whole point of movement training: to move freely and with self-expression. Too many people approach this style with the intention of mimicking Animal Flow or Ido Portal. In fact, you can borrow ideas from any discipline and create something distinctly your own. Rarely do I see movements taken from hard-style martial arts, from ballet. How about some explosive plyometrics? Or a few roundhouse kicks?

How about making up your own moves?

There are no “wrong” movements, so try to enjoy yourself.

And of course, I would love to hear your tips and advice on movement training for beginners in the comments below!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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