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

By on October 22, 2020

Movement training is a trend that has been around for a while now but is poorly understood. Chances are, if you are a regular viewer of YouTube fitness, you will have encountered people crawling around the floor like monkeys in movement “flows.”

See also: The Brain, Movement, and Training

You may encountered the likes of Ido Portal, Animal Flow, GMB, or Vahva Fitness.

movement training on railing

Maybe you thought it looked awesome. Maybe you thought it looked ridiculous. But the question is whether it has something to contribute to a holistic health and fitness approach, and how you can get started.

So, let’s take a look.

Movement Training: The Basics

The idea behind movement training is simple: we should train for movement first. That is to say that strength, mobility, and control should all be in service of strong, graceful movement patterns. It’s changing the emphasis.

Different “schools” and teachers have attempted to codify this in different ways.

Ido Portal

Ido Portal is considered a “movement guru” and was one of the first to begin advocating this approach to training. This “movement culture.” He describes how rather than building big biceps and lats, the focus should be on collecting moves.

Whether that’s a maltese, a planche, or an au batido…

Movement Culture

Ido is known to many as the guy who has been training Connor McGregor. There are plenty of videos out there of the two of them training in unique and interesting ways.

He’s also known for his “floreio” sessions. These involve moving gracefully from one position to another along the ground.

Ido hasn’t really published any specific guides to his training. The “Ido Portal Method” can be learned through direct training via one of his retreats, or via fairly expensive online tutelage. That said, a lot can be picked up from his interviews and blog posts.

Ido Portal Movement Culture
This is Ido Portal, doing his thing!

From what we can glean, we know that Ido uses a three-stage process to acquire new movements and feed them into his flow:

Isolation -> Integration -> Improvisation

He believes that the most value a new movement or exercise has to offer comes from the initial, uncomfortable learning stage. Thus, we should keep learning and adding new movements.

Ido’s own movement is inspired heavily by his background in capoeira (a common theme among movement practitioners). However, he also incorporates ideas from dance, other martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, and more.

The most value a new movement or exercise has to offer comes from the initial, uncomfortable learning stage.

Ido is also meticulous in his approach. He is keen to emphasize the importance of both pulling and pushing movements with the heavy use of rings and brachiation. This is something that is missing from many other movement training practices – even yoga!

Ido is also slow to introduce new movement patterns to his students. He begins training new practitioners by getting them to start spending time in a resting squat and dead hang, to improve mobility.

Animal Flow

Animal Flow Movement Training
Me taking a stab at Animal Flow

Animal Flow, created by Mike Fitch, looks very similar to Ido’s method at a glance. This similarly involves moving gracefully from one position to another but is a much more structured system.

I bought a beginner program to give it a go myself and learned a number of moves that could be chained together into flows. These included many ground-based movements like bear crawls (called beast in Animal Flow), ape, crab, underswitch, overswitch, and crab reach. Many of these are “travelling forms” or quadrupedal locomotion movements. These are exercises that get you moving around on all fours, which has countless benefits.

See also: Proprioception Exercises: Move Like Spider-Man!

This training lacks a hanging element and won’t likely develop even hypertrophy. There isn’t a whole lot to be found for the legs either. But as a supplement to other forms of training, it is immensely beneficial.

More Types of Movement Training

Ape Walk Travelling Moement

There are many other schools that fall broadly into the category of “movement training.”

As mentioned, both GMB and Vahva Fitness have their own approaches similar to Animal Flow. I’ve tried those too, and found that they each had something interesting to offer.

Vahva Fitness, in particular, emphasizes the importance of finding your own style. The course Movement 20xx provides a wide variety of different movements to choose from in video format, many of which are unlike anything you’ve seen elsewhere.

GMB’s Elements course is slower to get going but ideal for beginners. The emphasis here is on using basic movements like Bear (their Bear is more of a downward dog walk) and table top in order to iron out unhealthy patterns and poor mobility.

What is Movnat?

MovNat is a slightly different beast. Movnat practitioners emphasize the need for training outdoors.

This teaches practitioners to climb crags, balance along beams, swim, and lift logs. Training this way introduces the unpredictability and chaos that comes from the wild, teaching us to be more hardy and adaptable.

See also: The Many Benefits of Training Outdoors

I’ve talked a little about this in the past, but performing a pull up from a tree branch is infinitely richer in stimulus as compared with a bar. Every single branch is a different thickness, bends differently, and places your hands in different relative positions. You’re forced to grip and to brace the core to compensate.

The same holds true for trail running, scrambling, or lifting logs over your head. Movnat can be taught and practised in the gym, but you’ll be just as likely to climb onto your pull bar as perform an actual pull-up!

Movnat movement culture

The History of Movement Training: The Natural Method

MovNat was created by Erwan Le Corre who was an earlier practitioner of parkour. Parkour and free running can themselves be considered examples of movement training and have their routes in the ideas of Georges Hébert.

Hébert introduced the world to the “Natural Method” and began the trend of using assault courses to train military personnel. Georges is the real “Granddaddy” of both parkour and movement training. I find it fascinating watching the evolution of movement training starting from that thread.

See also: What is Functional Training? Training for Athletes and Life

We can see parkour and free running as different styles of movement training for instance, just as we see different styles in martial arts. MovNat branches off slightly sooner, while the ideas of Mike Fitch and Ido Portal offer a unique spin on the concept.

Even functional training has its roots in The Natural Method.

The Natural Method Georges Hebert

And one of the most amazing things about movement training in general is the way it can borrow the most beneficial movement patterns and stances from other disciplines.

We see movements from dance, martial arts (especially animal-style kung fu), yoga,m and more cropping up time and again. These are the movements that survive through history because they work for the human body; because they are strong, powerful, or challenging.

What are the Benefits of Movement Training?

There is no “right” way to train movement, then. The key is to move and to practice learning new movements. That’s rather than focusing purely on getting stronger in a handful of movements you chose years ago.  

Whichever form of movement training you pick, this has tremendous benefits for you.

Movement Training Carthweel

What we do in the gym, often fails to mimic the way we use our bodies outside of it. While being able to squat, bench, and deadlift big numbers is impressive in its own right, it involves moving through a constrained, controlled, and predictable movement pattern.

What we do in the gym, often fails to mimic the way we use our bodies outside of it.

Meanwhile, in sports and in life, we are required to leap off of one foot, stoop to catch a ball, or contort our bodies in the transverse plane to resist an attempted grapple.

We carry our children on our backs up steep hills, we lift prams into boots, and we jump up off the ground while sprawled in random positions to chase our kids before they get to the kitchen!

In short, real life is unpredictable. So we need to learn to move outside of repetitive patterns, straight-line patterns. This is why the emphasis should not just be on the individual movements, but on the transitioning between them.

That’s the flow.

Core Training and Compound Movements

This is also why positions like the lizard crawl are so valuable. These are extremely compound and require strength and proprioception in unusual places; from the multifidus we talked about recently, to the obliques and transverse abdominis.

Downhill Lizard Crawl
Lizard crawling downhill completely changes the movement: puting the emphasis on your shoulders much more.

The benefits here are similar to those found in kettlebell flow, for example. Once again, you’re strengthening the positions in between that often get overlooked, thus becoming more adaptable to any scenario.

That’s before we consider the way this might influence the fascia, which is something I’ll be discussing in future posts.

Benefits of Learning

What’s more, is that the very process of learning the movements changes the way we approach training and forces a more cohesive approach. In order to learn to planche, we must also learn to control scapula protraction and retraction. We must learn to hold the core in that rigid position and we need to develop a lot of wrist mobility.

Likewise, the handstand is a masterclass in proprioception as you learn to control your body while upside down. It similarly requires a lot of core control to maintain a straight hollow-body position, and likewise demands tons of shoulder mobility.

Bent arm planche on railing
A bent-arm, supinated straddle planche – there is no right and wrong!

End ranges for mobility

That’s another great thing about practising these movements: they include inherent mobility. This means you don’t need to actively stretch in order to develop and maintain a greater range of motion – you’re simply maintaining that limber ability to move by constantly requiring yourself to do so. It’s an ideal antidote to a mostly seated lifestyle. This is the same way that dancers and martial artists maintain such great mobility: they repeatedly perform movements that include those end ranges.

See also: Training Weak Points and End Range Strength

By making your movements as varied and complex as possible, you avoid losing range of motion as much as possible. And it’s way more fun than stretching.

It’s way more fun than stretching.

Finally, learning new movements also tremendous benefits for the brain. This triggers the release of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is linked with increased plasticity.

Learning a new movement is an extremely immersive form of learning, as you must consider input from all your senses while training new neural pathways. This helps to keep the brain young and plastic, and may even enhance brain function in seemingly unrelated tasks, thanks to the role of the cerebellum.

Climbing the stairs
Climbing the stairs like a normal

Drawbacks and Limitations of Movement Training

That said, I certainly view this type of training as a supplement or addition to a well-rounded program. I don’t think your workouts should be made from 90% cartwheels and downward dog!

The problem is that by focusing only on skills, you can end up ignoring certain traits. While animal movements can be adapted for cardio or max strength training, they often don’t lend themselves optimally to that kind of training.

And always being soft and supple is not the answer. Things like ankle stiffness matter for athletes, which is why you need to incorporate more explosive movements for all round performance. Heavy weights will build strong bones, plyometrics will increase explosiveness.

Limitations of movement training

I recommend adding movement training as a way to improve mobility, proprioception, and control. Meanwhile, use other modalities to develop speed, explosiveness, max strength, etc.

Convinced that you should add movement training to your own routine? Great! You can find a selection of beginner moves and some useful tips over at this article I already wrote:

I was desperately looking for something like this when I started out, so hopefully it can help you too.

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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.

One Comment

  1. Devin Love says:

    I’m curious on your take on an in depth analysis of Movnat. Training outside can have great mental health effects as well as just simply feeling more connected to the earth than a cold gym. What are your thoughts on feeling connected to the earth?

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