A more holistic, human approach to movement development

Last weekend (september 2013) I went to Oslo to experience the teaching of Ido Portal in his Movement X Seminar. Ido is a peculiar guy — to say the least. I have been following the training industry for quite some years now but have never encountered a person like him, whether it’s his own array of skills as a mover or how he talks holisticly about movement. I’m not going to share all of my notes and the specifics I learned here because they’re almost 20 pages long, but will share some of broader lessons I picked up during Ido’s teaching.

Here are 11 lessons I took home from 2 days of Ido Portal’s teaching:

1. “Always look for a teacher.”

As they say in business: there’s always a guy.

Ido told us about how he started looking for a “movement teacher” as a 23 year old. He was frustrated with the way movement was being taught and decided to start traveling all over the world to look for this movement teacher.

He never found one. What he found was a lot of specialists: he found guys who knew a lot about gymnastics OR strength training OR olympic lifting OR hand balancing,… but never one who could teach him about the whole shebang; the holistic concept of movement.

Ido has decided to dedicate his life to becoming that person he was once looking for himself. He admits that it’s an impossible challenge, but still one worth making a life’s work.

2. “There is no wrong movement. There is lack of preparation and lack of awareness.”

Ido talked a lot about so-called wrong movement: ways in which we are supposed to not move. For example think of walking and landing on the side of your feet instead of on the ball of your feet. A lot of athletes twist their ankles by landing or changing direction with their feet in an awkward — “improperly aligned” — manner.

A great question that Ido demanded us to reflect upon here: If we know this is going to happen to us, shouldn’t we, then, prepare our bodies for these situations???

Ido does. And he developed a process he calls The Corset for it that allows you to progressively strengthen all the soft tissue in the body. Check out the video below to realize how preparing the body with “wrong movement” could mean for example ‘no more ankle sprains’:

3. “You’re gonna get what you practice. If you practice sheisse, you’re gonna get sheisse. If you practice clean, you’re gonna get clean.”

This is a no brainer. If you’re trying to get down and master a movement — and want to get good at it then your practice should be good. Want to get real good at it. Practice should be real good. Want to get perfect at it? I think you get what he goes for here.

“When you do something for the first time, aim for 80% success rate.”

- Ido Portal

Aim for a quick learning curve. Your aim is to learn here, so get your ego out of the way and start easy, too easy even. Start with a difficulty you can succeed at about 8 of 10 times you try. If you can do that — evolve. Move on. Leave it there. Progress as slow as you need to. Regress if needed. Be smart about. But always move on.

Practice the way you want to make it look eventually. Practice for progress.

4. “Aim for improvisation in whatever you do. Use your tools and play around with them.”

A formula Ido uses often is the following:

Isolation > Integration > Improvisation

You could look at it from the perspective of the sport you compete in; say you play basketball: In your isolated skill practice you work on drills such as layups, different dribbling moves, offensive footwork, your shooting technique, etc. In the gym you also work on your strength and power to make your moves more explosive. You work on sprints and ladder drills to move more quickly, with speed and agility over the court. These are your isolated chunks of work.

When you play a game you integrate all of these things. However, you could take it one step further to what Ido calls the greatest expression of movement and play around with your integrated skill set:

“The highest form of movement practice is improvisation.”

- Ido Portal

What this means to you depends on the movement qualities you have developed and are working on now. It’s a personal thing. Everyone moves differently.

5. “Good hanging equals good shoulders.”

Got shoulder problems? How often have you been hanging from a bar lately? Not too much probably?

Ape Bars, not Monkey Bars (Resource: Exuberant Animal, Frank Forencich)

Structurally human beings are designed to move like apes, not monkeys. Apes can hang, apes can brachiate moving from one branch to another. Monkeys can’t. (So actually the monkey bars you see kids playing around on at the playground should be called Ape Bars).

If we’re designed to use these hanging and brachiating patterns — and we stop using them — why do you think most people have such a hard time doing a good pull up? They lost the pattern — and need to rehab it, get it back.

If you feel pain during pull ups or even hanging, it’s a sign you should do it more. Getting back the hanging pattern could be your fix towards healthy shoulders.

6. “You have more excuses than a pregnant nun.”

We saw this trend of people having a lot of excuses when we first started Elite Athletes and used ‘No More Excuses’ as our first slogan slogan. Ido’s catch phrase might be better. Listen closely when people talk and you’ll be amazed at how frequently this one can be applied.

7. “Range Of Motion equels anti-aging.”

In China they say “you’re as old as your spine.”

In one of his videos, Ido says:

“The body will become better at whatever you do — or don’t do. You don’t move? The body will make you better at NOT moving, by locking the tissues together. If you move, the body will allow you more movement. You better start to move your spine if you don’t wanna walk like this guy.”

During the workshop in Oslo when Ido talked about “this guy” he often referenced/imitated the posture and movement of the Bill Gates and Homer Simpsons of the world.

Move organically. Move your spine!

8. “Strength work translates to strength endurance. Strength endurance to strength? Not so much.”

This is easy. If you do just one thing: build strength. Get strong. The rest will follow much easier if you get strong first.

9. “Mobility is available; it’s always there. Flexibility requires a warmup.”

This is something Ido mentioned when he was talking about the limits of disciplines like Yoga and Pilates. Yogi’s are often flexible in the static postures they practice, but as soon as they leave these postures they’re in trouble. They are not prepared.

Mobility however — having an open system — is something that prepares you for actual movement. Not just being able to maintain a posture for a couple of seconds but actually moving out of it and into another posture, elegantly, without limitation.

This doesn’t mean you could not gain anything from added flexibility in certain areas, it means that after you get it — your aim should be, again, to move on — to evolve; to movement.

10. “The squat is a basic human resting position.”

The workshop was both theory and practice. When talking theory, Ido told us to squat and listen. Not sit and listen.

He talked about the three most prevalent human positions:

  1. Lying down
  2. Standing
  3. Squatting

Most of us have interchanged squatting with sitting. Someone invented chairs (and toilets) and now people’s squatting patterns are fucked — and we have to rehab them.

Ido’s fix; 30 Day Squat Challenge — squat 30 total minutes a day for 30 days:

When you meet a friend in the park and you sit on the bench, squat on top of the bench. When you pick up the phone? Squat. Reading a book? Squat. Play GTA V? squat.

11. “Sound is the mark of inefficiency.”

When you jump up, you’re going to land. Gravity is king.

How you move around gravity will define whether you’re an efficient — or inefficient — mover. Remind yourself of the quote above when working on your landing skills, sprints, agility work and reaction.

During the workshop when we were working on reaction drills with sticks, Ido reminded us to “Be The Cat.” He always reminded us to move with a certain self-respect, with grace, elegantly, softly, efficiently — like the cat. The less sound you make, the better. Aim for sprezzatura.

Ultimately, what all of Ido’s lessons aim at is trying to become the master of your own body.

To move and control your body against the rules of gravity.

Ido Portal named it Self-Dominance.

An impossible goal, but a goal that Ido has decided to dedicate his life to.