The History of Movement Training (VP Ep. 02)
By VAHVA Fitness on November 12, 2019
In-depth look into the history and origins of movement training. Lots of information regarding the benefits, positives and negatives of movement training.
Where It All Began... Over 10,000 Years Ago
Just like animals don't need to do any form of exercise, the original man before agricultural revolution and technology didn't need any form of exercise either.
Only by the harsh reality of life alone, the environment forced the man to be strong, mobile and highly athletic.
Even just 100 years ago the average person was in good shape because physical labour was part of most people's lives.
Before the 1900s there was no need for movement training or exercising unless you wanted to develop a powerful physique for fighting, war, dancing or sports.
Mankind has always been interested in the potential of the human physique which is why the first Olympics were done thousands of years ago and why so many different martial arts exist today.
Modern innovations have made life easier and the quality of life has dramatically gone up but it has also softened, weakened and harmed our physiques.
Once the vigour and vitality of the body go down, the mind also becomes weak. This is why the modern person has the least amount of mental toughness and emotional resilience since the beginning of time.
Physical movement and labour that used to be a natural part of our lives, is no longer part of our lives and this creates a host of problems. We were designed to move often and daily.
We develop various health problems from overindulging with food and digesting chemicals that are not naturally grown and do not belong to the body.
The solution? Return to the roots.
The Masters from the Early 1900s Started to Figure It Out
Once the problems started to occur, various masters of physical culture came forth to solve the problem.
In the West, Georges Hébert (1875-1957) developed his "natural method" in the early 1900s that included all the natural movement patterns that people need for optimal health.
The natural method included walking, running, stretching, throwing, jumping, lifting, climbing, core exercises, locomotion patterns, balancing exercises, breathing exercises and more. Basically almost everything there is to human movement.
At the same time, bodybuilding also started to become popular and various strong men wanted to build the ultimate physique – not just in terms of aesthetics but also in terms of function.
John Grimek (1910-1998) was an awe-inspiring bodybuilder before the era of drugs who started to transcend the physical culture. He experimented with everything and invented various weight exercises to develop the body.
He also practiced gymnastics, trained every part of his body (neck and grip included) and was able to do handstand push ups and splits despite being a heavyweight.
Around those years, the bodybuilders and strongmen had amazing levels of creativity and were determined to find the solutions from the gym instead from the drugs.
Max Sick (1882-1961) was another bodybuilder who was among the first ones to invent the popular "mind-muscle connection" technique.
Instead of heavy weights you could use light weights to develop the body with better results without causing wear and tear on the body.
Another man emerged from Germany. His name was Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) who invented the training method called "Contrology" which is now known as "Pilates".
Joseph Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder who later became a boxer, circus performer, wrestler and self-defence instructor. He intensively studied yoga and the movements of the animals.
All of this experimentation and research lead to the formation of Contrology. Pilates realized that if you just go directly to the body with complete focus and learn to control the body with your mind, you can develop various parts of the body with staggering effectiveness and efficiency.
Max Sick and Joseph Pilates discovered many high level training principles that we also use in our training and programs. Both gentlemen understood that it's a lot smarter way to go directly to the source (the body) rather than train 1000 different things and hope for the best.
“A man is as young as his spinal column.”
These were the masters from the West. In the East, many kung fu masters were hundreds if not thousands of years ahead of everyone else with their highly developed training methods of Qigong. We will cover this in detail in the near future...
In 20th century, yogis from the East also brought lots of good stuff regarding flexibility, mobility, supportive strength and breathing techniques.
The Natural Training Returns in the 1990s
With the development of performance-enhancing drugs, the invention of modern marketing and increasing commercialisation of the society, we got sidetracked for many decades. In fact, nearly half of the 20th century seems to be "lost".
However, in the 1990s the natural training methods started to gain wind and become popular.
In Brazil, the Gracie family and Ginastica Natural was doing various animal movements such as crab walks and lizard crawls combined with yoga and pilates.
Hip mobility also started to become a "thing" in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu circles due to the influence of yoga and BJJs high demands for hip mobility and flexibility. Many hip exercises where you are twisting the hips a lot originate from here.
In Russia, "Systema" was developed after the fall of the Soviet Union which in the West is known as a Russian martial art.
Systema is a lot more than just a martial art or self-defence system though. It also incorporates various strength exercises, breathing methods (1 of Systema's breathing methods is covered in our Warrior 20XX) as well as mobility work.
Since fighting with a stick is a big part of any self-defence system, Systema also has developed numerous strength and mobility exercises and partner drills using a wooden stick.
It turns out that the practitioners of Systema also know how to fall on the floor/ground without hurting the body.
We've heard some older ex-military Systema teachers being able to fall off stairs with little to no damage. That's something special.
The Era of Cross-Training and Mixing Various Disciplines
In the early 2000s, mixing various disciplines became a popular phenomenon. This was probably due to Bruce Lee influence and ideology since he was the first one to start combining various martial arts styles.
CrossFit was invented in 2000 with the goal of "finding the fittest man alive". CrossFit was one of the first popular training styles that incorporated elements from different training disciplines.
These disciplines of CrossFit include weight lifting, long-distance running, bodyweight training, gymnastics, animal movements and a lot more.
Although CrossFit is not close to "the natural training" due to the heavy emphasis on competition instead of health and posture, and having heavy use of PEDs in the sport, it was one of the first popular multi-dimensional training methods out there.
Old training montage that has the spirit of cross-training. Since this, we have stopped doing the crazy stuff and focused more on actually productive training.
Next, around mid-2000s various people from all over the world were interested in "cross-training" which meant training various training disciplines all at once in order to "get the benefits from all".
These people got together and started sharing their knowledge through blogs, forums and chat groups, and through meet ups and learning from mentors.
Jim Bathurst from Beast Skills was the go-to site for learning gymnastics and acrobatics (the blog was later updated but the old blog from 2004-2005 still exists!).
Bathurst practiced popular skills such as the one arm chin up, one arm handstand and levers while also doing plenty of weight training. Many young guys, including us, learned a lot from his work when the information wasn't as accessible as it is today.
Later, a gymnastics coach called Christopher Sommer released his book "Building the Gymnastic Body" in 2008. This book became the reference for gymnastics and the bible for many street workout trainers.
At the time, coach Sommer also had a popular forum with all kinds of movement enthusiasts. YouTube also started to become popular and people were awestruck by the amazing skills the many pro gymnasts and acrobats possessed.
In this forum, pro-level hand balancers such as Yuri Marmenstein and pro gymnasts were exchanging information with capoeiristas such as Ido Portal. Not many people know it but Mr. Portal was a student of coach Sommer.
We also were active there and learned a lot from this forum although we were in our early phases of training career at the time.
The Birth of Modern Movement Training
We would say 2010-2020 is the era of modern movement training, i.e. the movement training you see today.
There are now various branches and forms of movement training. There is "natural movement" that tries to mimic the movements from the paleolithic era. These people are lifting logs and rocks and walking barefoot in the forest.
Although this is fine, we think that the "modern" tools such as dumbbells and barbells are still useful and you can use them instead of rocks.
"Primal movement" consists of primal movements, mostly animal movements where you are using the whole body in synchrony. This training has lots of influence from yoga, capoeira and general fitness.
Then, we have pure animal flow and sections of movement training that dominantly consist of capoeira, gymnastics and acrobatics with bits and pieces from everywhere else such as various martial arts and dance.
The animal movements we also do a lot originate mainly from martial arts and combat sports although many of them are also used in sports such as American football.
Numerous Eastern martial arts and wrestling have done this kind of animal movements for a very long time. If you look at our YouTube channel, we have taken this kind of training to a whole another level with lots of innovation and creativity.
Movement training we see today is constantly changing (our approach is constantly evolving and improving as well) but what is similar in all these different forms of training is that they all want to develop a natural, healthy and functional physique.
The Philosophy of Movement Training
It's also good to realize that movement training is not just a training method but it's also a philosophy regarding life.
Many movement practitioners are strongly influenced by Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Hinduism but also the Western new age culture and environmentalism (sustainable living).
However, the main idea is to return to the natural way of life, eliminate the modern technology that destroys the body and mind and become pure and supple like a newborn baby.
Getting rid of the ego and training without ego is the way to go. The only problem with this is that dogmatic thinking like this with clear black and white structure eventually turns into a very one-sided philosophy.
A lot of people start to think that all modern innovations/trends are bad and that you should do just ego-free training like yoga, focus on self-actualization and leave the competition for the egomaniacs.
We believe that freeing the body and becoming supple like an animal is only the starting point. When you are free inside out, you can test yourself in sports, martial arts or dance as much as you wish.
The problem in the fitness industry as a whole is that people tend to focus on either one. They do dominantly soft training but avoid any forms of hard training. Or a lot of people lift heavy but barely do mobility.
Ying & Yang symbol is one of the smartest and oldest symbols ever invented. Neither "soft" or "hard" or feminine or masculine are better than another. It's all about balance.
Moreover, different people can have different preferences based on their body, age and personality.
The Ideology of Movement
In the movement scene, "movement" is considered a massive umbrella for all types of human movement. ANY movement that you do can be considered "movement". This includes breathing, walking, lifting, bodyweight training etc.
Furthermore, all sports, dances, martial arts and strength sports are under this umbrella as well – basically ALL physical activities humans do and have ever done.
Due to this big umbrella, many teachers and practitioners of movement consider their approach "complete" because they include countless of different movement patterns from different arts and crafts.
This is the ideal, the fantasy, but in practice it doesn't really work that way.
Although "movement" should be the all-encompassing way to develop the body that covers everything, in practice "movement" has become a self-limiting "box" as well.
There is a massive distinction between theory and practice. In theory, movement training is everything but in practice, it's dominantly about bodyweight training in forms of gymnastics and acrobatics, soft arts such as yoga and martial arts like capoeira.
It turns out that there is an infinite amount of ways to move the body – if you want to master the patterns from every art and sport, then it's a never-ending quest that takes you in circles.
This is what we realized many years ago and what Joseph Pilates likely did as well after he mastered many different disciplines from bodybuilding and yoga to wrestling and circus arts.
There are certain basics for coordination, body control and spatial awareness everyone should master but apart from that, the quest to master everything is a futile one.
Moreover, how movement training is usually done is that massive areas are neglected that are related to sports because many of these involve the spirit of competition, aggression and killer instinct which are generally frowned upon in the movement circles.
Benefits and Negatives of Movement Training
Lizard crawl is one of the most complete and versatile bodyweight movements you can do. One of the hardest as well!
We treat movement training maybe 1/3 of our training and we consider it a very important part of developing the body.
Movement training is one of the best forms of training for making the body limber, elastic, dynamic and mobile.
The primary purpose of movement training is to move the body – all the good effects merely come as a side product. Remember that animals do not do ANY exercise, yet they are the best movers you can find.
Without movement training you will get stiff and rigid – the body needs free full body movements to be free. Movement training is what will make the body feel "young" again because everything is moving in synchrony.
Many sports, martial arts and wrestling do plenty of movement training in the warm up parts of the classes (which tend to be the toughest) which allows them to maintain and develop well-rounded movement fluidity and athleticism that is outside the skills of their sport or art.
For people who haven't been physically active for a very long time, holistically moving the body can be life-changing and it can dramatically change the quality of your life.
Movement training IS amazing but it's not everything there is to physical training.
Moving the body can help with many injuries and persistent pains but sometimes you need to pinpoint the problem in the body and fix it with precision training. That is at least the easiest way to do it.
Movement training also lacks many areas of athletic training that are vital for high level performance. Stability training, strength endurance, power production and conditioning for example are nonexistent or rudimentary level.
In fact, in many movement circles everything is "upside down". There is too much emphasis on handstands and hanging exercises and too little emphasis on proper leg and core training that are the most important for athletic ability.
The last time we checked, almost all physical activities happen standing up on the floor – not on your hands, not on poles or high bars.
This is why we are no longer big fans of focusing on gymnastics and acrobatics despite coming from that background.
At the height of our training, we reached muscle ups with an extra 25 kg (55 lbs). Muscle up is a good skill to master but weighted muscle ups are just dumb.
The thing with gymnastics and acrobatics is that they are very niche sports that outside the basics have very little transference to any other physical area or daily life. We now consider these a mistake in the design of movement training.
Both these art forms have a lot to teach and some of the basics are important but focusing on extreme skills such as planche, levers and one arm skills have NOTHING to do with natural human movement, health or universal performance.
Many movement practitioners have a bad tendency to focus on the extremes: extreme mobility, extreme flexibility and various extreme skills. These are great for showing off but many of these qualities can eventually lead to dysfunctional performance.
For example, extreme flexibility and hypermobility often increases the risk of injury and has almost nothing to do with health or performance.
Movement training is constantly becoming more "artistic" while the extreme skills lose their spotlight.
The extreme skills were the most exciting element many years ago but none of this is sustainable to the older age.
What's more, many of these extremes demand a specific body structure or muscle fiber type to succeed which leaves them unattainable for the vast majority of the population.
It's no wonder why many teachers that used to do them are already changing their approach and focusing on something else.
Recommended reading: Strength vs. Skill Training | The Subtle Difference
Movement Training is Vital... Just Not Everything
As said earlier, we consider movement training around 1/3 of our full training method. For beginners, movement training is one of the most effective and fun ways to start training and get amazing results.
For people who haven't done this type of training, movement training is the remedy for stiffness, inflexibility and lack of body control.
However, the further you progress, the further you will realize the limitations of this type of training no matter how much you want to believe in the effectiveness of it.
This is what we learned after training everything we could from various martial arts to sports, gymnastics, dancing to weight training: it is futile to get good at everything because there are infinite ways to move the body.
What 1 thing is always present in every physical activity you ever do?
The basic movement skills are important to master but after that, the body becomes the most important thing to focus on.
If you can directly focus on the body with the utmost precision, then you can develop the body's natural joint articulations and muscles for maximal universal performance.
Instead of skills and patterns we started to hunt for universal principles that were part of all of these different disciplines. Certain methods and training techniques that keep repeating over and over again.
This is how our "precision training" was born which is our cutting edge method that consists of many of these important training principles and techniques.
After that, we added strength endurance, conditioning and cardio to the mix. This came from the realization that although strength and mobility are great, they mean absolutely nothing once you gas out and the muscles get tired.
We realized that competition can be friendly and benevolent – it's a form of play to test your physical capabilities against one another and see how far you can both go.
To test your physique to the maximum, you need conditioning which is the most important area to master for all sports. Even if you don't want to test your body, cardiovascular health is an important area to master.
We also realized that we should stay open-minded – TRULY to everything the world has to offer. Everyone has something to teach, even the people who do things you don't necessarily like.
Many times what you don't understand is what you resist. To us, real "movement" is embracing every aspect of physicality even if it seems uncomfortable at first.
We are grateful for learning from the amazing masters before us and continuing this fight against pain, aches and rigidity caused by the modern way of life.
Thank you for reading this massive and monumental beast of an article. If you want to take a closer look at how we see the training, check out our completely free mobility class by clicking the button below.
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