Is Your Fitness Truly Functional?

child vaulting a batr.

Children need to be taught basic movements like this before learning sport specific training – and it’s not happening.

Last night, in the UFC, Conor McGregor put away reigning Featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a whopping 13 seconds.  Yeah, it wasn’t even funny.  And there’s been a lot of talk, as a result, about the training regimen that McGregor has been undergoing at the hands of movement trainer Ido Portal.

Portal, as some of you may know, has been traveling the world for the past few years taking in what he can from the movement lessons of people from a vast number of different disciplines: from various martial arts to yoga; from dance to circus performers; from physical therapists to osteopaths; and more.  He’s used this pool of knowledge to put together a body of work that has revolutionized the field of fitness and, along with other movement luminaries like Erwan Le Corre (founder of MovNat), has put the idea of improving movement skill and knowledge ahead of general fitness and caused a huge change in the way we think about the training of the human body.

McGregor credits his rise in the MMA ranks back to Portal and the training he’s undergone – and how the practice of movement has been beneficial above even the conditioning he’s been doing as a fighter.  It’s changed his outlook on training, and he’s hardly the only person to say this sort of thing.  Carlos Condit, another MMA fighter, is doing similar training with Le Corre and the Movnat philosophy – and is also seeing great gains in his ability to move in the octagon.

I find it very interesting that simply getting back to movement practice has had such a noticeable effect on athletes who one would think were masters of movement to begin with.  There are few sports that involve the kind of movement skill as an MMA fighter, who are required to be skilled in striking, grappling, ground fighting, and more.  One would think that they’d already have that skill, yet somehow getting back to the basics of just being able to move one’s body seems to be a benefit that could revolutionize this sport.

And I have to admit, I’m not surprised.

It seems to me that the fitness world has lost the need to simply teach people how to move.  We see plenty of people teaching exercises, routines, and techniques that are specific to a sport, but very few who are just creating a world where movement is taken on as a practice.  Our sports-playing kids are getting injured like never before; people are unable to perform simple tasks that a generation ago would have been taken for granted, and more.  They’re “getting in their cardio” or “pushing out tons of reps” but they still can’t walk without a pair of shoes to reinforce their weak ankles and poor balance.  They’re being told that they need specific gear to avoid injuries, when what they really need is to learn how to control their bodies and move through the natural world with efficiency and expertise.

Sport-specific training has started at younger and younger ages.  Read my friend Jeff Turner’s work at, his blog on his training work with young athletes for more on this – he’s having to train his young athletes on basic things like running and stopping, squatting, crawling, shuffle steps, and more, just to bring kids back from injuries or correct serious movement issues – because they haven’t had the experience and practice in basic movements.  And he’s hardly the only one.

I cringe to see people who think they have to wear high-tops, or boots, or whatever just to keep their ankles from turning from walking down the street.  You hear a lot of “I’m just clumsy” or “bad ankles run in my family” or things like that – when what they really need is to simply get a practice of minimalist walking down.  I sigh and look down at hearing about people who think they need specialized gear just to run in a 5K – when what they really need is to simply learn how to run properly.  I watch people my own age who won’t squat down to pick up something that rolled under a desk or table, asking their kids to do it for them, because they have lost the capability to do so on their own, and blame it on their age.  Perhaps I’m just noticing it more, but I see more people in walking casts, on crutches, pushing those little scooters around, and more than I ever have in my life on a regular day of walking down the street in downtown Columbus.

There are so many outlets now for people who want to learn the basics of movement.  Proper, efficient movement should be at the center of all exercise – the goal should be to make people functional for the tasks of life.  But instead, we’re obsessed with burning calories, lifting heavier weights, putting in more miles, and more.

In one of the very first articles I wrote for this blog, I talked about the five things every man should be able to do to save his own life.  That still holds – even more than the goal of running OCRs, I think everyone should be able to do these five basic functional movements.  As Le Corre tells us as he paraphrases the philosophy of Georges Hébert, “be fit to be useful.”

And perhaps the success of people like McGregor and Condit will draw more athletes into the practice of general movement, and from there other people will take notice of such training and move into a more natural movement regimen for themselves.  And the general populace will follow.  We can only hope – because I am becoming increasingly concerned that our lack of proper and efficient movement and the industry that has popped up around its enabling is a bigger issue than anyone realizes.

What do you think? Is this rant on target? Share your thoughts below and please share this article with your friends and loved ones!