Wounding Some Sacred Movement Cows

 In philosophy, thoughts about stuff
(image from a groovy website called Sensei Marketing)

(image from a groovy website called Sensei Marketing)

Sort of a follow-up to last week’s call out of the Tabata

The big Why? How sick are you of me asking this all the time? Well I’m not waxing Keirkegard’s backside this time. No transcendentidealistiqaballanomicon-ism… today, anyway. But bust out your crayons and lets see what you’re using to paint your skies with. What are your movements of choice, and why? Are you being busy or actually accomplishing something?

Let me quote me quoting someone else…

(cover of the magazine of the same name, started in 1966)

(cover of the magazine of the same name, started in 1966)

In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, prophet/poet Bokonon calls groups/tribes that follow beliefs and actions that suck up a great deal of our energy, but actually accomplish nothing, as Granfalloons. Granfalloons content us because they satisfy our need to seem really busy, but for all the work we look like we’re doing, they’re tasks or thoughts that actually require little effort. False rituals. Vonnegut writes,

“As Bokonon invites us to sing with him: If
you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove
the skin of a toy balloon.”

Some movements are proven, seriously proven, to stand on their own as foundations to the creation of our multi-skilled, highly capable flesh packets. A foundation movement stands alone. Ya don’t need much else. That’s why Dan John wants you to know that the fundamentals are the fundamentals. Period.


The body moves in many wonderful ways, more ways than your brain can comprehend. There is benefit to exploring as many of these as possible.


There is a big difference between being busy and actually accomplishing something. The Fitness Industrial Complex thrives on shiny objects, obscene promises and selling Busy. If a gym member or client walks away feeling like they were busy for a greater part of an hour, mission accomplished, because they’ll thwack down more hard-earned yen for more of that. That is what they’ve been told this is all about, this fitness stuff. Sweat, a handful of discomfort and varying degrees of pain are now blindly accepted as the required path to physical awesomeness.

That’s kindergarten math. We need to be teaching high-level embodiment algebra, or at least be outlining the steps to get there.

A foundation to work from is essential. But even this seems to be confusing for folks, and an entire industry is growing like a mold from a strange desire to test everyone, based on ethics I find questionable (more on that later). Assessment is a constant in our journeys, but ‘testing’ itself needs to be assessed. A competent movement specialist will assess everything without a client feeling like they should’ve brought the anatomical equivalent of a scan-tron with them, or, worse yet, that they’re being judged before they’re even taught anything. “Testing” in most cases is not needed.

Anyway, a trainer worth their salt creates a solid foundation with their clients. We should all be striving to promote mastery of the basics… how to stand, sit, fall, crawl and flow. A handful of basic movements need serious attention. These make most other successful training movements (and moving through life) easier to grasp.

After that, movement exploration is the lifelong pursuit.


Fred, who stayed like that for 27 years.

Fred, who stayed like that for 27 years.

Are we exploring, benefiting, accomplishing, or just keeping busy? As Bodytribe trainer Fred says, “avoid the platitudes of fitness. Know the basics, know them well, and perform them with grace and equanimity.”

So you’re on your path to mastering the foundation movements, but ya need a little spice in the ol’ motion mix once in a while. There are some movements that are like master butlers or secretaries… they assist, support and fix what you might be lacking in, reminding you about important things and generally helping you get better at your mastery. A good supplemental movement is like a good editor, correcting your lifting grammar, helping you fill in the gaps and eliminate your weaknesses.

Under review here are not those movements. These are fillers. Time killers. Maybe more fun than what you need to be working on, or more simple to practice, or easy to teach. They are tools of the granfalloon.  These make us feel busy, but there might be better choices.

As an occasional spice, no movement should be entirely rejected, unless it is utterly dangerous. But it is too easy to get a little lazy in our programming (we’ve all done it). So sometimes we might need to sweep out the clutter. Without directly calling these tools or movements bad, let’s just say there are usually better choices.

With a general brush stroke, these exercise choices could be put on the bad posture watch list, since they all create tension, often for high repetitions, through the chains of movement that most of us are already quite tight in.

They also, again generally, don’t add a great deal to a program. In other words, if they were to disappear from a program, there is a good chance nothing would suffer. For the most part, these movements are not strong supporting players. Beyond adding busy-ness to a workout, they’re not strengthening weak links or filling in chinks in the armor, at least as well as other choices probably could. So if these are major players in your arsenal, it might behoove you to take a discerning look at what you’re accomplishing.

A mantra of evaluating a movement or tool is, or at least used to be, Risk versus Benefit. Sometimes this is obvious… on day one your new, inexperienced client probably shouldn’t be doing a weighted snatch. Obvious? Ya’d think. The trick is the less obvious ones, where a tool might add to a problem, but without immediate painful results. Look, bad posture might not be blatant to the average eye, but a coach worth any salt has witnessed it in almost epidemic proportions. Almost every newbie, and usually the advanced athlete, that comes through my doors could use constant attention at not perpetuating further dangerous tension patterns. Period. Whether for the seemingly small time period of 8 rounds of 20 seconds (pseudo-Tabata) or something longer. A good trainer can find similar results, whatever the goal, without adding to the problem. Period. It is worth taking up that challenge. Period.

Beyond the risk/benefit scale, though, is simple usefulness. A movement may not be a dangerous adventure, but it might lack any true BOOM to the programming canon. Not risky, not beneficial… not really useful, beyond creating that busy-ness that seems easier to program than actual quality. Weigh your choices, perpetually, by these factors.

Now there is a good chance you might have a scared cow on this list below. Oh, the defensive emotions encountered when messing with someone’s pet move or piece of equipment! It’s decision time. You could take it personally as an attack, and go into emotional battle mode… or you could take it under consideration, and through re-evaluation either still support your own use of the tool or technique, or decide it might be worthy of dumping. The first one makes no sense, yet seems to be the go-to move for a big slice of the population pizza. The second one could still have you thinking anything I write is full of monkey poo, but at least you’ve got your brain involved to create a greater amount of wisdom to support your decision.

The Airdyne.

aerodyne 5Thanks to Gym Jones, among others, this old tool which seemed mostly abandoned over the last couple of decades is making its reincarnation amongst certain conditioning subcultures. It is revered as something holy, or so it seems by the reactions I get when I call it out for being less-than-awesome. I recently had someone try to convince me that this tool wasn’t bad for the posture (actually he didn’t try to convince me as much as he simply got upset at me for disagreeing). aerodyne 4It is one step away from an elliptical machine (yes, in the design of the elliptical machine, ideas were directly taken from some of the original versions of the airdyne… they are indeed kissing cousins, if not even more closely related). Yet it is made to be sat upon (mostly… when in the heat of intensity, many folks kinda sorta stand up on it) and generate a great deal of force and speed in the muscles that are already tight. aerodyne 3Janda would have a thing or two to say about this machine, probably wondering why we still focus on movements with a built-in aging mechanism. It’s like sitting at a desk, then tightening those already constricting postural muscles even more through high speed, high force development (read: high tension) redundancy.

Now I have to point something out. The folks who get their noses bent about my opinions of this thing wouldn’t touch a smith machine, leg press, elliptical machine, or anything seated. Their gyms are machine-free and seated exercises play virtually no role in their programs. If asked why the eschew these choices, I’m guessing the answer would be lack of functionality, possible posture/spine stability considerations and the fact that there are probably better options. Is it so hard, then, to imagine a better option than the airdyne?

So let’s ask… what IS a better option for an airdyne? Let’s look at the goal. The airdyne’s main purpose is to shoot the heartrate through the roof quickly, pushing the VO2 far into the red. I will admit there are few things that can achieve this as quickly, maybe making this an effective tool for doing a true Tabata Protocol. But “quickly” on this toy is most definitely a recipe for sloppy.

sled drag outside 1So if this version of high intensity interval training is your goal, I’d opt for sprinting over anything else. Hills, stairs, or if you’re inside, shuttle sprints or animal sprints (on all fours). Wait, not done yet… grab a sled! Sled blasts (like car pushes or prowler pushes), sled runs (harness up! All fours is another option here, too) or sled drags (grabs those ropes and run backwards) are all be better options.


Ball slams

I get it… release the aggression, have some fun. But let’s break it down. You’re simply assisting gravity here. You’re helping gravity along by providing a little speed. Not really much of a challenge. Sure, sure, you have to bring the ball back up, but the thing only weighs as much as my cat, or maybe two of them taped together (they are, ahem, kinda fat).

They might not live at the gym any more, but Jack and Chewy will still make appearances in my blogs, dammit.

They might not live at the gym any more, but Jack and Chewy will still make appearances in my blogs, dammit.

I think we can find a better option. If you want to slam something, and who doesn’t, I’ll recommend the ol’ sledgehammer-(or leverage club)-on-the-tire bit. The follow through is more intense, as you don’t let go of the tool, and the starting position, if done correctly, is from an extended spine position, having to actually create the force by getting the weight moving  against gravity, not with it. Yes, you can do that with a ball too, but since most folks are doing it as a timed drill, they won’t. Nor does the ball offer an easy hand position from which to do it from. See? I’m not completely against anything cliche, because these days ya don’t get more cliche than beating a tire. It is almost like the go-to badge for the modern, “cool” physical culture gym. But in this case, it works.

Tire slamming = good for the soul

Tire slamming = good for the soul

Oh, and a good sandbag slam ain’t a bad thing either. There is a caveat though, and it will sound like a blatant plug for a company I’ve been known to support. There aren’t many bags that will survive being slammed without breaking. In fact some companies will tell you that not only you shouldn’t with their bags, but it serves no exercise benefit. Hogwash. After a good, heavy clean and press, slamming that bag to the ground has all sorts of yummy written all over it. Sure, ya miss the eccentric lowering of the load back to the ground, and, like a ball slam, you’re assisting gravity, but compare a 70-90 pound bag slam with a 30-pound ball slam and you won’t need it spelled out for you. You win! It’s the veni, vidi, vici of the training world, taking the spoils away from gravity with a big booming emphasis. Plus, and this is important, the goal is to ultimately clean and press, or snatch, a heavy sandbag over the head first. Ultimately you’re not doing 30-50 of these, unless it is broken up into sets. It’s meant to be heavy and hard.

sandbag clean 3bwAnd as far as I know, the only company who makes a bag that can be consistently slammed is Alpha Strong. Sure, it’s a plug for some friends, but there is a reason for that. Like I said… the only bag that is meant to be slammed. Or you can try to make a homemade one. These are hit or miss on the success scale.

Battling Ropes (battle ropes… whatever)

Again, the fun here is sort of blatant. There is an inherent recess aspect to these that I can appreciate, like a playground challenge gone a little crazy. And they’ll make you sweat. Ropes border on being pretty groovy… but let’s be careful. Like the aerodyne, they are generally done without consistency in anything resembling good posture. By their very nature, they require someone to round the spine and shoulders repeatedly against load. Butts tuck a little too quickly, and what might start as conscientious technique crumbles quicker here than with most other exercises. There is another aspect that can escape detection without a keen eye. Adaptation to the ropes happens much quicker than other choices of challenge. They’ll still seem, ya know, hard, but they begin lacking that first glorifying shock to the system pretty fast. But like heroin, it’s easy to keep chasing that high with ropes. Keep in mind the many, possibly better choices that existed before ropes became trendy.

A favorite use of the rope around these parts is our Pirate Ninja training program

A favorite use of the rope around these parts is our Pirate Ninja training program

The alternative? If ya like ’em, just do them well, but, herein lies yet another caveat. As we always preach, do better before doing more. In this case, better would be increasing the range of motion and the postural awareness. But the first thing to end up on the scrap heap when volume/workload become priority is – you guessed it – range of motion and postural awareness. This is true with any movement, of course, but seems particularly viral during rope work more than almost anything else. If ya want something playful, maybe some dashing, vaulting and landing drills, via some parkour practice, might have more crossover to your other goals (ya know, athleticism, ability, etc.). Oh, that’s the other thing… ropes just don’t have that crossover to other movements that so many more choices do. Let’s put it this way… battle ropes won’t help your foundation lifts very well, and if made an essential part of any program, would not create an athlete near as well as, well, many, many other choices. Ya don’t get better at much else utilizing battling ropes as a major player on your movement team. Perhaps fun in very aware, properly controlled moderation, but at that point, why not just chose something better?

Did I hurt anyone’s feelings? Not trying to, but maybe give your choices a once over with a discerning look and see if ya still dig them for reasons that are truly useful.

Or be pissed off. Feel free to write me at Well_Mike_Boyle_Hates_Squats,_Isn’t_That_A_Bigger_Deal?@  seeingadifferencebetweenfunctionalandpractical.com

handstand bridge 1

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  • […] expand on that. Move WELL and learn well. Move poorly and learn poorly. Move productively… well, you get the idea. Your lessons will reflect your movement choices. […]

  • […] wrote about a few common movements and their potential uselessness here… but any movement that isn’t part of a skill-building package must beg the question: […]

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