Movement Culture - a force for good?

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs


I like this model. Not because it depicts the principles of human behavior with 100% accuracy (it doesn't - nothing does), but because it illustrates why those who live in seemingly perfect conditions can subjectively experience suffering that's almost equal to those whose existences are burdened by scarcity, poverty and famine.

It also explains why I find the Movement Culture so frightening.
I’ll let Maslow himself explain his theory:

'It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. '

Basically, what Maslow’s saying is that once you’ve satisfied you physiological needs, you’ll be motivated to ensure your own safety. When that's been secured, you´ll be encouraged to improve your social relationships and standing.
After all of those needs have been met, we begin our quest of self-actualizing:

“Who am I, and what is my purpose?”

These two simple questions can cause just as much concern as any immediate threat (hunger, lack of shelter, rogue moose with evil intents etc) ever could. The difference is, of course, that the immediate threat is immediate, as opposed to self-actualization, which works more like an excruciatingly slow rear-naked choke.

How does this relate to Movement Culture?

The thing about self-actualization is that it's really, really difficult to achieve.
Fulfilling one's basic needs is, well, basic. Finding food, water, safety, social support and getting enough sleep isn't always an easy task, but at least it's unambiguous.
The guidelines are really clear in terms of what you have to do.

Self-actualization, on the other hand, is complicated.
The only guideline we have when attempting to #carpethosediems and #bethechange is the presumption that we, by doing so, become so much more than who we currently are. 
This fuels our desperation, and is also probably the reason why we end up joining cultures/following gurus that define those guidelines and goals for us.

Simply put, we enjoy being told what to do and how it should be done.
This explains why we end up doing a lot of things we seldom:

  • .. want to do.

  • .. need to do.

  • .. know why we're doing.

This is why the movement culture scares me.

Mainstream media (acquire fame = become happy), fitness profiles (gain muscle mass = gain confidence), politicians (vote for me = freedom) and multi-million dollar corporations all have the capacity to make us act in pretty unreasonable ways to get the results they´re promoting.

The unique problem with the Movement Culture though is the amount of secrecy and mysticism they contribute with, not only in terms of how to achieve the results they´re promising, but also the results themselves.

The only thing that´s really being said are what sounds like extraordinary effects:

  • Longevity

  • Freedom

  • Generalism

  • Superiority

  • Becoming a #mover

And how do we know if we've attained these effects?

By being acknowledged by the the ones who sell the product.

And how do we get their acknowledgement?

  • Be devoting ourselves to (and promoting) the culture

  • By achieving visually impressive feats (which can be used to promote the culture)

What's fascinating is that the "feats" the Movement Culture are producing, aren't unique to that specific culture. Take any video that's been used as a promotional tool from this culture, and present it to dancers, climbers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, martial artists or anyone who's invested time in moving their bodies outside the confines of a traditional strength and conditioning program, and their response is usually "Oh... Cool.. We do that too,".

The way the Movement Culture's responds to this is: 

"These people are specialists, not generalists.

as such, The way they move aren't entirely valid,"

In other words, the forerunners of the culture have a monopoly on what should be deemed as having achieved the result - of the products they themselves are selling?

And that product includes not performing at the level of the "specialists" they have a tendency to criticize?

Because that is the only way of achieving the results they're not willing to define?

Am I missing out on something here?

movement culture vs. the world

Samantha Briggs. Lindsey Valenzuela. Valerie Voboril. Alessandra Pichelli.
Rich Froning. Jason Khalipa. Ben Smith. Scott Panchik.

These are just some of the top athletes in Crossfit.

Now let's make a list of those people who've "made it" in the Movement Culture:

  1. The creators/owners of movement method X

  2. A UFC fighter.

This observation is usually deemed as invalid by claiming that Crossfit is "just" a competition sport, whereas Movement Culture is a training method.

So let's look at what they provide as a training method:

  • Basic strength training (squats, deadlifts, push ups, pull ups, etc)

  • Gymnastic exercises (muscle ups, levers, one arm chins, etc)

  • Unconventional exercises (behind the leg squat, QDRs, etc)

  • Locomotion (aka, crawling)

  • Inversions (aka, being upside down)

  • Mobility work (moving a joint to and from its end ranges of motion)

  • Freestyle/flow/improvisation (something that resembles dance / capoeira)

  • Partner work (light contact "martial arts" / contact improvisation)

When you write it down like that it doesn't seem that unsurmountable, does it?
Sure, it´s a lot, but it's still pretty straight-forward and training in such a way does have some very definable and positive effects.
Compared to conventional strength training..:

  • You´ll be able to generate force and tolerate load in more positions.

  • You'll be able to move in more ways (not all ways - just the ones that are similar to what you've practiced).

  • You'll be more mindful of the way you move and probably be able to predict outcomes/consequences of movement to a higher degree.

  • Your body control will improve.

But, if you were to try provide this as a summary of their training method, this is the response you would get:

"This is only a fraction of our method.

What we do is so much more,"

More than getting strong, resilient, mobile, healthy and moving better?
Something that they themselves are already doing, are blaming others for not doing, but don't seem willing to define beyond the use of non-specific words like "paradigm shift"?

Another comparison to Crossfit:

A quick Google search will provide you with a clear definition of the purpose and effect of Crossfit, as well as their opinion on how to achieve those effects. It's transparent and honest, and if you're a critical thinker, you can probably find all the reliable information you need on every aspect of Crossfit without paying a whole lot.

If you were to attempt the same process with the Movement Culture, a Google search would not suffice. You'd have to pay - with presence and money, and although that's not necessarily a bad thing, there seems to be a lack of openness in terms of what you benefit from that cost.

The cost/benefit ratio of movement culture

What I've mentioned, and what I'm about to say, does not apply to all those who provide a "movement-based approach to training". There are a lot of good people out there trying to provide sane and humane advice as to how one should go about moving better, in more ways and with more ease.

But as of right now the most popular profiles/benefactors to this culture have made it so that the costs are starting to outweigh the benefits.

  1. The workshops and camps are, in general, too expensive. One could justify the price if some of the income were spent on creating high-quality content/articles/tutorials for the followers. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be happening.

  2. The amount of time and energy this culture demands from its followers/clients is often detrimental. I can only speak from my own experience (which I don't think of as the definitive truth - but I´m not in any position on speaking on behalf of others), but the number of times I have to convince people to spend less time #moving and more time #living unnerves me. Health, after all, is more than a matter of fitness, dieting and restitution.

  3. The vague rhetoric that's being used is causing confusion and unrealistic expectations. The way our bodies can/will adapt is not as complicated as this culture would have us believe. In fact, I'll just summarize it here:

We improve specifically at what we do and by doing it enough.

This accounts for resiliency, capacity and movement.

I can't claim that "what I do is so much more". My job is to train people based on current evidence, not lie to them. In terms of the training programs I design for my clients, the two sentences above perfectly describe the results you get and how to achieve them.

Any other trainer/guru may feel free to tell you otherwise, but chances are that she/he's sugarcoating something that's already sweet enough.


Unlike how many movement gurus portray themselves, I don't spend every waking hour #moving, meditating or searching Byzantine crypts for ancient scrolls pertaining to the secrets of superhuman movement. Luckily, that means that I get to do other stuff, including watching movies, and I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favorite ones -  Fight Club.

"We buy things we don't need, with money we don't have to impress people we don't like"

I think the same can be said about the state of the movement culture:

"We practice moves we don't need/want with more time and energy than what is necessary, to impress people whose acknowledgement only will be attained if we can be used as a way to promote their method further,".

I may not personally affiliate with the Movement Culture, but I have nothing to profit from making that culture any less popular. Let's be honest, it's not like I can compete with them in any way. I'm a guppy in a huge pond, and they´re the whale shark. As such, I'm not afraid of the social and written reprimands commonly found in the movement culture, which is why I won't shy away from saying what I believe is necessary to mention:


Let's allow ourselves to create a movement community.
One that supports the efforts from all kinds of people and that concerns itself with getting people not just to move, but to do so in a clear direction of their own choosing.

- Jon