Diversifying Your Movement Portfolio

Cross-posted from HaroldGibbons.com

We’re going to talk about movement.  Before we get to that, let’s talk about identity.  In a past life, I completely identified as a powerlifter.  Three years ago, I was wholly interested in my squat, bench press, and deadlift.  That was it.

Today, I’m far more interested in the lines that I choose going up the rock wall or down the mountain bike trail, and how my strength training can enhance my ability to do those activities.  I’ve gone from lifting as a sport, to lifting as support for a sport.

This means that while I still use the Big 3 as my big rock, bang-for-your-buck movements, there’s also a fare bit of diversity in my exercise.

Recently I listened to an episode of the Yoga and Beyond podcast during which host Ariana Rabinovitch chatted with San Francisco based coach Charlie Reid, who shared the following:

“Strength training should be simple and progressive over time. Movement should be exploratory and fun and infinitely as creative as possible. If they’re not getting stronger or improving in some kind of capacity or not improving movement quality then I don’t know what they’re working on.”

If that didn’t strike you as profound exercise wisdom, please take a moment to re-read Mr. Reid’s words.  Seriously.

In those two sentences, Charlie summarizes a simple philosophy that I have for training: Become proficient at the big movements and progress them over time, while challenging movement quality with other unique exercises.

Regularly practicing the ‘big lifts’, such as a squat, overhead press, or chin-up, while also experiencing exercises such as a Turkish Get Up or combination exercises, creates movement challenges that we simply don’t get from moving weight traditionally through space.

If we’re following the traditional “strength and conditioning” model, our priorities are as follows:

  1. Reduce the injury risk of training.
  2. Reduce the injury risk of participating in the sport.
  3. Improve performance in the sport.

There’s a good chance that the activity itself requires more movement diversity than training, and I’d venture that truly exploratory movement happens during sport activity.

What happens if we’re not participating in another movement practice?

Very few of us are competitive athletes, and most of us are competitive sitters. Our jobs require us to sit during the day.  If sitting is a pattern that we don’t deviate from very often during the day, what happens when we get into the gym, and we start repeating another pattern? More pattern overload.

Okay, it’s easy to see this as apples to oranges.  Doing a whole lot of squats is going to be waaayyyyy better than sitting, I think we’re together there.  What if instead of doing all of those squats instead of sitting, we do a few squats, a few lunges, a few crawls, and a few get ups?

Putting all of your eggs into a single movement basket can totally work… but the odds are, we’ll be better taken care of if we explore movement just a bit more. A more diverse movement practice is far more beneficial for our minds and muscles in our exercise practices.  Make sense?

If you’re nailing your squats and deadlifts, an intentional movement practice like yoga or Zumba may be entirely beneficial for you.  If those don’t really seem like your jam, incorporating more diversity into your workout can be huge.  For example, last week I combined a reverse lunge with a landmine press for this combo move:

Consider the following context:

My workout began with a dynamic warm-up.  I followed that with some medicine ball slams for power.  I then did some squats and bench presses as my two “big” lifts for the day, for 4 sets of 6 reps on each.  I then moved on to a one arm supported dumbbell row, and this reverse lunge to landmine press combo.

The warm-ups, power work, and strength work are all pretty straight forward.  These are where we’re really seeing the biggest impact.  It’s on a single exercise, the lunge to press combo, that I created something new.  It was a unique challenge on my core, everything between the hips and shoulders, to stabilize during this new exercise.  It was weird, it was awkward, it was diverse, and it felt awesome.

What can you create?

Consider your movement practice, and if you could use more movement diversity.  The odds are that including one or two novel exercises each workout or week can give your brain a unique challenge in figuring out how to streamline that movement.  At the same time, you’ll keep your bones, muscles, and fascia happy by giving them a break for the traditional patterns we get stuck in while training.

When you’re nailing the basics that should be 80% of your workout, consider what movements you can create to be the other 20%.  What’s a new exercise you can try, or a combination of exercises you already do well?

Go ahead and diversify that movement portfolio!


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