Guest post: Movement over exercise

Aleks, Founder and Developer

Likes all things martial arts, web technology and travel.
Feb 27, 2018 • 15 min read

Today we have an awesome guest post by Jordan Travers, an Australian holistic health coach, investor and author of the new book, Man Alive. Jordan specialises in personal transformation for high-performance professionals who want to increase their productivity and life-satisfaction through the optimisation of health.

He was kind enough to share a chapter of his new book with us, where he emphasises the importance of movement instead of exercise. It is a great read and I really hope it awakens some fresh ideas and approaches when training with your clients. Also check out Jordan's website and his book is available on Amazon and major online stores. Here's the post, bolding and italics were added by us.

Because you're human

"Without movement, life is unthinkable" - Moshé Feldenkrais

Jordan Travers doing a handstand on the beach

"Movement equals life". These were some of the first words uttered to me by one of my mentors. "No movement, no life!". I was in Sydney's Bondi district in an intimate group of students, learning from arguably the world's best movement teacher, philosopher, artist and practitioner, Ido Portal. I knew I was in for a life-changing week.

His most profound lessons did not come through biomechanical analysis of complex movements, that wasn't Ido's concern. His focus was on delivering a new way to look at human movement differently, which is to say he shows you how to look at human life differently. If there's not enough movement in your life, you will decay. If there is too much movement, which is in the case of professional athletes and performers, you will experience injury and bodily breakdown. The people that I commonly work with suffer from a movement deficiency. As a result, their body decays, they develop pains, aches, weaknesses and immobility. This is not sustainable nor respectful for the only body that you have been given.

"How you prioritise movement is how much you prioritise life"

For Ido, and now myself, a movement practice is the same as a life practice. How you prioritise movement is how much you prioritise life. The level of movement you incorporate into your weekly calendar could reflect the level of integrity you have to your humanness. One of the best ways to develop new neural networks is through movement. Portal said, "The brain is intended for movement complexity, and likely not technological advancements. Movement complexity is one of the reasons that we have evolved. We can move in more complex ways than any other animal. Consider that no animal can mimic us better than we can mimic it". This ability helped us to hunt, communicate at long distance and even develop unique cultural practices like singing, storytelling, and dancing.

To move in complex ways is a part of our genetic makeup. If we do not use this ability, we can see a breaking down of the body, from neurodegenerative diseases to arthritis. Movement complexity is greater than simple movements repeated over and over. For example, a rock climber will be a much better movement practitioner than someone who practices chin-ups for the sake of fitness. A martial artist, who reacts to their environment, will be more masterful than a yogi, who is confined to their mat. It's up to you to explore the universe of movement as much as you can. Your humanness will thank you.

It sounds rather unsettling, but remember, we evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, interacting with nature, swinging from trees, climbing rocks and swimming. Today however, we're far removed from our natural human environment. We now sit in a chair, hunched over a desk, under artificial light, breathing stale air, wearing restrictive clothing and experiencing a cascade of stress hormones. Our food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged for us, often hundreds of kilometres away. Our need to walk hundreds of kilometres each week is outsourced to motor-vehicles and other transport. The human race continues to evolve according to the stimulus we give our genetic material. There is no pause button on evolution.

Jordan Travers moving freely

Biomechanist, Katy Bowman developed a concept which she calls movement ecology. This illustrates the effect that our environment has on our movement patterns as well as the effect that our movement patterns have on the environment. When one goes to forage, for example, the act of trampling over shrubbery and pulling leaves and berries off of a bush stimulates new growth within the environment. Conversely, when you are stuck in a concrete jungle, the environment forces you to conform. Your sleek leather shoes mould your toes together, your chair binds your hips, and the noise of the busy streets forces your hearing to become less sensitive.

Bowman even suggests that the chronic underuse of our full length of vision is a contributing cause to the epidemic of short-sightedness. For the majority of our waking hours, we use less than 0.5% of our maximum distance of vision. When we look up from our smartphone or computer, we can often only stare as far as the wall. If we want to preserve our vision, it is imperative we give our eyes something to focus on far off in the distance. This is not movement as we typically think of it, but this information is just as critical for the preservation of our species.

In her book, Movement Matters, Bowman illustrates movement ecology with a simple image of a glorious orca with it's fin flopped over. No orca has ever been seen in the wild with a flaccid fin. This led activists against Sea World to believe that the orca was protesting its capture by flopping its fin to one side. After some research, marine biologists revealed that the fin had flopped over because it was no longer being encouraged to stand tall by the immense pressures of deep-sea diving that the orca performed in the wild. We understand that this new environment was shaping the physical structure of the animal.

"For the majority of our waking hours,
we use less than 0.5% of our maximum distance of vision"

The same occurs in any animal, including you. If we zoom in on the physiological effects of sitting down all day, we not only see chronically tight hip flexors and weak pelvic muscles, we see an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The reason for this may be due to the turbulence in blood flow that occurs through major blood vessels1. This can damage the cells and cause the need for plaque formation, which given the new damage to the blood vessel wall, would be an appropriate biological response, except it also increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

A similar situation occurs when we eliminate our bowels. Sitting down on a toilet seat constricts the junction between the intestines and the rectum. This constriction naturally causes a blockage, leading to constipation and straining, and eventually nasty implications like haemorrhoids and even bowel cancer31. The alternative to sitting down is, well, squatting. When you squat the ligament that surrounds this area in your bowels releases, and you experience an easy removal of your biological waste.

What's a man to do? I give you the awesome team at Knees Up: The Healthy Stool. "The Knees Up lets you remain in a natural position, each and every time you poo. What's awesome about this is that when you squat instead of sit, you'll be able to fully eliminate all of your waste each and every time. Not only does squatting straighten your insides up and relaxes your puborectalis muscle, allowing for free flow, but it also completely empties your system without any strain. is prevents fecal stagnation and the accumulation of toxins in your intestinal tract".

I have used variations of squatting tools from a stack of books to the Squatty Potty and found each of them to be oh so smooth. For an unforgettable dose of toilet humour, watch the YouTube epic is Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop #SquattyPotty. Pimp out your alone time with this elegant device; it’ll be the talk of the table at your next dinner party.

"In nature, there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences"

Bowman sums up movement ecology in one powerful sentence: "In nature, there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences". It seems that the less we behave like our ancestors, the more deleterious our health becomes. Human movement is the best way to encourage ancestral behaviour and bring us back to a natural state of health.

Our society believes that spending three to four hours per week dedicated to movement is a healthy way to live. I have discovered that my best results with clients came when they moved more often. The more often I see someone moving, the more body fat they lose and the more energy they have. It becomes evident that the more movement they integrate into their day, the more lively they became.

Jordan Travers performing an L-sit

Of course, there is a danger of over-training, but if the level of intensity and type of movement pattern is varied enough, you could move for many hours every day of the week. From fasted walking every morning to crawling on the floor like a lizard, the various ways in which you can move are vast. It simply requires you to be intelligent and creative about how you operate your body.

Science has discovered countless benefits to exercising, but I wonder how many advantages we will continue to uncover as time goes on. Consider the nature of the above movement, the lizard crawl. Your spine undulates with every step to conform with the floor. The muscles of your entire body develop strength in extreme, end-range positions. Your bones experience load in new ways and begin to lay down more minerals to become stronger. Your lungs expand and contract as you breathe to remove carbon dioxide. Your diaphragm works overtime, pumping the lymphatic fluid around your body, clearing waste and cellular debris. The driver of this body, your brain, tries to understand the most efficient way for you to move through space. Your heart pumps freshly oxygenated blood, delivering life to each cell. Your sebaceous glands secrete salty fluid to cool your overheating body. Your skin all over your body is stretched, massaged and stimulated in every way imaginable. You are covered in sweat. An intense surge of endorphins flood your body. You feel alive.

So how do you begin to revive your body? Start by moving more. Move every day in different ways, for as long as you can. As you feel comfortable with one practice, change it. The human body only evolves with learning and refining new movement patterns. As Portal would say, "Get good at what you don’t do". It's not only incredibly boring, but it has little merit to be performing the same movements in the gym for decades on end. Continuously increase the level of complexity, in which your body moves through space. The same goes for your clients. It may only take a few minutes to perfect the nature of a bicep curl, but to perfect the complex movements of a mixed martial artist may take an entire lifetime.

1. Bowman, K., Lewis, J. (2014). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. Propriometrics Press.