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Over recent weeks I have got a few calls, emails & general questions about what I do and what is a Movement Coach"?. So i'm going to answer a few questions and maybe create a few more here. A summary of what I will cover here in Part 1;
A. A quick look at Ido Portal and what he did with Conor McGregor
B. My experiences with athletes and the different movements and levels I use
C. Problems with some of modern training and the obsession with running and long intense running for field sports
This recent surge in questions has mostly come about due to Conor McGregor, his success in the UFC and his announcement of working with a Movement Coach, called Ido Portal, and what it did for him in his preparation for his Jose Also fight. This is natural line of enquiry for people considering there are not too many people calling themselves "Movement Coaches" around. Straight off the bat there are 3 things that jump out at me specific to the McGregor & Portal questions.
1. Conor was probably having a bit of a short memory exhilaration after winning. And he kinda alluded to it himself in another way after, but in reality Portals influence would have been very very limited, maybe a 1-2% increase in McGregors physical ability for the fight. McGregor started to be a World Champion a long time ago. Years and years of dedicated practice, a supportive family, huge desire, Multiple Coaches and a whollop of natural talent (i'll come back to this, but Conor believes we are all born the same and he had no special talent, which is rubbish) have got him to where he is. His punch that knocked Aldo out could have been something he learned in the Boxing Gym in Crumlin he used to attend.
He mentioned Precision beats Power. This is not always true, but the gist of his point is very important. The best thing that has come out of Conors mouth in a long time. Coming from other sports think Messi, Maurice Fitzgerald, Joe Deane, Ritchie Hogan. None of these guys have great power or indeed that particularly high a level of Athleticism, but they had skill and precision and its what made them great. And its always what defines "Great", a very high level of skill mastery. Its the difference between say Messi & Gareth Bale. When Bale loses his pace and power he is in big trouble at the elite level, Messi not so much. If Messi maintains desire then there is no reason that he could not remain the best for a very long time yet. McGregor is similar in his field. He has lots of genetic advantages physically and these have been honed and improved on over a very long time. Where I think (without any great insight other than a few words and a handful of videos and pictures) Portal had an influence was more in the head with McGregor. He got him to relax, McGregor mentioned he felt looser before this fight than the previous fight. But does he remember being uptight for the previous fight? Probably not, but that does not mean he was not more relaxed for Aldo. I get the feeling Portals movement work helped McGregor to slow everything down. This is where the mind comes in, the focus to see the punches before they happen. To be prepared. To think less. The more relaxed you are mentally going into a fight or race or match the less stress your body is under. We are all one organism, you cannot separate body and mind. There seemed to be a clarity with McGregor and I have a feeling that's the biggest effect Portal had on him, probably in conjunction with McGregors other coaches like John Kavanagh. People must keep remembering the body of work done, and not just the last 1% added by a specialist coach. Now it is about the 1 Per Cents at the highest level, but there has to be the 99% as well. Like I can't make a Junior B player an Inter County star, Ido Portal cannot make an ordinary fighter a World Champ.
I call myself a Movement Coach, but i will likely never ever fully be one, not sure anyone can. It is a lifetime of learning. Its a vocation. I also consider myself a Fitness Generalist. Its not very good for marketing purposes not having a real niche, but its what i am. I believe i can improve physically 99.9% of the world. Movement is complex though. I continue to search for answers by watching, comparing, remembering, taking notes of clients. The modern world has complicated things an awful alot. Sitting and phone reading are having massive effects on peoples lives and movement. As a Movement Coach part of my job is to iron that out. But i need to understand why it is happening, how it can be improved and what needs to happen for improvement in a certain timescale. Swinging your hand out in a fancy manner while doing a Lizard Crawl does not really "improve" a "movement". The ability to absorb and use force into the ground is movement. Developing multi-planer movement takes stability and mobility, and they have to come first. So anyone i work with goes Stability>Mobility>Basic Human Movements (Squat, Hinge, Lunge, Rotate, Pull, Push, Press, Carry). Then conditioning, simply aerobic capacity conditioning, because everyone needs it. And only then with some establishment of coordination and ability to apply force to the ground will we move on to the "fancy stuff".
2. There is a large difference in where i'm coming from as a Movement Coach and where Ido Portal comes from. While i'm sure we may share a lot of the same ideas on Skill Development, training High & Low (not all high intensity) etc Portal comes very much from a Martial Arts background and initially very much Capoeira. This sport in itself is about movement and the disguising of movement. This entire art/sport fits nicely into Martial Arts or MMA. Would it help a GAA player or a Rugby player, absolutely yes it would, of course it would. The more fluid your movement and the more complex your movement ability the better an athlete you will be. The better an athlete you are the better rugby player, soccer player or hurler you will be. However, and this is important, is training like this the best use of your time within a training schedule or week? Maybe you do have the time for it, maybe once a week. If you do I would encourage any athlete to use various modes of movement development to improve your "Mastery of Movement". However this specific type of Movement Training really does transfer quicker to some very select sports. Bottom line, if you were a hurler I would be advising you to spend your time on honing your skills in a ball alley playing games against other players over complex movement practice if it came down to a choice between the 2. If you can go into a Handball Alley (Irish Handball) and play hurling for 30 minutes with a partner you will improve your "Hurling Movement" to a greater extent than doing the likes of Capoeira. You will be dealing in Hurling "Agility" at level Bondarchuk would call If you have the time for both? Belt away, you will see the results and you will be a better hurler. For what its worth though, Portal is an elegant mover and a very interesting guy with some very interesting outlooks. He is certainly someone I will be spending more time following and learning from if I can. His exercises are not that ground-breaking and he uses various stability & mobility exercises many coaches use including myself. I like his views on Upper Body Training and his use of Rings, a very good piece of simple equipment. With too much Upper Body Muscle being more of a hindrance than an advantage to some field sports, but the need for strength still vital then the use of Rings make a lot of sense. What knowledge and coaching expertise he is imparting to the people he works with is unknown to most of us, the one thing is though people like him and people believe in him and that's crucial. In fact in many ways in coaching that's all that matters.
That said, i find it very hard there was any system like Bondarchuks Block system below implemented. Looking at it from a hurling POV
GPE - General Preparatory Exercises (Squats, aerobic running, shoulder work, mobility work, rotational work in gym)
SPE - Specialized Preparatory exercises (Hitting the ball in drills to each other)
SDE - Specialized Development Exercises (Specially designed constraint led games or something like the Handball Alley Hurling)
CE - Competitive exercises (Training Games, Small Sided Games)
A process like this is exactly what is needed for McGregor when he goes to take on Mayweather. In fact i would be of the opinion that 3 cycles of this, each ending with increasing difficulty of practice opponent over a 9-12 month period is exactly what McGregor would need to do as a minimum to compete with Mayweather.
10 weeks of this process 10-14 day taper
Repeat 2 more times. Thats what he would need.
3. I deal with mostly ordinary people looking to move better or lose fat, amateur athletes and the likes, he seems to work with largely Elite or Sub Elite Martial artists. I'm trying to get people to walk better, run better, get up off a seat better and/or with athletes of varying levels i'm just simply trying to reduce "Energy Leaks" so they can perform better and are more injury resilient. I use Resistance Training to improve peoples Coordination and Posture. What I am improving is Basic Fundamental Human Movements that get eroded day-to-day with our busy Office and gridlocked traffic lives. This becomes even more important for serious amateur athletes (particularly those in multi-directional field sports) who work in an Office AND play sport to a decent or serious level. What Portal does is very Martial Arts specific. I have worked with Amateur MMA athletes who take their sport very seriously. But in these cases its still very basic movements that need addressing and stability & mobility are generally always an issue. Again this is often due to their working lives and not any particular weakness. Getting these guys stronger without adding much or any weight is the trick with Amateur MMA athletes. Improvements in basic movements and more general stability in various planes of motion can make a big difference to an Amateur MMA athlete. Someone like Conor McGregor has a lot of these gifts genetically as well as the years of work added to his obvious natural ability and while he would certainly need to maintain all these qualities, it allows him to spend more time on the 1%er's. What I have found with many athletes is that once you get their basic movements better they become more athletic (without any great conditioning or huge life changes) and you often will get coaches saying their skill levels have improved. And this part is key though, there are "Movement Coaches" everywhere. A good Hurling or Boxing Coach will be constantly telling his athletes about movement, and it doesn't have to be anything fancy. How you hold a hurley can affect how you move to a ball, how you pick it up and how you strike it. A Boxer who's feet are too close together is in danger of getting knocked over. Good coaches will make small adjustments that either improve the movements directly or allow further, more complicated movements to occur more efficiently. Obviously the earlier in your life that this coaching takes place the better. Hence why it is often said that your best coaches need to be at youth levels. This seems obvious to anyone when you think about it however its often the opposite that happens.
I know I can bring any average athlete or amateur athlete to very close to the maximum of their capabilities if not right to that max. But I would be very reliant on a few things, the information I see from the athlete and how I process that, the information I get from the athlete and maybe also the information I can get from a coach who works with that athlete. However knowledge of the sport could be a limiting factor. But it could take years to get to that level. So at a basic level getting someone's coordination to a decent level (it would amaze people how even some high level athletes coordination can be so average or poor) with simple progressions through a lot of basic patterns. Movements I would incorporate with everyone would be Hip-Hinge, Squat, Lunge, Pull Vertical (if possible), Pull Horizontal, Push, Press, Carry, Crawl, Jump, Land & Throw all in very basic Sagittal Plane of Motion, essentially very basic forward/backward movements like a Walking Lunge or Bilateral Squat. They will also do plenty of Stability work. With a fresh PT Client you could be 3 months getting a client to perform all these movements with good stability & coordination. When you get them to a decent level then you can start mixing up both the intensity and the planes of movement. Everyone is different but generally in the first 4-6 weeks there will be "Initial Stimulation". This stimulation will create "Inter-muscular Coordination", the person should find themselves moving & feeling better in general. they will have less energy leaks in their general day-to-day activities which should lead to increased energy. After around 6 weeks (but can take 8-12 weeks depending on the client) they will find an improvement in muscle performance in individual muscles. This is one of many reasons to keep the exercises basic compound movements that use as much of the body every time as possible. This means the body and the individual muscles will grow in a balanced way. This is basic Human Movement, all I am doing the majority of the time is getting clients back to a very basic level of coordination & strength. Probably closer to the general strength levels of past generations of working class people. People who worked physically, who grew up playing in the fields and estates of their youth, people who moved with freedom and abandon before the dawn of Nintendo and Satellite TV. That is all it is about, getting back to average. Then at that stage we can explore where the client wants to go. Much to my dismay a very large amount of people want to head straight out on the track or roads running.
People are sold Running on photos like I have above and below. It leaves a marked impression with people that these people running look like they do because of running. BULLSHIT. Those people are fitness models, they are in the gym anywhere between 3 and 10 times a week, that's the reality.
You are being sold a pup.
The reality is somewhere around here.....
Run Run Run.
Very often clients will be back with some sort of ache or pain or injury. Some may even blame you for their injury. Peoples obsession with running is, in my humble opinion, an injury waiting to happen at best, dangerous and life shortening for some people. The vast majority of modern Humans cannot run, or at least they cannot run well. Biomechanically people are not in good shape to be running long distances. And for your average Office worker with weak & underactive glutes, tight hip flexors, tight & weak hamstrings and probably Upper Crossed Syndrome (their upper body pulled across over their shoulder) then anything more than doing 100M tempos is not advisable in my opinion. I would say 75% of my clients and maybe 50-60% of amateur team athletes(sometimes entire teams) display these weaknesses and postural deficiencies. What's worse is the still prevailing perception that the only real way to lose those few pounds is through Running. This is both logically flawed and scientifically disproved. Very often these people abandon the strength training and fall back into injury and weight gain after 6-7 months. The point here is, getting that basic strength & coordination back to an acceptable level is only stage 1. Further stimulation and confusion of the organism (your body) is needed on an on-going basis. Continual improvement is the real key, even for the general population and i feel this is where many commercial gyms and classes let people down. They are simply box ticking exercises. People go to Boxercise or Spinning in classes of 8-20, but the participants change alot, the trainer has little interest in improving individuals and the whole purpose is to get as many people in as possible. Most commercial gyms are simply clever marketing campaigns. Get them in, get them out. Its not fitness, its box ticking.
Another issue is Track & Field Athletes, and again its not all but some, who "train" Soccer, Rugby & Gaelic teams or individuals. Most of these people have ran since a young age, they nearly always have nature & nurture on their side in terms of running. They find running easy. But the problem is some of these people think running is easy for everyone and they often forget or don't recognize that that some hurlers, soccer players etc are just not meant for intensive running at high volumes or at least they need to be drip fed it. Its no surprise that teams with these trainers have very high injury lists. You also now have some of these athletes creating run clubs and charging people fairly decent money to go running any night of the week. Athletics in Ireland, like many other sports, is still afraid of Sports Science and S&C and this manifests itself in these groups and with these trainers. No biomechanical help, no activations, pitiful warm up's or maybe no warm ups and certainly no strength training. Its a recipe for disaster for the participant themselves. Where do these people end up? At the physio. And what's even more hilarious (may be the wrong word) is sometimes this Athlete "Trainer" IS the Physio. Go figure. This is not an attack on physios, this is an attack on unqualified or wreck less people who train others for monetary gain without much clue what they are doing. For every Physio pretending to be an S&C Coach or an Acupuncturist there is a S&C Coach pretending to be a "Rehab Expert" , a Massage Therapist or Physical Therapist allowing people believe they are a Physio and so on. Unfortunately there is a lot of that in Ireland and it degrades the different professions. Another problem is the publics perception of the professions in general. People don't understand the differences between some of the trades and that allows charlatans and bluffers give the business a bad name. So after that tangent, just beware, do your own research.
So, if you are reading and taking it in, my job as a movement coach is to find movement solutions. That may be improving the , speed and dexterity of a hurler, bio-mechanics of a Tennis player, or the stability of an overweight client, or building strength and muscle thru resisted movement for an aging adult to improve quality of life and longevity.
Movement Problem? No Problem. It just may take time.
Even with fat-loss movement is central to everything. Nutrition and lifestyle are significant elements as well, but if you are not moving well and regularly then your system slows. Ever see a Vegan who does no exercise? Well it will get you eating meat and into the gym quick smart.
So what other solutions are there to running to lose body fat and build your cardiovascular and aerobic systems?
Cardiac Output Sessions
Farmers Carry Circuits
Work Capacity circuits
and a million other ideas.
There is a great satisfaction from running though, a huge endorphin release and this is what people are attracted to or remember and want again. I'm not telling people to definitely not run, its good for you. But you need to get fit FIRST and not use running to get fit. And by fit i mean moving well, having good basic coordination, develop the glutes & hamstrings, do some technique work and build it up slowly. And also always maintain a level of strength work.
Movement is far more complex and unpredictable than squats and lunges, be it movement in life like stepping off a ladder or avoiding an obstacle. And of course, movement in sport is another level altogether in terms of mastery, in fact true mastery in your sporting movements is arguably something the vast majority of people actually never get near. The thing with any of movements is that they are skills, and then need to be learned, and then retained. As I mention above, Sporting Movements are far more complex. however I go thru a simple system with athletes to help them become more efficient. And essentially basic movements in the gym even on low resistance can have far reaching effects. What's more important here though is transfer of what you do. Everything you do in the gym or on the field has to have the end game of improving your skill & movement efficiency on the pitch, in the ring or on the court. Looking for low hanging fruit of obvious energy leaks or lack of efficiency in movement is what you look for in a sportsman or woman, but you always need to have the athletes sport in your head. For instance if a Tennis player does not move too well laterally then someone like me can have a huge impact on their Tennis ability without every seeing them with a racket. Lateral Movement is obviously a key part of tennis, if you can speed up and save energy in their lateral movement then logic suggests they will get to the ball quicker and will in turn have more time to process the movement of their own shot and survey what's in front of them. If they are constantly fumbling over side to side they are probably just getting the ball back anyway they can. Another important part of lateral movement for a tennis player is their ability to decelerate. Deceleration is one of the most undertrained abilities in sports, it always amazes me how little time is put into deceleration as a skill. When you think about it logically, every time we take off we must stop or slow. So for every acceleration their must be a deceleration. Not to mention the fact that teaching technically good deceleration is also a great injury reduction tool. Yet it is often completely forgotten about in Physical Preparation.
End of Part 1......