Movement Complexity, and why YOU need to embrace it

“Most of the ‘fitness’ world does not understand the principle of ‘Movement Complexity’. The type of work people do with their bodies is similar to doing basic add/subtract math exercises with bigger and bigger numbers throughout their whole lives without ever reaching subjects like equations, combinatorics or understanding what a Parabola means. MOVEMENT COMPLEXITY. Now!”  —Ido Portal

Put simply, Movement Complexity refers to moving the body in all sorts of complex and challenging ways. Some movement disciplines demonstrate this concept to a high degree: Dancers, MMA Fighters, Grapplers etc, along with many others. In contrast there are some movement disciplines where we would say there is not a great amount of movement complexity involved, such as: Track and Field athletes, Powerlifting, Cyclists, Weightlifters etc.

This is not to say that any of those disciplines lack complexity in their technique, or a high degree of skill, but if we look at it from a movement perspective it’s clear that there is not a large variety of movements required in their competition and training. Instead, its more about getting really proficient in a few specific movements.

Just visualize for a minute the typical training schedule for a Powerlifter – bench press, back squat and deadlift. Of course there is a huge variety of accessory exercises used but in general we could assume their training would look pretty similar to this.

Now visualize the schedule of an MMA fighter – grappling/wrestling, striking, footwork drills, conditioning, sparring, and much of it done against a live opponent (unpredictable). Stretch out the training over a period of a few years and you start to see that the MMA fighter is covering a vastly larger amount of movements than the powerlifter.

The simple truth is that our bodies are designed to move in complex ways. We are supposed to climb, brachiate, lift, run, sprint, fight, rest, crawl, jump etc. We were designed to do all of this in a dynamic world full of predators and environmental variance. Our bodies thrive on being exposed to a vast array of stimulus, so we can safely say that our bodies need exposure to complex movements.

OF COURSE – we do need to be strong and powerful, because sometimes you just have to lift heavy rocks all day, or drag a wooly mammoth carcass back to your cave, and so there is most definitely a need to develop serious pulling and pressing ability too.

We are designed to be movement generalists rather than movement specialists (a term i stole from Ido Portal). Specialization is great and it produces amazing results in terms of performance, but it comes with a price. If you choose to specialize in a particular form of movement, there will come a time where the body says ‘enough’ (take a brief look into the injury rates of ANY elite athletes – knees, hips, spine, hands, etc.).


If we take a look at the typical movements of an urban dweller here in Australia – we get up, shower, sit down in a car or a bus, go to work, sit down at a computer, stare at the computer all day, get up and jump in the car or the bus, go home and sit down for dinner, then sit down to do more work or watch some TV before jumping back into bed.

If you are one of the fit ones, maybe you squeeze in 45-60min of training somewhere in there. You might hit the treadmill for 20min, then do some kind of resistance work using squats, presses, pulls etc. GREAT stuff, and very necessary. You might even do a class of some sort – perhaps TRX, crossfit, or a cycle class. Again, you are doing great stuff.

But here is the deal – you don’t fucking move enough. You spend all day in the same shitty position and then you go and exercise on the same vertical and horizontal planes of motion utilizing basic movement patterns and basic pieces of equipment.

Sore lower back?  Tight ankles and feet? Lack of energy? Weak joints? Soft skin? Bad knees? Shitty reflexes? Uncoordinated? Stiff shoulders?

There are a million reasons behind all of this –  clothing, environment, underuse, overuse, tissue restrictions etc., but I’m saving that for another post.

The fact is that you are a movement specialist, and you are not a particularly good one.

You need to expose your body to new and unpredictable circumstances, sometimes by yourself, sometimes reacting to a partner, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes there is a little discomfort. There is no general prescription for this – you need to research it for yourself and play with the dosages to find what is right for you.

You need to become the generalist

Your body will respond to this on so many levels: on a cognitive level, on a cellular level, an emotional level. The science behind this is telling us more and more about this every day

*Read this book – Move Your DNA, Katy Bowman

The other thing you need to understand is that training in this way is not always measurable, and this is the reason a lot of mainstream (and even less mainstream) fitness have discarded such modes of training. How can i measure a 5min sparring session in wrestling class? How many reps of the burpee was there, or was it a sit up? It doesn’t fucking matter – not every workout needs to be measured in order for it to be valid (and anyone who tells you it is is holding you back)

Expose your body to new and different ways of moving as much as possible. It doesn’t even have to be in the form of exercise, just make it part of your day. Don’t stop powerlifting, or cycling – if you enjoy them and they please you, you should most definitely continue. However don’t do JUST those things. Go rock climbing sometimes. Attend a boxing or BJJ class. Go to a dance academy and learn some new moves. Practice parkour or breakdancing. Stretch a little. Play some ball sports. Go axe throwing on the weekend. There are thousands of things out there that you are NOT doing, so go and do some.


We feel so strongly about all this, we constantly endeavor to expose our tribe to as large a variety of new movements as possible. We base our classes around it –

  • Combat and partner based work (Fight Factory)
  • gymnastic and bodyweight movement (Jungle-Nastics)
  • lifting heavy objects (Lift)
  • flexibility and stretching (Mobility)
  • a little bit of everything (Strength & Movement).

As students ourselves our own repertoire of movement is constantly expanding as we learn new ways of moving, and we bring these teaching directly back to our tribe. We like to get good at certain things because they’re fun and we enjoy them, but we don’t want to get stale either. The research is ongoing.

Just ask our people – We crawl, climb, swing, lift, run, stretch, relax, dance, jump, compete, the list goes on. Our humble gym is not capable of covering all forms of movement, but we squeeze a hell of a lot in there. The outcome is that while our people become stronger, leaner and fitter they also become more mobile, resilient to injury, better coordinated and more agile.

Get moving people..



We have a brain for one reason and one reason only — and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements.

Daniel Wolpert – Doctor, Neuroscientist and Engineer


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  • May 25, 2016
  • Blog

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