Why Going to the Gym Isn’t Enough

Credit: Julia Balla Courtesy Ido Portal

Ido Portal may be the most influential trainer you've never heard of. With more than 200,000 ardent followers on Facebook and other networks — and the ability to pull-off feats like the "Swan Pull-Up," the native Israeli is on the road nearly two-thirds of the year researching and teaching, and practices an array of movement, from acrobatics and martial arts drills to strength training and everything in between, for up to 10 hours a day. We talked to Ido Portal via Skype from Tel Aviv about strength, health, and how to move better.

How can people move better?
In modern fitness we do everything with a neutral spine more or less. You see even very strong people getting stronger in a very neutral and fixed position. The different perspective is to ask the question: "What else do I need besides heavy squats?" If you just do squats and deadlifts and pull-ups benches, you are neglecting your spine. The spine is craving a lot of movement that is missing there. Spend more time in a squat position throughout the day. Just doing that will improve your digestion, your knee health, your hips, and it will start to move things in the right direction. Another is hanging, which is so beneficial for shoulders.
 
What should we do to get stronger?
Gymnastic rings are the best tool out there for upper body strength development. It requires some education but my mother, at 64, trains on the gymnastic rings. 
 
And how about to be more fit?
I try to move better and that takes care of my fitness. A great example is when a very fit fighter walks into the ring and gets demolished by someone less fit than him but whose movement layer is better.
 
How can the average person move better?
There are so many things including educating yourself and doing those challenges (hanging). I will give you one of hundreds and thousands of principles I use. For example, sound is the mark of inefficiency. Move silently. By not slamming those weights you actually improve movement. When you control it, it's a completely different way to practice. And your training looks completely different.

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What about flexibility?
The squats and hanging challenge are the biggest pieces. No amount of foam rolling and yoga classes will benefit you as much as regularly applying those two basic skills.
 
Do you believe in traditional cardio (raising your heart rate)?
I let the movement choices take care of my cardio. I would recommend people do more movement. For example, go to a dance class, to a gymnastic class, do wrestling or martial arts or take any form of movement classes. Get their cardio in at the same time instead of the treadmill hamster wheel thing.
 
What do you think about weekend warriors?
It creates a lot of injuries. When you hammer your body with large cardio in a condensed period of time and then de-train, it creates a lot of problems. It would be better to have a completely chaotic schedule than this very sparse regular training schedule. For example, one week do not train; the next week, train four days out of the week; and the next week train two days out of the week. Change it up this way, rather than train two days every week. Our body works well with chaos.

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How many rest days do you suggest? 
I am not a big believer in rest — complete and total rest. I recommend people move a lot even when injured and to encourage others to do so. Many times movement can really help you heal much faster. When you stop moving, you create a new problem. Hormonal shifts start to happen. People get depressed. Of course, take care not to move into the pain and not to hurt yourself.


 
How do you deal with stress? 
I treat it with stocism. I recently read a book that said: "On a thorny road, don't try to cover the road in leather; make sandals." I am a big believer in that. Your reserves and your ability to deal with stress can be improved. Put your effort into that versus trying to worry and control those stressors. We live in stressful times and stressful places. We are living this global reality. We need to work on our reserves [sleep, movement, eating well, good relationships], then those stressors are much more tolerable.