Study Shows “Movement-Guided Fitness” Is Superior To Traditional Approaches In Two Important Ways

In gyms all across the world, millions of people are unknowingly settling for sub-par fitness results, no matter how hard they work. It’s true that traditional fitness training delivers many benefits, but according to a recent study, movement-based training offers even better results with fewer negative effects. Movement training also has more “carry-over” when performing outside the gym (e.g. in real life).

So, if you want to move and perform well, in both ordinary and extraordinary situations (e.g. athletics, emergencies, etc.), this article will explain why a movement-based approach to fitness and physical performance is best, based on the findings of a recent study that challenge conventional wisdom.

Note: Every MovNat Trainer and enthusiast should seek to understand the implications of this study.

Why Quality Movement Matters
(According to Science)

We hear it all the time: quality over quantity. Quality training equals quality results.

But how much does it really matter? Can’t we just “wing it” with our fitness and movement training, assuming we work hard enough or follow the right program? Well, a new study shows that the quality of your movement can have a dramatic impact on your results.

Now, before we get to the practical implications of this research, let’s see how the study was conducted so you understand how it applies to your training.

The Study That Turned Conventional Fitness Dogma On It’s Head

The goal of the study was to compare fitness- and movement-related adaptations between career firefighters by testing two different training strategies. The first strategy was to use a high-intensity exercise program to improve physical fitness. The second strategy was to enhance both physical fitness and movement quality at the same time.

Fifty-two firefighters were assigned to three different groups:

  1. Movement-Guided Fitness Group (MOV) – Received a training program to follow and also received movement-oriented coaching on proper technique and mistakes to avoid.
  2. Conventional Fitness Group (FIT) – Received a training program to follow, but did not receive any coaching.
  3. Control Group (CON) – Did not receive any new fitness programming or coaching. They were instructed to maintain their current routines.

All participants performed a fitness evaluation and laboratory-based test before and after their 12-week training period to quantify their results. These tests not only measured fitness attributes (e.g. strength, power, flexibility, body composition, etc.) but also movement quality.

In fact, these tests included “5 occupationally relevant transfer tasks that were unrehearsed during the 12-week training” (emphasis ours).

The purpose of these tests was to see what kind of training prepares you better for the unexpected demands of the real world (read: firefighting!). Said another way, the researchers wanted to know if training a certain way led to more efficient and effective movement when you have to perform in an unpredictable and chaotic situation (e.g. real life).

Guess what happened.

The participants in the Movement-Guided group not only showed the greatest improvements in the fitness tests (i.e. beating both other groups), they also experienced fewer negative outcomes than the others.

Here’s the official summary of the results…

FIT and MOV groups exhibited significant improvements in all aspects of fitness; however, only MOV exhibited improvements in spine and frontal plane knee motion control when performing each transfer task. FIT exhibited less controlled spine and frontal plane knee motions while squatting, lunging, pushing, and pulling. More MOV participants (43%) exhibited only positive posttraining changes (i.e., improved control), in comparison with FIT (30%) and CON (23%). Fewer negative posttraining changes were also noted (19, 25, and 36% for MOV, FIT, and CON).”

In other words, better movement equals better results and less injuries.

Or, in the words of the researchers…

These findings suggest that placing an emphasis on how participants move while exercising may be an effective training strategy to elicit behavioral changes beyond the gym environment. For occupational athletes such as firefighters, soldiers, and police officers, this implies that exercise programs designed with a movement-oriented approach to periodization could have a direct impact on their safety and effectiveness by engraining desirable movement patterns that transfer to occupational tasks.”

Kindof like what we’ve been saying all along…

Three big takeaways worth highlighting from the study…

1. Quality movement matters.

This study proves what we’ve been saying all along. Here’s an excerpt from our MovNat Trainer Manual that sheds a little more insight on this topic…

Our observation is that the development of general conditioning does not guarantee the acquisition of movement skills and proficiency, while the training of quality movement and skills does guarantee the acquisition of the most applicable and comprehensive conditioning. In our views, while it is obviously a mistake to add conditioning to dysfunction, it is also a mistake to prioritize conditioning when a solid foundation of movement skills is missing. Strength or conditioning in the absence of proper movement and biomechanical neuroregulation may actually lead to increased incidence of injury.

If you expect from your training regimen a greater capability for practical performance, a “GPP” (general physical preparedness) program is, in fact, a sub-optimal approach. Indeed, greater conditioning, such as strength or endurance, for instance, does not necessarily equate with greater competence in responding with efficiency to the complexity of contextual demands.

In the absence of movement skills, techniques, and efficiency, energies will be wasted, your safety challenged, and your physical action may even find itself ineffective. Oppositely, efficiency in movement will produce greater performance, greater energy conservation, and greater safety.


2. well-rounded physical preparedness Requires More Than Just Physical Fitness.

Your real world capability depends on many things – physical fitness being one of them. There is also mental fitness, the ability to focus and move mindfully, among other things. And then of course, there’s the movement skills required to perform effectively (i.e. succeed in the task at hand) and efficiently (with the greatest level of safety and performance, and the lowest level of energy expenditure and risk). On top of that, there’s the trainable ability to adapt to contextual demands (e.g. from your environment or a specific situation), which changes everything and could be a whole other article. Suffice to say, training must be both broad and deep for optimal physical performance.

The researchers tell us:

For the purpose of preventing musculoskeletal injuries and improving performance within populations that are exposed to highly variable task demands (e.g., athletes, firefighters, and military service personnel), it could be questioned whether conventional approaches to exercise are sufficient…recent evidence has shown that improvements in strength or joint range-of-motion in isolation may have little influence on how someone performs an unrehearsed whole-body task…This finding suggests that perhaps the physical preparation of firefighters, or any other high-risk occupational or athletic group, is likely unattainable by emphasizing improvements on general tests of physical fitness alone.” (bolding ours for emphasis)


3. Coaching in movement efficiency makes a huge difference.

The numbers don’t lie. Quality training will not only dramatically increase your fitness and capability, it’ll also significantly reduce your risk of injury. Which is like the Holy Grail of training.

This study shows that learning how to deadlift properly not only enables you to lift something heavy off the ground, it also reduces your risk of injuring yourself when you have to pick something heavy or awkward up.

It shows that learning how to hang and climb properly will not only help you get up and over obstacles, but also keeps your shoulders safer.

It shows that mastering the various balancing skills will not only help you avoid falls, it’ll increase the resiliency of your hips, knees, ankles, and feet.

But in a bigger sense, this study proves that learning how to move well – whether it be walking, running, jumping lifting or carrying something, or any of the other Natural Movement skills we teach at MovNat – will better prepare you for whatever life throws at you in the future.

movnat movement skills

Putting This Into Practice

Quality movement matters. And quality movement starts with Natural Movement.

When you learn how to move skillfully (i.e., with efficient technique), you’ll experience greater performance, higher energy conservation, and increased safety. In other words, less pain, more fun, and the ability to do things you never imagined yourself doing. Not to mention a huge confidence boost you’ll carry into the rest of your life.

So, if you’d like to get better results from your training with “fewer negative outcomes” by learning how to move well – with ease and efficiency – focus on quality movement.

Learn how to move efficiently in all the different ways your body is designed for. Then pressure-test your new skills using real-world demands (e.g. situational and/or environmental challenges).

Finally, the research is being done to validate what many in our community have discovered to be true all along: a movement based approach to fitness is best.

Here at MovNat, we believe quality movement is important not only for exercises you perform at the gym, but also in everyday activities and even emergency activities – so that you’re ready for anything. That’s one of the reasons why we teach the full spectrum of Natural Movement skills in a progressive, scalable manner – to take you from any starting point to the next level (whatever that looks like for you).

If you’d like us to help you become a more fit, capable person who is resilient to injuries, come on out for a MovNat training event soon. Nothing substitutes for live training from the world leader in Natural Movement Fitness.

Learn more



Frost DM, Beach TA, Callaghan JP, McGill SM. Exercise-Based Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention for Firefighters: Contrasting the Fitness- and Movement-Related Adaptations to Two Training Methodologies. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2441-59.

MovNat Certified Trainer Manual, version 5.0.