Don't let Cool Shit Distract you from the Human Layer

I first came across Ido Portal around five years ago when I found this article on hanging. I wasn’t exercising regularly at the time but I was convinced straight away that there was something to what he was saying. I went out and bought myself a door frame pull-up bar and started my own ‘hanging month’. Within a couple of weeks I had stopped. I didn’t complete the challenge, but I did keep up regular exercise from this point onwards.

During the hanging month, I began to use the Fitstar app to guide me. I loved it so much that it distracted me from the challenge. I didn’t care - the app was so cheap compared to a gym membership ($50 a year!). Not only could I do the workouts at home, but the stuff I was learning included things like handstand pushups. It was awesome. I decided I wanted to learn how to do a handstand and some other cool shit. Since then I’ve been working towards goals like a one arm chin-up, 60 second free standing handstand, and freestanding handstand push-up. I still sometimes hung on my pull-up bar, but the other movements were much more interesting so it wasn’t a focus anymore.


Years later, in February 2018, I attended a Movement X seminar in Melbourne. I’ve been working towards my “cool shit” goals and made a fair bit of progress. Go me! And yet, one of the things that struck me about the seminar was our conversation about the purpose behind the hanging challenge.

We talked about the fact that to hang from a bar isn’t a special thing. It’s not something that should be difficult for you to do. It’s not “cool shit”. I certainly don’t mean to shame you if you aren’t able to hang from a bar. But to put it in perspective - to be able to do the hanging challenge you don’t need to be a specialist athlete or even a movement enthusiast. You only need to be human. Even though it might seem ‘normal’ that most people can’t do this, it’s definitely part of the human set of skills.

 The Human Layer forms the base of all your skills. Movement is the more complex stuff, like perhaps pull-ups or dancing. Most people can do things in this layer too, but it will require some attention. Specialist skills are things you need to devote a lot of time and become an expert in before you can learn the skill. Think things like handstands and one arm chin-ups. Or even just specialising in a specific sport - the specialist layer is a narrow set of skills built on the other foundational layers. 

The Human Layer forms the base of all your skills. Movement is the more complex stuff, like perhaps pull-ups or dancing. Most people can do things in this layer too, but it will require some attention. Specialist skills are things you need to devote a lot of time and become an expert in before you can learn the skill. Think things like handstands and one arm chin-ups. Or even just specialising in a specific sport - the specialist layer is a narrow set of skills built on the other foundational layers. 

A lot of people neglect the human layer. It’s easy to ignore because you can learn movements and even specialist skills like olympic lifts without addressing issues in your human layer of skills. If you’re like me, you might focus your training on the “cool shit”. But when you neglect the human layer, you limit the possible size of your pyramid. You can build a much more stable pyramid with a bigger base.

In my years of movement practice, I have noticed this effect even though I didn’t understand it. I have been trying to improve my pull-ups for years. I’ve seen some progress in that time, but things sped up considerably when I started working on the basic hanging and scapular strength suggested by Ido. My capacity and general shoulder stability has increased drastically.

So, don’t neglect the human layer. Practice your hanging. Practice your resting squat. Practice things like throwing and catching. Practice moving your spine. Practice walking. These skills are not “cool shit”. They’re part of the human layer that will serve you well in everything you do. Get better at these things and you’ll get better at most other skills. You’ll learn things you can bring to other skills either at the human layer, or further up the pyramid.


Since the seminar, I have decided to have another go at the hanging challenge. I’ll approach it a bit differently this time with a different perspective. Want to do it with me? Have you tried hanging before?

PS - yes, I do find it funny that I seem to keep using pyramids as models for things. What can I say, I seem to be thinking in triangles lately.