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Measuring Movement Health

How digital fitness misinterprets exercise personalization, and why measuring your movement matters.
5 minute read

There’s a major pain-point in digital fitness.

Digital fitness has come a long way in recent years. Rapid advancement in technology has made fitness content more accessible for just about anyone.

However, even with seemingly endless digital options for exercise, the truth is that people are living in more physical discomfort than ever, and health care systems are stressed trying to fix physical health ailments after they occur.

Recently, we wrote about the growing disconnect between the fast-growing digital fitness space and the real, every-day physical health needs of individuals. 

“While there seem to be personal exercise options everywhere, adults are more out of shape – and in more physical discomfort – than ever before. 1 in 2 American adults report experiencing musculoskeletal pain. On an annual basis, 1 trillion dollars are allocated to missed work time and health spend based on physical health ailments.

– excerpt from Moving in the Gap

At movr, we’ve seen evidence of this first hand. We polled over 20,000 app users to ask if they experience persistent physical tension, aches or discomfort. 

92% said yes.

Only 6% of respondents didn’t identify with any type of physical tension or discomfort. 2% of responses were unknown.

So how did we get here?

One of the many challenges in exercise technology is the overuse of the term personalized.

Despite common claims of being a “personal trainer in your pocket” or  “tailored to you”,  current digital solutions usually do not connect with your body’s actual physical needs.

When exercise content began to digitally scale in the late 2000s with apps like the Nike Training Club, personalization got left behind in the name of convenience. At the time, just being able to access exercise content online was a big win.

Since then, advances in wearable technology have allowed us to track heart rate, steps and other biometric data. Even though all of this is valuable information, it primarily supports volume-based goals and leaves personal movement function in the lurch. 

While most exercise apps today enable users to self-select workouts based on a desired goal, there’s usually little consideration given to important information about where the individual is starting from.

In addition, these applications give too much weight to user preference. Workouts are often chosen based on variables like general brand aesthetic, music playlist or instructor sex appeal. These are fun options, but clearly problematic when given priority over what is actually best for your body.

In real life, a good personal trainer will personalize your exercise experience by assessing your body (with systems like the FMS) before recommending – or putting you through – any actual exercise.

This important step enables the trainer to understand where you’re starting from so they can recommend exercises that have an immediate impact on how your body moves and feels.

In addition to improving movement function, a quality trainer also helps find the appropriate challenge and cardiovascular levels to help you meet specific goals like losing weight, building strength and improving endurance and/or performance in sport. 

Despite the many advances in technology and common promises of a “personal trainer in your pocket,” this crucial assessment-based approach to physical health remains largely absent from the digital fitness space.

The danger of randomly selected exercise.

When we leave behind assessments and recommendations tailored to our bodies, we do random workouts. Randomness contributes to a lack of understanding of how our bodies work, and what they need to move well. 

Searching for clarity, people today often turn to popular fitness culture and social media, where physical health is commonly framed in terms of muscular arms and chiseled abs.

If movement dysfunction is talked about at all, it’s often thought of as something separate – a barrier to overcome or get around when you’re working out, rather than an important part of the whole picture. 

As a result, people put volume (more reps) on top of dysfunctional movement patterns, setting themselves up for long-term failure.

Technology companies experience this as user drop-off and churn out of their programs. Individuals experience it as persistent tension – tight backs, sore necks, cranky hips – caused by the very workouts they hope will help them feel better.

Assess yourself, before you wreck yourself.

Our takeaway? We must make it standard practice to assess movement function in the digital health landscape, just as we do in person.

“The key to helping people move intelligently – to measurably improving their physical health in a way that aligns with their real-world priorities and challenges – lies in understanding that movement health solutions are unique to every individual.

– excerpt from Moving in the Gap

Whether it’s done individually or with the help of an expert, learning to measure our movement is an absolute must for truly personalizing recommendations to match the changing needs and abilities of our bodies.

Why isn’t this the norm already?

Like any great problem, it takes a tremendous amount of expertise to learn how the body functions, how to identify root causes of movement limitations, and what specific exercises are the most effective in resolving the issue at hand.

It takes even more expertise to successfully digitize this knowledge. 

The good news is that it is possible. With the right approach and a little intention, improving how bodies moves and feel can actually be a pretty simple process (it can take as little as 5 minutes!).

Not only that – programming can incorporate personalized movement recommendations so that the end consumer is able improve musculoskeletal (MSK) ailments while also meeting volume-based fitness goals.

If you’re an individual, your baseline standard should be that any new or existing exercise routine includes some kind of movement assessment before jumping into a workout.

Simple toe touches, deep squats and upper body rotation say a lot about what you’re capable of doing safely.

From there, we hope you can connect it with the workout, playlist or trainer you love, so your experience can be as enjoyable as it should be.

If you’re a fitness technology platform, it’s time to quit living in the past. Start making recommendations based on how your members are moving, not just how often.

Give priority to what their bodies need before catering to personal preferences or the latest fitness trends. The future winners in fitness technology will continue to make this easier by seamlessly connecting movement intelligence with volume-based content. 

It’s time to get moving – smartly.

At movr, we are dedicated to innovating in the industry with intelligent assessments and curation that can truly personalize exercise for every individual.

In aid of that, we thought we’d highlight some best practices for assessing movement and following up with short 5-minute recommendations (a stretch, a core drill, or some stability work), that measurably improve MSK issues in the body. 

Over the next few weeks we’ll be releasing some practical notes on how to address upper and lower back discomfort, hip discomfort, achy knees and shoulder issues.

We invite you to follow along and join in on the conversation. Download the movr app, sign up for the newsletter, or send us a note directly.

Co-written by:
Aaron de Jong & Oben Hart

movr is a health technology company focused on measurably improving movement health. We do so through our end consumer app and by integrating our assessment and recommendations logic with fitness and health technology companies who are innovating the future of movement health. 

Interested in learning more? Reach out here.

Feel better in your body

with exercise curated for you using an approach backed by science.

Feel better in your body

with exercise curated for you using an approach backed by science.