I’ve always been interested in fitness and over the years I’ve played numerous sports and tried many different methods of fitness training – with varying results. A few years ago, after reading various online fitness forums – mainly Parkour related, I found out about an old type of fitness training called Methode Naturelle and about a person who had experience of this type of training – Frenchman Erwan Le Corre. From the small amount of information I could find, I felt that this could be something worth finding out more about. Fortunately, Erwan eventually setup a website to promote his ideas on fitness, which he named MovNat (www.movnat.com).
Over the last few years via different routes I have been drawn towards a number of theories on what is best fitness wise, nutritionally and psychologically. I feel very lucky to have discovered MovNat – because I believe Erwan brings together these theories – namely how we should move, eat and act – in a way which is true to our nature i.e. the way evolution has designed humans to be.
What is MovNat?
MovNat primarily involves learning, practicing and improving your natural human movement skills – which includes the combined training of walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending.
After discovering the history of Georges Hebert and Methode Naturelle , Erwan Le Corre decided to “improve and update the coaching system as well as providing an overall approach that better fits the people of today’s world with today’s concerns and expectations”, which resulted in the creation of MovNat. (Erwan Le Corre movnat.com June 14th 2009)
Erwan routinely holds MovNat training courses in an attempt to re-introduce natural movement training, which hopefully will one day result in mainstream acceptance.
MovNat is not primarily a ‘Strength & Conditioning’ program i.e. to develop strength, power, speed, etc. Nor is MovNat about improving your physical appearance. Bodybuilders will repeatedly lift weights purely for appearance/vanity – they may get big & toned, but they’re not necessarily strong. Bodybuilders train in an attempt to make their body will look a certain way. With MovNat you don’t do specific/repeated exercises in an attempt to develop 6-pack abs, etc. With MovNat natural movement is the conditioning.
MovNat training is fun – as opposed to your typical gym workout of boring, isolated, repetitive drills. MovNat does not target specific body parts, but instead conditions the whole body – preparing you for real world demands.
MovNat v Other Fitness Methods
Frequently there are people coming along to MovNat clinics/workshop who do other types of fitness training e.g. CrossFit and can do numerous pull-ups e.g. x10 non-stop, but when they attempt to climb a tree branch many are either unable to or it’s a huge struggle for them. This is often because they don’t have the required strength &/or are using an in-efficient technique – I’ve witnessed this myself.
This is because they’re used to doing conditioning pull-up drills on a smooth, shiny bar which fits their grip perfectly. But when they try to climb a tree branch they are not prepared – the branch is too wide, too jagged, etc, etc. So when faced with a real-world demand e.g. climb a tree branch they failed. This ability could save your life e.g. if chased by a wild dog would you have the physical ability to jump up and climb up onto a tree branch to escape? Whatever your answer, find a tree branch and test yourself.
With MovNat training you would not repeatedly train on the same tree branch / obstacle, etc – you would train on different trees, etc i.e. different branch widths, textures, heights, shapes, etc – so that you are better prepared for any challenge.
A second example, comparing conditioning drills with MovNat natural movement training is jumping. So, again I’ll use CrossFit to demonstrate my point. In CrossFit you do box jumps e.g. jump up & down 30 times from a 20 inch box.
In many ways this is a good fitness workout – do it often enough and you improve your strength & conditioning for this drill. Your body would be ready to jump a……. 20 inch box face on. But what if you were faced with jumping up 30 inches, or jumping down 40 inches or jumping onto a rounded rock or jumping at a diagonal or jumping a variety of distances or jumping where your feet have to land in different positions/angles or jumping 3 metres and having to stop & stabilise yourself on your landing point, etc??
Is your body prepared for jumping and landing on mud or sand or onto a log or a rock or concrete?? Are you trained in how to absorb the impact so you don’t injure yourself? If you are only training jumping on a 20 inch box at a set distance, face on to the box – then that is the only type of jump you are prepared for.
Now just in case I’ve upset some CrossFitters with the above comments, let me say that I love CrossFit – compared to many fitness regimes it is one of the best. I have attended a CrossFit Level 1 Certification and I still do some CrossFit training. However, in my personal opinion MovNat has the edge on it, since it is better at preparing you for real world demands and is a lot of fun. From my experience MovNat has shown up my fitness weaknesses e.g. I can easily do x10 pull ups, but when I first tried climbing a tree branch, I could do it, but it was very difficult, my movements were inefficient and I used up a huge amount of energy – tiring myself out for the next challenge.
“All I can tell for now is that it is my observation that so far all CrossFit practitioners that have trained with me were in pretty good shape but still got challenged both physically and mentally and came to the realization that they had to broaden their training to make it truly “functional”.
(Erwan Le Corre, movnat.com, September 12th, 2009)
I can do Dead lifts, Shoulder Press, Push Press, Front Squat etc, but when I first tried dead lifting a log, then lifting it up onto my shoulder, balancing it correctly and then walking 20 metres with it, I really struggled – and that was with a log that weighed less than I would normally lift when doing Dead lifts, Shoulder Press, Push Press, etc. Again my physical weaknesses were exposed, my previous training was lacking in preparing me for doing something that humans would have done for thousands of years.
Another fantastic form of exercise is Parkour. Developed initially in France – and again partly inspired by Georges Hebert and Methode Naturelle. There are many incredible Parkour athletes with amazing skill and fitness. However, it is not a complete training system. You cannot develop an all round general fitness with Parkour. Why? It is because it lacks sufficient fundamental natural movements e.g. in Parkour you do not train lifting, carrying, throwing, pulling, defending, swimming, etc. Like many sports they specialise in a limited number of movements – impressive though they are.
Yoga is often promoted as being a natural form of exercise – but the reality is it is a strict, rigid methodology. There is nothing natural about most of its movements – as far as humans are concerned. Standing on one leg with hands held in a prayer position overhead is not a natural movement. Yoga follows strict man-made rules from thousands of years ago. Ancient yes, natural no. Also, many yoga moves imitate animal forms i.e. the cat, the cobra, etc. But we are humans, so we should be training following our own natural movements – not those of a cat or a dog, etc. We’re humans, not animals.
Stone Age Hunter
For example, a Stone Age hunter on his own, after killing a deer may have had to dead lift it up, put it onto his shoulder and walk back to his camp – possibly miles away. Could I do that? Possibly (if it was a small deer), but with my current fitness level which means I’m lacking in my ability to fully cope with real life physical demands such as this…I think I’d be the wimp of the tribe. For a few months anyway…..
Why I do MovNat…..
MovNat movements have a practical usefulness to them. As well as being a lot of fun, the outcomes of MovNat are :
1. Better strength & conditioning
2. Your body looks & feels better i.e. not overweight & unfit
Like many CrossFitters my fitness goal is to achieve general all round fitness to prepare me for most real world demands. CrossFit is better than most fitness regimes at getting you close to this, but MovNat is better since much of the training is actual real world challenges.
A Pain In The Back…
Like many people, for years I went to a commercial gym – running on a treadmill or lifting dumbbells or using multi-gym machines, etc. I thought I was reasonably fit. But over the years I started to suffer from an increasing painful lower back. The pain got so bad that I eventually made an appointment with a physiotherapist. She examined me and told me my lower back pain was the result of weak core muscles – as result of years sitting at a desk (student, work, etc) and from not training my core properly or hardly at all in my case.
I learned that my core muscles had become weak partly because of my daily routine i.e. sitting at a desk for hours, and when I did manage to get to the gym; the exercises I was doing didn’t really do much with regards to training my core effectively. Spending hours sitting down at work & home for years, combined with a fitness program which was largely seated, with supported exercises had left my spine & joints open to injury. Going to the gym had made my arms & legs stronger than my core muscles could cope with.
C.H.E.K Institute & Functional Training
My physiotherapists told me I had to strengthen my core – do some ‘functional training’ e.g. swimming, pilates, yoga, swiss ball, etc. Well I tried them all and pretty soon my pain disappeared – the pilates being the most effective. I also attended a Functional Training Workshop and arranged 1 to 1 training with a Chek qualified coach.
This was excellent and really opened my eyes to ‘functional training’. I learned that my approach to exercise should be based on the demands your body has to handle on a daily basis. As humans we stand, walk, reach, lift, carry, twist and turn that no gym machine will ever prepare us for.
My C.H.E.K coach introduced me to idea that we should be training in a way which follows natural human movements i.e. lift, carry, throw, pull, etc, not isolated movements like lifting a dumbbell repeatedly while sitting on a bench. C.H.E.K articles that I read mentioned the strength & fitness required by our hunter gatherer ancestors over thousands of years.
Learn From Our Ancestors
Our Hunter Gatherer ancestors had no gyms and didn’t follow an exercise program of sit ups or press ups, etc but they were fit and healthy – they had to be to survive. Archaeologists have proven that humans (thousands of years ago) were taller than today’s humans, were fit, and many had all their own teeth when they died. They were strong and fit thanks to their daily routine & diet i.e. every day going out hunting, walking for miles, running after animals, throwing spears, dragging the dead deer they killed, lifting & carrying it back to camp, etc. So one theory, that I think makes sense is that we should exercise the in a way that is natural to us – we should be practicing movements our ancestors made, which kept them fit. It is how we evolved as a species.
The C.H.E.K Institute literature also introduced me to the idea that we should be eating food that our ancestors ate i.e. if it wasn’t here 10,000 years ago, don’t eat it – which eventually led me to finding out about the Paleo Diet.
This C.H.E.K approach to functional fitness, nutrition & lifestyle made sense to me. I was also reading a lot about evolutionary psychology and it all tied in. As humans we evolved physically & psychologically as a result of the way we moved, ate and socialised within our tribe.
We evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Through natural selection what wasn’t most efficient for our environment mostly died off. We are all a result of that evolution. We were always predominantly hunter gatherers.
“From an evolutionary perspective, we are still hunter-gatherers, and a century of zoo life won’t change this. Even a time span of ten thousand years wouldn’t change it (except in terms of further physical and mental degeneration)! In fact, we may not survive much longer as a species if we carry on this way– living lifestyles that are not just unhealthy and toxic, but ultimately deadly.”
Erwan Le Corre. Movnat.com April 2nd 2010.
It is only over the last 10,000 years that humans adopted agriculture, it’s only over the last few hundred years that most of us have worked in factories, buildings, etc and it’s only over the past 150 years that we’ve had “junk food” – especially the last 50 years for junk food. The way we live, eat & behave is increasingly in opposition to what is natural to us as a species e.g.
- Nutrition: we eat lots of junk food, biscuits, pasta, chocolate, sugar, etc. The quantity & type of food we eat is not what we evolved to consume
- Sedentary lifestyle: we don’t have to hunter our food, just drive to the supermarket or order a takeaway to our front door. So not as much need for functional movement??
- Lifestyle: No need to go to bed when it gets dark, flick the switch and it can be light 24hrs a day in our homes. Also, many people work night shifts, etc. Our ancestors would not have worked at night – better & safer to hunt in the daytime.
Over the last few years there have been an increasing number of fitness movements, websites, bloggers, etc who are discussing and promoting what could be called primal lifestyle or ancestral fitness or evolutionary fitness. There are an increasing number of excellent online sources on health & fitness which often challenge conventional wisdom. A few of these type of websites, that I recommend are:
- Arthur De Vany
- Marks Daily Apple
- Paleo Diet
- Robb Wolf
- Free The Animal
- Conditioning Research
- John Durant
- Hunter Gatherer Love
So….just run barefoot in the wilderness, right?? Hmm, not quite….
The fact is you can do MovNat anywhere – indoors, outdoors or a mixture of both. While there are advantages to training in nature, you don’t have to go into the wild to practice it. You can train in a city or inside a gym. You just need to make sure your training follows the MovNat principles.
While it’s not always possible for everyone to train out in nature all the time – if the opportunity is available, then training outdoors is often preferable.
CrossFit athlete Blair Morrison of AnywhereFit (seventh in 2009 CrossFit Games) wrote an excellent article California Via Europe? (CrossFit Journal, May 2010) describing his fitness training – which was often done outdoors:
“…..it clicked in my head: not only was this brand of fitness more suitable to a life outside the gym, but it was also the very definition of CrossFit proper. Total fitness is not when you’ve mastered a wide range of prescribed workouts or skills (body weight/heavy load, endurance/power, etc). Those are merely building blocks. The ultimate is when you can meet any challenge in any environment with any set of tools.”
CrossFit encourages constant variance.
“The CrossFit ideal is to train for any contingency. The obvious implication is that this is possible only if there is a tremendously varied, if not randomized, quality to the breadth of stimulus.” (Foundations article by Greg Glassman)
While Blair Morrison probably favours CrossFit, I definitely agree with his statements:
“When you’re outside, you are presented with endless sensory input: wind, noise, temperature, visual space, etc. There’s constant variation in the tools you use, be it bags, beams, bridges, walls, ropes, hills, cars or people. An environment with this much possibility stimulates creativity and breeds confidence in the individual’s ability to overcome all things. The more stuff you use and the more tools you touch, the greater the connectivity you create and the greater the belief in your own ability to master your surroundings. Such is the ultimate brand of fitness, in my opinion.”
“If we prepare for a non-gym world by doing gym-specific exercises with gym-specific equipment, all we will be is unprepared.”
Compared to most fitness training CrossFit will prepare you better than most, so that you will be closer to being able to deal with any real-world (non-gym) physical challenge. However, I believe Movnat will prepare you even better - so that you are much closer in being able to deal with any real-world (non-gym) physical challenge. It is true evolutionary fitness training. With MovNat you are preparing for a non-gym world by doing non-gym exercises with non-gym equipment. Done correctly, you will be prepared.
MovNat DVD & Book
Currently there is very little info on MovNat workouts at www.movnat.com. Unless somebody has attended a MovNat week long workshop or a 1 day MovNat clinic, then at the moment all most people have to view are Erwans official MovNat videos.
Erwan is currently working on a MovNat DVD and book, which will provide information and guidance on MovNat training. Until they are released, then if you can, I’d highly recommend that you attend a MovNat week long workshop or a 1 day MovNat clinic. I’m sure the DVD and book will be great, but you can’t beat personal coaching from Erwan.
Below you will find a number of MovNat videos that Erwan has released. The videos do not explain anything about the training/coaching method. Instead they display natural movement training in nature, which hopefully you will find inspirational enough to learn more about MovNat.