Thursday, April 19, 2012 barefoot running , diet and nutrition , evolutionary biology , inspirational , mov nat , personal fitness , state parks Edit
I kept hearing a strange noise, a nagging, "beep, beep, beep." My eyes shuttered open and, glancing at the irate alarm clock, I slowly came to the realization that I had slept through the first alarm and was now officially "in a hurry." Throwing on the clothes I had laid out the night before I dashed out into the living room and saw that my friend Fred was already awake. I told him that we needed to go "in like 5 minutes" and one banana-almond butter smoothie and two pairs of Vibram Five Fingers later, we were out the door and on the road. There would be no video game playing today, today was all about Mov Nat.
A physical education system first and foremost, Mov Nat was developed by Erwan Le Corre with the knowledge that there are "natural" human movements, or "aptitudes", rooted in our evolutionary history. These aptitudes emerged as early humans navigated their environment, hunted or gathered food, or fought (literally) for survival. In creating a systemized approach, Mov Nat has broken these natural movements down to thirteen categories (ex. walking, running, jumping, throwing, striking, etc.) which are further subdivided into three types (manipulative, combative, and locomotive). Mindful practice is then applied to each aptitude to efficiency, competence, and confidence.
My companion for the day was my friend Fred. We met at Gainesville Health & Fitness, a large gym in Gainesville Florida where we both worked as personal trainers. I can't recall a time when Fred wasn't running around barefoot (indoors or out), climbing things, jumping around, or launching Pink Panther-esque sneak attacks, so when I first learned that there was going to be a Mov Nat workshop only a short drive from my house, I immediately thought that he would make the perfect companion.
When speaking about Mov Nat, Erwan Le Corre often refers to the plight of the "zoo human". His contention is that modern man has become domesticated, living and working in little boxes, unaware and disconnected from his body, his environment, and other humans. All too often, even fitness routines intended to be "functional" fall into this zoo mentality. Workouts are a drudgery, to be soldiered through with a maximum amount of distractions and with no context other than "burning calories" or "staying in shape". We run on giant-sized hamster wheels and wonder why we lack drive, motivation, and results.
Driving to Shadow Bay park, a short 30 minutes away from my house (short in the context of Orlando) we listened to a few minutes of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" before switching to a more upbeat mix of popular music. The weather was looking ominous, dark clouds obscured the morning sun, and it seemed like rain was inevitable. A light drizzle began to fall, and my windshield wipers drew muddy tracks across the horizon. Disappointed at first, I then considered how inclement weather would not have made a difference if I was truly wild. I would still need to hunt, to survive, to move.
Despite the fact that Mov Nat uses the words "evolutionary" and "natural" to describe itself, the system should not be confused as a sort of "caveman fitness". The practice is not intended to be a reenactment of prehistory (clubbing may be "combative", but it is not "practical") but rather it is a systematic approach towards teaching movement skills that are couched in the principles of modern exercise science. Mov Nat trainers are required to have degrees in exercise science or related fields, to possess knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and to be able to describe both the "what" and the "why" of Mov Nat.
We arrived at the park and quickly spotted a group of guys all wearing variations on a theme (the theme being Vibram FiveFingers). Our instructor, Kellen, a guy with a heroic build and an affable demeanor, seemed genuinely eager to start the day. He brought everybody around for introductions and I learned that the group wasn't just a bunch of trainers (such as myself). In attendance was a doctor, a zookeeper, an agronomist, and a park ranger to name a few. It definitely wasn't a bunch of "bros" looking to show off either, and it seemed like the collective goal was to learn practical skills for personal growth. After a short summary of the Mov Nat principles and philosophy, we headed out to the park to begin our day.
One might wonder why "natural" movements would need to be taught. Mov Nat coaching is an essential part of this process because many of us have spent lifetimes restricted and inhibited. We may have had perfect squats, crawling patterns, and vibrant, efficient movement when we were toddlers, but years of sitting (in chairs, cars, couches, etc.) have wound our muscles into knots, stiffened our joints, and stunted our kinesthetic sense. Coming out of this "shell" requires a thoughtful eye and a guiding hand so that the emergence is safe and enriched by positive feedback and correction.
We began our Mov Nat practice with breathing and posture drills, holding ourselves with poise and balance. By queuing us to make a muscle with one arm, which simultaneously keeping the other relaxed, Kellen was able to demonstrate how to cultivate "selective tension", an essential skill for creating efficient movement. The warm up then took us through an imaginary exploration of our environment; stepping over logs, climbing through caves, and crawling under obstacles. We then literally explored our environment by taking over the adjacent playground, balancing on ledges and learning how to "catwalk" (just to be clear, NOT like Right Said Fred). Once the skills were in place, we upped the ante by balancing on park benches, railings, and just about anything else that caught our eye.
Watching some of the Mov Nat videos posted on Youtube, you get the impression Erwan and other Mov Nat practitioners inhabit a different world than the rest of us. It is a place of possibility and exploration; everything poses a problem that can be solved with movement. Instead of simply walking past a tree, it is tested, investigated, and, if sound, climbed with skill and grace. Rocks are stepping stones, rivers are pathways, and ledges are launching off points for leaps of calculated faith. What this demonstrates is that the practice of Mov Nat inspires the development of a new perspective as part and parcel to the process of developing physical fitness.
Next, we were shown proper jumping technique and Kellen emphasized that the goal of wasn't simply maximum height, but rather accurate landings and an efficient dispersal of impact forces. Preemptively, Kellen reminded us that Mov Nat is not about doing tricks (a la "free running") and kept us focused on the practical application of the movements.
We then took on the problem of how to mount a horizontal beam (in this case, a swing set that we took over, much to the distress of one young child). I had been frustrated by this problem in the past, and couldn't get my body to get out of "the zoo". However, with a few pointers from other attendees, I was able to complete the challenge. My "instincts" were wrong, my body wanted to move like it had through countless repetitions of pull ups, but what I needed was to go beyond my instincts in order to succeed.
In a recent blog post on the official Mov Nat website, you will find the following line, "Exploring your instinctive movement patterns is only the beginning of your journey to movement competency." While this may seem contradictory ("Instinctual" is one of the 10 Mov Nat principles), it actually isn't. As any dance instructor, or physical educator will tell you, it is far easier to learn something right than to unlearn something wrong. In many of us, what has become "instinctual" is in fact maladaptive, inefficient, and ultimately dangerous (evidence shows that more and more people are suffering from chronic low back pain). Mov Nat refers to this as "spontaneous incompetency" and it is only through diligent and mindful practice that it is transformed into "unconscious competence" ("efficient performance without thought").
We broke for lunch, and while some of the group drifted away, a handful gathered on a set of bleachers to eat together. A quick glance at some of the food choices revealed that Paleo was the rule rather than the exception. Even so, everyone's version of Paleo was different. We grazed on everything from banana and macadamia nuts, to bags of beef jerky, packages of lunch-meat, and Tupperwares full of greens. One attendee expressed how following the Paleo diet was difficult and restrictive, to which several of us exclaimed "You can eat steak! How is that restrictive?", but it made me realize that the "So easy a caveman could do it" sentiment is not universal.
While Mov Nat does not officially endorse any particular eating plan, it provides a fitting compliment to the Paleo lifestyle. This has not gone unnoticed by the Paleo community and Erwan Le Corre and other Mov Nat instructors like Clifton Harski are regulars at conventions such as AHS, Primal Con, and Paleo F(x). It was actually at Paleo F(x) that I had my first hands-on Mov Nat experience and where I witnessed first hand how their trainers worked with each other and the workshop participants. They showed a degree of patience, maturity, and confidence (without arrogance) that was stunning to me as an almost ten year veteran of the fitness industry. When they advertise Mov Nat as "inclusive" and "cooperative" they mean it, it is not group of individuals defined by their egos, they are defined to the pursuit of excellence, in both movement and character.
After lunch, we moved to a large grassy area to practice barefoot running, crawling, tumbling, and the lifting, carrying and throwing of "heavy and awkward" things (in this cake kettlebells loaned to us by a large man with a Hard Style Kettlebell "Swingers" shirt and Kellen's backpack). This part of the day flew by in flurry of somersaults, sprinting, and army man impressions ("Get down!!!"). Perhaps most memorable was the recommendation that we should throw and catch the backpack "like a baby", which by no means implies that you should ever throw a baby (you shouldn't), but if for some reason you had to catch one, you should do it smoothly and efficiently.
While the achievement of elite performance in sport is hard won and requires the perfect combination of training, genetics, grit, and luck, it often results in the athlete becoming over-specialized (consider the image of a needle, if it is moving in a straight line, it can be deadly, but it is weak when force is applied to it in other directions.) A Triathlete may be able to bike, run, and swim faster and longer than anyone in the world, but could they climb out of a burning building, carry a hurt friend to safety, or defend themselves from violent attack (Nick Diaz notwithstanding). What Mov Nat encourages is to be "well rounded but with sharp edges", to train a variety of movements, in the context of unpredictable situations, environments, and obstacles.
As the day wound down, we said our goodbyes, shared email addresses, and affirmed that we would all stay in touch to Mov Nat together in the near future. Fred was sad because our day of Mov Nat was coming to an end, but I reminded him that this is just the beginning. Mov Nat has given me permission to be human again, to leave the "zoo" mentality behind and to embrace the vital energetic being that is my true nature. My instincts tell me that this is correct, but it's going to take practice to make it a reality.
To find out more about Mov Nat or to see if there is a workshop or certification course in your area, check
out the official Mov Nat website.