Whenever you experience something amazing, something that leaves you changed, the feeling is always surreal upon returning home. When you get back to your normal life, your routine, and to your friends and family, you know that you are different from last week and that you have changed as a person. You feel changed. It’s tangible. But you also know people’s perception of you is still the same as it was before. In their minds, you are the same old guy.
Then, the question comes, “how was your trip?” they ask. You struggle to find the right words, the perfect explanation, the answer they NEED to hear. But you’re at a loss. There is no one-liner that sums up your experience – no interesting or entertaining remark that can possibly convey the message effectively.
Usually, I just blurt out whatever appropriate, emphatic adjective comes to mind first. I say something like, “it was awesome. I had a blast,” and leave it at that.
And yet, even after experiencing something truly amazing, something that resonates on such a deep personal level with who I am as a person, there is no possible way for me to fully and effectively communicate how my trip went.
I’ve read some very well-written articles by people who have experienced MovNat first-hand, training directly with Erwan Le Corre for days on end. I’ll admit that reading about MovNat gets me charged up (MovNat reading directory here). It resonates with me on a deep personal level, and I finish the article feeling inspired, energized, and even more passionate about exuberant physical living. And don’t get me started on the MovNat videos!
Let me be clear, I am not a MovNat coach, and this was not a certification seminar. This 5 day retreat was for personal education, for those looking to explore their true nature – to be strong, healthy, happy, and free. So, I can’t necessarily say that this review directly reflects the MovNat philosophy or practice, which I’m still internalizing myself in my daily personal practice.
I arrived with four other trainees not knowing what to expect (a CrossFit trainer from CA, a fitness bootcamp instructor from ME, a paramedic from KY, and a software programmer turned wandering nomad with an interest in barefoot running and natural movement). Erwan gave us a list of required items to bring, and vague self-assessment criteria to help us determine whether or not we should attend the beginner or advanced level course. Other than that, the 5 of us were in the dark.
During the week, we camped and enjoyed a host of borderline exquisite Paleo meals. We really packed the food down at breakfast and dinner. We had various omelets, steak, chicken, a 3-fish chunky soup/chowder/chemistry experiment that Erwan invented, and some of the best homemade salads I’ve ever eaten. For lunches, we ate light, usually raw foods like walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, bananas, apples, greens, etc. And since we celebrated two birthdays during our course, we also enjoyed some ahem, *cough cough* – non-Paleo food and drink, too.
One favorite recipe was a breakfast dish, that could easily pass for dessert as well. It’s simply sliced bananas, blueberries, and shaved almonds mixed together in a bowl of Coconut milk. It’s to die for! I remember Jeremiah’s eyes lighting up every time Erwan would suggest it.
About Erwan Le Corre
This was Erwan’s fourth USA seminar in four weeks, and I was curious about how his energy and enthusiasm would be throughout the 5-day event, after having spent so much time teaching and training while camping for a month.
I was downright inspired by his contagious passion for sharing natural movement with others. He would demonstrate techniques several times in a row, all day long. And then, we would ask him to show us again. He easily did twice the total amount of physical work that we did, proving that he leads by example.
Granted, his specific movement skills were far beyond any in our group, and he was able to move with better efficiency and ease, meaning less total energy expenditure – a benefit I am already beginning to experience in my personal practice as my skills improve. Regardless, he is a good coach by leading by example – even if it means shredding his chest and arms against the rough Oak tree bark (read “cheese grater”) again and again.
Yet, even with his ease of movement, Erwan doesn’t consider himself exceptionally fit or even highly talented. He believes that the bar for natural movement has been set so low by today’s standards that anyone who moves with what could be considered average movement skills will blow a typical “zoo human” mind.
It’s a little like standardized testing. Children used to have much higher standards to attain in the past for their education. The more the establishment lowers its expectations, the more profoundly the children who perform well stand out from the others.
It’s the same with natural movement. What may have formerly been considered normal and accepted movement skills, are now considered extraordinary and only reserved for true die-hards or high-end athletes.
So, in reality, we weren’t really practicing “advanced” movement skills, but what Erwan considers rather basic, fundamental human movements – many of which come naturally to children and are gradually lost during youth and adulthood. Yet, these skills appear to be advanced to the inept, and for many people, they are.
Don’t be fooled though because I found myself doing things that I never thought I possibly could – things that were definitely “advanced” for me. For instance, when training jumping at the river, we worked on progressively more difficult jumps – either greater heights or distances, or from a more difficult support. Our learning was textbook incremental – we actually started jump skill training with picnic tables on grass.
I remember one of the more difficult jumps we attempted at the river. It was a pretty good distance for me, and a fall would have meant going into the cold, rushing water. The stone was slanted, with a peak, much like a mountaintop with a very small area for standing. The goal was to jump from one boulder, over a section of the river, and to land directly on the top of the other rock, regain stability immediately (without using hands for balance), and then jump back. No problem, right?
Here’s the thing. A week earlier, I wouldn’t have even imagined making that jump. I would have walked right by that rock, and the thought wouldn’t have even crossed my mind that I could get to it. It was simply out of reach, out of mind. One week ago, I would have looked at that rock, and said “No way can I jump that far!” And I would have been right. But when Erwan demonstrated the jump and asked who would like to try it, I stepped up to go, but Erwan stopped me. He asked me “what are you feeling?” I told him that I was going to make the jump and stick it perfectly. He said OK, and I made the jump first try.
Erwan explained that he let me try that jump because he could sense confidence, and that it is important to monitor our own confidence level when training. If we know we can do something, then we will do it. On the flip side, if a certain movement doesn’t feel right, it’s best to avoid it or drop it down a skill level for the time being. This happened many times during the course, as our group each had a major diversity of skills and conditioning.
This is just one example of many where I found myself doing things that I either had never done before, or quite literally had forgotten how to do. We did things like rock climbing with only our feet (not vertical walls, of course), climbing with our eyes closed, swimming across a lake while pushing a tree trunk, rope climbing, walking and balancing on progressively smaller tree trunks and even more difficult surfaces, basic self-defense, grappling and striking drills, odd-object lifting, throwing and catching, breath holding, and much more.
MovNat is fully scalable to an individuals skill level and conditioning level. You don’t have to be in exceptional condition to practice MovNat. It definitely takes strength, endurance, etc. when you get to advanced levels of practice (such as demonstrated in his videos – which are meant to be inspirational, not instructional). However, even if you’re deconditioned, you can still practice very basic levels of MovNat. In another course, there was one gentleman who was 69 years old, and some others that were overweight and very poorly conditioned.
MovNat can be practiced safely by anyone, and I think that’s the most important thing people need to hear. Don’t be intimidated by Erwan’s seemingly natural ability to perform these high skill activities, or his exceptional physique. You don’t need to be an incredible athlete or fitness star to begin exploring your natural movement skills right away.
In fact, Erwan does very little direct conditioning work – he focuses specifically on skill practice. Practicing various skills will condition the body to repeat those skills in the future, according to the SAID principle. So, the skills practice IS the conditioning within MovNat. Erwan is able to do some very high skill movements, and thus is very well conditioned for them.
Most of our training week was spent directly on practicing various individual skills over and over again. However, it eventually culminated into combo training where we would perform various skills in a circuit-like fashion, and complete rounds for time. One of our combos was team-based. I was paired with Erwan’s assistant Jeff, and we had to balance on a fallen tree, followed immediately by 8 pullups on a tree branch, followed by 10 heavy rock throws and catches between partners, followed by 6 heavy partner deadlifts of a tree trunk. We did this for 5 rounds, no rest. I think our time was 8 minutes, flat.
The body has a tendency to want to compromise on technique when fatigue sets in, but Erwan wouldn’t allow it. If one of us was getting too fatigued, Erwan would immediately change the training parameters (ie less repetitions, lighter rock, easier pullup style, etc.). If your back even hinted at rounding during those deadlifts, he would have you stop, and the next round you would be using a lighter load. This is why it is imperative that one receive good coaching when learning and practicing MovNat, and demonstrates why future MovNat coaches will have high standards to meet.
The last day of our training week was the big finale that we had all been waiting for – the continuous training circuit through a “naturally wild” environment, follow-the-leader style. We were told it could take anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours or longer, and there would not be a single moment for rest. While one person was executing the “main” skill, the rest would be doing bodyweight squats, holding a plank, or something else Erwan dreams up to make us sweat. Here’s the kicker, we were going to do this after fasting breakfast.
I saw this more as a mental challenge than physical, though it wasn’t a cakewalk, by any means. We went continuously for over 90 minutes, practicing almost all of the 12 skills. Erwan took us on foot (and sometimes on hands and feet) through the wilderness, balancing on logs and railings, climbing trees, rocks and ropes, running through swamps (yes, we looked like zombies upon our emergence from the forest), running and jumping on picnic tables, rocks and logs, lifting and throwing various stones. We did it all without resting, and it was so much fun!
Even though the point of this drill wasn’t to exhaust us, we were pretty tired by the end – and relieved that we had all completed the course, together, as a team. We broke our fast with a delicious salad that you could never find in a restaurant and then it was time to depart – homeward bound, back to our normal lives.
Erwan brought some of us to the airport and a few of us enjoyed coffee and tea for a couple hours, while Erwan discussed his vision for MovNat. It was a perfect way to end a week of learning and self-growth.
When we trained with Erwan, we all trained barefoot, even in the woods and on gravel; even “in the mud, and the blood, and the beer.” On occasion, some of the group wore footwear (usually Vibram Five Fingers) towards the end of the week as tender feet started to get sore. Some of us had barefoot training experience, some didn’t. An important note is that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If you can’t sprint 100 yards without putting your shoes on, then you can’t sprint 100 yards in an imperfect setting, and it’s important to be aware of this in your training program.
Going barefoot must be an incremental process. Like any form of training, it’s not smart to just jump right into it (and your feet will tell you this rather quickly). This is my first year going barefoot, and I’m sold on the concept. I think everyone can benefit from going barefoot as much as possible, but I do recommend approaching it cautiously. See the Definitive Guide For Going Barefoot here.
How Do CST and MovNat Compare
I know a lot of my readers are interested in Circular Strength Training. Having recently been certified as a CST Instructor and Kettlebell Specialist, I saw this MovNat seminar through a new set of eyes.
CST is a health-first fitness system. MovNat is a performance-first natural movement system. With MovNat, the ultimate goal is to be able to move effectively through a natural environment (natural can be from a tropical rain forest or through a busy urban environment – there is no such thing as an unnatural environment for human movement – well, maybe Mars!). Being able to do something effectively in MovNat (ie accomplish the goal, like climbing over a fence – even if your technique is horrible, you made it!) doesn’t mean that it is a naturally optimum movement. This is when it’s time to work on efficiency where you utilize good movement principles like selective tension, proper breathing, etc.
Better health and fitness is the number one goal of CST. Better movement is the number one goal of MovNat. CST is training based, for the purpose of conditioning to be able to better deliver skills more efficiently and effectively. MovNat is skills based, utilizing practice rather than training (specific conditioning is a by-product of practice, according to the SAID principle). If you train MovNat properly, your skills should be improving regularly (and the conditioning for those skills along with it).
One area where I saw a lot of similarity between the two systems is breathing technique. Although Erwan’s teaching style is much simpler than CST’s 5 levels of breath mastery, and 4 levels of breathing depth, the outcome is the same. I think my Be Breathed practice helped tremendously in preparing me for the breathing aspect of MovNat (except the breath holding, which I think leaves much to be desired.).
As a side note, I’m very comfortable in the water, but not a talented swimmer by any means. Sure, I can get across the lake, but I’ll be dead-beat exhausted when I get there because I’ve never learned proper swimming technique until this seminar. While I could hold my breath for 1:55 minutes when out of the water, I only held my breath for 45 seconds while under water. I have a goal of being able to do this for 2.5 minutes by the end of next summer.
I think both CST and MovNat are immensely valuable systems, and complement one another very well. Although, they are based on many of the same principles, there are many differences in the philosophy and purpose behind each system, making it difficult to do a direct comparison.
I see the greatest value in CST as applied to MovNat, as being a method of injury prevention, for PREhabilitating the body. There are already injury prevention methods present in the MovNat system, but I’m glad to have CST as a comprehensive source of training methods specifically for health-first training. In this day and age, we need to go above and beyond when it comes to fortifying health, and ensuring training is safe for the long-term, especially when working with zoo humans.
The Biggest Lesson I Learned At The MovNat Course
MovNat is a broad and comprehensive movement skills coaching system, but it will not prepare you for everything. This is NOT because I see MovNat as a flawed system and incapable of helping people better prepare for the unknown. This is simply a fact because we cannot predict future circumstances, and there is no way we can guarantee our training will prepare us for everything that could possibly happen (sorry CrossFitters, but no system will ever prepare for you everything, no matter what the elites boldly and publicly claim).
However, when it comes to being prepared for the unexpected – even the potential of being put in a life-threatening situation – MovNat will prepare you as much as any system possibly can. I don’t consider it a perfect system because it’s still in its infancy and Erwan admits that it is going to evolve in the future, but MovNat is about as good as it gets for preparing for the unknown. Here’s why…
Your skills and conditioning preparation is 100% dependent upon how much time and practice you devote to it consistently over the long-term. Obviously, the more time you spend practicing natural movement skills, the better prepared and equipped you will be to execute natural movements in the future. This is common sense, I know.
Here’s what I realized: even though MovNat doesn’t guarantee absolute and adequate preparation for the unknown, it DOES guarantee maximum benefits for the time you put into practice because MovNat is holistic. Every natural movement skill is covered, preparing you as much as you can possibly be prepared.
So, the secret is that there is no secret.
The 12 natural movement skills according to Le Corre are walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending. If one skill is lacking, then you can ensure inadequate preparation for unknown future circumstances. However, if you are regularly practicing all 12 skills, then you are preparing yourself as best as you possibly can be for the future.
I know, it’s not revolutionary information, but so many times I hear people who are concerned about being prepared for the unexpected event. So, they turn to a certain conditioning system that is not skills based, and when it comes down to actually being able to perform very basic movement skills, the conditioning means nothing when the skills aren’t trained yet.
Before arriving for the seminar, I could bust out 20 dead-hang pullups, but I couldn’t climb over a thick tree branch efficiently at all. This is one area where I had trouble. Sure, after a few tries I could muscle my way over a tree branch, expending a lot of energy, but I couldn’t use natural movement principles to move more efficiently without the coaching I received. MovNat training is immediately in context, requiring adaptability to situational demands (climbing over a tree branch). Adaptability is a skill that needs to be trained, or your capability (being able to do 20 pullups) won’t matter one bit.
I’m happy to say that the major skill I was having trouble with has improved greatly with practice over the past 2 weeks. Have a look:
Because of the situational adaptability embedded within MovNat training, you don’t necessarily train very specific skills over and over again. For instance, you won’t necessarily focus on continually perfecting a 36” box jump, which is a very specific skill. Instead, you’ll simply learn how to jump – just jump. Yes, you’ll start with very basic jumping drills on flat and smooth surfaces. Once you have those drills mastered, you’ll move onto something more difficult, perhaps jumping up or down on a bench – then a table. Then, you can jump to a target, further and further – and onwards in increasing sophistication from there.
You see, learning a 36” box jump is great for very specific conditioning purposes, but it bears little value when it comes to performing in a truly natural environment (outside of the gym). When jumping onto a rock or railing, the situation is different than in the gym. So, it’s important that once you’ve mastered a skill in a controlled environment (box jump in the gym), to then move onto more varied applications. In a natural environment, every jump is different, which is why training must include situational adaptability.
This doesn’t mean that we should compromise safe training methods just to practice in a more natural environment, as that would definitely lead to injury or worse. You definitely need to use your intuition. If you can’t lift a heavy stone with good technique (using the 7 key components of structure), then you shouldn’t be training with that one. Use a lighter stone, or one that’s easier to hold onto. Everything is scalable, and it’s important to monitor your level of readiness for new and more difficult skills.
This was a seminar specifically teaching humans how to move better in a natural environment, but it was about so much more than better movement. It was about being a better person in all aspects of life. I want to offer a big thank you to Erwan for all of his enthusiasm, energy, and patience with us. And I’d also like to thank Jeff Kuhland for all his help behind the scenes to make this event comfortable and memorable – all of the food was excellent, too.
Jeremiah, Brandon, Caroline, and Jennifer: It was a joy to train with all of you, and I wish you the very best success in your future MovNat training.
More MovNat eye-candy:
Even with this lengthy review, I still don’t think I’ve done the event justice. The best advice I can give is for you to seek out MovNat instruction on your own. Please do scroll down and see the post script notes at the bottom for more information, and thank you for your interest in MovNat. The reality of Erwan’s vision is about to explode!
To your health and success,
CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
MovNat Alumni – Summersville Lake, WV (2009)
P.S. By the way, I really didn’t get into the philosophy and specific techniques of MovNat because Erwan is currently writing a book about it. For those who are interested in learning Erwan’s thoughts on natural movement – what makes it natural, how to move efficiently, (etc.) I would highly recommend planning to purchase his book when it becomes available in the future.
P.P.S. I think it also goes without saying that I absolutely 100% recommend that anyone who is interested in MovNat should seek Erwan out, and train with him in-person. The experience is unforgettable, and can be life-changing if you’re ready for it. He will be doing some weekend clinics around the country in the next year, along with opening a MovNat training facility in or near Boulder, CO.
P.P.P.S. If you’re interested in a New England MovNat workshop, please let me know because I am planning on hosting Erwan sometime in December 2009, and I’m sure it will fill up quickly. You may direct message me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnsifferman