A few weeks ago I participated in a class where I found myself doing movements that felt completely bizarre…and completely natural at the same time.
I loved that the 3 hour session was done barefoot and without machines. It was intense and challenging without feeling like I was pushing my body beyond its natural capacities. In fact, I discovered that my body was capable of movements I didn’t even know were possible! Hello crawling animal-like on hands and tip toes (apparently this is a more effective way of climbing up hills) or lifting 20 kilo bags (I, who have never lifted a weight in my life).
Like Intuitive Eating, MovNat or Natural Movement taps into the body’s natural wisdom and takes us back to a time when humans were moving in a way that was natural to the way our bodies were designed. We didn’t need fancy equipment or gyms – life itself was fitness. Isn’t the idea of replicating this in our modern life appealing?
Curious to know more and wanting to spread the word about this wonderful new form of exercise that just seems to make sense, I asked Alex Menin, Certified MovNat Trainer and Nutritional Therapy Consultant in Geneva, for more information.
1. What exactly is MovNat?
It is a fitness and physical education system based on the full range of natural human movement skills. It was created by Erwan Le Corre and is based on the Methode Naturelle of Georges Hebert (beginning of the 20th century).
The movements are categorized in three domains and thirteen attitudes:
Locomotive skills: swimming, crawling, balancing, walking, running, jumping, climbing
Manipulative skills: lifting, carrying, throwing, catching
Combative skills: striking, grappling
The apparent simplicity of this categorization may be confusing – it was for me in the beginning. In reality, when these exercises are properly executed, and personalized progressions are followed, it is possible to allow an entry-level person to train in total security (read: injury free) and have fun in the process. And it can also be challenged for more experienced athletes.
2. How did you discover MovNat? What lights you up about it?
This is an interesting story, I’ll start from the beginning. Five years ago I was following the rules of the so called common wisdom, both in terms of nutrition and exercise: a calorie is a calorie, fats will make you fat, cholesterol is the enemy, you need to eat 6 times per day to keep the metabolic flame burning. And similarly: you must train with machines because they are designed to provide the optimal angle, you need to do plenty of cardio because it is good for you and you will eventually out burn dietary excesses. Despite the efforts to adhere to the program, the results were not there. So I started looking for valid alternatives with both nutrition and exercise.
I explored bodyweight training just to notice how out of shape I was. It made me realize: What is the point of lifting a quintal of iron if I can’t move myself unweighted with proper control? In short, I had been doing it wrong all this time. I did calisthenics for one year and that helped me step out of my comfort zone.
One day a friend with whom I talk a lot about fitness showed me some MovNat videos and said “Look at what these guys are doing, THAT is cool”. I had to agree – it was definitely cool although in the beginning I thought they were just a collection of gimmicks which do not really provide serious conditioning. I tried to replicate some of the exercises which looked extremely simple, and discovered they were not so easy to perform. I said to myself: I found it! And decided to get certified. It just happened overnight, like this. I fell in love with the discipline.
What lights me up about MovNat? I think it’s the most characteristic element of first and foremost honouring the foundations of movement in order to create a larger base onto which one can then build true physical competence. People lift impressive weights with poor technique – this cannot be right. The quasi-maniacal observance of proper form in MovNat is what assures constant progression – heavy weights eventually follow.
3. Who is it for? Who is it NOT for?
One of the principles is Universality. As long as one owns a human body, no matter how fit or unfit they are, they can do it.
MovNat is a great entry point for people who haven’t done any sport for years. By working on the foundations, it is possible to effectively undo the damage of a sedentary lifestyle and quickly progress by augmenting the volume, intensity and complexity of the exercises.
Very fit people or elite athletes can also greatly benefit from adding MovNat to their routine: it could be the missing stimulus to break a plateau and perform better.
4. How is it different from other forms of movement?
Well, to answer to this question I’d like to borrow a quote from a fellow coach: we all get excited when we go to the cinema to watch a movie in 3D, yet when we move we force ourselves into 2D movements. Exercise like the stationary bike, the rowing machine and even machines that are apparently more complex like the elliptical trainer may burn calories but is the movement genuine? Are they really challenging every possible shade of physical abilities that our wonderful bodies can express?
In MovNat, we avoid isolation and we don’t allow machines to drive our movements. In the beginning it may be quite frustrating and feel like we were exercising harder before, but that isn’t true: Just because machines allow us to reach higher levels of volume or intensity, doesn’t mean we are exercising more or better. From this point of view, Movement Proficiency shares a lot with other disciplines that put the accent on complex and multi-articular movements and which fall into the category of Functional Training.
Another important element is Mindfulness. Movements are complex and although with constant practice we can automate them, a certain degree of awareness is always required. Another characteristic of MovNat, which is also another of its principles, is the concept of Environmentality: we value training outdoor whenever possible.
5. Can it only be done in the wild?
Thanks for asking – this is a common misconception and it is important to speak about it.
Moving naturally doesn’t mean that we can bring a bike to the forest and cycle while listening to music: this would still be a 2D movement. The key element of moving naturally is the human body, it is with us every moment and that is what we want to focus on.
Sure, we can train in the woods which definitely poses more challenges and that’s the reason why it should be done only once a certain level of movement proficiency had been acquired. Other nice and safer outdoor settings are a city park, a stadium, a playground, an urban environment, but one can also practice MovNat in a gym, a yoga studio or why not in one’s living room: every morning I do a short session of mobility drills in my pyjama which helps me to wake-up.
In short, there is no need to run barefoot and shirtless under improbable weather conditions – you can do MovNat with a nice pair of shoes and a white t-shirt.
6. What does a typical session look like?
There are four phases that can be followed:
- Emphases (practicing and refining techniques)
- Energy systems development
Following these phases is not a strict rule. For example, on rest days I do 30 minutes of pure balancing drills and that don’t require warm-up or cool-down. This doesn’t employ much energy either, however the work done on the techniques is real and the benefits are felt the following day when I lift heavy things.
7. What results can be expected?
I can speak of my personal experience. At the risk of not being believed, I feel my joints are younger today at 42 than they were at 22. My greatest surprise was to see how the dynamic stretching drills improved my mobility. I am referring to true conditioning, not just Range of Motion.
Speaking about conditioning, strength, of course, is another benefit. When a trainee progresses in intensity and volume, more resources are requested from the body which will naturally respond by becoming stronger. However, the conditioning obtained is well balanced: since we are not working in isolation, every time we move we are adapting to the pace of our weakest link.
Agility, dexterity, stability, proprioception are also forms of conditioning and I like mentioning them together with strength. The weakest link is not necessarily a muscle, it may be a skill such as stability: It is important to exercise according to its progression and avoid poor movement patterns for the sake of lifting heavier weights.
MovNat trains real, practical movements that we find in life: lifting uneven and unwieldy objects with efficiency, balancing in non-optimal situations, climbing trees, etc. So an interesting side effect is that we start finding life physically easier!
MovNat also builds self-confidence. Some exercises are challenging from a mental point of view – for example long jumps over a moat, depth jumps from reasonable heights, etc. Another example is vaulting an obstacle – a lot of people are afraid of getting “hooked” by the obstacle with one foot and falling to the ground disgracefully.
We are brainwashed to expect the worst by signs telling us to hold the rail when climbing stairs and in the long run this makes us unaware of what we can achieve with our bodies and we feel insecure and weak. In reality, when the proper progression is respected and we train mindfully, incidents are very rare.
And since many readers might be waiting for this: What about weight loss? For sure! A physically proficient body is a harmonious and beautiful one.
8. How / where can people try it?
MovNat organises official 2-day workshops around the world which are held by Master Instructors.
Otherwise, there is a directory with the list of all MovNat Certified Trainers, you can easily locate one near to you. And the list is growing quickly.
As for me, I give one-on-one movement lessons and occasionally organise half-day workshops in the Geneva area. You can stay in touch through my Facebook page.