What I remember most about my grandpa (who passed away in May 2006...I miss you still!) was the great stories. I used to spend hours upon hours sitting next to him, playing cribbage (okay...mostly losing at cribbage), and listening to him talk about his life. My grandpa grew up on a farm in the rural Wisconsin. Like most youngsters in the 1940s, he went off to fight in the Big One...WWII. He was a private first class in the Army Corp of Engineers, where he drove supplies between outposts in the European theater in an amphibious land vehicle (Called a Duck...it is the world's only boat/car outside of a James Bond movie). Or as I used to tease him, he was "German target practice". After the war he settled down in Tomah, Wisconsin, and worked for the VA hospital there.
Out of all the stories he told me, one of them really stuck with me for some reason. My grandpa was a wrestler in high school. He recalled a time when the "city kids" came in for a meet. Now in Wisconsin you have towns that are so small that in order to tell people where you live, you have to triangulate your position with respect to Madison, Green Bay, or Milwaukee. For example, "I live 50 miles from City X, which is 75 miles from Madison". So when he says "city kids", he really means a place where the nearest neighbor is less than a mile away. Just putting it in perspective. Anyway....
Everyone in his high school came from farm families. In addition to all of their school work his teammates, including himself, would do farm chores before and after school. We're talking hard physical labor, like hay bailing, and whatever else farm kids do (can you tell that I'm from the suburbs and I've never done a day of farm labor in my life?). Despite all that work, most of these kids remained sinewy and lean.
On the other hand, he joked that these city kids would lift their "city weights" and come to town looking like Louis Abele. I had no idea who that was, but apparently he is a strongman from the 1940s. I didn't ask who he was either, because that would throw my grandpa into a 1-2 hour tangent (no one would accuse him of telling a short story). Anyway, here's a picture:
Like most bodybuilders, it took a long time to find one that didn't look like soft core porn. What is it with bodybuilders and g-strings?
When the big city kids took a look at my grandpa's farm kid teammates, the city kids would assume that the farm kids wouldn't be difficult to beat. Then they would get in the ring, and would be treated to an old-fashioned farm ass-whooping. My grandpa loved telling me about the one time a city team came to town and didn't score a single point. He felt his teammates' strength was due to all of that farm labor, instead of monkeying around with a "fancy-pants weight set".
I think my grandpa was trying to tell me about the rewards of hard work. Since I was around 13 years old, and probably only pushing a buck fifty at the time, he might have also been hinting that I could stand to gain a few pounds. But I remember that story as my first anecdotal evidence of the power of "functional fitness".
Now that I've gotten older and learned more about strength training, that story makes sense. The farm team beat the city team, not because farm labor is better than a weight set for strength training, but because their training was more suited to the task at hand.
Now if you've read my previous post on Crossfit, you know how I feel about traditional strength training. It's fine if what you want to be is an over-inflated show pony. And if you're into buying a man thong, and showing a crowded auditorium your flexed butt muscles, then it's all well and good. Go for it. Buy some body oil and have your dad shave your back...you're going to need it. But at the end of the day, that's all you're going to be is a show pony. When it comes down to doing anything other than lifting a weight in a very specific and controlled way, you're no better at it than anyone else.
Crossfit opened me up to a whole new style of training; one that is focused more on general fitness. Crossfit uses a method of high intensity interval training (HIIT) with exercises from a wide variety of disciplines to develop your ability to be proficient in both strength, and endurance-based sports. Of course, I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a work-out plan designed to increase your overall level of fitness.
One criticism of Crossfit over the years though has been that "Crossfit makes you good at Crossfit". In other words, Crossfit will make you proficient in doing the 100-odd exercises it proscribes in a given workout at a very high intensity. Since it's not focused on any particular goal other than general fitness, it in essence makes you just plain average.
For as much as I love Crossfit, I share that criticism. But I add something to it. Not only does Crossfit fail to train for any specific goal, a lot of the time it fails to train you for how your body actually moves and functions. It doesn't achieve a high level of functional fitness.
Now Crossfit does a lot better than traditional strength training that focus on muscle isolation. When you isolate a muscle, you are looking to exercise only that muscle to the exclusion of the supporting muscles around it. On the other hand, the bread and butter of a Crossfit workout are the Olympic lifts. These are compound exercises like the deadlift, clean, and snatch that exercise nearly the whole body. Unlike isolation exercises, these compound exercises seek to work multiple muscle groups and supporting muscles.
Compound movements are where Crossfit stops. But there isn't a physical activity in this world that can be accomplished with only a set of compound Olympic lifts. For example, when you help someone move out of their home, do you use only deadlifts, cleans, and snatches? No...you get boxes into your arms any way you can. Then you carry them outside and throw them into the moving truck however you can. You twist, and turn, and bend, and do all sorts of things that you don't do during an Olympic lift. And in the course of doing that, you work all sorts of supporting muscles and tendons that you can't exercise with Crossfit.
Introduction to MovNat
Functional fitness means fitness that trains your body to move more effectively the way that it would in real life, outside of the gym. As Pete Kemme of Kemme Fitness explains,
"Functional Fitness means that you can shovel your driveway without being crippled the next day. Functional Fitness means that you can carry a 4X8 sheet of half inch OSB board from the trailer to your barn and hold it up against some studs with one arm as you nail it into place. Functional Fitness means that you can, at any age, pick up your children and eventually grandchildren without moaning and groaning. It also means that you can run along side of your six year old as she learns to ride her bicycle without training wheels. Functional Fitness means that you can perform the movements and tasks necessary in life the way God intended you to."
In my opinion, the best way to train your body for real life is by doing real life things. Enter MovNat....
MovNat is a fitness system developed by Erwin Le Corre designed to bring the human body back into the shape that made it one of the most adaptable species on the planet. It focuses on workouts combining the basics of human movement, walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending. And it does all of this using real world things. How many times in the real world do you move something that is symmetrical with a bar in the middle for easy gripping? Outside of a dumbbell or barbell, my answer is never. In your life you're moving non-symmetrical things like boxes, and rocks, and bags of stuff. You're climbing up stairs, up trees, and over obstacles. You get the idea...
All of this adds up to the ability to react to nature the way that your ancestors used to do. When your ancestors came upon a problem that required physical exertion, they got over it, or they died. Your fat ass would probably just die. Not that you need to train in MovNat and then go out and hunt woolly mammoths or anything. But only by training your body with actual real-life moments do you get to the point where you can easily do real-life tasks, no matter how grueling.
Here's a movie from the MovNat site showing Erwin Le Corre acting like a badass. This is what all humans can, and should aspire to be able to do...
That video is inspiring, and it makes me want to go out and climb some trees and throw some boulders. This video shows more of the end result than the actual training program. How do you get to that point? I have no idea...
And if you look around for a workout plan or a place to go to learn how to do this stuff, it doesn't exist. Well it does...but it requires a lot of money. You can learn how to train the MovNat way at 1-day clinic for the low, low price of $280. You can also go to the 5-day retreat in West Virginia for $1700, or the week-long retreat in Thailand for $3000. I don't think airfare is included. What a bargain!
That's it. There's no other way to learn this stuff. If you look on the internet for gyms that teach it, you won't find any. If you look for exercises or workout regimes, you'll only find hints. After 3 years of training with Crossfit for free, it's a hard pony up nearly $300 just to see if a fitness program works for me.
On the other hand, I can't help but think that this style of fitness just makes sense. I'm attracted to it because it has the same style of logic as barefoot running does. We're already meant to run without shoes, so don't wear shoes. Similarly we don't need to do a bunch of deadlifts to get good at lifting a big rock. We need to just lift the big rock.
My next steps
Despite the price, I can't help but think this is the next revolution in fitness. This could be the equivalent of the barefoot movement in the context of running. So I definitely want to learn more. Right now I'm deciding whether to take the leap and sign up for the next seminar coming to Minneapolis in May. It's a one-day course, so it's hard to tell how much I'll actually get out of it. But it's better than nothing I suppose.
Like my myriad goals and schemes in life, we'll see how far this thing goes for me. The MovNat site says it will start offering certifications in 2012. I've had visions of getting certified, and maybe starting to teach people about it. Maybe I will be the Jason Robillard of MovNat, and this site will become MovNat University. Since I'm mostly Swedish, I'm not sure I can grow dark enough facial hair to keep up with him.
I guess I'll keep you guys posted.