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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Experiencing My True Nature, Part One (i.e. MovNat One-Day Clinic Report i.e. Working out/playing at the playground)

If you're a barefoot or minimalist runner like I am, what happened to me this last weekend is a pretty familiar feeling.  Switching to barefoot or minimalist running represented a massive paradigm shift in the way that you look at your body's movement (usually...at least if you're paying attention).  You're going against the prevailing wisdom about running.  You've discovered evidence that suggests that the prevailing wisdom about running isn't correct.  You know...all of that earth-shattering, reevaluating what you're doing, Born to Run type stuff.

I experienced another one of those paradigm shifts again this weekend.  This time what I learned changed the way that I look at physical fitness in general.  And it all happened because of 7 hours of playing on a playground.

This last weekend, I attended a MovNat One-Day Clinic at Island Lake Park in Shoreview, Minnesota.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of MovNat, I've wrote a post about it several months ago.  You can also look at the company website.  MovNat is essentially an exercise movement that seeks to help folks get back to moving and exercising naturally, the way our ancestors used to.  I attended a clinic because I think this kind of exercise is the next big thing in fitness.  I also wanted to do a bit of recon for those who are interested in attending a MovNat seminar themselves, but are hesistant to pony up $300+ to do it.

Before I give a full report, I just want to let you folks know that I took absolutely no pictures during the event.  When I go to these things with an eye towards blogging about it later, I always have to balance my desire to fully participate with an equally competing desire to report everything in an accurate and entertaining way.  This time, I didn't really have a choice in the matter.  With all the climbing and rolling around, sprinting in multiple directions, and hanging in various uncomfortable positions, toting a camera around just wasn't an option.  At least if I wanted to keep the camera.  So the only pictures you'll be getting are my word pictures.  Sorry if that ircks some of you visual learners.

Clinic Intro

When I pulled up to the park at around 8:45 a.m., I saw a bear of a man standing by a Nissan Cube in MovNat shorts and bare feet.  His shoulders were bigger than my head.  This was Clinton Harafski, one of the MovNat trainers, and our instructor for the event. 

Here's a picture of Clifton from the MovNat website for those of you who need some eye candy.  One of his reported "dislikes" is shirts.  As if the MovNat site were also a dating website (although I think he's single ladies...I have his email now).

I was joined shortly after I arrived by about 13 others in varous colors of Vibram Fivefingers.  As we all made introductions, I felt like I was among my people.  Everyone was involved in some kind of Crossfit.  They all ate a paleo diet.  Some of them were barefoot runners.  A few recognized me as the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.  I wanted to have them all over for a BBQ. 

Clifton then started talking about the concept of MovNat.  I won't go into the details, because most of what he said is on the company website, and regurgitated in my last post on the subject.  But one concept he went over in the beginning, and then again at the end of the clinic rocked my fitness world. 

Modern fitness programs generally break down exercising according to the body parts that are trained, or the type of conditioning you're trying to achieve (i.e. strength, endurance, etc.).  If you lift weights, you probably divide your workouts into chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs, and so on.  MovNat looks at exercise at an even more fundamental level, according to twelve basic human movements: walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending.  Everything you do involves one or a combination of these movements. 

Instead of combining series of exercises according to bodypart or type of conditioning to form a workout, MovNat workouts consist of a series of basic movements either done separately or combined in a circuit.  So rather than doing bench press, incline press, then tricep dips or something, a MovNat workout would find you crawling on all fours, then climbing something, then balancing on something else.

MovNat is also represents a departure from the goals of a typical modern training program.  Usually when I workout, I'm aiming for a particular extrinsic result.  A certain number of reps at a certain weight.  A certain time or distance if I'm running.  MovNat training involves working towards proficiency at a basic movement.  If my workout involved jumping, my goal would be to land with good form or hit a target.  With climbing, the goal would be to get to the top of whatever I'm climbing.  Then, with proficiency in the movement the extrinsic results will follow.  If I can climb a wall 10 times I can probably also bench press 10 reps at a certain weight.  With perfect form running for a certain distance, I'll be better able to hit a particular time goal. 

For me it was revolutionary for a couple of reasons.  First, I've never looked at training as a collection of basic movements.  I've looked at it the traditional way, as a set of bodypart exercises.  I've also always trained by performing various exercises as a means to acheive other goals.  Being faster, stronger, and whatnot.  I've rarely trained where the ultimate goal is perfection of a particular movement.  But it makes perfect sense.  In order to be proficient in everyday activity, why not train the everyday activity?  Really deep stuff man!

Part One: Walking, Balancing, and Climbing

Anyway, enough deep talk.  On to the fun!  After getting the philosophical stuff down, Clifton led us on a series of exercises designed to help us explore all the different ways we could perform any given basic movement.  Clifton recommended that everyone do these exercises barefoot, and I was happy to see that all participants decided to shed their shoes. 

Walking came first.  We headed out on a follow-the-leader style walk through the park.  We went over picnic tables, under trees, on grass and sand and pavement, and over various kinds of playground equipment.  I was high stepping, and ducking, and croutching, and walking forwards and backwards and sideways.  My legs were burning within a minute!  We'd only been working out for around 5 minutes and I was already breathing hard and sore.  And this was just walking!

This drill more than any of the others we did showed me how much is missing from my current fitness regiment.  I consider myself a pretty fit person.  I can run pretty significant distances, and have pretty respectible Olympic lift totals.  But I couldn't walk over varied terrain for more than a few minutes without my legs burning in places I'd never felt before?  I bet the normal couch-dweller would have an even more difficult time.  On the other hand, I bet our hunter-gatherer ancestors wouldn't have had trouble with a little five-minute freestyle walk.  It's amazing how seditary and out of shape the modern human has become...myself included.  This was going to be an interesting day. 


We came back to the park entrance and lined up around the picnic tables.  Now it was time for some playground gymnastics.  The objective of the first drill was to balance on the picnic table on our arms and swing one leg up onto the table.  Folks who could complete that were invited to stand on the table with that one foot and move the second leg around while balancing on one arm and one leg.  I was able to get my legs up on both sides and move my leg around a little bit, but not much. 

As soon as we became proficient at that task, Clifton upped the antie.  We walked over to the playground to find more difficult things to balance on.  This had participants standing on bike racks, benches, balance beams, and swingsets.  There were a few kids on the playground at the time, and soon after it was raided by several adults doing handstands, they quickly vacated the premises.  I don't consider myself great at balancing, and these exercises certainly proved it.  Clifton was practically breakdancing on top of these narrow beams.  I could barely stand up there without a spotter.

Now I have a playground about a block from my house.  But I don't necessarily want to work out there everyday.  Part of this clinic was about showing us to use what we have available.  So to show us that we didn't need balancing beams to learn balancing, Clifton took us over to the parking lot to balance on the curb.  There we walked across the raised curb forwards, backwards, and on all fours.  It was interesting to see how to use everyday objects in new ways.  I'm not sure how folks would feel if they saw my bear crawling on a curb.  Then again, I'm already that barefoot guy.  I'm not sure that would add much to the weirdness factor.


Then it was on to the most anticipated part for me.  Monkey time!  I love climbing on playground equipment, and I do it whenever I take my daughter to a park.  I was looking forward to learning how to do it better. 

The climbing demo went straight to the hardest skill: getting on top of horizontal bars.  Clifton first showed us a muscle-up, which I know from several years of Crossfit training.  Now I can do a muscle up on my pull-up bar, but doing it on the playground is a different matter.  Each place you attempt it has its own unique challenges. 

This drove home the MovNat concept of adaptation for me.  Completing a movement isn't just about physical strength or speed, but also about your ability to adapt to conditions.  Modern physical fitness is largely devoid of this kind of training.  We want everything from the surface we train on to the equipment we use to be consistent and uniform so that we can perform as many reps of a given exercise as possible.  But this isn't the way the world works.  So why train that way?  Who cares if I can do 10 muscle-ups on a pull-up bar if I can't muscle-up into a tree to avoid a wild animal, or approaching flood waters?  Both are pretty real possibilities where I live.  We've had reports of everything from coyotes to wolves to moose in our neighborhood.  And there are several rivers that flood in Minnesota pretty much every year.

After muscle-ups, it was on to the MovNat leg swing.  To do this, we were instructed to grab the object we intended to climb and swing one leg over it.  Then, using our other leg for momentum, we swung up onto the object and pushed ourselves into a sitting position.  This is easily the hardest thing I did all day.  I chose to get up onto the top of a nearby swingset with most of the group.  I got up one time, but for the most part either didn't get up all the way or swung completely over the swingset and had to be caught by a spotter.  And for my efforts I got huge bruises on every limb.  Awesome...

We ended this section with another exercise that made the remaining kids on the playground run for the hills.  We climbed around the outside of the playground without letting our feet touch the ground.  That's right folks...I played "hot lava" for the first time in about 20 years. 

That brings up another point about how MovNat looks at working out.  Do you remember the last time that working out was fun?  I can, because I love running and doing Crossfit.  But I can imagine a lot of fitness routines out there are pretty abysmal.  I can't run on a treadmill for more than a few minutes without wishing I was dead.  On the other hand, I could play hot lava all damn day.  If you're not having fun working out, you probably won't stick with it.  But if you look forward to working out, you certainly will.  And with all of that climbing my whole body was burning.  Playing is a great workout, and super fun. 

There's a lot more nature boy antics where that came from!  To read the second installment of this report, click on this linkCheers!


  1. This sounds like The Awesome. Wonder if there are any on da island...and if I can afford it.

  2. I didn't see any clinics in Hawaii Doug. Lots of one-day clinics in California, and a couple on some other Pacific islands.

    Maybe you're close enough to do the mack daddy two week course in Thailand. I'd be so there if it didn't cost 2-large.

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