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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Experiencing My True Nature, Part Two (i.e. MovNat One-Day Clinic Report)

This is part two in my report on the MovNat One-Day Clinic I attended on May 7, 2011.  To read the first epic portion of the report, click on this link.  You won't get part two without part one.  This isn't like the Star Wars movies.  So read up citizens!


After getting banged up in the climbing portion of the clinic, I was ready for an activity that was more my speed.  We headed out into the grassy knoll behind the playground to learn how to jump.  Or more specifically, to learn how to land.  After seeing videos of MovNat instructors leaping from high cliffs and landing unscathed, I was psyched to learn this skill.  But so that we didn't break our femurs on the first try, we started with a small vault off of some picnic tables.

We formed two lines on each side of a picnic table, and took turns stepping onto the seat and then falling off into a controlled landing.  At impact, we were supposed to land on the balls of our feet and roll back onto our heels to break our fall.  Then we were to shift our weight back into a squat to let the force of the landing be absorbed by our muscles. 

It turned out I was pretty good at this.  A few people reported that these landings made the soles of their feet hurt.  To me, it didn't feel any different than my footstrike during barefoot running.  I suppose it helps to have practice landing this way, and I essentially have practiced this skill every day.  Feeling saucy, I stepped onto the top of the picnic table and attempted a landing with similar success.

After learning the landing it was time to combine it with an actual jump.  We practiced jumping in place as well as jumping forward in the grass.  Then we moved out into the parking lot where the margin of error was smaller.  Like barefoot running, barefoot jumping is best learned on a hard surface to give you immediate feedback about your form.  And just like when I learned to barefoot run, I started off pushing off with my feet at the end of my jumps and tearing up my toes a bit.

Then it was on to the most important aspect of jumping: hitting a target.  I suppose a jump turns into a fall if you miss your landing spot.  For this drill, we were asked to jump from the pavement onto the curb.  Once there we were to maintain our balance and stand up straight, or else the jump was considered a failure.  This drill hit home the paramount importance of performing these movements accurately for me.  I've certainly done workouts where I complete X number of sloppy box jumps or something similar.  That's a great workout, but there's no real function to it.  On the other hand, I could see myself having to do X number of target jumps to get across some rocks in a stream.  If you screw up on box jumps, usually nothing happens.  But if you don't hit your target in a stream, you end up soaking wet. 

Crawling on All Fours

Although it's referred to as "crawling on all fours", Clifton clarified that the skills in this portion of the clinic were better described as "ground work".  Not only did we learn how to maneuver while on the ground, but we learned strategies for getting from the ground to our feet and vice versa.  For ground movement we did some bear crawling and crab walking.  To get down onto the ground, we practiced some wicked awesome barrel rolls. 

Now a lot of this stuff, like many of the previous exercises, was pretty intuitive for most folks.  I already knew how to bear crawl and crab walk, and I've been doing it since I was a kid.  That's a common criticism leveled at MovNat, in that they are charging money for the opportunity to do something that we can already do for free; i.e. play around at the playground and in nature. 

After attending the seminar, I stand by my decision to pay to learn the MovNat system of exercise.  Here's why.  You can be critical of any fitness program or system for the same reasons that folks are critical of MovNat.  You don't need to pay money to have someone teach you how to do anything in the fitness world.  You can just buy the necessary equipment and figure it out yourself.  When you decide to pay someone to teach you something about fitness, you are paying for their expertise in the subject.  They in turn will teach you how to perform that activity better. 

What you pay for in MovNat isn't just the chance to play at the park.  MovNat is about thinking about fitness in a more natural way.  Before I came to the clinic, I didn't think about my workouts as a compilation of essential movements; walking, running, climbing, balancing, etc.  I thought of it as a series of muscle group exercises.  You could certainly learn to see fitness that way on your own, but it's not necessarily intuitive to everybody; especially nowadays when we're more sedentary.

Similarly, MovNat teaches you to look at your everyday environment in a new way.  When I first got to the clinic, when I saw the street curb I thought "there's a street curb".  Now I think of all the cool stuff I can do with it to get a workout.  I can jump onto it, over it, balance on it, bear crawl on it, run on it, etc.  Again, you can figure all of that stuff out by yourself.  But you might not think of everything, especially if you're looking to work certain skills or muscle groups.  That's where it's nice to learn from folks with expertise.  For example, while learning how to bear crawl we went to a steep hill where we could perform the movement forwards and backwards.  Those different directions work completely different muscles.  I would never have thought of bear crawling up a hill backwards.  But Clifton did because he's worked with MovNat for so long. 

Barefoot Running

Finally, an activity I knew I would be good at!  After finishing our ground acrobatics on the grass, we headed back over to the pavement for some running practice.  As folks started to slip on their shoes for the first time all day, Clifton did his best to indoctrinate them in the benefits of barefoot running.  I thought he did a pretty good job too.  He talked about proper running form and how it can be achieved through barefoot running.  I was also impressed that he didn't hold it out to be a kind of panacea for all of your injuries.  Shedding your shoes too often gets held up as second only to Jesus curing the lepers in terms of its ability to heal the wounded.  He made it out to be more of a tool in your toolkit to achieve good running form and to have fun, which is what I think it's all about.

After alleviating a lot of fears, all but one of the clinic participants agreed to take a barefoot run.  Fantastic!  I love big barefoot groups.  Then we took a short jaunt to get the hang of good running form.  Clifton used a method that I think I'm going to steal to teach the difference between good and bad form.  He had us start by taking a 50m dash using a particular element of bad form (for example, bending at the waist).  Then he immediately had us do the same 50m dash using good form (in that case, bending at the ankles).  He had most folks running fairly well within a few minutes. 

I disagreed with his primary focus on the forward lean as the most important part of good form.  I think a forward lean isn't even necessary, and I don't regularly run with one.  But it is a good way to get people started running quickly.  I made it a point to talk to people about the importance of relaxation and having comfortable landings.

Lifting, Carrying, and Throwing

After running we came to our last activity of the day.  We walked over to a nearby wooded area to find some heavy things to lift.  We emerged from the woods each carrying a good sized log.  Clifton then instructed us on proper lifting form, which is essentially the same as for various Olympic lifts. 

After lifting our logs, we learned appropriate ways to carry them while expending minimal energy.  Another concept of MovNat that goes against some traditional fitness dogma is the focus on efficient movement.  I spent 10 years doing bodybuilding style lifting focusing on isolating muscles, moving slowly and controlling my lifts to maximize my "pump".  MovNat followers would call that ridiculous at most, and completely impractical at least.  The best way to lift a weight according to a MovNat hack would be the one that involves the least amount of energy.

Of course the caveat there is safety.  The best way to do something is the way that involves the least amount of energy so long as that movement can be performed safely.  Throughout the course Clifton pounded on the concept of "risk v. danger" to help us decide how to perform various movements, or even if we should perform them at all.  For example, the danger involved in lifting our logs were that we could hit ourselves with them, drop them on our foot, etc.  The movement was worth doing though if the risk of doing those things was low.  That's not the same for every person.  I could easily lift the logs, but some of the women in the group had a hard time.  They might want to skip the movement, or do it a different way. 

That point was never more apparent than when we started lifting and carrying each other.  Still having a bit of a bum ankle, I definitely considered the risk v. danger of carrying another person up a hill.  Especially since the person Clifton paired me with was the heaviest in the group, at a slender 205 lbs.  I decided to at least try to carry him.  Clifton then taught us the best ways to lift a human using a body drag, piggyback, and fireman carry.

I'm definitely glad that I attempted all of the carries, because I succeeded at doing something I didn't think I could do.  I was most doubtful about my ability to fireman carry a 205lb man up a steep hill.  But after practically sprinting up the hill with him on my back, I threw my hands in the air and had a mini "I'm awesome" celebration.  I found that one cool aspect of a MovNat workout is that these exercises can have practical results.  During strength training, you move a weight around and put it back where you found it; essentially doing no work.  I could envision myself designing a MovNat workout around some daily tasks in my life, and actually accomplishing something with my fitness.  I think that makes working out a lot more satisfying.


Now that we had a basic understanding of MovNat skills, it was time to put them all together.  We lined up for our first total MovNat workout (referred to as a "combo").  The workout involved 5 sets of 100m bear crawls through the beach volleyball pit, then an 100m barefoot run focusing on good form over speed, then 5 pavement to curb target jumps focusing on the landing, and finishing with groundwork (in this combo, onto and off of the ground 10 times). 

I found this workout to be just as challenging, if not more so, than my typical Crossfit circuits.  Which leads me to my final point: how I plan to incorporate MovNat into my workouts.  In explaining that, Clifton talked a little about his own practice.  He emphasized that the purpose of MovNat is both to make you more balanced and to have fun.  In order to achieve balance, workouts should focus on your weaknesses.  If you're bad at balancing, you should work on balancing. 

However, focus on your weaknesses shouldn't come at the expense of things you enjoy doing.  Clifton explained that although he follows a MovNat workout 4 times a week, he also makes time for working out with kettlebells.  And although most kettlebell workouts might involve what MovNat considers "wasted movements", that's also something that Clifton enjoys doing.  Even though running is a considerable strength of mine, I'm still going to do it pretty much every day because I enjoy it.  Your balance is also internal, in that you are fueling both your needs and your interests.


We ended the day with a group picture.  Here's the tired, dirty, yet extremely happy Minnesota MovNat crew.

Should you run out and pony up $300 for a one-day seminar like me, or even $2000 for a week?  That's a question only you can answer.  I certainly think you can only learn stuff like this through doing.  Getting the chance to practice these concepts, even if only for a few hours, with a MovNat expert was invaluable to my own training.  We had a guy in the group who was attending these sorts of events for the second time.  It's kind of like personal training in a way.  The more exposure you have to MovNat instructors, the better at these exercises you will be. 

Another thing to consider is that MovNat is very much still a start up company.  I paid to be on the lead edge of this movement because I think it's the next big thing in fitness.  I want to get my MovNat certification and become the first certified MovNat instructor in my area.  But I understand that not everyone has those goals.  To those people, $300 won't be worth it.

Those folks should remember that MovNat will become cheaper and more accessible as the company matures.  Just in the next year there promises to be significant changes to its structure.  Erwan le Corre, the founder of MovNat, will be writing a book all about the training system that is due out in 2012.  They are also looking to roll out the first round of certifications in 2011.  I also expect program costs to go down as the training system becomes more standardized and more instructors are certified.  Right now your $300 goes to fly one of three people all over the world.  These seminars are held everywhere from Tennessee to Thailand.  Plane tickets, meals, and lodging aren't cheap folks.  But if more trainers are located more closely to these seminars, overhead obviously isn't as high.

I'm happy to have attended this seminar.  It was revolutionary as to the way I look at fitness.  My appetite has been wet for this kind of stuff, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for me in this method of training.  Stay tuned citizens! 


  1. It's amusing that playing on a playground is a workout for adults, and play for kids. Nice to see a company getting us back to the basics, things that as adults we forget were so much fun.

    You'll make a great leader for that group, Chris. You seem to have a playful spirit. Perfect fit.

  2. Sounds great. I've just recently begun to discover this new/old fitness world. I've been enjoying kettle bells and Tacfit and am training for the warrior dash this July. Do you know if there are any meet up type groups in the cities exploring some of this fun?

  3. Well a lady who attended the clinic with me is planning to start doing more stuff like this at the gym she owns in Little Canada. I think it's called The Athlete Lab. Otherwise, I don't think you'll see much of it until more trainers get certified, which won't happen until 2012.

  4. Awesome reviews! I wanted to like crossfit but my first few times in injured myself using almost no weights, the Olympic lifts seem like they absolutely require an instructor and CF gyms are pricey. So I have been into bodyweight workouts. You paleos will have to excuse the diet of these folks, but the workouts are cool. Movnat is def something I want to explore further.




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