A short primer on Movnat®, its benefits & advantages as a fitness practice

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What is Movnat?

Movnat is a fitness training method and physical education system that was developed over 12 years ago by Erwan Le Corre and which has grown exponentially since then.

Below is the 2008 video that first popularized his ideas: the workout the world forgot.

A repertoire of movement based on evolutionary biology

Movnat can be viewed as an optimized movement repertoire based on human evolutionary biology. Our bodies today are essentially the same as the bodies of our ancestors 300 000 years ago, when Homo Sapiens, or the “Anatomically Modern Humans” branched out of the genre Homo.

Our bodies require specific physical stimuli to stay healthy

Today, we all still belong to the Homo Sapiens specie and we’re anatomically essentially the same as our ancestors with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This has two crucial consequences:

  • our bodies adapted over millions of years to be very efficient at performing the tasks required by the hunter-gather lifestyle of that period. It was characterized by both a high volume and a high variety of physical tasks on a daily basis, just to accomplish the required actions of getting enough calories and sheltering from predators and the elements (see here a detailed breakdown of their daily activities).
  • much more importantly, our bodies also adapted to actually require those physical stimuli to stay and remain healthy.

This duality is critical to understand and it hinges on the fact that our bodies have, up until very recently, evolved in an energy-scarce environment where conserving energy was an imperative for survival. Our bodies thus store energy as much as possible and expend it only when absolutely required for survival. How do they know when to expend that energy? Through movement.

The example of bone density and osteoporosis

A direct illustration of that biological mechanism is bone density, which in humans is developed and set between birth and around 18 years old. During those years, if we stimulate our bodies with physical tasks and demands requiring strong bones, our bodies will use energy to increase bone density. If we don’t, that energy will be saved or used elsewhere, resulting in low bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis at ever younger ages. The same dynamic is at play throughout adult life to prevent a decrease in bone density: imposing physical demands on our bodies keeps it from declining rapidly. This is exactly what we observe across our western societies with more and more women, in particular, being diagnosed ever so early.

This had never been an issue until the emergence of a highly sedentary lifestyle in the past century. Up until then, most of the world population had to be physically active every day to satisfy their basic needs (food & shelter). Now, we can satisfy them without much physical activity, which deprives our bodies of the necessary stimuli they require to stay healthy. Osteoporosis is a vivid and simple example, but the same mechanisms are at play in many other different biological areas.

Movnat guides us in providing our bodies the necessary physical stimuli

To counter the negative impact of our more sedentary modern lifestyle, we do not need to go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but we do need to give our bodies the bare minimum physical stimuli they need. That’s where Movnat is invaluable: its repertoire of techniques was explicitly designed to do just that, as it is based on those practical physical tasks our bodies biologically need. It’s not just movement for movement’s sake, but movement based on those tasks our bodies have done for hundreds of thousands of years and have co-evolved with.

This is apparent in the main areas covered by Movnat: ground movements, crawling, climbing, jumping, lifting, carrying, etc. They each relate to daily physical tasks in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: building and maintaining shelter, gathering and processing food, hunting, moving camps, etc.

Movnat is the best fitness practice available today to optimize our long-term physical health outcomes because it stimulates our bodies in exactly the way they are expecting to be stimulated by physical activity.

Beyond physical health, what are the benefits you get practicing Movnat?

Long-term health is not the only benefit you get from practicing Movnat. You also gain physical, mental but also practical capabilities.

Physical Capabilities

The physical capabilities are the first set of benefits we think of when referring to a fitness practice, and Movnat develops them very well. Practicing Movnat brings you increased strength, mobility, coordination and conditioning.

It also has a unique emphasis on balance work, which makes the physical competencies developed through Movnat especially useful to improve sport-specific performance, as balancing is rarely incorporated in other general fitness methods as its own domain.

In addition, the movement patterns in Movnat are quite different from the usual fitness methods, even from more recent and seen as atypical ones like Crossfit: crawling, climbing a variety of obstacles and not just pull-up bars, etc… If your goal is to improve performance in a specific sport, Movnat develops unique attributes that will make you stand out in your chosen discipline.

Mental Capabilities

The Mental capabilities you get out of Movnat are perhaps the most distinctive in my opinion. What’s valuable is that these capabilities are created through Movnat practice but then transfer over other domains and are used in our personal, work and academic (for those still studying) lives.

Improves mental toughness like no others

Mental toughness is most referred to in relation with military special forces training or extreme endurance events like Ironman races and the likes. It can be defined as a combination of:

  • being results-driven: you focus on the outcome and dedicate all efforts to achieve your goals, regardless of the details or method to get there. What counts is the result.
  • persistence: you just persevere and never quit until those goals are achieved
  • resilience: when faced with unexpected obstacles and setbacks, you just charge onwards and focus on getting past them

These are all, of course, very valuable traits of characters to develop and will be useful in many domains. The key to forge mental toughness is (using a popular expression) to become comfortable being uncomfortable. In my opinion, Movnat is an invaluable tool in that regard. Endurance sports mostly develop persistence but less so resilience. It’s the same with other high-intensity training methods commonly seen as developing mental toughness. That’s because there isn’t much unexpected setbacks to develop resilience. You have to persist and never quit, but you know what is ahead.

Movnat, by pushing us to train in nature and unknown urban environments, is challenging us regularly as we are confronted with unexpectedly difficult terrain. Making it a goal to eventually train barefoot in nature is another way to become comfortable being uncomfortable. All it takes is practice and mental toughness to become comfortable training barefoot, starting with a few low impact exercises.

Facing and getting past our fears is also key to develop mental toughness. Movnat provides ample occasions of that for many people: balancing at height and vaulting over high obstacles, along with jumping from height are mentally challenging for everyone. But we start small, get small achievements by overcoming our fears, and try a slightly harder and mentally difficult challenge the next time. Again, this is unique to Movnat.

All of this makes Movnat one of the best (if not the best) physical practice to develop the traits of character that makes up mental toughness, which is an incredible life skill to have.

Being more adaptable and resourceful

Movnat encourages us to train using any improvised objects and in any environment (more on that below) because variability in training is seen as valuable. There is nothing wrong for example in having a training session in your hotel room, using your suitcase, while you’re traveling for business.

You’re no longer tied to gyms or limited in your opportunities. You develop a “can do, no excuse” attitude when doing this. Much more than more classic fitness training in the gym where you don’t have to actually be resourceful and adaptable because everything is standardized and provided.

Being more innovative and creative

It’s fair to say that practicing Movnat falls slightly outside the commonly accepted social for most of us. Training barefoot or with “weird” minimalist footwear like ultra-minimal sandal, as well as training in nature or the urban outdoors doesn’t fall into the commonly accepted definition of a normal fitness practice. All the more so if what you train is not comprised of push-ups, squats, and other bodyweight classics but you start crawling on the ground and balancing on rails. You have to be a bit of a maverick to train Movnat in public and be comfortable with being seen as a bit weird.

This is actually very beneficial to develop our sense of innovation as well as our creativity. Most of the time—and certainly within organizations—these attributes require us to be comfortable with having opinions or even acting in a different way than expected by our social groups. To become an innovative leader at work for example, you need to be ok with being seen as the weird maverick, even if only temporary.

Being more confident

Movnat practice will change your physique over time, so you definitely get a boost in confidence from improved body composition. But you also gain confidence as you develop the practical capabilities detailed in the next section. You become confident you can carry heavy objects on your own, carry your kids or another person by yourself should the need to move them away from danger arises. You can climb walls or on roofs. You can balance on top of them. Not many people can do that, and once you can, your confidence is naturally increased!

Being more relaxed

Movnat is not competitive, even if it can be practiced at a very high intensity. You mostly compete with yourself and there are a lot of techniques that allow you to develop a slow, controlled and meditative practice. Balancing is the best example of this.

Practical Capabilities

The last set of capabilities are the practical ones you develop when training Movnat. They’re invaluable at being real-life ready and help in your everyday life as well as in those rare occasions when disaster might strike, be it a natural disaster or a domestic accident.

Lifting

You learn how to lift heavy and diverse objects with confidence: on your own or with others.

Carrying

You learn how to carry your kid or an injured adult with confidence and move that person to safety, which could be outside a burning house or across hard terrain in the forest. It can also simply be carrying heavy groceries without risking an injury!

Climbing

You learn how to climb on a high wall or tree branch: to escape a threat (man or just dog) or just for fun. Also an easy way to bond with your kids!

Vaulting across obstacles

Same with vaulting over walls: what better way to escape a threat than vault quickly over a wall they have to painfully climb?

Landing

You learn how to land with a roll so you can jump down quickly and without injury from a high height. This can get you how of tricky situations and what better way to escape someone aggressive than to climb over a high wall then jump down from it the other side while they’re left wondering where you just went?

Balancing

You learn how to balance on a thin surface: to traverse an obstacle or just maintain your position. Think about natural disasters such as flooding to picture the value of this!

The Movnat method has been designed to emulate the day-to-day activities our ancestors had to do to survive. By definition, all these are practical and directly augment what we can achieve when faced with a physical challenge

Movnat as a practice brings other advantages that make it a better choice for a regular fitness practice

Movnat is time efficient, so fits perfectly with our modern busy lifestyle

Time is the scarcest resource for most people these days: we’re busy with work commitments, family responsibilities, kids’ activities, etc… No wonder time is the most common obstacle to regular physical activity! Movnat doesn’t create more time in your schedule (how good would that be!) but gives you the next best thing: it maximizes your volume of training given the little time you have.

This is foundational so I’ll go into details below.

You can train anytime, anywhere

Movnat is explicitly designed to be practiced anytime, anywhere, with no specialized equipment necessary. You can practice it at home, outside of work during lunch time, in your hotel room while travelling, at the playground with the kids, etc…

Sure, some movements like lifting/carrying or climbing will require access to something to carry or climb on but anything can be used. Traveling? Lift your suitcase. In the park? Use a tree branch instead of a pull-up bar.

Compare that with the time requirements needed to travel to and from a gym if you don’t live right by it.

This is ideal for everyone from busy professionals traveling around the country (or the world) to young parents and stay at home moms. It really suits unpredictable schedules.

Variability is valued and broad capabilities prioritized

Contrary to almost any other fitness practice, Movnat places a positive value on variability, because adaptability is developed by being exposed to variability. This is an important and very beneficial mental shift. Taking the example of the classic pull-up, most other fitness practices would require a standard pull-up bar (at the gym or at home). No pull-up bar available? Then you need to wait until you can get to one in order to practice your pull-ups.

Within Movnat, real-world skills are the focus and since in the real world you might have to do a pull-up on many different types of bars, then that’s what Movnat is recommending you train on. Variability is used to develop adaptability. So you are encouraged to practice your pull-ups not only on standard pull-up bars, but also on tree branches—thick or thin, straight or slanted, swing sets, walls, etc.

In addition to variability of equipment, variability of movement is valued as well: instead of just pull-ups, any climbing moves in the Movnat repertoire is viewed as good to practice. No bar but just a wall? Do wall climb-ups. Only a chest-level big tree branch at your disposal, without enough vertical space below? Practice climbing swing-ups or even just foot-hand hanging.

That’s because Movnat doesn’t place an emphasis on specific exercises like pull-ups but on broad practical capabilities like climbing: any exercise that improves your climbing capabilities is seen as valuable, not just the ones that will increase your personal record of pull-ups.

“Training” is woven into life, not just workouts

Another aspect of Movnat that is very beneficial in our modern world is the fact that all techniques derive from practical needs. Which means you can actually train them in your day to day life, contrary to isolated gym exercises done on the machines at the gym. This also shifts your own perception: carrying groceries? You might have viewed this as a chore before but now it’s a training opportunity so carry all of them using only one arm instead of using a trolley. Having to carry a tired young kid? Again, training opportunity you now embrace.

When you’ve learnt through Movnat to value movement outside of punctual workouts, you not only do more of them but you take pleasure and satisfaction in doing what was previously seen as useless chores.

Conclusion: Movnat drastically expands your training opportunities

With variability seen as valuable instead of detrimental, it opens up your training opportunities.

A focus on broad capabilities instead of specific exercises further broadens your training opportunities by letting you train many techniques instead of just a few specific ones.

Coupled with valuing physical movements outside of structured workouts, practicing Movnat lets you see and take advantage of many more training opportunities than virtually all other fitness practices. With our busy lifestyle making it a struggle to create 1h of free time to go and do a gym workout, this is invaluable.

Universally accessible yet challenging

Another very valuable advantage of Movnat is to be both one of the most accessible yet most challenging fitness practice. That’s due to the combination of two features of Movnat:

  • Movnat is a repertoire of movement techniques ranging from extremely accessible (think ground movement) to extremely challenging (think balancing at height carrying another person) in terms of technical difficulty.
  • Those techniques can be practiced either at very low or very high intensity depending on your conditioning and your goals.

In practice, that means Movnat can be used with great success whether you want to:

  • experience a gentle, restorative practice to get back into physical exercise and rehab your body using very progressive exercises starting from ground movements
  • challenge yourself to the max with difficult techniques performed in a high-intensity circuit because you seek the toughest workout there is and Movnat provides that
  • everything in between!

It’s difficult to think of a fitness practice that is as accessible and as beneficial as Movnat no matter your strength and conditioning level.

Inspiring for kids

If you have kids, I firmly believe Movnat is invaluable and if you practice it as a parent, you will give your kids a lifelong advantage in life. Let me explain.

We all know by now that regular physical activity is beneficial for kids and adults alike. If you don’t believe that, please have a look at the World Health Organization guidelines.

So, how does Movnat fits in this? Let’s see:

  • Movnat, as opposed to working out at the gym, can be done in front of your kids, at home or at the playground, etc… It’s safe to practice with them around you so they can see you exercise.
  • Your kids see you and want to imitate you because kids want to reproduce what they see their role models do. If you only train at the gym, chances are you don’t bring your kids with you and so they don’t see you. Missed role-modeling opportunity…
  • Now the best part… Because Movnat techniques are based on the movements the human body has evolved to perform, your kids can actually imitate what they see you do. Again, if you somehow bring them to the gym and they see you working out on machines or doing handstands, they can’t readily imitate you without further coaching.
  • With your kids practicing Movnat with you, they develop a habit of regular physical activity at such an early age that it has a very high chance of sticking with them for life. And that’s a gift that is invaluable for their current and future life

That’s why Movnat is invaluable as an educational tool: you can do it in front and with your kids, so they get to see you and be inspired by your role-modeling AND they can do it because natural and instinctive for them.

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