As some of you may have heard, Ohio has (to my knowledge) the only MovNat gym in the world (though I’m sure there will be more). What does that mean? Let’s go over my first session there so you know what to expect when you go (if you’re close enough) or when you see one open in your area.
MovNat, for those of you not quite sure, MovNat is a physical education & fitness system based on training the full range of our natural human movement abilities. What the heck does that mean? It means you train by engaging in natural movement: you run, you crawl, you swim, you climb, you carry things, you throw things, and you defend yourself. And sometimes you do it all at once. What makes MovNat different is that it teaches you to do these things in the most natural, efficient way possible (and no, it is not at all ironic that nature wound up giving you the most efficient way to do these things …. we needed to do them all the time for thousands of years just to get by as a species, why not get good at them?).
A lot of people read about that and they say, “Sure, but what does it look like?” And then they hit YouTube and they see this:
And yeah, of course that sells them. I mean, how great does that look? What the hell is that even? Well, that’s Erwan Le Corre doing some of his best and most exciting MovNat stuff. But that’s sort of like the paintings and drawings they show you to get you to go to art school. Yes, it’s really great and yes, they can teach you how to do all that with that much ease, but it’s not always what the training looks like. At last, not exactly.
So what does it look like? Well, it’s going to be different for everyone and it’ll be different every time, but here’s what my first session looked like.
Step 1. I arrived at the place. This was my second attempt at this session (the first time was derailed by two hours of traffic jam and me having a temper tantrum) so I went extra early. Turned out I was forty five minutes early.
Well, I want to seem eager, but not psychotically eager. So I decided not to walk in forty five minutes early, and instead I took a walk around Dublin. As a testament to my willpower, I walked past an ice cream place, a frozen yogurt place and a place offering me free milk and cookies. Twice.
After that walk I was still 30 minutes early. Hrm …. so I decided to do something totally normal so as not to look like a gym stalker. I sat in my car and watched the gym. Okay, really I watched my phone and listened to music, but I did get to see a guy pop his head in confused once.
At around 12 minutes early I decided I could enter without looking like a crazy person, so I went inside.
Step 2. This isn’t really a step, but a lot of people want to know what’s in a MovNat gym. Well, the idea is that you can do it anywhere. Outdoors is ideal. But there’s plenty you can and should do inside. The place isn’t that big: really just a small office area, an entry/open floor and a matted floor. The matted floor has a wooden climbing rig built onto it and the beams that support the building are thick and old. There’s a pull up / squat rack, a few weights and bars, an array of kettlebells, some big rubber blocks and some sandbags …. that’s really about it. It doesn’t need a lot (though there is a small fridge for food, because how can you have MovNat without food). I say hi and go to the restroom to change. My clothes don’t fit well in my bag, so I leave there with my work shirt draped over the bag and place it by a chair.
Step 3. We’d already done this step, but I sent them a food log for October (I keep a very detailed log). They responded with some tips and suggestions for keeping the diet clean and for attaining my general body composition goals. It was good stuff, too.
Step 4. We talked about my workout log (I keep that, too) and how flexible my plan was. Of course, since I’m the constant experimenter I told them to go whole hog on me. I said I’d do whatever they told me to to the best of my ability and see where the training takes me.
Step 5. We move onto some skill work. I tell them that I have trouble with pistol squats and pullups, so they look at my standard squat and I do a few exercises like a glute bridge. One of the two trainers determines that I most likely have a hard time activating my glutes, which is why I fall on my can when i try to do pistols (because there’s nothing holding me up at the bottom of the squat).
Step 6. I make the mistake of saying that my balance needs work. They pull out a pair of 2×4 boards and lay them end to end. I’ve got about 12-15 feet of board to work with. I walk the plank. I wank it forward heel to toe and backwards toe to heel, getting advice and pointers as I go. After two pieces of advice my form is 100% better. I do it with a kettlebell at my side, with a kettlebell chambered, and with one pressed above my head. I also crawl on this thing. I repeat the walking with a kettlebell on a 2×3. I’m feeling pretty well warmed up, but we took a look at my pull up and chin up form anyway. I likely did more pulls and chins and negatives and statics in that evaluation than I ever do in a real workout.
Step 7. We take a walk to a nearby park (2 blocks) by the river and set up a circuit using the skills I want to work on and some other good ones. This particular circuit consists of a fallen tree deadlift (5 of them, in fact) followed by 5 assisted pistols on each leg beside a large rock (I keep a hand on the rock to help me not fall). Then we do a backwards bear crawl up a hill and a crab walk back down it (this is much harder than you might think). Finally I go to a tree that grows at a nice 45 degree angler and do a jungle up (you grab the tree and bring your feet up around it) and then a second. On the second I stay on the tree and use y body to hand-over-hand and leg-over-leg crawl up it a few feet. I close that movement out with a few body rows into the tree and let myself drop down.
We did this circuit three times.
Step 8. We drank water after the third set and then sat there afraid to move as a family of deer walked by. The mother literally crossed within spitting distance of us and the babies got within about five feet before they got too afraid to stay and turned tail and ran, their puffy white tails up in the air. Try doing that at a Planet Fitness!
Step 9. I got changed and then my trainer fed me chili she made with grass fed ground beef. Seriously? Who the hell can beat that? Also, do you know the best thing about paleo chili? No beans. You don’t even have to have the stupid argument. You just get lovely chili without having to stress about beans. It was like magic.
Step 10. The rest of it. Basically this part is the feedback and the improvement phase. Now I have a really good idea about what to work on and how to do it. They’re going to be providing me with some programming suggestions and assistance moving forward and ideally I’ll just get better over time.
A quick note: It’s possible that after you have done this tiring workout and used your arms more than usual, going home to squeeze apple cider by hand for an hour is not the best choice you could make if you want your arms to work correctly the next day. Could just be me.