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Natural Movement: Training for the Real World

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Real world fitness is all about how well you can physically adapt to contextual demands in life’s many situations. Ultimately it is about being able to adjust seamlessly to life’s myriad of changes as they are presented.

Your expectation of how things will proceed is like a script for a live performance; It’s helpful to follow a script, but at some point you’re going to have to improvise. The more you cling to your script, the harder it is going to be to flow through unexpected developments, and even the slightest hesitation can derail the whole show.

Learning how to improvise when it comes to movement in life means being able to perform all manner of practical movements, and to be able to flow from one technique to another at the drop of a dime without interruption. The need to improvise is always governed by contextual demands.

Contextual Demands

Contextual demands include environmental demands, which means being able to adapt to and traverse all manner of obstacles that may be presented in your environment. That might mean anything in nature or constructed society from climbing trees to scaling walls or steep hills. It could mean running across slippery surfaces, jumping across a gap, or balancing over a narrow surface of support. Whatever your environment throws at you, real world fitness is about being able to adapt - and at deeper levels, even make use of these demands to aid in your traversal.

Contextual demands also include situational demands, which may involve a sense of urgency in an emergency situation, such as escaping a pursuer, or a less threatening situation such as trying to catch a bus. This may also involve goals such as crossing a river without getting wet, getting under a low obstacle without getting your clothes dirty, or taking a shortcut that requires some obstacle traversal.

Adaptability as the Deepest Level of Natural Movement

Real world fitness is about developing your physical capability to adapt to any situation or environment that should present itself. It’s about being capable to help yourself and others, rather than being in a state where you have to depend on others to help you. Could you climb out of a window and jump down from the second floor of a house if it was on fire? Could you efficiently climb over a fence if you needed to? Are you in good enough shape to help a friend move to a new home and reliably assist in carrying heavy furniture and appliances? The MovNat creed is “be strong to be useful” and that’s true empowerment.

MovNat is a physical education system for developing real world fitness (physical adaptability) through the full range of motor skills that the human body has developed through natural environmental pressures. The range of movement skills we practice can be as simple as sitting on the ground and getting back up to standing, or more challenging and complex such as climbing over tall obstacles, lifting heavy objects, or running on rugged terrain.

Naturalizing the Body: The Antidote to Sedentarism

To live balanced lives in a culture that has abandoned the use of many of these innate movements, we have to find a way to reintegrate the movements that the conveniences of our modern society has rendered “optional”. If we do not regularly engaging in all of the ways our bodies are designed to move, our bodies develop abnormal strain and tension that leads to deformation of bones and eventually pain, lack of circulation, and ultimately illness for many. These deformations and abnormal tension holding patterns can be reversed, but this is not something that can be solved by putting the responsibility into the hands of a therapist. Your body needs the stimulation of moving in these different ways to restore the natural form and function of your body, and you need to take responsibility for this.

The Incomplete "Nutrient Profile" of Modern Fitness

First I want to iterate that "incomplete" is not inherently bad, but none of these modern methods are "whole-istic", meaning they do not check all of the boxes of what we need to maintain healthy movement. There's nothing wrong with playing a sport you enjoy, attending Yoga classes, going to the gym and using machines, or anything like that, but if you try to make that the only thing you do, you're going to build a lot of imbalances.

Without developing physical competence and adaptability through a well-balanced movement practice, you’re putting yourself of a path toward dysfunction and ill-health, and you’re building a version of yourself that cannot be depended upon by others. Even if you think of yourself as an active person who plays a sport, goes to the gym regularly, or does Yoga a few times per week, you’re still missing pieces of the puzzle.

Playing sports are great, but no sport involves every category of movement we need to stay healthy. The way we practice these sports often favors our dominant side; swinging a bat or club, or throwing right-handed, for example. This kind of unilateral movement throws the balance off in our body for the sake of maximizing performance. Not that sports should be avoided, but a Natural Movement practice is required to address the distortions such specialization creates. Sports are well-defined and limited by their parameters, not real-world.

The common gym workout involves a lot of strength and resistance training, some mono-tonal cardio, and a little half-hearted stretching. Everything in this environment is predictable and void of the need to adapt to unexpected variation. Gym exercises are like taking natural movements, extracting small portions from these movements, and then discarding any practical relevance to the technique. For example, what’s the point of a Pull Up? Well, it’s the first part of getting up and over or onto a bar or branch, but when was the last time to went to the gym and did a pull up with the goal of climbing over or standing up on the bar? Just doing Pull Ups and Dips doesn’t carry over to being able to get up on top of what you’re pulling up to.

Practical Application is Central to Real-World Fitness

Strength training is part of Natural Movement, and gym exercises are helpful; But without the underlying framework of functional, practical, natural movements, there is too much missing. Furthermore, a hyper focus on strength and cardio makes the body stiff and prone to injury. Gym exercise strictly follows a predictable script, with no real-world element.

Yoga feels great, and relaxing, but there is a lot missing there. It’s important to remember that Yoga is a spiritual practice like meditation first, and a physical practice second. It was not originally conceived as a method for developing fitness, but rather molded to fit that paradigm. Too much focus on Yoga can lead to excessive flexibility and laxity, which leads to weakness and imbalanced joint function.

There is also no aspect of climbing, hanging, lifting, carrying, jumping, or gait pattern of any sort in Yoga. Yoga can be great for reducing stress, synchronizing breath and movement, and tuning into your body-mind connection, as well as relieving excessive tension in the body, but it is by no means a compete system of fitness. Again, this is void of the aspect of adaptability as everything is extremely predictable. In this way Yoga has very little real-world relevance. I don't think you should stop doing it if it's something you enjoy, but there needs to be some supplementation to fill in the missing pieces, and MovNat provides that.

None of these examples are bad, and I don’t suggest that you should give up any physical activities that you enjoy, but if you’re trying to be healthy, strong, and capable to respond to the demands of the real world, you need to fill in the gaps that these practices leave open. That’s what MovNat and the Natural Movement practice bring to the table. It can be a complete system in and of itself, or the perfect supplement to balance the other activities you love.

Movement Nutrients

I am deeply inspired by the way Katy Bowman talks about movement variety like nutrients in foods. We have needs for macronutrients, such as protein, fat, and carbs. These need to be consumed proportionately in high quantities compared to micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which need to maintain their proportions, but are required in smaller amounts compared to the macros.

To translate this into movement, macronutrients are movement like walking, getting up and down from the ground, sitting transitions, and carrying things. In our natural environment these would be the most common daily movements. micronutrients would be skills like climbing, lifting heavy things, crawling, and swimming, for example. We would perform these movements a few times per day at most. In between, there are skills that are practice frequently on a daily basis, but not in the proportion of the macronutrients. These are skills like throwing, running, and jumping.

With this in mind, if someone just sits at work all day, sits around at home, sits in their car, barely walks, never jumps, but goes to the gym every day to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, you might think this person is fit and healthy, but their physical activities are disproportionate to their biological needs, and overtime they develop imbalances, and perhaps injuries that seem to come out of nowhere.

MovNat Natural Movement training is the best way to integrate natural movements into your daily life and change the way you move. It doesn't have to replace the things you love to do, but it has the potential to enhance what you love to do, while filling in the missing pieces.

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