By Lillie Read
e all know people who are shining examples of activity and physical fitness. They work out, they eat well, they seem to enjoy sweating. I am not that person. The consequence of that approach, of course, has been fairly predictable. For example the other day I was outside playing dinosaurs with my goddaughter (I was the velociraptor) and I noticed within a few minutes of commencing our game that I was totally winded. My stamina was laughable, my flexibility was non-existent, and my coordination was less than polished. Like many of us who are bound to a desk job, I could tell that I was reaping the results of what I had sown over the last few years of inactivity.
I was having a great time playing and no problem sticking with it, even when I had to take some breaks. Then it struck me. It’s not moving that I’m against. Heck no. I love moving and would like to retain my ability to move for many years yet. What I’m against is movement without purpose, like at the gym (no judgment, gym-buffs, I’m speaking only for myself). Give me a reason to play, run, climb, or hike and I’m there. I’ll even work in the yard when I have to, but put me in the gym and I’m at a total loss.
Yet given the mounting evidence (believe me, my time as a velociraptor was not my first indication of waning fitness) I knew that I needed to do something to establish a more enduring movement practice. So I started looking around at different modalities and eventually stumbled across this thing called MovNat. Founded by French native Erwan Le Corre in 2008, the basic principle behind MovNat is that one does not have to be fit in order to move (promising), but one has to move in order to be fit. Simple, right? Then again, simple is not always easy. I looked around at the website, watched some YouTube videos, and tried to decide if I might like to give this a try for real.
The biggest challenge I met with initially was that I could watch all the videos I wanted but in order to learn this new skill, I really needed some direct feedback from an expert. Unfortunately, there are very few MovNat certified gyms in America (thirteen to be precise) and even fewer local trainers. Not to be deterred I found out that a two-day workshop was coming up right here in Atlanta and then, lo and behold, they did a two for one deal on workshop registrations. It could only be a sign, I told my husband, so I put aside my various doubts and concerns and signed up for the course.
I’ll admit that two full days of training, from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., seemed a little daunting to me (as did the idea of showing up to workout in front of actual people) but ultimately it was not as bad as I built it up to be. There were 18 of us present for the course, part of which took place at Tanyard Creek Park and part of which took place at a local gym (the irony of it being at a gym, given my earlier comment, is not lost on me). What I found interesting is that, other than the gym manager, my husband and I were the only people there from the Atlanta area. The instructor, Eric Brown, came from Dallas and the other participants came in from places like Wisconsin, Maryland, Illinois, Washington DC, Ohio, Tennessee, and South Carolina. There were people looking to get back in shape, like me and my husband, all the way to owners of parkour gyms and athletic trainers for professional baseball and soccer teams (no pressure).
Actually, that was true; there wasn’t any pressure with this group, just a ton of positive feedback and support. Day one was all about introducing the principles of MovNat and working on refining our skills for the movements used in things like walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching. What was great for me was that these were movements I already knew how to do, so the barrier to entry was not high. Even so, the real work focused around turning my movements from something that was merely effective (capable of accomplishing the goal) into something that was more efficient (capable of accomplishing the goal with maximum success and minimal injury).
It was easy to see how increasing my aptitude with these movements would help build the physical foundation for success across a broad array of skills and techniques. It truly struck me as a return to basics because many of these movements are what you see when young children are learning how to move through the world and building their own physical competency. For example, with crawling, we didn’t stick to just the basic hand-knee crawl, we expanded into things like hand-foot crawls, push-pull crawls, shoulder crawls, and inverted crawls. Not only did these things activate muscles that I probably hadn’t used in a decade, the instructor also told us instances where these movements might have application in a real-world setting.
Real-world focus is a big thing with MovNat and couched in that is the idea that one can be gym-fit but that doesn’t necessarily translate into successfully moving through a more natural, less controlled, environment. There were a lot of very gym-fit individuals in the course but there were areas where each of them struggled simply because moving in a gym can be very different from moving in nature where one might have to crawl, squat, swing, or flex in ways that you don’t when you’re just lifting weight or running on the treadmill.
So I made it through day one and even returned for day two where we had the opportunity to reinforce our techniques through practicing movement combinations and using what we’d learned in a real-world setting. Day two was definitely harder and, with muscles protesting from the prior day’s work, it took me a little time to find my groove. We did obstacle courses using our basic skills, played a few rounds of tug-of-war to see how that activated our movements, practiced climbing, and ended the day with running, jumping, and vaulting skills. This was where I learned how to effectively and efficiently move over walls and other obstacles without having to detour, clamber, or otherwise impede my progress.
At the end of day two, it was all I could do not to go home and pass out, fully clothed, on the sofa. I did leave with a few valuable takeaways. First, I felt empowered. Not only because I made it through the course, but because the pointed instruction in movement and locomotion made me feel like I understood my body and how it worked in movement much better. The second thing that really struck me was that these movements reminded me that exercise can be both fun and effective. By Monday I discovered that I used muscles I had not engaged in years (some of them I’m not even sure I knew I had) but I also found that I was excited to use them more. Since then, I have crawled, balanced, jumped, run, and played catch with more focused and pointed effort that I can ever recall. I am excited about the opportunity to build my skills in these and other areas and to use those building blocks to create a path towards better health. It’s the first time in a long time that I have felt positive about the direction of my movement practice and that by itself is a very exciting thing.
Lillie Read is a ninth generation Georgian who loves
history, camping, and exploring. She is the manager of the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program where she works with the community to preserve and promote their historic downtown. She lives in Marietta with her husband and two spoiled cats.