Worker Bee Field Trip: MovNat One-Day Fundamentals Workshop

Ever since Mark linked to that Men’s Health feature by Christopher McDougall on Erwan Le Corre and his MovNat system a few years ago, I’ve been interested in it. I saw the videos of a barefoot, shirtless Erwan lithely moving from rock to rock, climbing cliffs, leaping from high places, sprinting, diving, and moving fallen trees. His interview describing the plight of the “zoo human” and what to do about it really resonated with me, so I began trying to work MovNat-esque training into my life. It seemed like a good fit. Outdoorsy stuff has always been my thing, and I’ve never been one to avoid dirt. I didn’t make natural movement a huge priority, instead focusing more on weights, but I always kept it in my thoughts and played around with it whenever the opportunity arose.

When the opportunity to attend a one-day workshop arose, I jumped on it. It was sold out by the time I landed, but I emailed the instructor, hoping he could squeeze me in. He could. It just so happened that Mark and Erwan had just had a little post-AHS pow-wow in Malibu (I believe frisbees and shirtlessness were involved), unbeknownst to me, so we all decided I’d do a write-up on my experience and post it to MDA. (Side note: Mark is so impressed with the MovNat method that he has invited Erwan to be a featured presenter at PrimalCon 2012. It looks like tickets will go on sale next month. Stay tuned!)

This past Sunday, MovNat instructor Clifton Harski showed up at a park in Palo Alto, CA, driving a sweet cherry red ride (KIA, a rental) and bearing such gifts as 40 pound rocks, 80 pound sandbags, and a seemingly endless cache of snack bars from Whole Foods (that he didn’t share). His mission? To impart that which had been lost: the ways of natural human movement. That same Sunday morning, eighteen individuals in various states of shoelessness arrived at the same Palo Alto park to reclaim what had apparently been lost. It was a bit overcast and sorta cold. A tai-chi class was going on across the grass – elderly Asian folks, lots of windbreakers, and five dollar flip flops. At the playground, kids were playing and adults were watching.

Except for a few repeat MovNatters (including a ringer named Nick who wore official shorts and basically showed everyone up), most of us didn’t know what to expect. I was curious, but pretty confident that I’d do really well. I mean, this was natural human movement. I’m a human, have seen the videos, I go barefoot all the time, eat lots of animals and plants, squat and lift weird objects, hike, climb trees, do Grok crawls and other things in public that embarrass my wife… I know what I’m doing, right?

The first lesson was in pole climbing. “I’ve done this,” I thought. Back when I lived in LA, there were flag poles with ads for realtors all over my neighborhood. I used to climb them regularly, using basically all upper body to muscle my way up. It was a killer workout for the arms and lats. Totally MovNat, right? Wrong. Instead of muscling your way up, you keep your arms straight and relaxed and initiate upward movement with your feet, either by pinning the pole in between them or walking right up. Your hands and arms just anchor you to the pole, or so he said. My feet kept slipping, and I couldn’t get myself to relax and let my grip and feet hold me. I kept wanting to engage my arms. Once I learned to relax, I found the MovNat way to be far more sustainable. You could climb a pole my way once, maybe twice, but using the MovNat technique, Cliff said, you could climb it almost indefinitely. First lesson: learned.

We then swung across overhead beams using the sway of our hips. I was tempted to again muscle my way across a la Ninja Warrior, but Cliff gave some great pointers. On the backswing, you advance the back hand and on the return swing, you advance the front hand. I tried it a couple times in both directions, and picked up the technique pretty quickly. It was really easy and felt fluid. Graceful, almost. Okay, I was wrong. Again.

Next, we moved to the swing sets to learn how to get ourselves up on top of the horizontal beam. You’ve probably seen videos or read blogs describing this; it’s the classic MovNat drill. Clifton showed us a half dozen different ways to get on top of the bar. Some methods required more strength than others, but once they got their elbows on top of the bar, just about everyone was able to make it all the way up. Again, Clifton provided really simple, incredibly helpful cues. Simple cues like “keep your leg straight when you swing it” or “stay on your elbows, not your armpits” made all the difference in the world. I saw a young musclebound dude struggle to make it, while an older guy, whose Fran time probably wasn’t nearly as impressive, got it right away simply by focusing on technique.

Balancing was next. Using a four inch wide concrete curb as our “walkway”, we walked forward, backward, and sideways. We squatted and climbed over and under imaginary barriers. We bear crawled on all fours. It was only about half an inch off the ground, so there was no danger from falling (except for the hot lava dragons with cockroaches in their mouths, of course), and yet doing all these things while staying on the curb was incredibly challenging. Especially the crawling, which I highly recommend (don’t let your knees touch and stay on the curb). The risk of falling varied depending on your sense of balance, while the danger from falling was low regardless. Clifton consistently emphasized the risk:danger ratio throughout the day, noting that as beginners it was important to learn the movements via progressions with a low risk:danger ratio.

The kids were beginning to swarm the playground, so we moved across the park to a picnic area to practice jumping. Or maybe I should say “landing,” cause that was the main focus. After all, anyone can dip their hips, bend their knees, and lift off. You might not get high, but you get somewhere that isn’t the ground. Nobody gets hurt jumping. They get hurt landing. We learned to stick all sorts of landings – from vertical jumps, broad jumps, jumps onto tables, spinning jumps onto tables, jumps onto curbs, spinning jumps onto curbs. Cliff, who played ball in junior college, was like a young Charles Barkley (before his back went and he got fat) demonstrating the various jumps. The dude is big, bulky, and extremely strong, but he could really get up. And most importantly, he could land softly, quiet as a cat. Very impressive. I’d hate to face him on the court.

Lunch provided a much-needed rest. We lazed around in the grass and introduced ourselves. NomNom Paleo was in attendance, with hubby FitBomb. Both were incredibly friendly and (unsurprisingly) stocked an impressive lunch pail (thanks for the jicama!). Chad Hydro, founder of the Norcal Paleo Meetup group (join it, Bay Area people!) and owner of the greatest porn name ever, shared some pineapple in return for one of my yams. A Stanford Ph.D. student (the aforementioned MovNat ringer) named Nick ate a few bites of sweet potato with his entire stick of Kerrygold butter. A buff ex-Crossfitter-turned-adaptogen-alchemist mixed royal jelly, bee pollen, pine pollen, and a foul black powder that turned out to be rare nutrient-dense soil from the Himalayas with water and slurped it down. It was an eclectic group, but I felt right at home.

After lunch, we worked on crawls. We crawled uphill, downhill, backwards uphill, and on flat ground. Crawling the MovNat way isn’t a mad dash, nor is it running with your butt in the air and your hands grazing the ground. It’s smooth contra-lateral fornication with the ground.

The best was yet to come: a simulated walk through an imaginary tunnel fraught with danger and various obstacles. As picnickers, soccer teams, Ultimate Frisbee players, and dog walkers looked on, Cliff led us on a simulated walk through an imaginary tunnel, over and around various obstacles. As the tunnel shrank, we were forced to duck walk. As it wound around, we had to walk laterally and squeeze around tight corners. And then, after reaching the “end,” we had to return the way we came, backwards. We laughed, joked around, and generally looked ridiculous, but that was kinda the point. It wasn’t until we finished that I realized my legs were on fire. I’d just gotten an incredible workout and subjected my entire body to a day’s worth of contortions and exertions while laughing my head off. Funny how a little visualization can work, eh?

The rest of the day brought more awesomeness. My personal favorite was learning several new ways to do something I’ve never really thought about: standing up from a sitting position on the ground. This is simple stuff, you’d think, but Cliff showed us three or four really smooth, graceful ways to stand up. We also did some barefoot running, practiced forward and backward rolls, played tag, lifted stones, carried sandbags, and learned a couple ways to carry a fellow human being. With every drill, we made fast improvements thanks to simple cues from Clifton. Things like “Shoot your right arm through the gap between your left arm and leg” made rolling effortless, and “Superhero chest, flat back” really helped with lifting. I guess these movements really are intuitive, deep down. We just had to be reminded.

The day ended with Cliff explaining how to implement MovNat into our training. I’m not sure if Erwan does anything but MovNat, but Cliff still works out with kettlebells and barbells at least once a week, since he “honestly enjoys that stuff.” It was reassuring to hear that the two could coexist, because while I plan on incorporating MovNat into my schedule, I also like lifting symmetrically weighted objects.

Three of the pillars of MovNat that Cliff continually stressed were efficiency and functionality, and not the ridiculous “single arm cable curl with one leg on a bosu ball and your other leg using the elliptical while you do one-armed kipping pullups with the offhand” functional fitness type of stuff you see in gyms. MovNat is true functional fitness, because you are literally performing the actual functions, rather than approximating them or breaking them up into isolated movements. And it’s efficient fitness, because making the movement easier is the end goal, not engaging more type II muscle fibers or optimizing metabolic conditioning by contriving to make the movement harder. Some schools of thought assume a workout must physically break you down to be effective. MovNat suggests that this isn’t the case at all, and that the opposite is probably true.

Overall, I really got the sense that MovNat is a practical, utilitarian, extremely Primal approach to fitness. It’s not mystical or romantic. It’s much more than “running through a forest.” Even though we’re trying to get away from “zoo human” mentality, we’re still stuck with the zoo and we have to make this modern world work for us. You can’t head out to the mountains every time you want to work out. You can totally do MovNat in the gym, the park, or your backyard. As Cliff says, the zoo is now our “natural” environment. It’s what we know and we can still flourish in it. We have to. Even when we’ve got robot maids, teleportation, and Facebook embedded in our brains, we still need to know how to walk on all fours, run barefoot, and get on top of horizontal bars, because that might be the only way to stay grounded in the fact that we are human animals.

Clifton was a great coach whose talents extended far beyond the physical. He’s funny, practical, and extremely down-to-earth, but with a real reverence for human movement. It shines through in his work and you can tell he’s doing what he’s meant to do. And so I suggest that all Homo sapiens sapiens check out a MovNat clinic ASAP. One-day, two-day, five-day, or a full seven-day clinic… just get to one. You may think you know what you’re doing – I certainly thought so – but I guarantee you’ll learn a new way to refine your movements.

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59 thoughts on “Worker Bee Field Trip: MovNat One-Day Fundamentals Workshop”

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  1. What an incredible post! I love seeing what a community the primal lifestyle is and how many different ways it branches out.

    Great to learn more about our natural movements and ways we can implement them back into our lives!

  2. Very excited to take a MovNat course. It was on the early schedule for this year, but it didn’t quite work out due to other scheduling issues.

    Excited to hear that PrimalCon announcement is coming up, as well as that MovNat will be a part of it. Also excited to see that Robb Wolf is working with Erwan to ‘codify’ the concept so we can all be certified MovNat trainers!

  3. I’d LOVE to try this! Seems like so much fun! I thought the part about leaarning to stand up was extra intresting!!

    1. Agree. Awesome picture. It makes me want to go to a playground and play with all the kids. Play tag and just have fun.

      That reminds me…

      I went to a playground last week in Chicago. It had a sign that said only humans under the age of 12 are allowed. I decided to disregard this sign and play anymore. It was well worth the “risk.”

      1. What? Under 12 only? They’d never make that restriction stick in court. I can just imagine the ticket “cited for playing on a playground”. Ha.
        Good for you for ignoring it!

        1. Yea, I am not joking. There is no way in hell I am ever going to obey a sign like that until I get thrown in jail.

          I guess this means that if you don’t see any activity from me over a few day period then you can expect that I am in jail for playing on a playground.

  4. What timing. I was just going to sign up for the MovNat coming my way in a couple of months. Now that the whole world has seen this post, I’d better do it before it sells out.

  5. So freaking jealous. MovNat is another HUGE part of this entire movement.

    I learned a week ago that Clifton is coming to Chicago in October. I am stoked for that. He is coming to Orlando in November which is where I plan on living for the winter!!

    Have any of you done movnat? What are YOUR thoughts?

  6. This looks like such a blast. Awesome to see so many bare feet. Zoo humans of the world, shed your prosthetic rubber hooves!

    It’s too bad there are no more workshops this year on the west coast, but there’s always PrimalCon 2012, as if anyone needed another reason to attend.

    In the meantime, thanks to Worker Bee for the many useful tips. Can’t believe I never thought of climbing a pole that way; it seems a lot easier. And I will definitely be adding hot lava dragons with cockroaches into my urban runs.

    1. Erwan used to do Parkour and the answer is no. Certainly there are some similarities and they both utilize similar movements, but the MovNat philosophy is much more holistic, in my opinion. It incorporates strength, emphasizes a reconnection with nature, and parallels the dietary advice of Paleo/Primal/Raw Foods.

  7. Nice honest write up, gives me a lot to think about. I look at this stuff and think I could never do it. I mean if Mark struggled with some of these movements and we see how in shape he is how could I ever do it?
    But then you mentioned it isn’t always about strength.

    I think we should learn to move like this, because we never know when our environment is going to change.

    Oh yeah and there’s PC 2012, AHS 2012 and the low carb cruise. How am I going to decide? (cause I can’t do them all financially.)

    1. Pam, you could totally get something from MovNat training.

      The movements became easy once I figured out how to apply momentum, leverage, and efficient movement. Cliff was able to scale each movement and give good cues to help.

      I’d even say the ability to muscle your way up gets in the way, because you have the tendency to rely on that instead of focusing on perfecting the technique.

      If you do PrimalCon, there’s a good chance you’ll get to do some MovNat with Erwan, since he’s been invited to present. Two birds, one stone (maybe)!

  8. Sorry to say this but…ALL of the things above I did for 14 years while growing up on a daily basis…until I turned into a teenager and developed different interests. I feel sorry for all of you who didn’t have a ‘primal’ way of growing up…you missed out on a LOT of fun.
    Now, I’m not motivated enough to hang off a bar somewhere.
    Climbing a tree or easy rock climbing during a forest/mountain hike is a lot more fun than planned exercise in town…yikes.

    1. Arty I know what you mean, I used to play in the forest all the time as a kid. Climbing trees, swimming in rivers, crossing creeks by jumping from rock to rock, etc.

      I don’t think many kids play like that anymore sadly. I was right on the cusp of console gaming and I remember the day the Nintendo came out (with the first Mario Bros). I never saw the kids with the console outside again.

    2. Why are you sorry to say it? Sounds like a great way to grow up.

  9. Agreed, this looks great, but at nearly $300 for an early registration for a 1-day workshop, I fear I won’t be signing up anytime soon…..bummer.

  10. I love, love, LOVE MovNat! 🙂 I was at the one day workshop last October (San Diego). Erwan and Clifton were extremely helpful in applying the amazing things seen in the MovNat videos into the lives of a bunch of zoo human noobs. They were really funny, as well. By the end of the day, I was muddy, bruised, bloody (a little), and wearing a bigger grin than I had in quite a while.

  11. Soooo excited to read more about this. I’m signed up for the Columbus, OH course coming up this Sunday. Can’t wait to learn from Clifton and get my hands/feet/face dirty!

  12. Haven’t tried MovNat per se, but I try to sneak in some of their principles into my bootcamp classes and use them on some weight loss clients……

  13. Love, love, LOVE this! Wouldn’t it be nice to get more people to cancel their gym membership and go outside? I’m excited about and looking forward to further collaboration with Sisson.

  14. I attended the 2-day MovNat workshop in Sweden this last winter. Awesome experience and great coaching from Erwan himself along with Swedish triathlete Jonas Colting (incidentally, the workshop took place in Colting’s hometown and well-known forests).

    If you have the chance to attend more than 1-day stuff, do it. Chances are you’re then doing swim sessions, which were awesome! Erwan has a thing or two to say about breathing and efficiency in water. I learned a great deal from that particular session and even broke my previous hold-your-breath-and-swim-under-water-record!

    MovNat is not hard – done right, it’s a real pleasure (and so are the MMA-styled shorts, btw!).

  15. I hope to go soon, I saw the movnat article in mens health last year and thought it sounded awesome… This is how i found out about paleo/primal!

  16. Love, love this post! Thank you for sharing. Today is a beautiful, sunny kind of day and my girlfriends and I already have a play date planned for the town park… it just happens to involve sledgehammers and our ‘ghettobells’. I am sure some random hanging and climbing too!

  17. Cool concept, but I agree with Arty that the content of these $300 seminars is eerily analogous to the content of my childhood, adolescence, and, well, adulthood (I still do handstand walks and chase lizards and look for stuff under rocks). And as far as fitness goes, this stuff doesn’t hold a candle to CrossFit. Move naturally? Absolutely. What I want to know is: how much are you moving and how fast?

    1. I get this response, but it reminds me of something. Like when you say something about sugar intake to someone who eats SAD, and they say, “But I don’t eat that much sugar!” As they eat a bowl of cereal…

      Point being that if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It’s not just about how much and how fast and quantify this or that. If you’re worrying about that, are you really there for the experience at all?

      1. Did you miss the part about chasing lizards and looking under rocks?

        I workout to live, not the other way around. In the qualitative sense, fitness is agency–being fit allows me to interact meaningfully and creatively with my environment, whether it’s paddling my kayak, scaling a rock face, or simply walking a path through the woods. I love those things.

        BUT, you’re deluding yourself thinking there isn’t a quantitative aspect to fitness (or diet for that matter) and that it’s entirely bereft of creativity and fun. I just finished 3 rounds of 12 muscle ups and 75 squats; try as I might, I couldn’t seem to worry my way through a muscle up. I assure you, I was very much “there for the experience.”

  18. I attended a 1 day workshop last year thought by Erwan himself and it was very cool and a lot of fun! Very inspiring…

  19. Excellent post. I attended the 5-day MovNat workshop in West VA. this summer and I am hooked. I will be at a 1-day workshop in Columbus, Ohio this weekend. Can’t wait!

    It has changed the way I exercise — incorporating more play and natural movement–and it is a great workout. Promise that you cross-fitters out there will enjoy the change and the challenge.

  20. This looks so freaking awesome! Thanks for writing on MovNat. I don’t see any courses coming up in the near future to my immediate area but I will keep an eye out for them and can’t wait to check it out!

  21. This is so inspiring. Sisson and Le Corre—a stellar combo. I’m going to start hauling my kids barefoot to the playground while I save money for a workshop. (They like being carried, being zoo babies…oy.)

  22. I’m so lucky to be born in France where no more than 5 minutes away from where I live there a complete MovNat obstacle course ! But wait a minute … I’ve been using this since I’m a child and MovNat is no more than 10 years old at best. How can this be??? Maybe because MovNat has more to do with business than real honest work. Look for Methode Naturelle and George Hebert on the Internet. If I was adding an eleventh primal blueprint law, grabing some dietary advice and pseudo-philosophy from the Internet and changing the name of it would it be my work? Would it be honest? Would it be honorable? Keep your hard-earned money for grass-fed beef and use the Internet. You’ll find everything you need to train the “MovNat” way for free. And if you have money to spend you’ll also find all the info to build your own “MovNat” obstacle course. Don’t forget this Primal rule : USE YOUR BRAIN

    1. I don’t think Mr. Le Corre is shy about talking about the origins of MovNat and his education. If he is making a living from teaching people, what’s wrong with that? A lot of what is considered “normal” work is more dishonest.

    2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Erwan, both himself and his website, give reverence and credit to George Hebert. He fully admits his concept is based on Methode Naturelle. I also would be willing to bet Erwan does not make nearly the money you think. I did a 5 day course in 2009..this included Erwan providing all the food, tent, pillows, etc. for around $1300. I learned a ton, made great friends, and had a GREAT time. This vs. a 2 day (8 hour per day) CrossFit seminar where you bring your own food and pay your own lodging for $1000. (oh…and I didnt really learn anything new at CF).

      Erwan encourages everyone at his seminar to learn on their own, everything natural is “MovNat” there is not set formula. Erwan just tries to share his knowledge about something he is very passionate about. I encourage you to learn more before passing it as a rip-off and as nothing but a “business”.

  23. OOOOOoooo I am SO jealous!! The closest MovNat gets to me is Chicago…which is 3 hours away…=(
    I can’t wait to go to a seminar sometime!!

  24. Fantastic post I was just about to say I would love to join in, as I assumed only in the US.

    Then I though I would have a look on the MovNat website. And I can’t believe it they run courses in London 30 miles from me – way to go.

    If I can afford then I’m definitely signing up.

  25. I love this whole concept so much and like Sisson says, it also resonates with me.

    It’s unfortunate that since this is so different, there doesn’t really seem to be much information out there. I’ve seen the Youtube videos and watched the Le Corre’s lecture from the Ancestral Health. I kinda know what I can do for training, but I’d like to learn about the system more. Are there any resources to learn from?

  26. It’s now 6 days after the clinic. My calf is still a little injured. My thighs have finally started functioning again. My groin areas are still incredibly sore (probably form the pole climbing). And my stomach still hurts when I hang or try a pullup. I was probably the second oldest person there. I wish I could do it again, but only if I heal eventually.

  27. I’ve been learning a ton about primal movements from my four-year-old. That kid is a beast! She does a grok crawl faster than grok himself. I’m doing most of my workouts at the playground these days.

  28. Agree with Vince. This is nothing but a direct rip of The Natural Method (Methode Naturelle). However, if memory serves the main component of the true natural method was a guy named Erwan, who had trained with the Herbert’s son or grandson. He was very active on some of the old Parkour forums (Parkour having been largely inspired by David Belle’s contact with the natural method) If it is the same Erwan, do not be worried by being showed up by him. He is the link back to Georges Hebert, one of the greatest men in history and someone everyone in the Primal movement should take a good look at.

  29. While I have never done actual MovNat, many of these pronciples go with exactly what I have learned from rock Climbing. As you climb and prgress, you realize that it becomes more about how you move while on the rock than how much strength you have in order to efficiently achieve your goal. You’ll see it all the time where the person who focuses mostly on technique will become the better and then usually stronger climber much faster.

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