What is natural movement?

The fitness trend has exploded in the last two years, with gym selfies, #fitspiration, clean eating debates and stylish workout clothes showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon. However, despite the global fascination with improving our bodies, new research shows that the way we exercise might not be providing the best overall results. Gym workouts can be based on vanity, focusing on individual muscle groups that help make us feel better about the way we look. However, whilst isolated muscle workouts may improve our confidence, we need to cast the net a bit wider to improve our health and fitness overall.   

Erwan Le Corre, a leading expert in historic fitness and founder of MovNat, pioneers a ‘natural movement’ fitness approach. He says “There is nothing wrong with training in a specific discipline or working on an isolated part of your body in the gym, however adding natural movement into your weekly regime will bring with it a host of benefits. To start, indoor gyms are flat, linear and predictable. All the natural variables have been removed, making it completely unnatural. Plus, where is the fresh, clean air, the dirt, the natural light and the horizon? Many people are currently training in a box ignoring a whole world outside.”

The mental benefits from working out in the great outdoors come from having to properly engage with your environment; analysing terrain, assessing where to step or hold on to immediately makes you more mindful and can help you switch off without shutting down. Trail runners report that being in the outdoors improves their mental wellbeing, helping them shed negative emotions and work through problems in a non-judgemental environment. 

The challenges of mixing up your gym routine and getting outdoors has massive physical benefits too.  Looking at fitness from Le Corre’s historical point of view, our ancestors could achieve incredible acts of physical strength. Having to survive in the relentless outdoor landscapes meant their overall fitness levels were incredible, including immense running, lifting and core strength abilities, all based around a ‘natural gym’ environment of uneven ground, trees, rock faces and rivers.

Despite our new found love of the gym, modern humans are nowhere near to matching up against their fitness levels. A survey from Sportsshoes.com has shown that less than 10% of the nation can complete the following activities, all of which humans would have been able to achieve in a prehistoric age:

  • Jump the same distance as your height from a standing position (only 7% said they could)
  • Squatting for 30 minutes or more (1% of Brits could do this)
  • Running 10 miles in under 80 minutes (5% of Brits could do this)
  • To be able to hold a deep squat for 30 minutes (1% of Brits could do this)
  • To lift an object half your body weight and carry it for a whole mile on uneven terrain (6% of Brits could do this)

To significantly enhance your workout routine, combine your gym work with more natural movement. As Le Corre explains “A gym-only workout is compartmentalised. When it comes to your machine based work-outs, you are working your muscles in isolation. The human body isn’t meant to work in isolation, it should be working as a complete unit. Machines dictate and shrink movement patterns, and could hold your body back from achieving a natural level of fitness. Whether it’s going for a run across uneven terrain, rock climbing or lifting objects that are of different shapes, sizes and weights, natural movement will help you physically perform with the effectiveness and efficiency that our ancestors did. These movement patterns and skills are universal to mankind’s survival strategies, and will never be a fad or go out of fashion.”

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. To help break up your gym routine, Le Corre has provided three exercise examples to try outside, helping you to rediscover your natural movement and help you shape up: 

Lifting & Carrying
1. Find an uneven object to use as your load (e.g. a large log or rock)
2. Assume a strong square stance, and with an elongated spine keep your arms extended
3. With a firm grip on the object, extend legs and lift the load off the ground
4. Carry the load at hip level, driving your hips forward and leaning slightly backwards
5. Stop and reset as you require 

The Deep Squat
1. As a beginner, have something you can hold on to for balance
2. Assume the deepest squat position you can and gently bounce
3. Then shift your body weight from side to side
4. Practice the movement until you can do it unassisted, then practice several times a day making each squat last for longer and longer periods of time 

The Tree Climb
1. Assume a double-handed hang (from a bar or raised surface)
2. Swing forward and use the momentum to hook one leg above and over the bar
3. Use your hands to pull your body up and bring both armpits on the bar (the same side as your hooked leg)
4. Swing your free leg to create momentum and push down on the bar to lift yourself up
5. Repeat and rest as required

Further fitness information from Erwan Le Corre can be found on the SportsShoes.com dedicated Training Hub.