Movement Naturale: MovNat
Two weeks ago I attended a “power and agility” workshop presented by an organization called MovNat. The event was hosted by the Monrovia Team Crossfit Academy. When I first heard about MovNat (the name is short for “Movement Naturale,”) I went online and looked at their information, and I saw a lot of principles and ideas which resonated with me. I signed up for the weekend program; two days learning and practicing the basics.
When I arrived I found myself to be in a group of 18, most on a track to become certified as level one or two MovNat trainers. For them this was not an introductory workshop, it was professional. They were there for four days, and were going to be tested and certified. I was surprised to find out that the attendees had travelled from all across the country for this event. As I chatted with other members of the group I found out that most were already working trainers in Crossfit or other disciplines. I was the only Pilates teacher in the room, and I was guessing that I was twice the median age as well. To be honest, at first I felt like I had just jumped into a shark tank and was about to be torn to pieces. However as the day unfolded I quickly realized that being in this intense group was entirely to my benefit. All I had to do was relax, open my mind and do my best, and I would be fine.
The session began with our two MovNat Trainers, Kellen Milad and Jeff Kuhland, giving a verbal and whiteboard presentation explaining the fundamentals and the progressions we would be working through. I could see that I was about to be challenged by activities like jumping, which I am not very good at. But I was pleased by our instructor’s repeated emphasis that quality of movement would be our primary goal. They put a lot of emphasis on moving efficiently and naturally, even instinctively. What I would learn would be practical. A final comment about Kellen and Jeff; these guys are fit! They are fine examples of what MovNat stands for.
After Kellen and Jeff’s well organized presentation and a short Q&A, we began to practice the fundamental MovNat techniques (and variations) for efficient walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing and catching. Some of the material was familiar to me, for example they teach a barefoot running style similar to “pose running” or “chi running.” They had some good cues which were new to me, and I think my running technique improved although I did manage to take a nasty tumble during a backwards running drill. Oops.
We did balance work on 4 foot lengths of 2x4s laid out flat on the floor. This is a great idea since it is safe, but can be quite challenging. If you think it sounds silly, try this: Make a line out of 2x4s and stand on one end facing forward one foot in front of the other. Now squat down in control, place your hands on the board in front of you and walk them out until you are in a crawling position with a neutral spine. Now sort out how to begin crawling along the board. Only your imagination can limit the number of fun and challenging games you can play on these boards; forward, backward, pivoting, jumping, moving under or stepping over hurdles, carrying heavy objects, and so on. I now have a set of ten 4 foot long 2x4s and work with them regularly.
There were a lot of areas where I needed help. Jumping was a big one. To jump well I would have to learn and practice a sequence of movements – momentum and balance from the arms, and properly timed explosive power from the legs. To quote the MovNat manual: “The more in sequence, the more efficient the movement.”
I made some progress with jumping that day, to the degree that I could produce the sequence of movements somewhat properly. We learned the technique in reverse, first how to stick a landing using the arms to control balance and momentum, secondly we learned to get airborne using the arms to initiate and create momentum and time the jump from the legs. I have been practicing this a lot since then, and today – after less than two weeks – jumping onto a 24” box from standing is easy for me. This is something I could not commit to even trying previously, being worried that I’d miss the jump and drag my shins down the edge of the box. Yeah, I know, a 24” box jump is pretty puny but it’s a step forward for me. There were a few people in the group who could make beautiful clean jumps onto boxes twice that high.
Another group of movements which got my attention were the various crawls and forward rolling. We learned five crawls, three prone and two on the back. Proper quadrapedal movement is done contra laterally, that is moving the opposite arm and leg together for stability. This gets tricky when you are tired or trying to go fast.
Next was the forward roll. Now as a rock climber, I am programmed to avoid falling head first, so this relatively simple movement was foreign and a little scary for me. Kellen saw that two of us were intimidated by this little tumbling move, so he took us aside and patiently broke down the sequence for us. Before I knew it I was doing a reasonable roll, and this, like the broad jump and vertical jump, is a movement I have been able to perform with confidence since then.
After we had worked our way through the basic movements, we began to design and move through “combos.” A MovNat combo is a set course, a bit like an obstacle course, we would move through for a certain number of repetitions or for a specified time. We divided our 18 members into 3 groups of 6. Each group developed and set a course and tested it, and then we rotated so each group tried a course which was set by another team. Each course setting effort would then be critiqued by the entire group. For course setting, I deferred to the members of my group who were there for certification. The decision was made to create a beginner’s course, suitable for someone’s first MovNat experience. This is actually tricky because on the one hand it has to be interesting and offer some challenges, but on the other you want to avoid any “show stopper” moves which will cause the group doing the course to bunch up. Our beginner combo looked like this:
1. Walk the length of a 2×4, then balancing on its end (one foot in front of the other) perform a broad jump landing on a 12” box about 3 feet away.
2. Low jump off the box onto another 2×4 and continue with a series of jumps on crosswise 2x4s at random distances and angles.
3. Walk or crawl another set of boards and at the end pass over or under a hurdle.
4. Vertical jump to a bar located laterally on the monkey bars. Traverse, hanging from two parallel bars across the bars the short way, reset on the lateral bar on the other side, dead hang a moment in control, drop and return to the start. Repeat as many laps as possible in the allotted time. The biggest problem with our course was people bunching up at the hurdle as they tried more and more difficult variations on each lap.
The combo my group had to actually do was set up on the other side of the gym which has a large area of artificial turf. It went like this:
1. Vertical jump to a bar, do three good kipping swings followed by a braking swing (knees to chest at the apex brakes your momentum.)
2. Drop off the bar onto the turf into a forward roll followed by crawling about 40 feet to a pylon.
3. Round the pylon and run / jog back to the start and repeat as many times as possible in eight minutes never doing the same crawl twice in a row. There were three lanes set, so each of our six could move continuously.
Everyone enjoyed this combo, which was strenuous. The critique was that it could have had more elements.
The third combo was the best; there was a fellow who took the lead in this group who obviously had lots of experience as a trainer and in gym management. They set up three stations, one for balance on 2x4s stepping over a hurdle while carrying weights, one for climbing on monkey bars, and the third for jumping – two broad jumps to a box jump to a low jump followed by two more broad jumps. The jumping station had three lanes with different height boxes to choose between. The group doing this combo would divide, two per station, rotating every two minutes.
On the second day, after more drills in the gym, we went outside. Our destination was Monrovia Canyon Park which features a beautiful trail that wanders up a creek / canyon in the local San Gabriel Mountains, ending at a waterfall after about two miles. There were lots of opportunities to improvise using terrain features and trees. Logs were vaulted, stones were lifted and carried, gaps were jumped, trees and rocks were climbed. There is one fallen tree by the trail which rests at just below chest height. Several of the guys were able to do beautiful running vaults over this object. I’ve re-visited it now a couple of times since then and I am still working out the sequence. Vaulting this log is pretty committing, and missing the vault could have consequences. One of these days…
Last but not least, this is an approach to moving which anyone of any age can use keeping in mind the fundamental goals of quality and efficiency of movement. When we were up in the canyon park vaulting the fallen tree passersby would stand and watch. Several young kids had a go at it. Of course it was a very high obstacle for them, but they could run up to it, mount it, stand and jump off. Then everyone cheered them on. Then we noticed an older couple out for a hike who were watching intently. I think it was Kellen who realized that the woman was considering trying it, and he encouraged her to give it a shot. She did not take the risk of attempting a flying leap, but she made a nice agile crossing of the obstacle and we were all impressed, as was her hiking partner.
I have to say that this MovNat experience was a real wake up call for me. Don’t worry; I still love my Pilates and rock climbing, but the kind of practical movement, power and agility, which MovNat teaches is great stuff. I have already added a lot of what I learned at the workshop into my own training and I’ll be sharing many of these ideas with friends and clients as well.