MovNat is the Deep Green Exercise You Need to Escape the Human Zoo
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
I’d rather be outside right now.
But since there’s an air advisory from the California wild fires, I decided to compile the best resources I’ve found for escaping the “human zoo.”
Everything changed the day I discovered *The Workout the World Forgot*, showing MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre engaged in a full range of natural human movements. I could see that he was free in ways that I was not.
The Human Zoo
The “human zoo” concept was first developed by Desmond Morris to describe the mismatch between a) our modern environment (i.e., cities, conditioning, etc.) developed in the last 5,000 years, and b) the ancient “technology” of the human body.
For example, I think I might be slightly allergic to going to the gym.
Something about the sticky machines and the constant feeling of being watched prevents me from moving freely and pushing myself in exactly the ways I want to.
Despite my internal resistance to this “zoo human” activity, I wanted to test out an indoor version of the power law workout in my apartment’s fitness room.
So the other week I made a note of the “Big 5” exercises I wanted to max out, and found an all-purpose machine with different settings for four of the five (leg presses were on a different machine):
- Horizontal push
- Vertical push
- Horizontal pull
- Vertical pull
- Leg Press
The Indoor Max Out
The Body by Science 12-minute protocol suggests 90 seconds under load for each exercise, plus 30 seconds or so of rest in between.
The hardest part should be holding for the last 10 seconds — as your muscles are beginning to fail. Nautilus machines are designed to provide a constant load through the full range of motion.
The machine I was using, however, had two separate hand straps, and I tended to encounter the most resistance right in the middle of the extension. A true “failure” would have required me to slam the weights down, so I subconsciously resisted going all the way to failure.
I left the workout room feeling dissatisfied — depleted, but not weakened in the way the power law workout requires to give maximum benefit.
Not the failure I was looking for.
Return to the Great Outdoors
The next week I returned to my favorite place — a somewhat hidden beach overlooking Berkeley’s South Sailing Basin, where I improvised body-weight exercises, hitting all five categories, after warming up with a quick swim in the bay. Without having a machine to worry about I was free to give it my all, especially in the last 10 seconds — before letting go and gently falling to rest on the warm earth.
Although I could tell that my muscles were significantly weakened by the workout (temporarily), I also felt a calm energy.
My theory is that working out in nature lends special assistance and makes it easier to subject your body to the right kinds of stress to make it stronger.
Research shows that people are happier and less stressed when they spend significant time in nature. Why wouldn’t it be the case that we can push ourselves a bit more when we’re surrounded by rocks, trees, plants, and sea breeze?
Just think: If you had to march 50 miles, would you sooner attempt it on a treadmill or on a scenic trail?
This experiment recapitulated an experience I had several years ago with chronic fatigue; being unable to jog or lift weights in a gym, I found motivation and replenishment in more “primal” exercise like sprinting and lifting logs.
Now I remember why I haven’t had a gym membership in all these years. Nature’s gym gives a better workout, and it’s completely free.
Psychologically, it’s harder for me to achieve a satisfying #fail workout at the gym.
When I’m in nature, I can succeed at failing easily.
The Hormetic Realm: Where More Stress = More Success
It’s the world of in which the power law is always in effect, and you get stronger by adapting to stressors. The process of benefiting from stress is known as “hormesis.”
Just like a vaccine creates immunity by stimulating the body’s defenses, a slow and controlled resistance training protocol builds strength by weakening your muscles to the point of failure.
Preventive medicine and healing arts of the future will depend on our ability to administer (and often self-administer) the right kinds of stress at the right doses.
Other hormetic stressors include fasting, cold exposure, air bathing, and barefoot walking/running.
Click below for a guide to using the outdoors to get stronger, naturally:
The stress of resistance training can be both calibrated and mitigated through natural movement (i.e., MovNat), or alternatively, movement in nature. Where the “Big 5” workout triggers failure of the largest muscle groups, we can also condition our whole body through outdoor activities that we’re hard-wired to enjoy.
In this video, I break down two different models for “deep green exercise”:
- A natural movement flow (in nature), and
- A Green Power Law Workout.
In the latter I repurposed some tree stumps at a nearby park into a substitute gym. The squatting leg press made me sore for a few days afterwards. Check it out:
The Practice of Natural Movement is the textbook containing a full summary of Erwan’s philosophy of “be strong to be useful.” MovNat email subscribers get a large section of the book for free.
For a visual “how-to,” the MovNat YouTube channel has catalogued dozens of these movements showing the progressions from simpler to more complex.
All of the techniques developed for nature/recreation are also practical in the “real world.” Some personal stories of transformation recently featured on the MovNat website illustrate how:
- How Aika Used MovNat to Win the Gold Medal at the Paraclimbing World Championships
- MovNat Helped Bring Andrew’s Body Back from Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- How a Firefighter lived MovNat’s “Strong To Be Helpful” Philosophy to Save lives
The MovNat organization has also compiled a thorough history of physical fitness, from prehistoric times, through the ancient Greeks’ interest in sports, to the modern attempts to rationalize fitness with new insights about man gleaned from the sciences and humanities.
The peak of the functional fitness movement occurred in the early 1900s — after the popularization of outdoor fitness games across Europe, and before the rise of a “fitness industry” offering gimmicky products and isolated exercises to a sedentary and movement-starved public.
The pioneering work of Georges Hébert — creator “la methode naturelle” — was the inspiration for Le Corre’s MovNat organization, which has awarded me a Master Level “MCT” (MovNat Certified trainer) designation.
You can find the full directory of trainers here.
Hébert’s philosophy is contained in the “Practical Guide to Physical Education” (1912), which combines European ideas on health and hygiene — such as those of Geronimo Mercurialis in De Arte Gymnastica (1569)– with more natural movements of “primitive” people he observed while traveling to remote islands during WWI.
MovNat certification exists largely outside of the fitness-industrial complex, but the community has grown to include many professional adherents including special forces, Navy SEALS, and MMA fighter Carlos “Natural Born Killer” Condit.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is a growing New Nature Movement touting the benefits of “green exercise” for youth and adults (see the Children & Nature Network research library, for example).
So what is to prevent the habituation of natural movement?
Most would say it’s the lack of time, but if anything, new time-saving technologies have given us more time and freedom than ever. As biomechanist Katy Bowman points out, the healthiest response to movement poverty is to begin “stacking” it back into our routines, and to “start a movement” beginning with yourself.
Here are three videos to help you get started:
Start a Movement in Your Kitchen — how to configure your kitchen to require more “nutritious” movement.
Start a Movement in Your Office — small tweaks to the office to make your day less stationary.
Quality Movement — pitfalls to avoid while standing or sitting for long periods.
Nothing in the modern world demands movement from us.
We need to integrate the outdoor activities that give us life and energy into our daily routines. Whether you are into running, fishing, farming, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, gardening, biking, skiing, rafting, sailing or just playing outdoors with your children/grandchildren, your skills will be enhanced by the mindful application of natural movement and the associated techniques.
Lastly, the outdoor elements are often considered harsh — whether it’s the heat, the cold, the rain, or the coarse ground. I’ve reframed these drawbacks as benefits in “Four Elemental Biohacks: Earth, Air, Water & Fire” — my latest PDF giveaway for subscribers. Note: if you already subscribe, share the link on Facebook.
I leave you with aquestion to ask yourself: What kinds of outdoor activities feel more like leisure, or play, than exercise?