Saturday, January 17, 2009

Interview with Erwan Le Corre



Following my recent posts on natural movement and the particular approach of Erwan Le Corre's MovNat Erwan himself contacted me to clarify some issues and to respond to some of the comments. The videos in the previous posts featured Erwan and I asked him if I could interview him for this blog. He kindly agreed.

This is a great and very informative interview, covering movement, diet, sleep
and a lot more! Enjoy:

1 Who is Erwan Le Corre? Can you give us some idea of your background in sports / fitness

My first "personal trainer" was my dad. Though he had never really practiced any specialized sport himself, as a kid his favourite activity was one of frequent and instinctive physical expression found in exploring his surroundings. Then as a young father he naturally thought it was important to pass on this simple way to me. In his mind, an essential aspect of his role was to have me toughen up physically and mentally, that's why he frequently had me following him for hours through the woods from a very young age, whatever the season. He would push me to climb trees or boulders and sometimes reach impressive heights for a young boy. He would ask me to control my fear and trust his guidance. In the summer, we would train distance jumps, drops in the sand, swimming and also holding breath and lots of other natural games and challenges of this kind.

I believe that's where everything starts. It wasn't sport, it wasn't fitness, but it was real education. Apart from judo and some collective sports at school I went on knowing almost no other physical activity than that until I was 15.

Now later on, and without giving too many details, the significant experiences in my sport background includes mainly judo, karate, rock climbing, Olympic weightlifting, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and long distance triathlon, each of them bringing their share of benefits to my overall experience and knowledge. I have tried many other things, too many to mention, but didn't really like them.

I practiced a training and philosophy called "Combat Vital" for 7 years in Paris, which had many similarities with the Methode Naturelle. That's when I started training barefoot. We would train most of the time at night so as not to be seen, climbing bridges, balancing on the top of scaffoldings, kicking walls to toughen our bare feet, moving on all fours, swimming in the river even in the freezing cold of the winter...some kind of "Fight Club" of natural movement if you will! They are unbelievable memories: quite a conventional-wisdom-defying kind of philosophy and practice.

When I discovered Methode Naturelle just at the end of my triathlon period, it felt very logical to me that I had to finally go back to my initial natural approach and fully embrace it again - this time for good and with the clear intent to spread the word in a constructive manner.

2 How did this background bring you to your current philosophy and approach to exercise?

As I mentioned my childhood movement and nature exploration is the first most significant influence behind my current approach.

Then my background in Combat Vital, which was more specifically a holistic philosophy and lifestyle addressing the issue of the modern, domesticated human condition, though Combat Vital has never become a formal method.

Then my study and experience of Methode Naturelle.

Then to a lesser extent my personal background in other physical activities and research about other training or conditioning concepts.

The more I was thought about it, the more I thought that while the core of the 100 years old method was excellent, an update of the pedagogy and methodology of Methode Naturelle was needed; it also became clearer that my personal approach couldn't and wouldn't avoid addressing the zoo human predicament and the many issues modern humans have to deal with regarding their body and mind's health and quality of life.

My recent and catalytic encountering with Lee Saxby confirmed this ultimate intuition. He has recently joined me with his scientific background and expertise in the field of gait analysis, nutrition and evolutionary biology and we're now working together on the elaboration of a certification system with this unique approach of rehabilitating the zoo human and based on natural principles and backed up with science.

So despite the core practice being natural movement skills, MovNat is not only an approach of exercise but also a more holistic education system. Not a guideline, certainly not a set of morals, but both an experiential and conceptual knowledge: an array of solutions and alternatives people can learn and apply to an extent that is entirely up to them.


3 Your website talks about us being "zoo humans" – far from our natural habitat and lifestyle. How do we start to escape from the zoo – what might be the first steps in this approach?

The first step is a change of perception. It is becoming aware of this predicament, because you can never change something you deny or for which you take no personal responsibility. Understanding what our true nature is from a biological and evolutionary perspective and understanding the workings of the zoo is the first step.

The zoo is not just an environment, it is a phenomenon, a process, which is designed to keep you a captive of both external and internal cages. It is something that conditions many of your behaviours: clearly it is to me a domestication system, no less. The zoo impairs our ability to experience our true nature which is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.

We're not born to be weak, sick, depressed and enslaved and, more than that, we should never accept this becoming the norm or a "fatality" (our fate). So the first step is a reaction and a form of resistance, it is a life-affirming reawakening. Once your perception is changed and that which is commonly regarded as "normal" is not acceptable to you anymore, it is time to look for rational alternatives, to find ways to apply them in order improve your own experience of life.

It requires critical thinking, knowledge, time, commitment and - depending on individuals - a tremendous courage.

So first step? I would say that being ready to defy conventional wisdom is a fundamental start.


4 "Evolutionary Fitness" has gained some popularity recently, but somehow the prescription often leads us back into the gym, lifting weights, using machines or sprinting to fixed intervals. This seems a long way from nature. Should we abandon the gym and go to the playground?

Look for movements that are most relevant to our evolutionary bio-mechanics or to the practical needs of real-life situations; you want to perform truly natural movements and efforts. If your starting point is an evolutionary fitness theory but you end up seated on a machine counting reps and getting bored, it's not that the evolutionary theory is wrong, but that the application of the theory lacks naturalness. Usually, true evolutionary action is enjoyable simply because it feels very natural and this natural feeling is precisely what the wild human animal inside of us is willing to experience.

Personally, I have in fact an inversed/inverted approach. I mean that my starting point is instinct, experience of the practical and observation. My training principles don't stem from theory and while theory may validate my training, my training is certainly not an attempt to validate any theory or conform to any of them. In the end what matters most to me is the practical outcome, the situational perspective MovNat stands for.

So it is not the gym per se that is a problem to me, but what you're going to perform in a gym. Bringing a leg extension machine into the woods won't make your training more natural, but crawl on the floor of a gym and there you'll start to unleash your inner animal. Ideally of course, you want to be in touch with nature, breath good air, expose your skin to natural light, capture the energies of the vegetation around, well, spend as much time outdoors as you can. Thing is, it would be really difficult to recreate natural conditions in a gym, such as mud, wet surfaces, unpredictable dangers etc...which are also essential parameters that require specific adaptation.

That's the difference between capability and adaptability. The more your movement skills are adaptive, the more you'll expand your comfort zone in dealing with a variety of real-world circumstances. So the more varied is the environment where you train, the more you'll increase your movement adaptability.

Now because of modern lifestyle, or because of really bad weather conditions or simply if you don't have access to a suitable outdoors area, it is sometimes more convenient to train in a gym, and it can be actually a great place for a safe transition from domestic physical apathy to wild training outdoors.

I think gyms will evolve more and more anyways, which they already have started to do. I see them become more minimalist and less sophisticated. I predict an increasingly sharp difference in the fitness industry between "zoo-oriented" gyms and "natural movement oriented" gyms focusing on natural, evolutionary and practical movement. In the first kind you'll find people exercising on machines and just thinking their sophisticated program is a boring chore but that is their only hope to get the physical appearance they are dreaming of; in the second you'll find gyms without mirrors or machines and filled with exuberant people that have truly fallen in love with movement again in a quest to unleash their wild human animal inside and recover their evolutionary birthright of natural movement skills and vitality.

I see this split coming: a so-called "upstream" but in fact downstream, super zoo approach of fitness going on on the one hand, then the come back of an upstream, though so far too often seen as backward, wilder and healthier fitness orientation on the second hand, that will produce new generations of amazing natural athletes or if you will of strong, healthy, happy and free individuals. No doubt. To me, the revolutionary is now in the evolutionary.

Remember, we're all born to be wild!


5 I've seen your ideas presented as an updating of the "Methode Naturelle" of Georges Hébert. From what I've read, his philosophy is holistic – much broader than exercise. Can you indicate some of the wider consequences of the motto - - Être fort pour être utile"--"Being strong to be useful."

Methode Naturelle was not only a physical but a moral education based on altruism, hence the motto "to be strong to be useful". But I personally have a problem with morals or ethics when it comes to deciding what is good or what is not good for me, what is done and what's not, what I should do or what society expects me to do or would like to impose to me as some form of duty.

After all, a tool is useful, a cog in the machine is useful right? I accept no institutional duty. Free will is the most precious thing in my eyes. If I choose to be helpful to others, which I in fact often do because I tend to like others, it is because I decide so and not because I have to. The problem is, many people often think of altruism as sacrificing oneself or one's resources unconditionally for others, even for those that are total strangers to you or even if it's going to be seriously detrimental to yourself. I prefer to impose no moral code in MovNat and leave it up to each individual to decide for themselves what is best when it comes to investing their energy or risking their physical integrity for others, because each situation is different. MovNat training will greatly increase your preparedness so that, in time of need, you have the ability to respond efficiently to practical challenges. Now if your goal is to save lives it's best to consider becoming a firefighter for instance. These guys save lots of lives!


MovNat stands for a different motto which is "Explore your true nature". First, people undergoing the zoo syndrome shouldn't think of helping others first but make sure they're recovering their own strength and vitality before anything. They want to rehabilitate themselves and get stronger and healthier before anything and this should be their absolute priority. They need a training and education that is liberating and empowering.

Again, I am convinced that our true nature is not only to be strong but also healthy, happy and free. If you become such an individual, then there's many ways you can help others, if such is your intention. It's entirely up to you.


6 What implications does your particular philosophy have in terms of diet? Sleep? Posture?

Evolutionary biology but also experience makes it clear we should go for a diet that is as close as possible to the one of our ancestors before the rise of civilization, agriculture, and more recently industrially processed food. Mostly raw, made of lots of vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and containing no grains and no dairies. Recovering true, natural taste and smell and the ability to fast sometimes.

Sleeping enough, resting frequently, going to bed early, leave a window open to make sure air is renewed, avoiding synthetic fabrics.

I personally like to sleep on the floor, not in a bed, not even on a real mattress. To me it's more comfortable this way, and this way I can sleep about anywhere without experiencing discomfort whenever I'm travelling.

Avoid staying still for too long, check body tensions frequently and relax, breathing well, slowly and deeply.

That's a few insights, though in my opinion no personal lifestyle should ever become an obsessive application of overly strict rules. It's all a matter of paying attention, of awareness, and when for some reason you know you're not really respecting the needs of your true biological nature, make sure you'll re-establish balance very soon.


7 One of the movement patterns that you recommend is "defence" – grappling / boxing etc. I've recently begun to train in Krav Maga and am really enjoying it for the coordinated /useful movements. But the social side is great too – supporting and helping each other in class. Is there a social side to movement that we also need to recover?

Obviously yes.

I believe the self-obsessed, cosmetics-driven fitness practitioner is missing an important point among others, which is a healthy, cooperative interaction with others. The result in thinking isolation is that in addition to isolating your muscles, you tend to isolate yourself. Is there any fitness machine designed for two people to work out cooperatively and coordinate their movements? Now imagine yourself as part of a small tribe 100,000 years ago, would you spend your time figuring out the most efficient strategy to build big guns fast? Or the latest scientific discovery that will allow you to get six-pack abs in no time?

No, you would rather find ways to work cooperatively with other members of the tribe and would expect all tribe members to do so!

It would be a matter of survival at individual and collective level. A lack of cooperation could have you banned from the band .......and an isolated individual would have been so much more vulnerable. Not the smartest type of behaviour.

So any intelligently designed training program should go beyond the only individual and integrate interaction between individuals.

In MovNat, there's drills that are cooperative so you have to pay attention to others in order to coordinate your efforts with them and to be efficient as a group and successful in performing a task collectively. You learn about reciprocal altruism too. You get to know if or when you can trust in someone else and reciprocally, which with respect and satisfaction makes the equation behind any healthy relationship between human beings.


Thanks for the interview Erwan - there is a great deal in these responses to reflect upon and learn from. I really appreciate the work you put into this interview, especially since English is not your first language.

There you go - some fascinating insights for you from Erwan. There is a lot of material in there to think over. (there is an account here of someone who trained with Ewan)

19 comments:

theorytopractice said...

Fantastic interview, Chris. An interesting and intriguing concept.

I totally agree with the "human zoo" analogy, and I've often wondered what a "well equipped" (by my definition) gym would look like, and, more specifically, if I could make a living operating such a facility. I've always thought that such a facility would ideally have free access to public lands, to encourage just the sort of thing discussed here. Kind of a CrossFit-plus idea.

Again this leads us back to the definition of one's goals. Does one wish to excel at one particular sport/event, be "well-rounded", healthy or some combination thereof? Pick your goal, then choose the appropriate tool. I can't think of a better training methodology, though, for being a well-rounded "primal man".

Good stuff, here. Thanks again for sharing it, Chris.

Scott Kustes said...

Great interview Chris. I really agree with Erwan's thoughts...keep it as close to natural as possible, sleep enough (though I'm partial to a bed =) ), eat a diet of real, natural foods, and exercise vigorously. His thoughts on exercise as fun, almost as play, reminds me of Frank Forencich of GoAnimal.

While I love training for the sprints I do a few times a year at track meets, there's nothing better than getting out in the woods for a 3-4 mile hike. I can sprint up a hill if the mood strikes me or swing from a tree or do pushups or whatever. Or I can just walk and enjoy the clean(er) air and sunshine.

Cheers and thanks for bringing Erwan's site to my attention.
Scott Kustes
Modern Forager

Chris said...

Keith

thanks.

There are some real nuggets of wisdom in that interview. e.g. the idea of training with other people occasionally. I like his thoughts that isolation exercise can also be isolating socially. I've recently started doing Krav Maga and as I said in the interview a lot of the fun is the fact that there is a social side to it.

Chris said...

Scott - thanks. I know what you mean about the outdoors. I try to get out into the hills (Scottish Highlands for me) every weekend for a big walk.

In an email Erwan told me that he is friends with Frank Forencich. Frank's stuff is really good too and there are lots of similarities between their philosophies.

I've just been through the interview again and tidied up one or two bits of grammar. Erwan is French and while his English is miles ahead of my French there were one or two idioms that needed clarifying.

TrailGrrl said...

Thanks for the great interview. I went to the website and watched the video and just about cried because I miss the woods so much! It has been very cold here and everyone is sort of feeling stuck inside. But last night and today it was in the low 30's, practically a heat wave compared to -7 in the morning and a high of 13.

One thing that I've been trying to incorporate into my exercise is play, and trying to remember that it used to be FUN to run as fast as I could, climb trees, to be the one to hold my breath underwater for the longest time, dive into the deep end and swim all the way to the other end of the pool without coming up for air, and to just run wild all day long in the creek and woods, then jump on our bikes and pump home with no gears except our skinny little legs, our mothers practically having to threaten us to come in long enough to eat. Then we'd be outside with them while they chilled out from handling us all day or working and we would run around playing red rover or tag or freeze or we'd catch lightening bugs and put them in jars with holes in the lids that we'd punched with screwdrivers. Then we slept good and got up early the next day and did it all over again.

I work out at a place where we can flip tires and climb ropes and slam medicine balls to our hearts content. I also recently started going to the rec center at the university again so that I could do some things at lunchtime but also keep in mind that it was called the "recreation" center because you are supposed to have fun! No more lap pool for me. Training for triathlons ruined all three sports for me because of the focus on form and performance. Despite all the "training" I never got faster and got so disenchanted that my bikes sat all summer unloved and unridden. Now I go to the leisure pool and play. No more trying to be efficient and alternate my breathing. Now I'm all Tarzan after a crocodile, or a Navy SEAL in my fins and goggles. I sprint on the indoor track or do a longer run just for my endorphin fix and stress reduction. I climb on the climbing wall. I like consistency but I'm also trying to just enjoy the activity.

Maybe it will be in the 30's again tomorrow and I can go to the trails. I need me a dirt fix real bad. I like the part of the video where he is running and jumping but also crawling around in the woods under limbs. That will definitely be something to try.

Maybe there will be sunlight tomorrow too. It came out for a bit the past two days so I am hopeful.

Thanks for the ray of light in the dark winter.

TrailGrrl

Chris said...

Where are you TrailGrrl? Here in Scotland the weather is pretty rough too....

Glad you liked the intereview

TrailGrrl said...

I'm in Ohio. I know, our weather doesn't even meet the requirements for harsh. I think we have problems because it was very warm for so long that we sort of skipped Fall and suddenly Winter nailed us. We've not even had much snow or ice, yet. Just dry cold. And a lot of respiratory problems going around. Usually we have a lot of bright sun this time of the year, but it's been extremely overcast.

I like the term "zoo humans." I realized instead of sitting around I could be doing an activity. When did we all become so tired?

Once I decided I didn't have to run every time I went to the trails I began to appreciate the outdoors more... jumping on logs, climbing up on stumps, bounding around, finding cool rocks, wondering if Natives hunted here. I got some Vibram Five Fingers and they really make a difference! Your feel of the environment is so much better than running shoes or hiking boots. They're not good for really rocky places, but if there's a dirt trail and tree limbs and such you will feel like a monkey. Balanced and light on your feet, able to grip the ground. Biomechanically in-tune.

TG

Stephan said...

That is very very cool. I like the movement to return to natural/evolutionary diets and lifestyles. It seems to be gaining steam, at least among the people I know!

The idea or reconnecting with one's fundamental nature is powerful for me. I think it applies to exercise, diet and general lifestyle. It applies on two levels: that of physically connecting with your body, and that of connecting with the way the body was designed to function.

I like the idea of working out barefoot. Our foot biomechanics are not designed for shoes! I've been on a futile quest for thin-soled hiking shoes. The FiveFingers are the only viable option I've found so far, and they don't fit my prehensile big toe. I walk barefoot fairly often but my feet aren't tough enough for a real hike.

I do work out in the weight room, but I try to keep the exercises as natural as possible: dead lifts, presses, jumps, sprints, chin-ups, pistols. I also have an 80 lb sandbag that I use sometimes. And I swim in very cold water on occasion.

But I have to admit, I would much rather work out with Erwan than in the weight room... maybe someday.

Chris said...

Thanks Stephan. I've re-read the interview a couple of times and there is some great stuff there.

Marc said...

Chris,
AWESOME! You can feel Erwan's sincerity come right through the text. I like his philosophy very much. One small thing that I do that he talks about; I walk my dog barefoot. Where I live I don't have a lot of woods. I'm on the coast line so I try and use that for my primal workouts. Running through the minimal surf of the gulf of mexico, beach sprints, beach crawls etc.
Thanks Chris for introducing Erwan and his Movnat. And taking it one step further and getting the interview. Really enjoyed it!!!
Have a great week.

Marc

Chris said...

Marc - you are welcome. thanks for the comment

Hope you too have a good week. It is snowing here now but quite pretty because of it. Not weather for barefooting it though!

Chris

Radek Pilich said...

Now this is what I would call "evolutionary fitness thought leadership" at its best.

Those observations, analogies and explanations were extremely precise. I took and spread several thinklets throught twitter (http://twitter.com/RadekPilich). I hope it will send a few more folks here to read this gem.

Thank you both guys! Keep spreading the understanding you have. All the best!

(offtopic: the word verification wants me to type the word "whines". hehehe)

Chris said...

Radek

Thanks. Spread it around as much as you like - I think there are some real bits of wisdom in there that are worth reflecting on for all of us with an interest in health / conditioning.

All the best

Chris

Jeff said...

Fantastic, thanks. I have been doing more of these style workouts as I have moved to the zoo style SS/HIT workouts for my lifting days. Great interview.

Anonymous said...

..the bit about this that is very dubious is the philosophical aspect..he uses the word 'free' quite often.Using it is fine of course if one defines what it means. He doesnt and accordingly comes off as an arse in doing so.
He's obviously as fit as a butchers dog...no question there but perhaps he should shut his trap due to much of the gibberish that emerges

I'd like also to see him in a few decades or actually his heart profile..he's a big runner it seems and steady state running, not sprinting is the kiss of death for the heart and its function.

David Leyes Photographer said...

I also totally agree with Erwans human Zoo analogy and his diet is spot on! ...
but any type of exercise that can potentially hurt you is not worth doing...

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Anonymous said...

I also totally agree with Erwans human Zoo analogy and his diet is spot on! ...
but any type of exercise that can potentially hurt you is not worth doing...

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