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?
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)