Sunday, December 5, 2010

One Day MovNat Fundamentals Clinic in Edinburgh with Erwan Le Corre

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that this was coming up.  Having interviewed Erwan last year and watched as his profile on the internet has grown since, I was really looking forward to this clinic.   The previous week was tough - my Dad had been in hospital and I was not sure that I would be able to get back to Edinburgh to attend the clinic, but thankfully he got out and was improved enough for me to feel OK about leaving my parents and coming back north.

I returned to an Edinburgh which was cloaked in snow - more snow than at any time since 1963 according to some reports.  So instead of the sunshine and tropical scenery that you normally see in Erwan's videos, this was cold!

There were still classes going on at the gym when we all gathered there so  we chatted outside for a while in the snow.  Despite the weather Erwan turned up in his Vibrams!  Guys had come from all over the UK - London, York, Shropshire, Cumbria, Glasgow  (great to meet Craig)- as well as further afield: Belgium and Hungary.

We went into a cold gym and got changed - all barefoot - and then started a pretty intense 7 hours.  I am not going to go through the whole day in detail - there was too much in there and some you really need to learn  direct from MovNat.  That being said, the day involved a number of things:

  • Erwan explaining in some detail his philosophy of exercise and life
  • Erwan demonstrating some techniques 
  • Erwan coaching us through a number of drills and movements 
So much of the value of the day actually was in the first of those elements as Erwan explained from basic principles his whole approach to movement, exercise and indeed life itself.  Ultimately MovNat is a mental approach, an attitude and mindset rather than a set of physical drills.

Jumping into the day, Erwan had us all introducing ourselves and talking about our background and interest in all this.  I mentioned this blog (and Rannoch made some very kind comments about it) and it was nice to hear that others there actually read what I put up here, although a bit embarrassing too...

Erwan then talked us through the concept of natural movement and how he would define natural movement.  We spoke about how what we do naturally is not always optimal or efficient and how we can learn and improve our movement skills, not learning how to walk or run for example....but how to do it better.

The sort of movements we were looking at were the basics - practical skills that you need for life, abilities that would save your life in extremis.  We all walk, balance, crawl, run, climb, lift, carry, jump, throw & catch.....movements that are part of being alive,  but we can learn to do each of those better, optimally and more efficiently.

We spoke about context and situation and how that affects how we approach movement and about the specificity of exercise.

In many ways some of this came back to the sort of principles that I've discussed here with the HIT guys - particularly Doug McGuff and Luke Carlson - when you learn a skill it is very specific.  So you might learn and practice throwing a punch.  It is a specific movement pattern that you must train and learn.  Punching while holding a dumbbell will not make you a better puncher though - it will just make you better at punching while holding a dumbbell, it is a totally different skill.  You can make the punching muscles stronger - do some chest presses - but to be a better puncher, you need to train the specific skill.    A lot of the "functional training" dogma is that  moves like kettlebell swings somehow transfer to a whole bunch of other skills...the hip snap will make you a better wrestler or whatever, when the evidence and the science is that you might get a stronger posterior chain with the swing but that you need to learn and perfect the technique to apply that strength.   You need to apply it to the skill you are practicing.

Erwan made the same point - for example getting stronger at pullups will not make you a better climber.  Sure you need some basic level of strength and pull ups may help there.....but ultimately you need to learn how to climb - you need to learn a specific skill.   That goes for all the skills we looked at  walking, running, jumping etc.  Yes a big squat will make you stronger....but if you want to jump across a river or out of the way of a bus you will need to good at jumping.

Much of the day was thinking about these skills  and some basic common principles of how we move efficiently and optimally.  Erwan talked about the different classes of movement too - locomotive, manipulative and combative - and how we can improve each.  A valuable chunk of time was spent learning about running technique.  The MovNat running style is mostly like the Pose technique, but not dogmatically so - there are contexts in which you need to adapt and change style.  One of the clinic participants was a Pose coach so he and Erwan worked together to critique and refine our style - this was a really useful bit of the day.  There is so much to running well, much more than just footstrike.

Time passed quickly and it was a struggle to fit all the elements of the course into the day.  Eventually the day come to an end and the Edinburgh Krav Maga guys came to lock up.

We retired to the closest pub where we had the chance to continue to chat with Erwan and each other.  I really enjoyed the sense of this being a small world, a community: people that I follow and sometimes email like Robb Wolf or Richard Nikoley are friends of Erwan and it was good to make some sort of real life contact with this crowd.

I was also amused by all these paleo boys out on the town.  At a fairly basic Leith pub seeing guys order a homemade beefburger with no bun, double bacon, no chips and extra salad all washed down with an espresso was  great.  Nice but I had a big glass of wine and mellowed out!

What I appreciated most from Erwan was his "life", his spirit.  He came across as vitally alive, loving life and its possibilities, its experience.  He is not shaped by a philosophy or a structured paradigm but by experience - he wants to live and experience things.  It is what feels right and what works that matters not some overarching theory.

It may be a cliche to describe a Frenchman in this way but he has a "joie de vivre"  -  he is experiencing life, and movement is at the heart of that process, and more than that he is enjoying it....there is a gratification to the movement in and of itself.   It is like Frank Forencich talks about in his Exuberant Animal approach - there is fun in this!

Erwan dressed for the Scottish snow!
I left the pub (for a moderately paleo Thai banquet) very much  inspired and excited.  I had learned some skills, but more importantly I had learned something of a way of thinking about movement and developing useful skills.  This is not "functional training" or the sport of fitness, but about developing a range of real and useful skills, techniques that are essential to survival.....but which are also simply fun!

I hope  to meet and train with Erwan again.   He is a great athlete - some of his climbing and mobility was astounding - but more than that he is a philosopher, a thinker.  His videos capture your attention - they are impressive.  However,  what they should also do is to make you think about how he developed these specific  skills and think further about the whole approach to movement.

the clinic has whet  my appetite for this stuff and I am eagerly anticipating the book that Erwan is working on.

A really good day.  I would encourage anyone to attend one of Erwan's clinics or workshops.  The 5 day camps would be fantastic - with a lot more scope to expand on the material that Erwan could only touch on in a 7 hour clinic.

Time to think more on this - MovNat: Explore your true nature.


Naeem said...

Hi Chris, great meeting you at the MovNat Clinic and enjoying reading through your brilliant blog! Here is a quick interview with Erwan on the importance of running to MovNat and vice versa:

Keep in touch!

mc said...

forgive me, but what do you mean by we must learn how to walk or how to balance?
i would very much appreciate an example of how such a "skill" was taught in order to be learned?

many thanks

Chris said...

Sorry mc I probably did not express things well. Erwan's position is that while we can all balance or walk or whatever we can develop our skill at those processes - like your recent series on getting better at the squat. To support that, we did a number of balance drills - probably not as rigorous or structured as you would get in Z Health for example, but I think he was trying to get the idea of optimising these skills, becoming more efficient through practice.

Does that help?

Chris said...


good to meet you too - thanks for your work on the running.


Jeff said...

Hey Chris,

Great article, thanks for the summary. The idea of learning these skills is great. I would like to pick more of this up myself. The "skill" of sitting in my desk chair typing into a keyboard needs to expand to more meaningful things. If he comes to the South East US I am going.

One thought on this is when you look at Erwan in pictures and movies you immediately see his leanness and muscularity. From this it is implied that MovNat is a great fitness method. This may be the case, but it also may be that it works when you do it 4 hours a day. For sure he doesn't have the runners physique that would come from hours of running a day, so that is good, but it may not be an optimal method for us working stiffs. For the skill training I also wonder how much is required? Practice a couple of times per week and leave the fitness aspect to something akin to resistance training sounds reasonable to me, but I am no expert.

Bottom line. I get the skill aspect but wonder about MovNat as an efficient fitness regimen.

Thanks again,


Natural Athlete said...

Jeff its classic logical fallacy to think that an individual has a specific body type because of the how they train it is always just as possible their physical make up is what allowed them to thrive in a given activity. Erwan is naturally lean and he developed his muscularity years before Movnat. When I was training with him he talked about his curiosity to see athletes who had been primarily developed through Movnat as he had developed his through many other pursuits.

Chris I don't see how one can subscribe to tenants of both Movnat and HIT their contrary to each other. HIT fits exactly in the realm of reductionist machine training that Erwan advocates against. While a HIT paradigm would indicate that what Erwan purposes is not optimally effective, dangerous paleo reenactment. One could practice what Movnat as recreation and continue doing HIT I suppose but the two philosophies seem very opposed to me.

Chris said...

Rafe - I don't think that HIT and MovNat are so contrary.

MovNat is about skill development. HIT in the interviews I've done is always clear that skill development is fine but different from strength development. As I tried to stress you can get stronger at pullups but as Erwan says you still need to learn to climb. You need the skill, the technique.

I really do not see the two as the opposites that you present.

Chris said...

Jeff - thanks for the comment. As I said to Rafe I saw it all as about skill development. HIT and strength training has its place.....but there is also value in learning to apply strength, with these skills.

Natural Athlete said...

Crhis I disagree with the statement that being good at pull ups will not improve your climbing. Parts of climbing are very technical, but I have seen guys who are very strong from other activities simply bypass the technical aspects.

Another analogy is martial arts, a hip toss is very specific skill but having a 400 pound deadlift essentially gives me a much greater margin for error in my application of the technique. My martial arts coaches constantly constantly cued me to try and hold my athletiscm back to better allow technique development the SAID principle can be overstated.

I think the primary point that Erwan and I agree on, is that high skill movement transfers better to low skill movement then vice versa, learning to climb 5.10 will develop a significant amount of upper body pulling strength, it does not follow that being able do a pull up with 1.5xBW will mean you can climb five ten. There is a degree of transfer both ways but complex movement transfers better to simple movements then simplified movement then Vice Versa. Its more developmental. A practice like movnat to me will develop an adaptable overall physical capacity much more effectively then one like HIT.

More then Erwan at least in in our last conversations I do believe there is some real value to simple progressive strength training. Overall I believe the pursuit of more complex, playfull, and utile physical skills in the long run should take precedence over simple attribute development.

mc said...

"we did a number of balance drills - probably not as rigorous or structured as you would get in Z Health for example, "

i got that - that was clear - but i guess what's not is how the two connect? can you give an example of such a drill?

and what you did to see if it made your walking or whatever better?

tnx so much,


Chris said...

It was probably not as structured as it sounds. A lot of the balance drills were ad hoc - balancing on beams etc, walking along a thin bar. It was not so much that particular drills were employed to improve elements of gait, more that the drills were aimed at making us more mindful about out movement and our gait.