by Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
While humans may occasionally reflect about the purpose of their lives, the fundamental biological agenda of all animals is not only survival but also reproduction, which ensures that their genetic pool is transmitted to their offspring and therefore perpetuates itself. Even to those of us who are seeking a higher purpose in life, the primary concern of any human being is first to stay alive as long as possible and, for most of us, to eventually have children.
Fitness, from a biological standpoint, is nothing but the ability to reproduce successfully, which first requires that we are healthy enough to remain alive long enough to become fertile in the first place. In that sense, fitness is survivability. While we tend to take fitness for granted or choose to see it only as an option in our lives, that has not always been the case in the history of mankind. Even by today’s standards of relative peace and safety, life—and successful reproduction, for that matter—is in no way guaranteed for anyone. Movement may have become close to optional, and many movements are optional in today’s world. But staying alive as long as biologically possible is mandatory.
So, what is the relation between the agenda of life, biological fitness, and Natural Movement? It is an essential one. Boiled down to its two fundamental aspects, survival is the vital ability to find and seize opportunities while avoiding threats or danger so one can stay alive until one reproduces and until the offspring becomes autonomous. Whether you are predator or prey, both aspects are ensured by the alertness of our senses, acute observation, situational awareness, experience, what we could simply call “instinct,” and also species-specific Natural Movement. In short, the better you can move, the better you are at survival in the wild. Even the most alert prey cannot escape predators if the prey is unable to move, and even the hungriest predator cannot catch prey if the predator is unable to move. The loss of Natural Movement ability, even partial loss, would be the predictor of an imminent death. Having the ability to engage in Natural Movement is ultimately what ensures survival, at least within the original conditions of life in nature.
Vitality and survival are closely related. The truth is that, while having at least minimal levels of physical and mental strength, energy, and vitality may be the prerequisite for moving your body, moving your body frequently and vigorously is one the major prerequisites for having physical and mental strength, energy, and vitality. Energy drinks are temporary, artificial energy boosters. Natural Movement helps you generate organic, clean, renewable, sustainable energy. This deliberately healthy behavior is often not just physical but also psychological and combined with positive thinking. We know that our thoughts affect our bodies, but we too often forget that our bodies affect our thoughts.
Back to the primary meaning of the vital principle, the ability to effectively perform natural movements starts with the simplest, most practical physical actions that take place in the easiest circumstances, and ends with extreme, life-threatening circumstances: Natural Movement will potentially save your life and the lives of others. In times of danger, you will never hear, “Play ping-pong for your life”; instead, you’re likely to hear, “run for your life.”
You might very well have to jump, climb, crawl or swim for your life, maybe even fight for your life. Or, you might have to perform those same movements and physical actions to help save someone else’s life. In any case, in a life-threatening situation, you might have to hold an awkward position for some time until you are rescued. But it might not be as fancy and awkward as some of the most intricate yoga poses; it’ll be whatever position will ensure that you stay alive until help shows up, with “perfect form” having no influence whatsoever on it. Whatever you have to physically do in a survival situation has nothing to do with culture, tradition, style, sports, or exercise-science protocols. It has to do with the tangibly useful physical performance that will serve the highest practical purpose, which is keeping you or someone alive. The vital value of Natural Movement physical competency is timeless.
In a world where modern comforts are, slowly but surely, making walking an accessory activity, you might wonder why on Earth you should practice these timeless, natural movement skills (jumping, climbing, carrying heavy, or even crawling). In a modern context that’s seemingly devoid of danger, it is a very common thing to regard our Natural Movement capacities as optional leisure and our evolutionary movement skills as complete anachronisms. We barely need them anymore, right? Wrong. Even a highly technological world like ours is not devoid of dangers. Some are different and some are new. Dangers are out there, and everyone and anyone can be confronted by them at any time, be it in the form of an accident, an explosion, an aggression, a shooting, a flooding, a storm, and many other potential scenarios. Some people are unfortunately finding themselves in such dire situations as I am writing this and as you are reading and in different corners of the world. In any of these scenarios, your immediate reaction will be to physically respond in the form of some Natural Movement. Real-world physical capability only seems optional as long as you don’t need it and until challenging circumstances make you realize it is indispensable. You could say that “it will never happen to me”, to which I could reply “how do you know?”
We tend to obsess about what our bodies look like in the mirror rather than focusing on what we can physically do with a fit body in the real world. When it comes to physical fitness, most people simply want to be “beach ready,” which means having a body that look good enough to impress others in the summertime. From a Natural Movement standpoint, you are not “beach ready” just because your body shape looks good; you also need to be capable of swimming without endangering yourself or capable of sprinting, swimming, and diving to reach someone who’s drowning and then swimming back to shore while dragging the victim and keeping them afloat and able to breath. You also might need to be able to lift and carry that person on land to get help. You can, of course, apply the same idea to other types of life-threatening situations.
Look at firefighters and other rescuers. They might use equipment and technological tools, but do they solely rely on them, or do they also have to physically intervene? When they do intervene physically, what movements are they using? They run, they climb, they jump, they balance, they crawl, they swim, they throw and catch equipment, they lift and carry victims. That all sounds like Natural Movement to me, and it sounds like those capabilities are a much more realistic assessment of fitness that anything else. It’s definitely more accurate than looking at the size of someone’s arms.
Could you sprint fast or run over a long distance if it was necessary? Could you jump over a large gap and land skillfully on the other side? Could you swim underwater and hold your breath for at least two minutes if you had to? Could you hang from a ledge and be able to climb to top of the surface? Could you lift and carry someone that is your weight, or maybe heavier, over a mile or more? You can imagine a variety of physical demands and mentally assess how well you would do. In fact, you should.
To be fit doesn’t necessarily mean possessing a good-looking body; it means being physically ready for demanding real-world situations. In fact, authentic self-confidence even stems from knowing that you possess such vital, real-world movement competency and physical preparedness. Fitness isn’t for the show-off; it’s for real life. Not so long ago, actual physical capability was more impressive than looks. I am not saying that we should get back to a time where such capability had more value than looks, but it doesn’t hurt to realize that, in many parts of the world, it is still the case.
The point of this principle is not to alarm and scare you but to remind you that life is not guaranteed. It’s a precious gift we owe to ourselves to preserve in every way we can, and Natural Movement is an important part of this ability. There is neither a guarantee that you will ever find yourself in such a situation nor a guarantee that even if you trained physically that your physical competency and preparedness will be sufficient. However, you are pretty much guaranteed to find yourself in trouble, if not totally helpless, if you are in a life-threatening situation and you aren’t trained, competent, and prepared. By being helpless to yourself, you also become helpless to help anyone else.
If you do some research, you will find countless examples of survival stories involving individuals or groups of people struggling for their lives, as well as stories of people saving other people’s lives in harsh, extreme conditions. Some of these individuals may have been physically trained, but most often they aren’t. That’s not the point; what’s important is the thing that all these stories have in common: Forms of Natural Movement were the requirement for staying alive or saving a life. The survivors had to walk, run, crawl, jump, climb, lift, carry, and so on.
Therefore, it is essential to evaluate the practical value of any fitness regimen not just in terms of health, well-being, or cosmetic satisfaction but also in terms of contribution to the preservation of life when needed. You might be wondering what are the essential techniques and/or benchmarks you should possess to make it out of any challenging situation. As described in the Unspecialized principle, you never know which Natural Movement skill will be the potential life-saver or at what level you will need to perform any movement in difficult circumstances. Aren’t they all potentially vital?
For instance, I’ve often met guys would could do many pull-ups in a row but who were unable to actually mount the top of the bar they were pulling from. In a realistic scenario, you won’t need to pull yourself to the level of the surface you hang from twenty times in a row, but you might need to mount the top of that surface one time, with a tragic consequence if you can’t. This is what happens when the only goal of exercise is to develop muscle mass or strength: Realistic capability goes unchecked, and lots of energy is spent on efforts that do not contribute anything to actual real-world competency. Again, strength does matter and mass may support greater levels of strength. There is nothing wrong at all with those the same way there is nothing wrong about great looking bodies. We just want to prioritize the vital aspect of physical training, starting with the practical nature of it.
By extension, a real-world, vital approach to physical fitness should do more than simply involving the training of Natural Movement skills. It should occasionally simulate the scenarios, environments, or context in which those skills must be performed, which helps train situational awareness. Even though a familiar motto to all those concerned with real-life preparedness is to “expect the unexpected”, you want to start preparing for what you can realistically expect, especially for those situations that are statistically likely to happen. Nobody is ready for anything, but we can most certainly prepare for many things.
How well do you want to perform in real-world, life-threatening situations that demand a physical response? You don’t have to wait to be in such a situation to get a sense of your own preparedness. It is my belief that everyone should be equipped with the fundamental physical competency and preparedness required to be able to perform adequately in the real-world, including in life-challenging situations, much as everyone should be able to read and write. Imagine how empowered such individuals are, and how empowered any community made of such individuals would be? Imagine what things would be like if everyone knew that they can physically rely on those around them to preserve anyone’s life—children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and perfect strangers?
Indeed, one of the most potent ways to never find yourself helpless is to learn and train to become physically helpful. We may not become first responders, but we should be able to respond first in the absence of assistance.
With the near complete disappearance of the necessity for movement and the erosion of our movement instincts, we are left with no other choice but to embrace a mindset and create a strategy that enables us to not only get “some” physical activity but to restore our original, natural movement behavior. While the intellectual notion that Natural Movement should be practiced because it’s evolutionary, universal, and instinctual is already very useful, such notions may not be sufficiently motivating to prompt us to train. But if we understand and take the vital principle to heart, we can start training today with a new powerful motivation: purposeful, useful, helpful, real-world physical training, competency, and preparedness.
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Note: this article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.