Our Journal

10 Human Movements That Are Going Extinct

“I see a world coming where walking will become just a notion; a skill of the past. A world where people will have to learn how to walk again.” – Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder

 

Americans sit more than ever before in human history. Sedentary jobs and leisure have skyrocketed to frightening levels. Physical education is going the way of the dodo bird, and most children grow up literally not knowing how to move naturally because they were never given the opportunity to learn or practice.

Those rare few who can and do move naturally in public are often labeled the weirdo, because most people simply don’t understand or accept what their body’s are designed to do.

No matter how you look at it, things aren’t trending in the right direction when it comes to our health, fitness, and ability to move. And we are all paying the price, especially the entire generation of children growing up in this unnatural environment.

And yet, we humans have got it pretty good these days. Most of us don’t have to hunt, gather, farm, or scavenge for our food. Clean water and medical care are widely available. Even the poorest among us have a higher quality of life than many have experienced throughout human history.

Still, the many modern conveniences we enjoy have consequences, including the gradual decline of Natural Movement, which wreaks havoc on our health, fitness, and quality of life.

Is natural human movement really going extinct? Take a look at the list below and decide for yourself.

Sitting (Without A Chair)

Sitting on the floor or ground should not be uncomfortable, but restful and restorative. And yet, most people struggle with this rudimentary human movement simply because they rarely, if ever, do it. We are literally surrounded by chairs, most of which are very comfortable. But sitting in the same position for hours every day wreaks havoc on our body’s.

We are designed to rest in and move through the many ground and sitting positions that come naturally to us. And when we do, we reap all kinds of benefits for our health, fitness, mobility, and basic functionality. But we have to do it, which means we might be uncomfortable at first when your body is only accustomed to sitting in a chair.

Floor sitting couldn’t be easier to integrate into your Natural Movement practice. Obviously, you can incorporate these movements into your training routine (ground movement serves as a great warmup for almost any activity), but you can also derive plenty of benefit from simply sitting on the floor when you would otherwise be in a chair.

Start with positions that are comfortable, but not too comfortable. Maybe Cross Sit or Bent Sit. Then explore different positions and the movements that link them. This tutorial will help you get started.

Do you sit in chairs too much? Here are 5 Natural Movements to Reverse the Damage From Sitting.

Barefoot Walking

Going barefoot is so rare these days that it’s been stigmatized. People often think of it as weird, gross, or even dangerous. It’s certainly not considered normal, healthy, or natural by society today – when that’s exactly what it should be for a human being. You don’t see tigers wearing shoes. Or, any other animals. Why should it be any different for us?

People are usually fearful of going barefoot, and it’s because most people have spent the vast majority of their waking hours in footwear their whole lives. In this day and age, we literally have footwear designed for every possible activity you can imagine – walking, running, cross-trainers, hiking, the list goes on. The Boston Globe reported that in the USA, men and women spend nearly $60 billion dollars every year on footwear. That’s a lot of shoes!

While there is absolutely a time and place for footwear, going barefoot should be our default behavior when it is safe and acceptable to do so. Our body’s need and crave the stimulation this activity provides, which is repressed when our feet are encased in restrictive footwear. Most modern footwear actually weaken our feet, sometimes to the point of deformity, by restricting their range of motion. Footwear also dulls the sensory input we receive from our feet, which leads to all kinds of problems throughout the rest of the body.

So, if you want a fit, strong, capable body, you need to take care of your feet. And one of the best ways to do that is to go barefoot – or in minimalist footwear, if you must – whenever it is safe to do so. And better yet, find diverse terrain to go walking in that will challenge your feet to adapt to your natural environment. In time, you should be able to safely walk, run, jump, and otherwise move in a natural environment completely barefoot – because this is what your body is designed to do. As with any major change, progress gradually and always listen to your body. If you’ve spent the majority of your lifetime shod, don’t expect your feet to adapt to barefoot training in a matter of weeks or months.

Want some suggestions for minimalist footwear? Check out this review of some popular models.

Crawling, Get Ups, and Other Ground Movement

As babies, we spent a lot of time doing basic ground movements, crawling, and learning to get up and down from the floor in a variety of ways. Learning these skills is a basic biological process that comes naturally to us. They’re instinctive. But as we grow up, we stop doing these movements that are so critical to not only our early childhood development, but our optimal functioning as adults.

Some good news is that crawling, get ups, and even some ground movements are making a comeback in the fitness community – no doubt, because of the increasing awareness of the benefits of evolutionary-based fitness approaches like MovNat. But these are not merely exercises with conditioning benefits. They’re all everyday movements that serve a practical purpose. Crawling is not merely a good conditioning drill for core strength and coordination, it also helps us stay low or get under something. Get Ups don’t merely provide mobility, stability, and strength benefits, they also help us transition from the ground to standing. Ground movements are eminently practical for many activities in daily life. And yet, we rarely observe adults engaging in these movements outside of an exercise context. Or, if they do, they tend to overuse a few basic movements instead of the wide variety we’re meant to be capable of.

So, don’t let the elementary nature of these movements prevent you from experiencing the many benefits they provide physiologically and practically. They can be practiced anywhere and anytime. The key is learning to perform them efficiently. They can be easily incorporated into a MovNat Adaptive Practice Session warmup, combo, or cooldown.

Note: for more information on programming a MovNat workout, see Anatomy of a MovNat Practice Session.

Here are some additional resources on Ground Movement.

Balancing

Like it or not, but we tend to get worse at balancing with age. Some of it is due to the normal aging process, which in a large part, due to an increasing lack of complexity in our environment and movement behavior.

And if you think about it, when is the last time you had to balance? If you’re a MovNatter, maybe it wasn’t so long ago. But when in your everyday life did you need to? Unless you spend time in nature or take the path less traveled, you probably don’t need to deliberately balance much…until you suddenly do. Which is a shame because balancing is both hugely beneficial and quite fun.

movnat at the gym

Even though we live in a world where most of our surrounding environment is flat, smooth, and easy to traverse, the ability to balance is still important – and not just for the elderly. We may never have to balance across a fallen tree overhanging a raging river, but we should still be able to walk, shuffle, or crawl across a narrow surface, and remain balanced when conditions are wet, slippery, or unstable.

And when we develop these skills, we not only reduce our risk of falling, we also develop better fitness, stability, coordination, agility, and posture, among other things. Balance training has even been shown to improve brain function. It really packs a lot of benefits.

Like all natural movement skills, balance training can be progressed to both very simple and easy drills, and very difficult, complex ones. So, if you’re just starting off, learning to stand on one leg and counterbalance is a good first step. Then practice some balanced walking on any narrow surface such as a 2×4 piece of lumber.

Once you have the basics down, there’s no limit to how you can progress your training. You can increase the volume and intensity of your sessions. Or, increase the complexity:

  • balancing on a narrower surface
  • balancing higher off the ground
  • combining balancing with another skill such as crawling or carrying an object
  • balancing in nature

Here are 7 Natural Movement Progressions to Improve Your Balance.

Jumping & Landing

While recent studies have shown modern humans may be less healthy, fit, and capable than our ancestors, at least we’ve got one good thing going for us. Kids still jump. At least, when they’re not spending 7+ hours per day staring at a screen, which is the new average for children aged 8-18 years, according to the American Heart Association.

But kids get it. Jumping is fun. And risky. Which means it’s rewarding and empowering when you get the hang of it. But here’s the thing: while jumping has a very “youthful” stigma attached to it, being airborne and absorbing impact isn’t just child’s play. In fact, the ability to absorb impact (no matter how big or small) effectively and efficiently is one of the most important skills of life, especially because all those impacts add up over a lifetime. And we’re not just talking about the impacts we receive in training from box jumps or broad jumps, etc. We’re talking about every other jump you make in recreation, sport, or life – even those little jumps off the curb or over a puddle.

Yes, most healthy people can jump, but very few can land efficiently without proper training (i.e. safely, with stability and proper alignment). That’s why jumping, and more importantly landing, is the perfect place to start improving.

Jumping is a powerful movement – a leap of faith – that ironically emphasizes most of the muscles we use the least because of all the sitting we do. Like all natural movements, it requires the proper balance of skill and conditioning (and jumping improves both every time you practice). And it’s a lot of fun, too.

We see it in our workshops all the time: when you finally learn how to jump efficiently and stick your landing (or immediately transition into another movement skill), it’s exciting – even addictive. We often have a group of people that just can’t stop jumping around and smiling contagiously! And why is that? Well, we think there are a lot of reasons, some of which we mentioned above. But it’s almost as if we are meant to move this way.

So, when you’re getting started, focus on the proper landing mechanics. And keep coming back to this rudimentary skill no matter how advanced your jumping skill becomes.

As your skill improves, you can add distance or height (up or down), obstacles, targets to aim for, or other elements of Volume, Intensity, and Complexity.

Carrying (Something Heavier Than an iPhone)

Sure, we carry our cell phone, coffee mug, and tote bags. But most of us don’t hunt or farm anymore, and rarely do we have to carry something heavy or for long distances like our ancestors did. Instead, we use grocery carts, luggage with wheels, baby strollers, and all kinds of other ways to avoid having to carry things. While these are often convenient, perhaps even necessary in some cases, the net result is that we carry things a lot less often than we used to, robbing us of the skill, fitness, and capability that comes from this natural movement.

Interview with Dr. Katy Bowman about Natural Movement for busy women and moms (carring child)

Photo credit: Katy Bowman, Nutritious Movement

The experts agree: carrying does the body a lot of good. Our friend and colleague, Gray Cook, who is the founder of Functional Movement Systems, has referred to carries as one of the most functional exercises. Strength coach, Dan John, says “the loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and athlete.” Back pain and spine rehabilitation expert, Dr. Stuart McGill, is a strong advocate for weighted carries, too. Not to mention the many fitness professionals around the world who program loaded carries to help their clients build powerful legs, improve hip and shoulder stability, increase core strength, and improve work capacity, general conditioning, and athleticism. Huh, it’s almost like there’s something to all these natural movements!

While we do generally need to carry more, we also need to integrate this skill into our lives gradually and with proper technique. That’s good advice for any natural movement skill, actually. So, don’t start with heavy carries on Day 1; use a light load when you first begin.

The key to success with carrying is learning proper body positioning, breathing, and the balance between tension and relaxation. You can learn more about these topics in The Practice of Natural Movement book, or in the MovNat Certification Program.

Hanging and Climbing

Human beings are meant to hang and climb. It does a world of good for our shoulders and upper body structure as a whole. And yet, when is the last time you saw a kid climbing a tree, a wall, or a fence? When’s the last time you saw an adult doing this? And not on one of those crime shows. Yes, some professions require you to climb ropes, ladders, or poles. And rockclimbing has been growing in popularity in recent years, especially indoor climbing. But the vast majority of humans don’t have to climb anything in their everyday lives.

That’s one of the reasons why climbing is one of the most difficult skills for most people to learn in the MovNat Certification Program. If you don’t use it, you lose it! It’s true that everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses, but climbing is a common trouble area. Why is this? Well, not only do all climbing movements require skill to execute properly, many require significant strength as well. The kind of strength that takes time to develop.

Unfortunately, the human species has been getting weaker almost every way you can measure it. Case in point: nowadays, the pull-up fitness testing standards to become a U.S. Marine are lower than the 1953 fitness standards for children aged 6 to 17 (per the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). In other words, a couple generations ago, children were expected to be able to do more pull-ups than our Marines are today. We can speculate as to the many reasons for why this is, but let’s turn inward. Do you have the skill and the fitness to get over common obstacles, if you had to (e.g. fence, wall, tree branch, pull-up bar, etc.)? How many different techniques can you execute? Be honest with yourself, and no matter your current ability, commit to improving.

We’ve found that it’s important to master the basics no matter what movement skills you’re practicing (e.g. crawling, balancing, jumping, lifting, climbing, etc.), and this is especially true with climbing movements, which often require strength and stability in positions we’re unaccustomed to. So, begin by learning how to hang and stabilize your shoulders in a variety of different positions. Master the techniques below the bar before moving above it. A good place to start is: 13 Ways to Hang From Your Arms For Better Climbing & Upper Body Conditioning.

Throwing and Catching

Humans are uniquely built to throw objects with both power and accuracy. And yet, outside of certain sports, most people don’t throw anything except maybe your car keys once in awhile. And our lack of practice is evident.

U.S. Army Major General, Malcolm Frost told defense reporters, “We are finding that there are a large number of trainees that come in that quite frankly just physically don’t have the capacity to throw a hand grenade 20 to 25 to 30 meters…you are just not going to be able to teach someone how to throw if they haven’t thrown growing up.”

Throwing and catching are not just for ball sports, children’s games, or the military. They’re useful skills for everyday, practical tasks that require moving an object quickly. These movements also delivers many physiological benefits, such as improving core strength, hip and shoulder stability, and power generation & absorption. We are meant to move in these ways, and when we don’t, we suffer the consequences.

To get started, find a safe place to practice with an object you’re comfortable with (e.g. a medicine ball works well, or a lightweight stone if you’re outdoors), and begin with the Push Press Throw and Front Swing Throw. If you have a partner, you can incorporate catches into the mix, too.

Whether you’re throwing a baseball, firewood, or hand grenades, this movement will do your body good when you learn how to perform it efficiently.

Swimming

The facts don’t lie. Most people can’t swim well. Researchers from the Red Cross found that over “half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills.” They also reported that “people believe they are better swimmers than they actually are…while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.” Further, nearly half of all respondents surveyed indicated they had experienced a near-drowning experience. And yet, 92% of parents indicated that their children will be participating in water-based activities during the Summer.

Hundreds of thousands of people drown each year. Needless to say, learning how to swim should be a major priority, especially for children, not only to reduce the risk of drowning, but to enable us to safely and joyfully participate in water-based activities without fear or unnecessary risk. Confidence and skill in the water opens up a whole new world of recreational and training possibilities. And in an emergency situation, it could save your life or someone else’s.

It’s always best to get professional advice and instruction when it comes to matters of health, fitness, and training. And swimming is one of those skills where it really makes a big difference. So, if you can’t swim or can’t swim well, find some local classes. Or, sign up for the next MovNat Aquatics course, where we teach many techniques for efficient swimming, floating, breath holding, freediving, self-rescue, and more.

Moving in Nature

Human beings should be very comfortable and capable of moving in nature. It’s been our natural environment – our habitat – for ages. However, unless you’re an avid outdoorsman, this is likely not the case. In fact, even for some advanced MovNat students who do most or all of their training in an urban, indoor, gym, or otherwise human-engineered environment, moving in nature can be intimidating at first. Some have described it as feeling like an “alien environment” or a “no trespassing zone.”

Why is this? Because we don’t move in nature like we used to. This fundamentally human activity is literally going extinct, which is a tragedy.

Nature is our greatest teacher, and there is no substitute for it. Studies have repeatedly confirmed we need nature to thrive physiologically and psychologically. So, how do we reconnect to our true nature and restore what was lost? We can’t just drop what we’re doing and begin training outdoors. At least, that’s not the wisest approach.

MovNat’s goal is to help you build real world capability. So that not only will you improve your movement skills and fitness, but that you’ll be able to move and adapt to the natural environment around us – with confidence and competence. To gradually restore what was lost – first by training in a controlled setting (e.g. gym), and then by gradually introducing nature. So, like our friends at POINT Gym & Kitchen are fond of saying, “train indoors, play outdoors.”

Because skills that may have been relatively easy at the gym suddenly require a high degree of adaptability in nature. A broad jump to a flat box in the gym is very different from jumping across slippery, uneven river stones. Balancing on a beam the comfort of your home – while a great drill to practice – is very different from balancing on a fallen tree that is rounded, rough, damp, and swaying as you walk across it. Climbing in nature is different when there are no ergonomic handles or crash pads beneath you.

While training in a controlled environment is extremely helpful, and even necessary, to maximize both learning and safety – which is why the vast majority of our training courses happen at MovNat Gyms or other similar facilities where many variables can be controlled – nature offers so much more than any man-made environment can. Which is why our curriculum is designed to help our students gradually rediscover, reconnect to, and get strong by nature!

Put an End to the Vicious Cycle

Most humans don’t need to run, jump, climb, or balance to survive on a daily basis. So, why bother with all of these “optional” natural movements?

MovNat Founder, Erwan Le Corre, said it best: “Specialization in sport and in life is a domestication process. It’s resulted in the human zoo, with specialized workers in a square room who trade their square office for square gyms and treadmills. We all suffer from this zoo human syndrome. It disconnects us from our true nature, from the beautiful human animals we are. We now live in an environment that is unnatural: the office, the gym, the home, the pollution, the car. When you accumulate all of these things, it makes for toxic parameters, and the human animal can not thrive.”

Humans have been growing softer, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Fortunately, there will always be people who resist this downward spiral, who refuse to conform, and who deliberately choose to explore their true nature because they understand how powerful it is – and how powerful they are.

Millions of people suffer from a chronic lack of Natural Movement. Will you be one of them? Or, will you start moving the way you’re meant to…and training like you mean it?

Improved fitness is just the beginning. The practice of Natural Movement helps us here and now with the practical needs of our everyday lives. It also lays a foundation for a lifetime of better health, functionality, and real world capability. It is both rewarding and empowering. And it creates new possibilities in your life. Not to mention being a lot more fun than most conventional fitness and exercise activities.

Here at MovNat, we are so grateful for the opportunity to help our students thrive by reconnecting to their true nature through the practice of Natural Movement. We hope you’ll join us in this journey.

Start Moving!

Want to move better, get fit, and get strong by nature?

Join over 160,000 MovNatters and we’ll send you our free Natural Movement Starter Kit to help you build your movement skills, fitness & real world capability – from the ground up. Sign up at the link below.

Click Here to Get Your 150+ Page MovNat Starter Kit

Want Some Help with
Natural Movement Training?

If you’d like to deepen your Natural Movement® practice, join us for a MovNat Level 1 Certification or a MovNat Workshop. We hold events all around the world. Or, find a MovNat Certified Trainer or Gym in your area. We also offer MovNat Online Coaching as an alternative to live instruction and a Natural Movement Fundamentals E-Course.

Most people know that they should be more physically active. Some even recognize the incredible value in a system like MovNat. But they struggle with actually implementing Natural Movement into their daily lives. That’s why we work closely with people from all walks of life to help them move better, get healthier and stronger, and discover their true potential with Natural Movement Fitness. It’s also why we work extensively with health and fitness professionals who understand the value of this new paradigm and are eager to start implementing it with their clients.

So, if you’re ready to take your movement practice to the next level, this is your chance. Please join our community and check out an event near you soon.

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  1. This articles has so much valuable information, rises awareness and gives so many useful tips, it’s almost unbelievable that is free. Thank you! Now I’m getting the book for real.

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