One thing they never tell you about barefoot running is how painful it can be. When you step out on a trail for your first totally unshod trek, eager to run wild and free though the forest, you are suddenly struck with an unexpected problem: tiny pebbles.
I had been doing trail runs in my “barefoot” shoes (talk about an oxymoron) for about two years before I took my first completely naked run. Even in those light shoes, you can step wherever you want. As soon as the shoes come off, however, every little pebble makes a difference. A false step on something sharp can throw off your balance enough to cause a fall, even if it doesn’t cut.
You realize just how small your margin of error has become. You realize how truly frail human beings are.
This was perhaps the biggest lesson I got out of practicing MovNat and other movements applicable to the real world. It’s fine to crawl on a flat, clean gym floor, but when you start crawling around obstacles, you learn just how useful (and limited) your conditioning is. The difference between a tree branch and a smooth bar is about as big as the scrapes you get all over your body for using sloppy technique.
The Strongest Warriors Accept Their Weaknesses
At my Level 2 MCT certification, we spent the entire two days outdoors in wild terrain. It was an amazing experience, but it was also humbling. All of us were in exceptionally good shape, and yet we we dying just squatting on a log, passing fist-sized stones back and forth. The log was slanted a little, and that tiny detail made it really hard.
And so, I, who can clean a 200 lb barbell, was having trouble with an 80 lb stone. I can run 400m in close to a minute, and I was slowed down by a few pebbles and stray logs. Luckily, there were no egos that day; we had all be practicing for some time, and we knew these challenges were the ones worth overcoming, not some arbitrary number on a barbell or a smooth track. We didn’t make excuses, and we didn’t give up. We didn’t even compare our previous records with our performance on that day. We just took the efforts at face value and worked hard.
We were humbled by the complexity of our environment and the amount of skill and effort we had to display in order to adapt to it. By accepting how frail we were, we were able to take that into account so we could overcome the obstacles and, more importantly, avoid injuring ourselves by underestimating the difference between a heavy barbell and a light rock.
You Are Weak So That You Can Be Strong
I used to think I was invincible. I used to be a firebreather. But it’s hard to breathe fire when you’re falling on your butt because it’s raining while you’re training outdoors. What good does it do to scream at the sky, “I can jump 8 feet…on dry ground!” That’s not going to help me clear the jump now. And yet, for a long time, that’s exactly what I did. I would train hard in the gym for weeks, then go out to test my fitness and find myself sorely lacking. I’d justify it or make excuses, but the reality what simply that I wasn’t very adaptable, and I wasn’t paying my environment the mindfulness it was due. I was simply treating it like my gym, instead of realizing that the environment was setting the bar, not the other way around.
The result was that I never progressed.
Now, by knowing my limitations, I have been able to work around them and succeed despite them. By accepting my weaknesses, I have been able to improve on them and grow stronger. One of the most important aspects of MovNat is that it measures ability by how successful you are in a real-world situation. Can’t land a jump accurately? Then it doesn’t matter that you can jump 50 inches high. Can’t hold on to a branch long enough to traverse across a gap? Then it doesn’t matter that you can do 50 pullups. You’re only as effective as your weakest link, and while you might compensate with fancy gear or strange contrived movements in a gym, out in the real world, there is not adjustment: adapt or fail.
The other area MovNat really excels at, which has been very helpful to me in directing my training, is emphasizing the need to isolate and improve weaknesses. The world is varied and complex, and any given environment will require most of your movement abilities to navigate. You need to be able to do everything well because one impossible obstacle is all it takes to stop you in your tracks. Know your weaknesses, embrace them, and make them your strengths.