Our Journal

Training Natural Movement in an Urban & Gym Environment (Part 1)

By Danny Clark, MovNat Performance Director and Master Instructor

Welcome to my MovNat Urban Training Journal series. For the next 6 weeks, I’m going to share with you how I personally organize my MovNat training. I switch up my training environment all the time, but special circumstances brought me to a place where I wanted to share with you how I MovNat at a local gym.

Some backstory:

For the next several months, I find myself in the center of the urban jungle: Brooklyn, New York.  And, lucky for me, it’s also every MovNatters favorite time of year: Winter.

The other day, I roamed the busy city streets pondering this article while the frigid air bit into my skin, even through the protection of my jacket – a stark contrast to the dry, forgiving New Mexico climate I had become accustomed to. I changed level into a Deep Knee Bend near a quiet alley and stared at my foreign environment incredulously as I saw plenty of opportunities to move, yet found my new setting lacking the familiar call of the wild beckoning me. As much I enjoy a good urban MovNat session every now and again, I couldn’t help but press my lips together and think, “It’s the perfect time to put some time on the mat and under the bar.”

My pre-MovNat years were filled with “mat time” – a reference to time spent practicing various grappling arts – and “under the bar” – slang for time spent practicing traditional Power and Olympic lifting. Though I never fully renounced the merits of these practices, I favored my new shiny toy that was Natural Movement for the last three years. Emulating the footsteps of my teacher (Erwan), I wanted to embody this practice as close to its most authentic, highest level essence as much as possible.  I wanted to feel competent away from the comfort of thick soled shoes on smooth single track trail and more capable of handling the texture of rugged, wild terrain. I also wanted to escape my fascia-bound body, tightened by years of overly linear “multi-planar functional movement.” There were no barbells or kettlebells to be found on iconic warriors such as Crazy Horse’s training grounds, nor was it likely he had a yoga practice. So, I wanted to test the gym of the great outdoors for a while. I knew I could become even more capable as a human being without dependence on the control, sterility, quantification bias, and convenience of an indoor gym, and I was wildly successful in making huge “leaps” in personal progress.

A few days later, I walked through the threshold of the nearest New York Sports club to the familiar updated grunge gym scene: outdated, chipped paint machines abutted sleek jungle gym apparatuses. Men texted, their caveman thumbs in a blurred frenzy as they lie reclined on multi-angle bench presses, on one end of the space while women, fierce stares locked on themselves in the mirror, swung plastic coated kettlebells on the other. The whole scene engulfed in the fragrance of oily sweat, decaying metal, and quiet desperation.  A fitness instructor barked commands in exuberant tones in the distance while soccer moms scurried through the training floor, then visibly relaxed as they joined their flock in the group X room. I took an exaggerated breath in and out as I cleared my mind.

I walked to the nearest horizontal bar, jumped up, and closed my grip on the smooth powder coat.  After a few moments of enjoying the traction on my spine and shoulders I looked up at the bar, smoothly threw my legs up to grab it with my feet – a “Horizontal Foot Pinch” in MovNat language – then reversed the motion a few times, cautious to control my trajectory.  I let go and landed soft as a cat and transitioned into a Deep Squat as I began reaching toward invisible bananas. Already, simply because I was doing something different, I’ve caught the attention of the trainers and people began blatantly staring.  I chuckled to myself and flashed a brief warm smile their way.  “This is going to be interesting,” I mused to myself before I started loading plates onto a barbell. And so, the program began…

Key principles

Here’s a few quick and dirty details of how I’ll be structuring my training during this time:

Program Duration: 6 Week Block

A training “block” is a period of time where a goal or series of goals are prioritized over other goals.  After the block ends, a period of less structured training and rest commences before another focused block begins. This is an ideal strategy for intermediate to advanced practitioners who have already built a base of foundational skill.  It allows for more focus on particular qualities (speed, strength, or mobility, for example) or movements (crawling, lifting, jumping, climbing, for example).

For beginners, a more general program should be used to familiarize yourself with all the foundational movements and build more broad-based movement competence while preparing the body for more focused work down the road.

Emphasis: Full Body Strength and Power

Since I don’t train in a gym often, I rarely have access to barbells.  Therefore, my emphasis will be “strength and power” since barbells afford me the ability to work on these qualities in an easily incremental and quantifiable way. Soviet sport scientists and trainers used the sport of weightlifting for this exact purpose as they supplemented an athlete’s performance by eliminating deficits in strength/power (and increased potential for athletes whose sports were heavily strength/power oriented). That’s not to say I’ll just be using barbells or the movements that are best suited to them – it’s just the main convenience of an indoor gym, thus a good opportunity for personal growth.

Programming Style: Linear Periodization

Linear Periodization is the name for the classic X-shaped inverse graphical relationship between weight lifted (load or “intensity”) and number of repetitions per working set and/or overall (“volume”).  Essentially, I’ll start the program with high repetitions and low load, and work toward low reps and high load. I’ll begin and end the program with a “test” of intermediate reps at near maximal effort, and retest at the end of program to measure progress.

Structure:

  1. Warm Ups – 5 minutes of foundational Ground Movement
  2. Emphasis – 2 couplets – or “supersets” – of strength/power focused movements
  3. Combo – 3 rounds of diverse Natural Movements in a sequence
  4. Cool Down – 5-10 minutes of stretching/breathing)

This is the standard suggested structure for MovNat programming.  It’s a great way to include mobility enhancement/maintainance, skill and/or strength progression, conditioning, and variety.  More on that here.

Program

Pre-program test (Bodyweight: 198 pounds)

Strength

  • 8 RM (rep max) Barbell Back Squat: #225
  • 8 RM Barbell Deadlift: #235
  • 8 RM Loaded Dip: BW (Bodyweight) + #25
  • 8 RM Pull Up: BW + #20

Power

  • 5 RM Barbell Clean: #155
  • Forward Jump: 8.5 ft.
  • Open Hand Power Up RM: 2

Note: I did these at about 90% effort.  Meaning the last rep was difficult and about 25% slower than my other reps, but not such a max effort that I had to grind too hard or risked injury. I’ll use the same effort for the re-test at the end of the 6 weeks.

Week 1

Day 1 – Strength focused day 1

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Squat   (135#, 185#, 225#)                       3×8
A2: Upward Jump (2ft. box) to Downward Jump to Upward Jump (3ft. box)            3x3rounds

B1: Barbell Overhead Press (55#, 65# 75#)               3×12
B2: Pull Up                                                                  3×8/8/10

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

Day 2 – Power focused day 1

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Power Clean  (135#/135#/135#)             3×5
A2: Forward Jump (8ft)                                               3×5

B1: Hanging Leg Hook to Ceiling Reach                     3×5/side
B2: Clap Push Up                                                         3×5

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

Day 3 – Power focused day 2

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Snatch  (95#/95#/95#)                                                     3×5
A2: Upward Jump (4ft)                                                                       3×5

B1: Explosive Barbell Overhead Press (55#, 65# 75#)                       3×5 (light, for speed/power)
B2: Tuck Pop Up                                                                                  3×2

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

  • TRX jungle gym Traverse
  • Low Foot Hand Crawl under 2 rowers (16ft)
  • Upward Jump onto each rower (2)
  • Kettlebell Front Swing (10)

Day 4 – Strength focused day 2

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Deadlift   (135#, 185#, 225#)                                                                   3×8
A2: Zig zag Leg Swing jump to 6ft Forward Jump                                                      3x3rounds

B1: Weighted Dip      (BW +15#/15#/20#)                                                                            3×8
B2: Barbell Bent Over Row     (135#x3)                                                                      3×8

Combo (repeat 3x):

Then Airdyne :30/:30 light/intense for 5 minutes

Off days

Run and play in local parks and/or mobility focused sessions.

Week 2

Day 1 – Strength focused day 1

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Squat   (185# 225# 245#)                         3×6
A2: Hanging Swing Off 3ft to precision landing         3x3rounds

B1: Barbell Overhead Press (65#, 75# 85#)               3×10
B2: Pull Up                                                                  3×10/10/10

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

Day 2 – Power focused day 1

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Power Clean  (135#/145#/155#)             3×4
A2: Forward Jump (8.25ft)                                          3×4

B1: Hanging Leg Hook to Ceiling Reach                     3×5/side
B2: Clap Push Up                                                         3×5

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

  • Sideways Foot Hand Crawl (8ft/direction)
  • Rotational Rocking (1/direction)
  • Tripod Get Up (10)

Day 3 – Power focused day 2

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Snatch  (95#/95#/105#)                                                   3×4
A2: Upward Jump (4ft+)                                                                     3×4

B1: Explosive Barbell Overhead Press (75#x3)                                  3×5 (light, for speed/power)
B2: Power Up                                                                                      3×2

Combo (5 minutes continuous):

Day 4 – Strength focused day 2

Warm Up: Ground Movement (5 min)

Emphasis:

A1: Barbell Deadlift   (185#, 225#, 255#)                                                                   3×6
A2: Double Forward Jump (6ft/6ft)                                                                            3x3rounds

B1: Weighted Dip      (BW +20/30/45#)                                                                                3×6
B2: Barbell Bent Over Row     (155#x3)                                                                      3×8

Combo:

Then Airdyne :30/:30 light/intense for 7 minutes.

Off days

Run and play in local parks and/or mobility focused sessions.

Notes

1) For all my sets, I always start light and work to a challenging last “top” set.

2) Jumps are for height/distance on Power focused days, and for agility on Strength focused days.

3) One factor that never changes, no matter my training arena is the fact that I respect the power of organizing the training process. Which means I structure my training in a classic way (Sets, reps, training blocks, etc) despite practicing a non-traditional method. This is not to say I only do structured practices sessions, though. I also build in time for non-structured movement time including play, exploration, and extemporaneous fun. Nor do I advocate that my style is the only way to approach training.

I note this because many who seek out MovNat are often looking to “jailbreak” from the confines of modern gym fitness dogma and its often overly structured and/or stale programming. Many will scoff at my structured approach to MovNat during this time period, or see it as a digression from the roots of MovNat.  While I totally understand the sentiment, I’m still at a place in my life where I find organization and goal setting to be key to actually making tangible progress alongside the heightened state of flow and peace found in improvised movement.  The prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning/goal-oriented behavior) is also very natural part of our biology and behavior, after all.  To boot, sometimes its nice to be able to avoid scratching my head trying to figure out what to do each day :]

Before I digress further, let’s get started. And stay tuned for Part 2.

Next Steps

Just because you live in a concrete jungle, doesn’t mean you can’t practice natural movement. If you want to learn how to move naturally in any environment – natural or man-made – please join us for a MovNat workshop or certification soon. You’ll return home with a collection of movement skills you can practice anywhere you happen to be.


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  1. Danny, I think I recognize you from the Cobble Hill NYSC a couple weeks ago. My movement practice includes Feldenkrais and martial arts related work. If you’re still in Brooklyn and plan to be at the CobbleHill NYSC again, please let me know. Jeff

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