How I Restored My Body, Got Stronger and More Capable Than Ever, and Earned My MovNat Level 3 Certification in the Process
By Diana Matula, Level 3 MovNat Certified Trainer
I had butterflies upon arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 2019 as I prepared to attend the MovNat Level 3 Certification. I had no idea what to expect or how difficult the tests would be, but I held on to my excitement and intuition that this was going to be the big next step in my life. I felt some shyness being one of only two women at Level 3, and felt grateful my coach Kimberly would be there helping lead the cert. Luckily, she’d encouraged me to attend because as she reminded me, “you never know what can happen.” Looking back, I’m so glad I took her advice and went for it.
I reflected on how my life had changed so much in less than a year. In May, I had completed the Level 1 and Level 2 certifications, having spontaneously decided to attend just a month in advance when I saw the upcoming events listed nearby in Portland. Then in August, I came back for the women’s only Combatives course. But MovNat had been on my radar for several years since hearing Erwan’s first interview on the Rewild Yourself podcast, with Danny and Stefano’s subsequent interviews reinforcing my interest.
I loved the idea of becoming a more resilient and capable human through Natural Movement, and the concept resonated deeply with me. I was struck by the way movement could be integrated with my love of nature and be used to build capability and skills I felt lacking in. My passion for ecological resilience had begun to merge with a quest for physical resilience, and MovNat offered an approach to connect with both.
I had been struggling with lower back pain for a while and had fear around lifting things or big movements that might aggravate it. At the time I was pursuing organic farming; but the work involved long hours of repetitive manual labor that made my body hurt. I rejected a career confined to a desk and knew I felt best getting lots of daily movement and outdoor time. Yet, I worried my body couldn’t keep up with farming or sustain the physicality of an outdoor job.
I was frustrated by my lack of ability compared to my active upbringing. I had grown up an athlete, competing in swimming, gymnastics, and volleyball for two decades. I had memories of being a wild child running loose on the farm I grew up on, barefoot and climbing trees until my parents called me in for dinner. My family went for week-long backpacking trips each summer in the Sierra Nevadas, and I had hiked 6-10 miles with a heavy pack since I was 8 years old. Why couldn’t I lift a wheelbarrow anymore, go trail running, or pick some beans without pain?
MovNat is way more accessible than I realized.
I eased into natural movement with Katy Bowman’s Restorative Exercise program. Learning a proper hip-hinge, beginning hanging, ceasing my rib thrusting, and transitioning to minimal footwear was the start of my journey. In hindsight, MovNat also provides those same resources. This was before their collaboration, Natural Movement Fundamentals course, which I highly recommend for beginners. I used the slow pace of Katy’s program as physical therapy to prepare for MovNat. Once I was comfortable with my alignment and gait, I could feel my body’s readiness to explore more movement.
By the time I set my sights on MovNat, I no longer had lower back pain nor owned any shoes with heels, and had finally ditched my old Chacos in favor of Earth Runners sandals. When I walked into the gym on the first day of my Level 1 certification and saw almost all the rest of the participants also either barefoot or in their Earth Runners, I knew I had found my crowd.
My people. My tribe.
I immediately loved it. Balancing on a 2×4 brought back the little kid in me who ran barefoot across logs and did tricks on a balance beam. Jumping over plyo boxes brought back childhood boulder scrambles and vaulting practice. Even though I had new compensations and some limitations that didn’t used to exist, the muscle memory was still there. I was hooked!
I didn’t reach a major hurdle until the elusive Tuck Pop Up. Here I encountered my first big limitation: upper body strength. I struggled through practice and even fell hard on the bar, bruising my chest, and scraped by on the test with a super shoddy Swing Pop Up (luckily women can opt for the Swing version instead of the Tuck). But I passed! Elated on my way home, I vowed to nail the Tuck Pop Up before I set foot at Level 3, which I was starting to contemplate.
Level 3 was a beast.
I wasn’t quite ready to commit; I still lacked confidence in my abilities to take things to a higher level. But once I was home, I went all in with my practice. I did ground movement all day long while working at the farm and quickly realized how the kneeling shuffle down the rows of crops I had always done was incredibly inefficient compared to fluid ground movement. I realized that the farming tasks I struggled with were not only possible to sustain, but actually supportive of my fitness if I learned proper technique. I began to enjoy my long days on the farm again and utilized every workday as a way to practice MovNat.
The Combatives course later that summer sealed the deal for me to commit to Level 3. The all-women’s environment was incredibly supportive for me to still feel comfortable and safe processing the skills we were learning and confronting hypothetical scary situations. I was also surprised how the aggressive nature of the movements felt fun and activated a competitive side of me that hadn’t shown until now. I felt ready for bigger challenges and wanted to further develop both my physical and mental resiliency.
I trained for the next month on a backyard obstacle course my husband helped me create, as well as barefoot running on my gravel road and at work on the farm, filling wheelbarrow loads and harvest buckets heavier and heavier each day. My training coincided with our family backpacking trip to the mountains a week before leaving for Level 3, where I practiced foot pinch climbs up pine trees, big boulder jumps, and uphill/downhill crawling in a wilderness setting that felt like the final preparation.
When we got home, I nailed my first solid Tuck Pop Up; proving the regressions I’d been practicing had indeed built the upper body strength I needed.
I feel so much more confident and capable and empowered in my body.
Once Level 3 arrived, I was ready to see what happened, having trained mainly outdoors and not in a gym. Like the other certs, my nerves dissipated once I met the group and felt the natural bond that comes when good people with similar interests face fun challenges together.
Right away, the magic of the experience was apparent, from the beautiful high desert ecology and epic sunsets to the feeling of moving freely in nature all day long and interacting with high quality humans on the landscape. As we walked barefoot silently up a creek bed, meeting at the top to quietly look out at the horizon, I felt my life purpose coming into greater clarity.
Luck was on my side with the first few tests. On the barefoot run, I noticed my feet had toughened so that I was flying along the sandy forested trail with surprising ease. I was able to keep up with the front of the pack and actually touched the finish line first. I also excelled on the rope traverse and quickly found a movement pattern that felt fluid and natural.
After the first day or two, the exhaustion began to set in and endurance became a bigger factor. I hadn’t practiced certain skills at such high difficulty, like narrow elevated precision jumping or balancing while carrying heavy loads. My jumping abilities were my biggest challenge as I hadn’t yet learned how to fully explode from the hips or land in a Deep Knee Bend, if needed.
During the final nature immersion, it was clear that I could keep up with this type of movement. Crawling through muddy creek beds and climbing barefoot up a cliff in the rain felt awesome. As the certification wrapped up, I knew I would return home with much to improve in technical skills. Yet, I had increased confidence in my ability to move well overall in challenging situations. I also felt my direction shifting as my interest grew towards sharing Natural Movement with others.
I started looking into how I could shift my career towards teaching Natural Movement, and I decided to get certified as a personal trainer to become more familiar with indoor equipment and reach more people. I joined a local facility with functional fitness and outdoor amenities that I thought would support my ability to incorporate MovNat into my training sessions.
After working as a trainer for almost a year becoming confident in the coaching role and practicing MovNat regularly with clients, I decided to complete my Level 3 certification. We reassembled the obstacle course in the backyard, and I did my best to replicate the tests. Time had flown by and it was 2 years later; by now I was stronger and more capable than ever and I completed the tests over one weekend.
As news spread that I was only the 6th female ever to complete the MovNat Level 3 certification, my passion grew exponentially to make MovNat feel more accessible to more women and anyone who might be intimidated by pursuing higher levels of MovNat.
My advice is this: if you’re considering Level 3, just go for it. I guarantee you’ll have a blast, and make some great friendships along the way. You have the rest of your lifetime to work up to passing the tests, and even multiple years later, you can come back to finish it!
About the Author
Diana Matula is a Level 3 MovNat Certified Trainer and NASM certified personal trainer at Club Northwest in Grants Pass, Oregon. Diana is also a clinical herbalist and loves to help people support their physical, mental, and emotional health through herbalism, Natural Movement, and rewilding practices. She is passionate about permaculture and regenerative agriculture, and loves gardening and homesteading in her free time as well as rock climbing, hiking, camping and all things outdoors. You can find her on Instagram at @dianagmatula
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