by Stefano Tripney, MovNat Master Trainer & Team Instructor
If you’re a fan of MovNat and Natural Movement, there comes a time when you want to bring your practice outdoors and start implementing a wider variety of skillsets, especially the ones that are harder to practice when training indoors is the only option. Getting outside offers the benefits of fresh air, sunshine (whether blue skies or grey), variable terrain, and most related to this particular subject, OBSTACLES to engage with! We all know where the local playground is, have passed that curb, that bench, that short wall, that rail, that hill, those stairs, and that same overhang so many times before. So what can we do with it all?
Seeing as though gait (walking and running) is already the most high volume movement we as humans engage in, let’s mix it up MovNat style! Try variations of gait like this Lateral Shuffle, Stepping Up, Stepping Down, Stepping Over, Stepping Under, Walking Split Squat or choose from more options here. But walking or running is just the beginning. There are so many beginner friendly skills that will allow you to both elevate and expand your physical competency and bring you closer to real capability.
We begin with balance, challenge our equilibrium, sharpen our internal senses, and foster the ability to regain control over our body when it matters most. Becoming better at balance is a long term investment and by adding this component to other skills will make you incredibly capable of a wide variety of real world applications.
Before we were on our feet, where were we? On a chair, bed, countertop? What about the ground? Our movement exploration expands into get ups, variations of low positions, and locomotion using other body parts. It’s where bipedalism becomes quadrupedal, your hands touch the ground, and you begin to change levels, transition, and crawl.
A more obvious skill that we encourage in an outdoor setting is jumping. Whether it’s to cover a distance, reach a height, or drop to a surface at a depth, jumping is highly practical and incredibly versatile. If you want to develop a set of springs you have to train them in a way that encourages elastic rebound, energy absorption, and power.
Related to jumping is vaulting, where another part of your body assists in moving you over an elevated obstacle whether from standing or at speed. This is often a hand but can be expanded to other parts of the body depending on the nature of the situation and environment.
For the final skill, let’s just give our legs and feet a break already and give some much needed attention north of the hips. Hanging, swinging, and climbing all have roots in out ancestry as cousins of the great apes and we owe it to our biology to use these artifacts of our evolution in a way that serves us in capacity and reinforces our integrity as a human animal.
Keep in mind that as your movement capability develops, so too will the way in which you see the world around you. This is what I’ve often referred to as “Obstacle Optics.”
Suddenly the once flattened out landscapes begin to develop texture and depth. What was once in the background is now center stage and beckoning to you to test your skill. This is when you build a new lens with which to see the greater space you’re a part of, your place in it, and where the obstacles become opportunities for personal development. Overcoming fear and doubt goes a long way toward building confidence and establishing a high degree of self esteem.
Some of the following Natural Movement skills will be either already known to you or within easy reach while others may take months or even years to achieve. This is but one of the many inspiring aspects of this practice whether as physical and mental training or seamlessly integrated into your lifestyle or both!
Balance is one of the key components of movement. If you are looking to improve ALL aspects of your capability, safety, and confidence – since you’re already technically balancing with every stride you take – let’s just slow it down a lot, and increase the time under tension. We’ll explore the subtle underpinnings of movement, taking the necessary time to get to know where each twitch and fumble occurs.
Balancing doesn’t need to be overly complex to elicit the desired attributes of control and safety. Simply standing or posting on a single leg can be an anytime anywhere drill. Where we can add quick complexity and intensity is when we start to reduce the area of the surface of support in relation to surface area of our feet (or other body part, but that’s later).
Standing or walking (or running) on a narrow surface like a curb, large stones, 2×4, ledge, rail, etc. is an accessible and simple way to implement a balance element into your current activity.
Try these drills:
Balanced Forward and Backward Walking – Simple concept yet increasingly more challenging as the surface of support gets smaller.
Pivot Reverse – This allows a quick reversal of orientation. Stay on the balls of the feet, turn with your hips, and look in the direction you are now going. And here is a slower, more controlled variation called the Cross Reverse.
Balanced Split Squat – Change levels with this balanced variation of a common and popular movement. Again, maintain posture and keep an even weight distribution between your front and rear foot.
Balanced Tripod Transition on a 2×4 or on an Elevated Surface. Getting proficient with the tripod transition is essential as it will provide the foundation for many more advanced skills as your practice develops.
Get Ups and Crawling
One of the most basic of concepts and so under-appreciated is the ability to get up and down off the ground effectively, and then ever more efficiently. Furthermore, you want to have the option of using your hands or not. As your proficiency improves, a load can be added as a Chest Carry or Shoulder Carry allowing you to practice the Get Ups in preparation for a more realistic situation.
A great beginner get up is the Tripod Get Up that takes advantage of a hand on the ground and allows you to change level with control, even when managing a load.
This Squat Get Up can be assisted by the hands or through generating momentum from a roll. It’s an excellent option when getting up from a laying supine position and allows you to maintain orientation and visual contact. It’s another hands-free option, too, allowing you to use your hands to protect, hold, catch, throw, or operate tools.
In my humble opinion, crawling is one of the best bang-for-your-buck overall strengthening movement skills there are. I think the Foot Hand Crawl and Inverted Crawl are two of the best examples representing both the anterior and posterior planes of our body respectively. It makes everything more stable and strong literally from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes.
We know that environment plays a big role in how we move. So, practicing crawls while understanding the importance of context can go a long way to encourage playing with the skills in different ways. Flat and open spaces are a good start but taking advantage of real world obstacles will pique imagination and bring you closer to your true potential.
Hills, stairs, any incline or decline …and yes, even balanced on the same 2×4, rail, or any narrow surface!
Check out these two crawls and a way to transition between them.
Foot Hand Crawl – great for moving low, sneaking up on something, up a steep slope, moving under an obstacle with speed, or for increased stability on an unstable surface.
Inverted Crawl – the perfect skill to have when moving down a steep slope, moving low and maintaining visual contact, or quick locomotion from a supine position.
Tripod Transition – use this to transition between the two above crawls. Keep in mind that you’ll see and use this a lot during your practice so get to know it early. This will expand to balance, get ups, vaults, and even climbing! Amazing, right!?
What qualifies as a jump? Realistically, any amount of displacement of your body that requires both feet off the ground simultaneously would be considered a jump. Covering a distance that is beyond the measure of your stride length would require such a skill. However, whether it is hopping over a puddle, bounding from one obstacle to the next, leaping upward onto an elevated surface, or dropping a distance downward to a lower support, it is the LANDING that we want to emphasize. Making it back to terra firma safely is our primary concern.
The best advice when it comes to jumping is this: don’t try to jump too far right away. Remember, it’s the landing we want to manage and develop moreso than the jump itself. Covering greater distance with a jump will come very naturally as your confidence builds and this trust in yourself and your ability increases and as your landings become safer, softer, and more stable.
Leg Swing Jump – perfect for a short distance, just outside of your natural stride length. Use it to hop a puddle or over an obstacle. Remember to synchronize both your arms and the swinging leg.
Forward Jump or progression to a Double Forward Jump – If the distance calls for it and you have no way to run or generate momentum, this is your tool. Set up a target for more accuracy and precision.
Split Jump – When the distance is even greater, sometimes some more momentum is required, and this jump that utilizes both bodyweight transfer and shifting will get you there.
Upward Jump – use this to jump to an elevated surface of support.
We hear it often. Vaulting can be scary and seemingly lays outside the realm of possibility or courage of the casual practitioner. Luckily, this is rarely the case, and people who have created this mental construct are very often surprised at how something once so off limits to them can become a viable part of their movement repertoire.
Vaulting is unique in that it can often demonstrate aspects of crawling, climbing, and jumping all in one and seemingly at the same time or in a rapid succession. This can be confusing and may look more complex than it actually is. Finding a starting place and building on the necessary foundation will go a long way in preparing you to vault. We each have our own progression and as your practice evolves so will your tool kit of vaulting options.
Three options for the novice vaulter are shown below at both full speed and a regression from standing.
All good climbing skills are built on a solid foundation of optimal hanging. Hanging then begets swinging, eventually leading to ever more skills of advanced complexity and difficulty. At this point it is crucial to remember that climbing techniques lay at near the top end of movement skills and can take awhile to develop. An analogy I use to remind someone of the progression of climbing is this. It took a while for you to develop the necessary strength and balance to stand up on two feet. But once you did, walking, running, and the continued spectrum of bipedal activities soon followed. The same holds true with climbing. Hanging is to climbing as standing is to walking, running, jumping, vaulting, etc. Time spent hanging pays back huge dividends. Be patient and consistent and the rest will come in time.
Below I’ve listed several climbing skills in order of relative intensity and complexity.
Side Hang and the progression to Side Hang Scap Pulls – This position has you parallel to the overhead surface of support. Both hands are facing away, a very common position. The scap pull sets the shoulders in an optimal position and prepares them for the tasks ahead.
Front Hang and progression to Front Hang Scap Pulls – Similar to the above hang but this time you are oriented in such a way so that you are perpendicular to the surface of support overhead. Again, the scapular pull will prepare your shoulders for the demands of climbing.
Front Hang to Foot Pinch – Need to get your feet up in order to climb or give your hands a bit of a rest? This is the move and it is the beginning phase of the skills that will get you above the bar or tree limb!
Sliding Swing Up – The first of the swing up series, this movement requires you to get close to the surface of support and use momentum from the swinging leg to give ample upward forces.
Hand Swing Up – A continuation and the fastest of the swing ups, this will allow you to get above the surface of support in a hurry!
Tuck Pop Up – A real power movement where position is paramount, this skill will allow you to climb atop virtually anything! Walls, tree limbs, fallen trees, bars, scaffolding, rock summits, overhangs, side of the boat, you name it!
Power Up – The pinnacle of speed and power, this movement is serious and gets you up in one swift movement. Don’t blink!
Putting It Together
There are numerous ways in which to structure your sessions or add them into your every day habits, errands, playtime and even idle time. If you add them into your walks or runs you can fit them in any order you want to or is most convenient, the important thing is you DO them.
They can be somewhat random and opportunistic:
- Work on some balance, get ups, and crawls for 10-20min and then finish with a walk or run.
- Complete 30m (100’) of crawling and then hit the trails or pavement.
- Hang for as long as you can, next do 5 minutes of ground transitions from sitting to kneeling to squatting, then you’re out the door
- Balance on the curb for the first or last block, or on the rocks leading towards or away from the trail, or following the lines or cracks of the concrete, one foot directly in front of the other.
- 10m of your choice of crawl, balance for 30seconds, 5x jumps, 5x climbing movement, hang, or swing.
- Whenever you need rest, do so in a Deep Squat or Deep Knee Bend.
The MovNat Combo
Another strategy is to use a slightly more structured approach. We at MovNat use what we call a Combo as a conditioning circuit to develop strength, stamina, endurance, mobility, mental focus, and to keep our skills sharp. The idea of the Combo is to pick 2-5 movement skills, assign repetitions or time to each skill, then perform them one after the next for rounds or time.
You can do a MovNat Combo yourself at anytime before, during, or after your walk/run. Here are two examples:
- Foot Hand Crawl : 10m
- Prone Get Up : 3x/side
- Leg Swing Jump : 8x alternating : target landings optional
- Side Hang to Scap Pull : 8x
Again, whether you do the combo at the beginning, end, or somewhere in between, the important thing is you are doing it. Consequently you are providing a more balanced approach to your physical preparedness.
Be aware that the goal of the Combo is not to go to failure at any of the skills or movements but instead practice for efficiency of movement. A good intensity is to keep everything at about 80% max effort, rest as you need, and adjust the rest periods to ensure you are maintaining good form. Click here to see a nice demo video explaining more about how to setup and use the MovNat Combo in your training. Click here to see another outdoor specific tutorial.
This is where you insert the MovNat skills or Combo into the middle of your walk/run. This is a great option if you have a destination like a park, playground, forest area, or field that you can walk or run to, practice the skills, then return home.
Maybe you want to emphasize the development of one particular skill over the others. It could be a sticking point to your development, a skill that requires more strength building, mobility, endurance, or just one that you find extremely satisfying or challenging when you do it.
If your grip strength and shoulders need some foundational work to assist in more advanced climbing movements, maybe adding 3-5 sets of timed hangs to your run. Hang until you are tired, rest, then repeat. Again, you can do this anytime before, during, or after. Whatever suits you!
Building a game or adding a fun aspect of imagination or play into your run can be a great way to improvise and leave a bit of the control to an outside source. Completely random and hilariously engaging. Here are some examples.
If You See Something, Do Something.
This is full-on opportunistic style engagement with your landscape. If you pass something you can hang on, hang on it! If you see something to step under that challenges you, step under it. If you are waiting for something (like traffic lights), balance on one foot. Take the stairs, skip as many as you can, walk backwards or on your tip toes, or jump them. Crawl up or down that hill. Jump over that gap.
Don’t Step On the….
Avoid stepping on or touching whatever you deem worthy of your scrutiny. Cracks, corners, lines, leaves, certain colors, any and all artifacts real or imaginary. Or, for contrast, ONLY step on and/or touch the aforementioned features. Be completely random or take it even further by creating hand and footwork patterns which now challenge accuracy and cognitive function.
Hit The Deck!
Maybe you want to get down to the ground as fast as you can whenever you see or hear a particular object or sound. For example, if you see a pickup truck you have to stop where you are, get down on the ground and up again quickly using one of the get ups from above. Maybe while you are down there you can crawl or transition to different sitting, kneeling, or squatting positions until the trigger object is gone.
Get Out There
The formats outlined offer a great way to get out and start using the skills that we teach. Of course, there are more ways to structure your sessions and many many more skills to employ. Oftentimes we just need a starting point and a little bit of direction and inspiration to get moving but once the momentum begins to gather it becomes a never ending journey of learning, discovery, and continued progress!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it and encourage others to get moving naturally. If you’re looking for more, we’ve got you covered.
Have you heard about MAPS? It stands for MovNat Adaptive Practice Sessions and it’s a fantastic resource for adding more MovNat strength, skills, and conditioning Combos into your life! Every week you will receive 3 fully programmed MovNat Practice Sessions in your inbox. Completely free!
We know there is a lot to (re)learn and it can be overwhelming at times but we’re here to help! Nothing beats hands on learning with a MovNat Certified Trainer. Look here to find the MCT or MCT’s nearest you.
If you’re already getting the bug and you want a deeper dive, we’ve got expert instruction happening at our very popular Workshops in locations the world over. For those that want to become part of the change we so deeply need, we’ve got Certification Courses all over the globe that will provide the tools necessary to teach and help others.
For those with limited access to live events we’ve been offering MovNat Online Coaching for almost two years now and it has been nothing short of awesome! If you’ve been on the fence with this, vault off now and learn more.
About the Author
Stefano Tripney is a MovNat Master Trainer and Team Instructor. He creatively bridges the inner workings of the mind and body with our collective external landscapes in order to explore, learn, experience, and play with the world and our place in it. Having studied various martial arts and training modalities over the years, he considers MovNat to be the synthesis of ultimate practicality and sound principles. He is known for his bright energy and ability to inspire mindful execution, technical skill, physical competence and limitless creativity in his clients and classes.