How to Escape the Zoo Human Predicament and Start Moving the Way Your Body Was Designed: The Ultimate Fitness & Movement Practice (According to Evolution)
by Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
Imagine yourself going for a walk in nature, maybe with a small group of close relatives and friends, except the time is 50,000 years ago. Your body structure is not different than today, but the world around you is completely wild. No road, cars, cities, restaurants, or malls, and no planes in the sky. You are a hunter-gatherer, occasionally a scavenger, and your hungry band is on its way to procure the most nutritious food in the greatest amount it can find.
You’re equipped with only primitive tools, although your body is in itself a remarkable piece of biological technology. It might or might not look muscular, lean, or “fit” by modern fitness standards, but it is certainly strong, nimble, agile, and resilient. On top of these highly desirable physical qualities and physiological adaptations, you also possess very sharp senses, acute alertness, and mental fortitude. Lastly, you have wit and experience, which are indispensable for planning effective survival strategies in a way that raw strength and brute thinking could never match. You might have to explore a broad territory, encountering diverse environments and varied weather conditions, so you can hunt or gather what is necessary for your group to survive. Whatever your survival strategies are, effective natural movements are what you need to be opportunistic, adaptable, and, most importantly, successful.
Why Your Body Needs Natural Movement To Thrive
Your way of life demands frequent, varied, and sometimes intense physical action. While long periods of resting and recovering are a vital component of survival, there is no room for perpetual slackers in this wild era and world. Your band is made of untamed, wild, primal individuals. In other words, you are a natural human, and performing Natural Movement is a daily necessity and reality. This is what the situation was for humans and early hominids for roughly three million years.
Then something happened about 12,000 years ago—a dramatic change in survival strategy that eventually profoundly affected the life of most human beings on Earth: the advent of agriculture. Although producing our own food was an undeniable survival advantage when it was combined with fishing, hunting, and harvesting wild foods, as it progressively became the main method of supplying food—along with raising animals—it also started to cause problems from a physical and movement perspective.
Humans didn’t need to wait until the advent of the information age—or even until the advent of the industrial age—to undergo a dramatic change in physical behavior; the change started with the agricultural age. By choosing to tend to fields, crops, and domesticated animals that mostly didn’t wander over large areas, the distances humans needed to cover were immediately reduced by a considerable amount. There was no need to “commute to work” by walking or running for miles and miles. The change went beyond the distances covered in a day, though; it also radically altered the diversity of movements we once performed routinely. Fields, which had been cleared of as many natural variables as possible, were artificial environments; trees (live or dead), stumps, unwanted vegetation, large rocks, and even bumps and depressions in the ground were cleared so land could be fully controlled and farmed. Fields were flat, linear, and predictable with little to no environmental complexity and diversity. Drastically altering the terrain also drastically modified our Natural Movement behavior.
Activities that were formerly necessary for daily living—running, jumping, balancing, crawling, and climbing—had become a rare occurrence. This is not to say that these movement patterns became totally absent—young children kept practicing them instinctually—but they were not the norm any longer. It also doesn’t mean that physical effort was eliminated; in fact, physicality might have become even more necessary than ever because old school farm work required almost constant physical effort. However, in comparison to the movement of the hunter-gatherer, the movement variety of the farmer had been extraordinarily reduced because of the changes to the environment where we moved and procured food.
If we look at the overall movement behavior of contemporary, yet still technologically primitive hunter-gatherers, we observe that they have maintained, by necessity, a broad movement repertoire—the full range of Natural Movement aptitudes including running, crawling, jumping, balancing, climbing, throwing, catching, lifting, carrying, and occasionally swimming. They may not perform all these movements with the same frequency and intensity—because those qualities depend on individual roles and ability and the environment where a given human group lives—but, overall, we can observe a greater diversity of natural movements than in agricultural populations.
Clearly, there is a phenomenal mismatch between today’s physical behaviors and those of our faraway ancestors and contemporary hunter-gatherer relatives. Having been physically and physiologically shaped by millions of years of Natural Movement in wild environments, a few millennia did not give our body enough time to genetically adapt to the circumstances of our modern way of life. This evolutionary mismatch is affecting our bodies, our health, our psychological states, and our lives. Evolution—or, if you prefer, millions of years of life in nature—has not only determined what we are capable of but also what our biology expects from us physically and mentally. Humans may not be completely out of place in the modern world we have created, but some of our evolutionary behaviors sure are.
Evolutionary Mismatch: The Zoo-Human Predicament
Let’s look at the typical physical behavior and movement habits in modern, civilized humans. What do we do when we wake up? We get out of bed and walk a few steps to the kitchen, where we sit for breakfast, or we go to the bathroom where we stand for a shower. Soon it is time to go to either school or work. We might have to walk a short distance to the car, the bus stop, or the train station. A minority of physically active people choose to take their bikes; yet even those who do travel by bike sit as they’re riding.
At school or work we immediately take a seat and start studying or working. At lunch time, we might stand up and walk a few steps to sit somewhere else until we return to work. Throughout the day, we might take a few breaks from sitting; at those times, we stand up and walk a few steps to go to the coffee machine (where we might stand and chat for a moment) or the bathroom (where we sit for a moment).
We return home the same way we traveled to school or work—probably sitting. We feel tired at the end of the day and need to sit on a couch to relax and entertain ourselves, or we might sit on a chair for more computer time, be it for extra work hours or to connect with other people on social media. Physically active people, which are a minority in today’s society, might go to a gym after work—traveling there by sitting in private or public transportation—and they work out while mostly sitting at exercise machines. Then we sit for dinner.
Eventually, we walk a few more steps to go to bed, sleep, and probably repeat the same pattern the next day. Apart from sitting, rising to a standing position, walking a few steps, and making some hand gestures for communication, what other movements have we performed?
When your main, if not exclusive, form of day-to-day natural locomotion is to slowly walk very short distances on flat surfaces and to be physically idle by sitting the rest of the day, from a biological perspective you’re in a state of movement poverty.
Where is the diversity, the variability, the frequency, the intensity, the efficiency, and the adaptability in movement that we’re evolutionarily capable of? Nowhere. It’s nowhere to be observed in the typical physical behavior of modern humans. Although this deficit of activity is viewed as “normal,” does that mean it is? Does it mean it’s natural? Is it healthy or desirable?
Have you been led to believe that movement is an option, or even a chore? Motion is not a sickness; however, no motion is loco. Most of us are stuck in a self-imposed “movement coma,” which has also become one of the most common self-prejudices of modern times. Not having to be physically active is no longer a luxury that only wealthy people can financially afford. It is an impoverishment of life that no one—rich or poor—can biologically afford. Physical sedentariness is a biological anomaly, an artificial behavior, a culture-inflicted imprisonment, and a destructive habit. A deficit of movement is not just a deficit of health and strength in our lives; it’s a deficit of life in our lives. We have to literally move our way out of it.
Is Your Lifestyle, Fitness Training, and Movement Practice Evolutionary?
It isn’t politically correct to state that our modern society is overall physically degenerated, even when it is clearly so. Just look at the alarming health statistics, which are trending further away from health.
How has modern comfort become so incredibly stressful and ill-adapted to our evolutionary background? A society with increasing medical technology yet declining health is still a society that merely survives. Living healthily is not just a biological necessity or a simple individual option anymore. It is a personal and social duty.
“Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, see your doctor. Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.” —Frank Forencich
Physical activity has well-documented health benefits, and actually any type of physical activity is better than complete physical idleness. But that is a backward statement. It should read, “Chronic physical idleness has well-documented health consequences.”
To temporarily alleviate, or even mask, physical and mental deficiency or suffering that has been caused by the mismatch between our ancestral and modern lifeways, we humans have invented a variety of coping mechanisms, and fitness training in its modern and most conventional forms is one of them. We are losing physical function not because we don’t know conditioning drills or corrective exercise, and not even because we don’t participate in sports, but because our lives lack the Natural Movement behavior we need.
The solution to the adverse health effects of poor lifestyle behaviors isn’t more medication and medical technology; it’s better behaviors, starting with, or at least including, how we move.
Although a truly natural approach to fitness comes from an evolutionary perspective, a true “evolutionary fitness” approach should involve practicing the full range of human movement skills that are evolutionarily natural. Evolution and biology should determine what you train, whereas observation, experimentation, and optionally science should determine how you train. Natural Movement is to fitness what organic and wild is to food.
But if getting people to move naturally was as simple as telling them to “go climb a tree” then millions would be at it already. Of course, the solution is not in a radical refusal of modern comforts and conveniences, in a “re-enactment” of the caveman lifestyle, or in a “primitive,” brutish way of exercising. The repackaging of a selection of so-called “functional,” conventional drills, even when wrapped with a trendy evolutionary rationale and primal-sounding name, is also irrelevant and gimmicky. Our evolutionary movement and physical potential is not an unevolved, outdated phenomenon that should stay stuck in the past. It’s still natural and relevant to us. Natural Movement has always been and will always be a timeless biological necessity. What we need is a well-thought-out, effective, systematic fitness method based on and involving the training of all evolutionarily natural movement aptitudes that also judiciously draws from exercise science to devise the most effective programs. Natural Movement is timeless, yet it has been ignored from modern fitness for way too long.
Passionate About Natural Movement
and Real World Fitness?
If you’d like to learn more and deepen your natural movement practice, consider attending the 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.
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.
Note: this article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.