By Danny Clark, Performance Director & Master Instructor
Years ago, Erwan Le Corre famously quipped that a true “beach body” was one that could swim, run, jump, and perform the full spectrum of natural movements required to move in a beach environment. His point was that we’ve become so disconnected from our natural abilities that we’ve lost all sight of what forges a timeless, healthy body – one that is attractive and feels great due to the capability it radiates; not just way it looks.
At MovNat, we stand behind that notion to this day. Ideally, through the development and refinement of Natural Movement skills, we would have you reclaim that child-like freedom of energy, drive, and inner fortitude that compels you move in order to discover the world around you. And, in doing so, you (and your body) change. When approached in this way, it’s a very natural process that begins with rebuilding competence in fundamental movements. The point is that improving physical aesthetics isn’t a primary focus of MovNat training, but it becomes a by-product of the mindset and practice. But, that’s just one trail amid many possibilities.
I can’t emphasize this enough: At MovNat, we don’t judge your motivations for embarking on a more movement rich journey. Nor do we judge your starting point or fitness “level.” We simply offer many paths that meet you where you are and help you connect to your true nature; a state where you are thriving at all levels.
That said, here are some common circumstances where a more direct fitness-focused and/or body composition-focused approach is most warranted (versus a skill-focused approach):
- When time is of the essence, i.e. you want to reach a peak physical state as efficiently as possible due to an upcoming event, such as the coming of summer, a vacation, or something else.
- You’ve been focusing so much on skill development (competence) and fine tuning that you’ve neglected your actual fitness (capacity). Remember, capability = competence + capacity.
Many times, those in the latter category don’t ever pursue fitness out of fear of discomfort or lack of knowledge in programming. So, this article will help remedy both situations, plus shed some light on the versatility of the MovNat method; and demonstrate that, yes, you can get a “beach body” with Natural Movement.
Before we talk theory and application, let’s talk misconceptions. Many are skeptical that the practice of Natural Movement can actually create dramatic fitness and body composition changes because of these 3 top misconceptions:
Misconception #1 – MovNatters are already fit people who just like to frolic in the woods. You need other methods to get fit.
False. We have countless examples of proof to the contrary; people who have gone from zero to hero(ine) purely through the MovNat method, with every possible body type and by training in every possible environment (e.g. nature, gym, home etc.). We just don’t advertise it much because our focus is on capability over aesthetics.
Here are some examples of a few MovNat students who have transformed their body’s with Natural Movement:
Note: Click here to read Clint Bauer’s MovNat Success Story.
Misconception #2 – MovNat movements can only be done in nature, or in a certain way in the gym.
False. MovNat has its roots in nature and it’s “signature” programming style (which can be found here: Anatomy of a MovNat Practice Session) which emphasizes skill development in tandem with fitness development via Emphases and Combos. But, there’s no reason the movements can’t be programmed to put much more emphasis on fitness development. We harp on this point in our certifications, and this article will help bust this myth.
Misconception #3 – MovNat isn’t as demanding as method X,Y, or Z. Therefore, it can’t help me develop elite level fitness.
We would generally steer most people who just want to be healthier and more capable away from “elite level fitness,” because the evidence [1,2] suggests this is not a place of optimal health for your heart or joints. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Many other methods use natural movements, such as lifting, crawling, climbing and throwing – albeit in a very high volume and/or high intensity way. It’s all in how you program the movements. In fact, our founder, Erwan Le Corre, has worked with special forces operators, Crossfit Games athletes, and world champion level martial artists – and has classically demonstrated that MovNat movements, especially the ones not typically utilized by other methods, can challenge and even outright exhaust all of these groups beyond their current fitness level. Again, it’s all in the programming, and it’s very simple to adjust the training variables (volume, intensity, complexity) of a MovNat workout to increase the challenge.
Its all about Energy
Now that we’ve cleared the air on misconceptions, let’s start talking details on how to forge a capable, healthy, and fit physique in a time efficient manner. The key question becomes…
“What type of movement demands elicit the adaptations that lead to increased fitness and better body composition?”
The answer: Well, adaptation boils down to your internal ecology, i.e. the flow of energy inside your body. What’s especially important is energy metabolism, which is the way energy (mainly in the form of fat and sugars) is stored, released, and broken down for the purpose of movement.
This is key: The process of becoming more efficient at moving – through training and/or lifestyle changes – requires your body to become less efficient at storing energy for the long haul (i.e. excess body fat) and more efficient at rapidly mobilizing and utilizing it for your movement tasks. In other words, more movement usually means less body fat, more muscle, and better fitness. But if we are looking to make changes in a time efficient manner, it isn’t always as simple as “move more.”
We also need to consider the various pathways by which your body processes energy for movement. To keep things simple, let’s avoid the wormhole that is bioenergetics. Instead, think about it in terms of survival: The more you move, and the more variability in your movement demands, the more your body and all its energy systems become stimulated and conditioned for day to day survival and performance. And this state implies fitness (i.e. the capacity) and a healthy body composition (metabolic efficiency, muscle mass).*
Practicing a variety of movement tasks requires different types of effort, or intensities. Proportionally, our energy pathways are designed (or have been “selected”) to be predominantly for long duration, rhythmic movements – the “all day” moderate-to-low intensity type tasks such as hunting and foraging that required lots of locomotion (e.g. walking, ground movement, crawling, etc). But we also have highly developed energy pathways for rapid spikes in movement task intensity, such as sprinting, jumping, lifting/carrying heavy objects, fighting, and playing games. So, because our bodies have historically been shaped by a wide variety of movement demands, we need a combination of both types of movement intensities.
In summary, by simply stepping away from our modern, movement-deprived lives and starting to include more motion in our everyday habits, we open up the opportunity to move more in sync with our biology. Further, when we consider the movements tasks that shaped our inner energy ecology, we can gain key insights that can help rapidly bring us back to our truest, most natural state – and make dramatic changes to our fitness and body composition in the process.
Programming for Optimal Adaptation
Now that we understand the basics of energy metabolism and the need for diverse movement tasks, the next question becomes…
“How do we optimally “dose” the various movements intensities (long duration at low intensity and short duration at high intensity) to become more fit and improve our body composition in the fastest way possible?”
Well, that’s a question of programming, which is how you organize the volume (i.e. how much time, distance, repetitions, etc.) and intensity (i.e. how much effort) of your movement sessions to ensure you get the optimal amount of stimulation within a day, a week, a month, and beyond to achieve the desired goal. Programming is just as much of an art as a science because each person’s ability to adapt to physical stress is a bit different and depends on their starting point and age, among other factors. But we can work off a few basic principles to guide us.
Programming Principle #1 – Overload
In order to stimulate adaptation (changes in fitness & body composition), the demands of your training must be beyond your current fitness level. Training and/or lifestyle changes must meet minimum thresholds of volume and intensity to stimulate change. For a person new to training, that could simply mean moving more, even at low intensity and volume. For a more conditioned person, higher volume and intensity will be required. Joel Jamison, a renowned strength and conditioning expert says “the majority of people who aren’t professional athletes should only train at the highest volumes and intensities two times per week.”  I generally agree, and for moderately conditioned people, I’ll often create a 2-3 day/week program for higher intensity training (2x/week for long term goals, 3x/week for shorter term goals), with another 2-3 days of low intensity training – or just more casual, enjoyable movement explorations.
Programming Principle #2 – Recovery
Adaptation happens during rest (i.e. between movement sessions, including sleep periods). The demands of your program need to include sufficient rest in order to be effective. Practice must be optimized to elicit change without causing harm or stagnation in the long run. For a fitness and body composition oriented program, I usually recommend at least 1 full day of rest, and underscore the importance of at least 8 hours of total sleep each day. Without adequate rest and recovery, the overload we accumulate from training may eventually lead to stagnation, illness, or injury.
Programming Principle #3 – Progression
As your fitness level increases, your overall training intensity (i.e. required effort) and volume (e.g. time, repetitions, distance) will need to increase to continue stimulating adaptation. There are many different ways to accomplish this. One of the simplest ways is to shorten the rest periods and/or increase the loads you use during your high intensity sessions and increase the time (i.e. total duration) for your low intensity sessions. It’s important to ramp up the progression slowly, and monitor your state of readiness (i.e. levels of soreness, energy, heart rate, motivation, etc.) as a “feedback loop” for tweaking your program. Basically, you need to keep challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone to keep making progress.
Programming Principle #4 – Variety
New movement tasks automatically stimulate adaptation because your body uses more energy as it tries to figure out how to perform the task with efficiency. It also ensures you don’t specialize so much that you start getting over-use injuries. Movement variety should be a part of your program to match your need for progression, fun, and the development of fitness in all the key skill domains that are used in the real world. MovNat’s huge movement pool makes variability in training easy, and adding some environmental complexity can also cause the same effect.
In summary, a solid program for improving fitness and body composition would include 2-3 days of higher intensity, short duration movement (1/2 hour each session is usually sufficient); 2-3 days of lower intensity, long duration movement (1 hour at a time is a good dose), have some progression and variability built into it, and also have enough recovery to ensure you don’t burn out.
I find the most important step is to just get started, and adjust as needed to match your individual needs.
How to Structure Your Training Sessions
The last variable to address is how to structure each of your training sessions. Here’s a few examples of some valuable tools that make training fun, easy to progress, and naturally high in intensity:
MovNat Signature Tool: The Combo
Set your timer for a set interval (3-10 minutes), choose a few natural movements, and move continuously through them for the interval without stopping. Specify the repetitions of each movement in advance, or just move through a pre-selected “route.” Rest and repeat until the session is over (1/2 hour total). Progression happens by increasing the interval length, or increasing the number of rounds you complete in the interval. Or, by increasing the challenge of individual movements within the combo (e.g. adding weight, increasing distance, speed, or complexity, etc.).
Example Combo – 3-5 rounds of a 5 minute interval of the following sequence:
- Backward Sprawl or Backward Sprawl from Kneel – 6x
- Foot Hand Crawl – 5m, then Foot Elbow Crawl – 5m
- Figure Four Get Up – 3x/side (add load for more intensity)
- Side Swing or Side Swing Traverse – 8x/side, or Side Hang – as long as possible
Rest 2-3 minutes between combos.
The Classic Interval
Set an interval timer for a specified work period (say, 30 seconds) and rest period (say, 15 seconds). Repeat for a desired total interval (say 5 minutes). Rest for a few minutes, then repeat until the session is over.
Example Interval – 3-5 rounds of the following 5 minute interval
- Foot Hand Crawl – 30 seconds
- Rest – 30 seconds
Repeat 5x and rest 2-3 minutes between intervals
A specified interval of 20 seconds of work at maximum intensity then 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8x. Multiple tabatas can comprise a single session.
Example Natural Movement Tabata with one movement:
Repeat 8 times:
- Forward Jump – 20 seconds
- Rest – 10 seconds
Or, with two natural movements, alternated:
Repeat 4 times:
Pick 2-3 movements and work toward a set number of repetitions in a descending or ascending format. For example, 1 rep to 10 reps (1 rep for each movement, then 2, then 3, etc.), or 10 –> 1 (same structure, but in reverse). Complete as many ladders as needed (with a few minutes rest between them) to fill your session.
Start with 10 repetitions of each, then 9, then 8…and continue until zero is reached. Rest 2-3 minutes and repeat 2-3 more times.
Each of these example practice structuring tools can be used as a stand-alone, or combined with each other to make engaging, fun, and progressive sessions. The intensity at which you practice (80% vs. max effort) can be increased as fitness and skillfulness at the movements increases. Intervals can include lifts, such as Deadlifts, Push Press, etc. at varying intensities.
Here’s a few examples of structuring sessions for long duration, low intensity movement:
- A multi-mile walk
- A light jog for 30 minutes to an hour
- An hour playing with your kids
- An hour or more of household chores
- A hike, with or without some impromptu MovNat practices on found obstacles
- Balancing practice
- Ground Movement practice
The interesting thing about these type of sessions is they may include activities you already do and hopefully enjoy. The only change may be considering how to organize your sessions to meet minimum weekly thresholds, plus adding variety. Ultimately, the mindset of viewing these types of tasks as key aspects of your health and fitness training can greatly contribute toward meeting your goals, feeling your best, and ingraining more movement into your lifestyle.
Understanding energy metabolism principles and how to program movement sessions for fitness and body composition takes some practice. Frankly, it’s not for everyone. Start playing with all these tools, or simply leave the programming to us via MovNat Online Coaching or one of our MovNat e-courses!
Here’s an example to get you going.
Example: 1 week of a MovNat Metabolic focused program
Note: This program is just an example for illustrative purposes. Depending on your starting point and fitness level, this program may be too easy, meaning it won’t elicit the necessary adaptations to improve fitness or body composition. Or, it could be too hard, meaning it’s inaccessible and/or even unsafe for your current ability.
Three mile hike
5 minute Foot Hand Crawl Interval (:30 work, :30 rest) with two minutes rest.
5 minute Side Swinging Interval (:30 work, :30 rest) with two minutes rest.
5 minute Strength Get Up Interval (:30 work, :30 rest) with two minutes rest.
5 minute Running Interval (:30 work, :30 rest) with two minutes rest.
30 minute light jog in the morning. Short play session with family in the afternoon/evening.
1 hour hike
5 minute Combo
Rest two minutes, then repeat 4x.
Rest, or just a few minutes of light ground movement. Low intensity walking is always acceptable too.
Assuming you are challenging yourself adequately, a simple routine like this will dramatically improve your fitness and body composition. Of course, the best results will come when you tailor your program – based on your abilities – to meet your unique needs and goals. In our various resources – such as our free MAPS workouts, MNOC, and e-courses – we include workouts which include using a warmup, emphasis, combo, and cool down, plus various degrees of goal-focus and customization.
Finally, dial in the rest of your life to support your movement lifestyle
At MovNat, we teach the movement piece of the puzzle and that’s all. We truly believe when you live a lifestyle that includes more Natural Movement, much else falls into place on its own. But here’s some simple healthy lifestyle tips from your author.
Don’t starve yourself repeatedly to a state of extreme famine, then fight hormonal deficiencies and weight swings from metabolic damage.
Don’t move or exercise often, but ignore the importance of adequate calorie intake and other factors that contribute to your overall state of health (such as avoiding smoking, excessive drinking, etc.).
Don’t specialize in one or a few tasks that limit the breadth of your Natural Movement practice.
Don’t push yourself into pain.
Do be easy, patient, and accepting with yourself and your progress.
Do strive to move with grace and ease.
Do move for reasons higher than yourself. To be helpful to others. It helps, especially when things get tough.
Do get comfortable with moderate to high discomfort. That’s how your body adapts, if the dose is right and the rest is sufficient.
Do eat enough food to support energy turnover and the production of key hormones that keep you strong, happy, and healthy.
Do choose mostly whole foods, but not to the point of an obsession that leads to isolation. Shoot for 80-90% on target.
Do enjoy the process, and commit to some practice or program for at least a full 4 weeks before changing course.
MovNat Metabolic E-Course
Want a complete fitness program designed to transform your body using Natural Movement? Stay tuned for our upcoming e-course, MovNat Metabolic, scheduled for release later this month!
 Laddu, D, et. al. 2017. 25-Year Physical Activity Trajectories and Development of Subclinical Coronary Artery Disease as Measured by Coronary Artery Calcium: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(11): 1660-1670.
 Jones, BH, et al. 1994. Exercise, training and injuries. Sports Medicine 18(3): 202-214
 Jamieson, Joel 2018. The Ultimate Conditioning Template <https://www.8weeksout.com/