By John Sifferman
For a long time, I never actually thought of the Power Up (aka Muscle Up) as a natural movement. In my mind, it was more of a cool stunt than a real world fitness tool. I also figured you could get the same conditioning benefits from pull-ups, dips, and other simpler exercises that don’t have such a steep learning curve. So, I never learned how to Muscle Up / Power Up until I had to practice it for the MovNat Level 3 Certification. I’m glad I did, and not just because some people think it’s a cool stunt.
Power Ups are one of dozens of natural movements taught in the MovNat Level 3 Certification curriculum. And you guessed it: it’s an advanced climbing movement that takes skill and patience to acquire. Going into my certification event, I knew from a little sleuthing that there’s a good chance I would be tested on this movement. But I didn’t know exactly what that test would entail.
From my prior experience at the MovNat Level 1 and Level 2 certifications, I knew that there are specific minimum standards for all three certification levels, some of which are adjusted for age and gender. I also knew each successive course requires higher levels of adaptability and that there would likely be an element of the unknown during our test times. Because that’s how life in the real world can be. Unpredictable. Unexpected. But you’ve still got to move! And MovNat does a great job of incorporating the concept of adaptability into all of their programs.
Given that the official Level 3 certification tests are purposefully different every event, I figured it wasn’t enough to simply be able to do one Power Up on a nice smooth pull-up bar. For all I knew, one of my Level 3 tests could have required doing one clean Power Up, or perhaps a few reps non-stop. It could have been done on a standard pull-up bar, a thick bar, a tree branch or even a wooden beam with rough edges (e.g. 2×6 rafter) – each situation requiring a slightly different technique. Plus, it may have been a standalone test (e.g. just doing Power Ups from a dead hang position) or as part of a combination of movements. And we wouldn’t know what our evaluations would involve until test time.
So, here’s one of the many tests we completed at the Level 3 certification I attended last year. It was the following sequence of movements that finished with a Power Up.
Step 1) Forward Jump from an Elevated Box to a Wall.
Here I am in the middle of my test…
Step 4) Reverse your orientation on the beam (I used the Cross Reverse technique), take a few more steps, then perform a controlled fall to simulate losing your balance and catching yourself on the bar with your hands/elbows and knees/feet (aka Balancing Fall Recovery).
That was one of the ten physical evaluations we undertook at my Level 3 Certification. And you probably noticed it tested a variety of movement skills and capacities.
Now, when I first heard the parameters of this test and Master Instructor, Danny Clark, walked us through the sequence of movements, I thought it would be an “Easy A.” These were all movements I was quite familiar with and well-conditioned for. I had actually first learned the Power Up nearly a year before, and gradually built up my skill and conditioning since then. Plus, earlier in the day, I had performed a set of five consecutive Power Ups on the exact bar we’d be testing on. So, in my mind, I was good to go!
However, this was one of two tests I failed at the certification event. Because as it turned out, I just couldn’t do the Power Up when I needed to.
So, why did I fail? It could have just been a fluke thing, but the reality is I wasn’t prepared for testing on a thick, and more importantly, slippery bar. Having completed the whole movement sequence and getting into the final Dead Hang position, I attempted the Power Up three times before finally giving up and letting go of the bar – failing the test.
That one environmental factor, sweaty palms on an already slippery bar, made my performance decrease from “5 easy reps” earlier in the day to not even able to complete one repetition.
And this is one of many reasons why MovNat teaches a wide variety of natural movements. Because in certain contexts, situations, or environmental conditions, your “go-to” movement may not work. You may need to adapt.
Now, practicality and adaptability aren’t the only reasons why it’s important to acquire a wide variety of movement skills; there are immense physiological benefits to be derived from this broad approach to training as well.
I mean, think of all the health and fitness benefits that are possible from a holistic movement practice that includes lifting, jumping, balancing, swimming, running, and crawling, among all the other Natural Movement skills. You can get both broad and deep results from training all these skills and the capacities to perform them well. But from a practical standpoint, sometimes, there’s only one movement that will do the job. In the case of my test, the job was to get on top of that bar using a Power Up. But it could be to balance across a fallen tree, hop a fence or across river stones, quickly crawl through a tight space to safety, or fight your way out of an angry mob.
Regardless, the more movements you’ve learned and practiced in a wide variety of environments and contexts, the more prepared you will be for the unexpected. The more adaptable you become, the more capable you become. And the more diversified your movement practice, the more complete your fitness will be, too.
MovNat has taught me there are many ways to climb on top of a horizontal surface like a bar or tree branch, including several easier and more efficient techniques than the Power Up. And not only does each movement provide specific physiological benefits, each skill works best in a specific context or environment as well.
For example, I’ve learned that the thicker the surface is that I’m hanging from (e.g. wide tree branch instead of a thin pull-up bar), the more difficult Power Ups become. But Roll Ups make for an easier alternative when you’re hanging from a really thick surface. And like Power Ups, Roll Ups come with their own unique set of physiological benefits, particularly for the musculature surrounding the core.
See what I mean?
And here’s the thing: this concept isn’t limited to the climbing skills mentioned above. Not only does each natural movement and training protocol offer unique benefits from both a physiological and practical standpoint, but there’s also a powerful synergy that coalesces when you practice the full spectrum of Natural Movement.
Now, the truth is most people will never truly need to do a Power Up in their everyday life. But the journey of learning a difficult Natural Movement skill is worth the effort – and not just for the new abilities and physiological benefits. And that’s true whether you’re working on a so-called “advanced” movement skill like the Power Up or a fundamental movement like the Dead Hang. If it challenges you, there’s a huge opportunity for growth.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the MovNat Team Instructors who are incredible, highly-skilled movers and teachers, and all-around awesome people. I am also equally inspired by those folks who are just getting started on this path, who may struggle just to hang from a bar or balance on a 2×4 board (like I did for awhile…but that’s another story!), or who struggle with debilitating conditions or injuries – but who decide to commit to the journey no matter what challenges they face.
Over ten years ago, I made a decision to attend a 5-day MovNat retreat with Erwan Le Corre. Since then, I’ve found that the more I give to Natural Movement, the more it gives back to me. So, I would encourage you to take that next step in your movement journey, whether you’re still learning the fundamentals or refining the basics after years of practice.
There are so many great resources available today that weren’t when I began. So, whether you want to try some free MovNat workouts, study The Practice of Natural Movement Book, find a MovNat Trainer or Gym in your area, get personal coaching with MNOC, follow a structured MovNat e-course at home, or go “all in” by attending some of their live training events, my advice is to pick something that works for you and start practicing regularly.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, after I got home from the Level 3 Certification, I filmed the following retest which I approximated with equipment I had on hand. And I passed!
In closing, I’d encourage you to keep learning, growing, and moving at your own pace. No matter your current ability, challenge yourself to become a little more “strong to be helpful” every day. I think you’ll be glad you did.
And by the way, if you do want to learn how to do Power Ups, MovNat has an excellent routine you can follow (even if you’re starting from ground zero): 10 Steps to Master the Power Up (AKA Muscle Up).
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