How MovNat Helps in Ultra Trail Running Performance
By Vitor Carrara, Exercise Physiologist and Level 2 MovNat Certified Trainer
It’s not just running. We know that! There’s a common consensus among coaches and runners that a conditioning program needs to be implemented to increase strength, power, flexibility, etc., to optimize performance and reduce the likelihood of injury. But with so many options, from traditional weight training to HIIT, why do I use MovNat with my running team? And how much can MovNat help an already well-conditioned long-distance runner achieve more?
Before getting to the answers, let me introduce the ethos that Corrida Ancestral (Ancestral Running) has been developing and improving on over the last decade in Brazil.
Culturally, we view running primarily as a sport. But before this, it’s a human skill. Having the right perspective, which comes first, changes everything.
All athletes, advanced or beginner, recreational or elite, young or old, fast or slow, and regardless of gender, have a common characteristic: they are Homo sapiens, and they share a genome that is the result of evolutionary forces beyond their control.
Covering long distances by walking and running is one of the distinctive adaptations of our species, albeit far from specialized, isolated, and repetitive, as it is treated in most conventional training programs.
In the end, humans are specialized at being generalists, and running is a complex motor skill made up of a combination of more basic movements. The level of quality that a complex movement is performed is only as good as the quality of the simpler movements it is composed of.
A key component the Corrida Ancestral approach is change the athlete’s perspective and performance by developing and then transferring simple habits into much more efficient running. In other words, I train my athletes to be humans who move well before becoming specialized athletes!
In the context of our ancient ancestors, they did this naturally by carrying firewood on their backs, children in their arms, building shelter, hunting and gathering, fighting to defend themselves, or dancing in rituals and celebrations. But this is not the reality for most humans today.
In addition to adjusting our perspectives, at Corrida Ancestral, we need a methodology that simulates the variability and demands of our ancestors’ environment and that is compatible with my athletes’ daily routines. After all, we are no longer hunter-gatherers, and our jungles are now concrete urban areas.
With all of this in mind, MovNat seems to be the conditioning program most compatible with running as a sport. It establishes movement quality and variability and safely expands the complexity and parameters such as volume and intensity. It also develops capabilities such as mobility, strength, agility, and power. Not only does it work well to physically develop my athletes, but it gives them the competence to deal with the adverse and unpredictable situations of trail running.
This is why after a career spanning almost 30 years as an endurance athlete – 17 as a multi-sport endurance coach and for the last decade working with Corrida Ancestral – I decided to get my MovNat Levels 1 and 2 certifications in 2021 and incorporate the methodology in my personal life and with the trail runners I coach.
I have witnessed enormous benefits with MovNat for nearly everyone who has entered my team. But it’s easy to predict instant gains for beginners or recreational athletes who start a well-structured conditioning program.
A question that always lingered for me was what can MovNat offer in the evolution of an already high-performing ultra-runner?
This was the question I faced when Roger Darrigrand joined my team. Roger, an American who has lived in Brazil for the last 12 years, has a background in cross country, road marathons, and has been running ultra-marathons since 2015.
Over the last seven years, he has become a familiar face on the ultra podiums throughout South America and was a top-20 finisher at the Leadville 100 in 2018 in his debut 100 miler. But at the age of 40, Roger was seeing his performance plateau and was tired of traditional training methods. He sought out Corrida Ancestral for our alternative approach to training in his pursuit to establish himself as an elite performer at the 100-mile distance.
I was excited about the opportunity to take on an athlete of this class but aware of the complexities when considering the old coaching adage, “The more trained someone is, the less trainable they are.” In other words, there was large probability that Roger could lose his high-level of performance instead of gaining or at least maintaining it.
To add to the challenge before me, despite being a top ultra-runner in Brazil, Roger is not a professional athlete. He works an office job that requires hours of sitting at the computer and has a family with a wife and two daughters. His availability to train would remain the same as it had been for the last seven years.
But this was also my chance to put the ethos of Corrida Ancestral and MovNat to the test!
My strategy was to invest more in training quality at the expense of volume. In addition to the traditional manipulation of volume versus intensity, I implemented the use of short, undulating meso-cycles with varied stimuli. From short intensity to long distances, we combined it all with progressive weeks followed by a recovery week with a high level of movement.
Complexity also became part of the prescription, choosing more challenging courses with a lot of variation in pace, breaking up the linearity of running surfaces, interaction with the environment. MovNat exercises became part of his running session some days of the week, like adding vaults, jumps, and even climbs during his runs, making things more fun and motivating.
Another MovNat strategy and concept that worked very well were “snacks.” We worked in short sessions of powerful combos, mobility, and general skills, during work breaks at the office, for example. All this was carefully worked into the planning with the aim of maximum performance.
Roger was motivated, vigorous, and confident in the plan. He said he felt stronger and more mentally equipped thanks to the MovNat training, but it was time to put it to the test!
After only 14 weeks of working together, we had our first chance to shine on a bigger stage at OneHundred Brazil. The much anticipated 100-mile race was the first of several in a worldwide series.
In a race stacked with the best ultra-unners in the country, Roger shocked the field by placing second and qualifying for the grand finale on October 22, 2022, in Gran Sasso, Italy.
On the heels of this performance, Roger has received invitations to run several big races on the national calendar and has remained on the podium in all of them.
Our training cycles and implementation of MovNat sessions have continued to evolve, as have his progress and motivation. Roger currently does 80-90% of his training in minimalist sandals and is always finding new ways to incorporate MovNat snacks throughout his day. And to keep our focus well-rounded, we make a point to always keep time with his family and friends as a priority.
Understanding and considering these evolutionary characteristics in the training method, with the premise that each individual is a social, cultural, and complex human being long before an athlete, brings a much safer and lasting result!
Move more. Train Less!
*Special thanks to Roger Darrigrand for his contributions to this article.
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