Last week I spent 5 days in Mt. Nebo, WV with Erwan LeCorre, Vic Verdier and Clifton Harski learning the pillars of MovNat while camping at Summersville Lake Retreat. I learned a lot over those five days, some of it directly from the instructors, some from my peers, and some just from the experience of being in nature and observing my own reactions for the duration of the retreat. I had a blast, made some new friends and found myself in challenging situations through which I have learned a lot – all while being taught or re-taught the skills of: walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending.
I could give you a 5-day blow-by-blow review, but Robb Wolf has already done so quite well on his blog and I also would like to leave a lot of the details out so that you can have a clean-slate experience like I did. That said, I do recommend peeking at some of the MovNat promotional videos so that you are aware of what you'll be asked to do, but don't study the movements if you actually want to learn the techniques from the experts once you get there. Go in expecting to be in nature, learning to move and using as few creature-comforts as possible along the way. Beyond that, have an open mind and be ready to experience new forms of movement, people, life and yourself.
10 Things I Learned at MovNat (in no particular order):
1. Balance is often about doing less than about doing more.
In balancing things in our lives, we often think that we need to fit in more things to do, see and become. In fact, the reality is that we are often overloading ourselves and simplifying our activities, to-do, lists and efforts will often lead to balance with greater ease. In MovNat, balancing tends to come easily when you drop all of the tension and thoughts around how to balance, and actually just allow your body to remain calm and centered. To balance, often less effort is more effective. Note: This does not mean less concentration – please don't start to daydream while crossing a log and fall from a dangerous height!
2. Some skills that you train in a gym translate very well in nature, but many do not.
We can lift, carry, climb, jump on and throw things often that are evenly shaped, smooth to touch and comfortable to carry quite easily in a gym on a regular basis. In nature, however, the terrain and tools are not quite as forgiving. For example, jumping up onto a plyo box 20 times may not be so difficult, but try making that same jump up onto a damp, round log. Yeah, you might want to pay a bit more attention there, right? You can't just expect your feet to land well when the terrain is slightly unpredictable. You need to understand the techniques and apply them, not just zone out and count reps. Learning how to handle yourself in the natural environment, especially when asked to disrupt it as little as possible in your path, is a fantastic lesson in self and surrounding-awareness.
3. Strength and technique play equal roles in the practice of MovNat.
Generally being a strong person will get you pretty far with the skills you learn, but listening to the instructors, taking cues and following the recommended options for movement generally make each move easier than using pure strength to work through them. Understanding technique will make you more capable with the strength you have and require you to expend less of it. Win.
4. Several hours of movement/training each day feels awesome and requires large amounts of fueling.
An hour per day of movement/training likely does not require quite extra fueling beyond whatever you might in a normal day's worth of meals. This isn't to say that people don't need to eat decent amounts of food (I tend to see more under-eaters than over-eaters when I read client food logs), but it does mean that the fuel you take in needs to match the activity level you are putting out. If you plan on training for roughly one hour each day, you don't likely need extra fuel beyond just your daily meals. If you plan on training for two or more hours in a given day, then it's time to add in some extra calories. We ate copious amounts of amazing paleo food (with tons of fat) while training at MovNat and I left feeling leaner than when I arrived. Yum. Thanks, Clifton!
5. Being pregnant does not mean you have to be inactive, overly careful and sit around eating pickles and ice cream all day.
Not that I actually thought this was true before, but I saw this one first-hand last week. Danielle Cook showed up to MovNat five months pregnant and probably completed about 90% of the activities as requested, only skipping those that would apply pressure to her stomach or that felt like too much pull across the area and felt unsafe. Anytime she could do something, she did it, or modified it to her ability. She even carried loads heavier than her own bodyweight at times (safely). Danielle ate with the rest of us at mealtimes that were pre-determined, not simply grazing all day on whatever she wanted. Do you think pregnant women thousands of years ago had that luxury? No way. There was no “Honey, I want ice cream now!” to be heard and answered to for paleo-women. They waited for the food to be killed and prepared to eat. That may have taken a while. They waited. And when they ate, it was real, whole food. Not processed garbage. So, being pregnant does not preclude you from taking part in an active lifestyle or from following a healthy, whole-foods diet without the crap.
6. Hiking boots actually make hiking more difficult.
While barefoot may be the ideal way to connect with nature and enjoy the full experience, I enjoyed trekking through paths in my “barefoot shoes” more than I realized I would. The difference between having a thick or barely-there sole between your foot and some mud or slippery rocks is huge. I've hiked countless times and never felt as stable on unstable terrain as I did without big shoes on my feet. I can't wait to get back to San Francisco and explore some of the parks in them on a regular basis wearing my “barefoot shoes.” Oxymoronic, I know, but random broken glass in a big city is no joke, so I'll keep the shoes on.
7. Bug spray works.
I used one I found at Whole Foods that was a blend of all kinds of essential oils and other natural ingredients the day before I left for the trip and had very few bites while others looked like the had some kind of pox going on. Use it. Avoid bites, ticks, etc. and remain itch-free. It may be less-than-paleo to do so, but this is one of the modern creature comforts for which I'm casting a pro-vote.
8. When you think you're too hungry to train, you often have at least another hour's worth of effort left in the tank.
This lesson applies to those who are eating adequate amounts of fat and whose bodies can adapt to tapping into their own fat for fuel versus those who rely on a constant supply of glucose for energy. There were a couple of times during the week when I was feeling pretty hungry but more training was on-tap and a meal was still a ways off. I was worried I wasn't going to be able to make it, but I did, and pretty easily. Not only was my mind distracted with the training, but my body was allowed time to access body fat for fuel and kept my head on straight while we played in the woods.
9. Hiking up a steep hill under a canopy of tree branches is a way better workout than a Stairmaster.
Seriously, as I trekked up one of the inclines, I thought to myself “this sure as hell beats a Stairmaster any day!” Not that I use Stairmasters, but you know what I mean.
10. If there isn't much danger involved, take the greatest risk you can afford yourself.
This is one lesson that resonated with me pretty deeply as it's one I try to live by on a regular basis. I have written about the concept of choices in life before, and the idea of risk/danger ties in nicely with it. Often people hold back from taking a risk when there is little danger involved if somehow the outcome is not the desired one. So what? What will happen? I tend to ask myself “what's the worst case scenario if I fail at X?” If I can handle that, then I can handle taking the risk. In MovNat, perhaps the risk is whether to jump to a farther rock than you've ever successfully landed on before. What's the risk? Is it over a shallow puddle? Some mud? Do you simply risk getting dirty or wet? Or is there a large, steep cliff next to the rock that you might slide down and risk injury? Assess the situation, and make as big of a risky move as you can while managing the danger aspect.
In life, I think that people spend far too much time focusing on potential dangers (all of the what ifs) and end up paralyzed in the decision-making process. Analysis paralysis, anyone? Many decisions end up just making themselves if you don't make a choice in a reasonable amount of time, so why not assess the real danger (or lack thereof in many cases) and just take the risk? Go for it. Live in the moment and stop trying to always avoid what might (or might not) happen tomorrow/next month/next year.