Category Archives: Fitness Trends

Strong But Not Useful: Strength Categories

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Albeit fun.

If I could ask Georges [Hébert] to lighten up, I would, and he would probably tell me “I am! That’s the whole play finality of The Natural Method, mon frère!”

The reason I’d ask him to lighten up is because it’s totally cool to have fun and specialize in one aspect of strength if that’s your bag. I ain’t knocking your strength with his/mine or someone else’s.

Much like Power is Mass X Acceleration, an 8-plates back squat below parallel or a 48″ box jump require a different level of power. Some say “you need to squat heavy to get more power for your jumps”. I can’t squat 8 plates right now, but I can jump that “cold” and I know a few friends who can squat 8 plates easy, but can’t jump that. We’re different and that’s OK!

“A remarkable specialist in only one category, but poor in others, like a weight lifter or wrestler who cannot run or climb, or a runner or boxer who cannot swim or climb, isn’t strong from a “complete” standpoint.

On another hand, one who excels at entertaining or hobby sports (as in games of all kinds: football (soccer), tennis…; or gymnastics on man-made apparatus: high bar, trapeze…), but who ignores swimming, self-defense or has fear of heights, isn’t strong from a “useful” standpoint.

In short, to be strong consists of possessing a sufficient aptitude in utilitarian indispensable (a.k.a functional) exercises for everyone at any age and not to solely excel at entertaining fun exercises or of secondary utility”

So,a little redundancy, or rather, “rote” and let’s have Georgey break down the categories:

Functional Exercises of everyone at any age:

  1. Walk
  2. Run
  3. Jump
  4. Climb
  5. Lift
  6. Throw
  7. Fight (boxing or wrestling, natural means)
  8. Swim

These 8 categories suffice to achieve the highest level of physical development and to handle any difficult situation life throws at us. Walking, Running and Climbing constitute the prime natural exercises; they are the most indispensable of all.

That’s all going to be in the long awaited and delayed book (not my fault, serious!)

Sports or exercises of secondary utility (for select individuals and not necessary for everyone or all ages):

  1. Fencing
  2. Horseback riding
  3. Rowing
  4. Shooting
  5. Weapons self-defense (stick, knife…)
  6. Any artificial means of transportation requiring the use of the legs: cycling, skating, skiing, stilts…

Sports or exercises having no functionality for everyone or all ages:

  1. Anything requiring man-made apparatus: high bar, rings, trapeze, pommel horse, parallel bars…
  2. Any acrobatics, with or without the use of equipment.
  3. All games: soccer, hockey, tennis, cricket…

Remember, we are dealing with functionality for ALL POPULATIONS at ANY AGE, not fun, entertainment value or carry-over. We could probably argue, and successfully at that, the benefits of surfing, of playing rugby which develops both speed, agility, endurance, strength, power etc. That’s not the point.

The point is to raise the average, which is dismal in most countries I have to say. We as fitness enthusiasts live in a bubble we our social media feeds tend to show us our own interests, and few of us walk around national supermarket chains observing the decline of the population. Get them walking, running first, add some minor jumping, throwing and grow from there.

3 Rules To Find Your Own Way

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The concept about the application of Bruce Lee’s quote “having no way as way, no limitations as limitation” is something that I have been randomly discussing with colleagues and peers in the fitness industry (albeit without naming it), as well as a serendipitously following the model recently in my own training.

With a basis, structure and foundation, everything works. With discipline, great things can be achieved. But  let’s not even label them as great. Let us simply say “things can be achieved”.

Discussions were had about discipline vs motivation: motivation is finding the enjoyment in doing, the mind set to do things, whereas discipline is the act of doing what you need to do regardless of how you feel.

So, to succeed, Rule #1 is: show up.

Rule #2: Keep it simple. Here lies the rub, and I can’t provide a better than my friend Rannoch Donald’s email exchange with me: “People look at things purely on the surface. If I tell you it’s simple you wonder, “what the fuck do I need to talk to you for then?” I tell you it’s complex, you say, “well, that’s not for me”. I do a ton of homework purely so I can stick to my guns when it comes to actually doing what I do. I say all the time that Simple is nothing more than Complex³.

Whilst all these people talk about fundamentals etc, very few actually work that stuff out. Then the flip side are those who think simply free-associating (often using the word flow to compensate for the fact they haven’t got a clue where it’s going) movement is the best expression.”

So, in order to remedy the last element Rannoch mentions above, I suggest the following Rule #3: Tell a story! In the Book Of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi states in one of his own famous 9 rules to “not do anything which is of no use”. 

Your training session should have a narrative, follow a basic storytelling formula where you have a starting point (where you are) and a purpose (where you need to be/go). You pack what you need and chart a route to follow. Along the journey, you will discard things you don’t need, include new things you didn’t think of and ultimately find yourself along the way.

One of the most difficult things to achieve for me was the contentment, satisfaction and awareness of who I am, what my body responds to best and the ability to separate my physicality from all the noise associated with fitness. It took me decades to not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Call it self-esteem, body image, succumbing and overcoming peer pressure or marketing, the end game is: I know who I am.

Using the example of the recent Olympiads, if you look at the swimmers bodies, or gymnasts bodies, or track athletes bodies, they all are streamlined within their own sport, optimal, efficient, almost like coming out of a mold. Take Michael Phelps out of the water and have him run, or Oly lift, or take Ali Raisman and throw her into a swimming pool of other female athlete swimmers  of the same age. You can easily imagine the results.

We have become so specific in what we do, that we have forgotten to be well-rounded/all-around beings with many abilities. While we may not excel at all of them, the least we can do is be capable at most of them. Do not isolate or pigeonhole yourself into one type of activity. Check out this article by Tim Olds about the specification of the modern Olympian vs the Olympian of old who would complete in many disciplines we now find contradictory.

Georges Hébert’s goal was to make us all-around athletes. My goal is to simply raise the bar, so that the 8 out of 10 people that walk into Walmart and define our “average” can all run, jump, climb, throw, swim, fight, lift and live, look and feel well without the pressures of marketing.

What word would you like to describe what your fitness projects in a way that is congruent with your training and abilities?

As for me, I realized that my fitness pursuit, maintenance or goals, incorporating all of the above and where I feel best, most in tune, revolve around one word: “lithe”.

Attitude: mindset, posture or both?

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When I took on the task on translating and adapting Georges Hébert’s Complete Guide to Physical Education, a.k.a The Natural Method one aspect of the translation was to be able to use terminology that can be understood, even if not 100% defined at the time. Sometimes I would go literal, sometimes I chose a term that is close enough to give any given movement its own name, for easier and faster referencing.

The main example is the choice of the word “slit”. I didn’t want to call it a split because we will usually picture either Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a perfect split between chairs, or a gymnast/ballerina.

BLOODSPORT, Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988. ©Cannon Films/courtesy Everett Collection

BLOODSPORT, Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988. ©Cannon Films/courtesy Everett Collection

I didn’t want to call it a staggered stance, which it is also, because I prefer something that you can identify with as few negative connotations as possible (like staggering drunk somewhere) or for simple cueing (“stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a staggered stance”, for instance when describing the lower limbs placement of a fighting stance). I chose slit because the stance in which you extend the leg, especially going into  backwards slit, reminded me of a sexy leg showing through a cut or opening in a dress. A slit is defined as “a long narrow cut or opening”. It is actually a literal translation of the word “fente” in French (sounds like “font” almost, nasal “n”). And, frankly, it is kind of sexy when you lean backwards, “slit” that leg forward, open your hips. You can see that as a dip in ballroom dancing.

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“Attitude” in French is one of those words that has two meanings (not double-entendre, which is an incorrect English adaptation of the word double-entendu): posture and a measure of one’s mental state or behavior. Incidentally, this is true in English as well, as “attitude” can be defined as “a position of the body proper to or implying an action or mental state”.

Let’s think about it for a bit. Visualize an army of soldiers marching in perfect unison and steady cadence. Watch them stop and stand at attention. Their posture and attitude will project a sense of confidence, skill, team collaboration and more. Now visualize a contrasting image of a slouching person whose assistance you need. Not hugely confidence-building…

Bringing the mindset to the work, or letting the work adjust your mindset is a two-directional, mutually beneficial relationship. One motivates, gets you started. The other is reflective of discipline, keeps you going. Act your way into proper thinking, or think your way into proper acting.

A good way to strengthen that attitude, that mindset, is to test yourself. The frequency can be up to you so long as it yields a positive change in your actions. My recent motivation was (and is, because I haven’t finished it), the book Breaking The Jump. Reading about the limitless, “having no way as a way” instinctive yet pushing the boundaries of the reptilian survival brain got me moving, got me making time I don’t normally, have (yet found), taking away from sleep, rest, TV time or other. My mindset improved.

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Similarly, I am no fan of running. I don’t like it when I start. I do like it when I finish. Not because it’s over, or almost, but I actually enjoy it. My runs have to be populated with other activities (training, Parkour-like exploration) so I can blend the euphoria of having done something cool and pushing a limit, but also that validates the way I train, as it promotes this end-goal of playful functionality with survival applications.

Don’t worry about looking or feeling silly if you go out and attempt even a strongly regressed variation of an American Ninja Warrior contestant. It’s the baby step that that person once took, that jump that broke their caged mindset and freed their mind to explore more of what they can do.

 

Breaking the habit, breaking the jump

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Up in the 5AM hour on a Sunday morning.

Thank you, 2-yr old Branson.

Not hot out yet, pleasant, balmy. 6-yr old Fletcher wakes up a little later. As their powers of destruction combined begin to rise as well, divide and conquer becomes the strategy. I’ll go out with Fletcher, Branson will cuddle with Mommy at home (or as I found out, he wreaked havoc all over the house…)

Now, I’ve also been devouring Julie Angel’s book Breaking The Jump and the re-discovery of concepts I have been preaching yet becoming complacent to with too much “easy strength” work made me want to sharpen my edge. Two of these, paraphrased quotes/concepts from the Yamakasi original crew are “you become good at what you do a lot of” and any stunt has to be done three times: the first time is to do it, to “break” it. The second you do for yourself, to make sure it was not a fluke (clients: sound familiar?) and the third time you do it for someone else. Since I had my 6-yr old coach/pace-setter on his bike (and also joining on some stunts), I had to show off anything and tell him to look (it pushes me to get his approval, I want to be a cool dad, yes, and it’s good that our 36-yr difference shows one can still do cool things).

The regimen was simple: run, jump onto, clear, jump off of. Rinse, repeat. Surfaces included: brick, concrete, dirt, polysoft playground impact attenuation surface and sand.

Obstacles were: wooden bleachers, jungle gym, overhead signs, stairwells and railing. The jungle gym/playground area includes slippery walls (only a very dry bare foot would grip), railing, thick supporting tubes/beams, a fun tower etc.

Heights varied from 4 feet to about 12 feet.

Drop/depth jumps were seated, standing and backwards or from vaulting over a railing and landing below.

Cat jumps/hang were either single, or hopping from one height to the next before vaulting over or dropping down. No less than 3 times each.

The ‘injury’ (a minor cut on my shin hitting the bottom of a railing during a hop from one cat hang to the next, higher and to the side) occurred at the intersection of distraction and overconfidence. The mechanics were there, I got a little sloppy from getting distracted by a dad who was looking at me with this WTF look, as if my actions were going to cause his kid to act like me and get hurt…

I tend to like solo work, however, the same way I enjoy surfing with at least one friend paddling out with me, the fun of pushing further with Fletcher asking me to jump onto the 12-ft (or higher) sign at the park, muscling up and jumping over, then immediately reversing the direction of it, justified why such training is best done with someone at your side. Silent inner competition and, well, showmanship 🙂

Is The Hulk better than Spiderman?

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I had the opportunity to interview Stan Lee in 2003, as I was still moonlighting for “Hollywood” red carpet premieres, as the Daredevil movie was coming out.

Daredevil was in his category of characters who would become superheroes by an amazingly coincidental concourse of circumstances, nothing short of magic. Instead of trying to rationalize with science he couldn’t explain or justify, he decided to come up with mutations, as part of human evolution.

His mutant superheroes were faced with discrimination in their story lines analogous to racism, homophobia or any other societal fails for human beings.

Allow me to regress and diminish the potential seriousness about the topic to something way less important, especially when terrorist attacks occurred once again, this time on Belgian grounds, using Stan Lee’s pantheon of characters as backdrop to make my silly, yet valid point: is The Hulk better than Spiderman?

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Judging from what I see, read or hear from some peers in the community, it would appear so. The balance weighs heavily in favor of the big green guy as being the only form of fitness that matters, that is relevant and all others are a joke. Yet, we could argue that Spidey’s strength, agility, flexibility, climbing and jumping abilities make him a lot more versatile, and his control over his body and actions make him more useful and functional than essentially a creature his alter ego can aim more or less.

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In the training, as well as “perception of what strength means” community, Hulkmeister represents what we should aim for, that his abilities trump and fix everything that’s wrong with us. And no, it is not stated in a way that implies the pursuit of strength, rather implies a certain physicality, which is extremely useful on a daily basis for any desk job (if you didn’t detect it, that was sarcasm).

 

Wait, I hear a fanboy mentioning to me that post-Banner can jump really f*$%&ing high and far. I had to use The Hulk because most people know who he is. So let me amend to this other guy (if you saw the first solo Wolverine movie, you may recognize the character), who is a slightly more realistic fictional character to make a point for something I see a lot of being sold as the end-all be-all supreme attribute of health: enter the Blob.

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Let’s get back to reality for a second. On one hand, being super strong and able to lift superheavy weights is pretty cool and plenty useful. On the other hand, being svelte, spry and mobile is useful, makes it easier to navigate the world around us, and is generally a greater indicator of health, especially when cardiovascular disease and other diseases tend to follow certain body types. To have the confidence to be proud of one’s strength achievements and get off your tush frequently to pick heavy stuff up and put it back down is admirable. But please, do not hide behind that strength under the guise of health.

There are still other things to consider, such as how the joints can only support a certain frame for so long, how taxing extra mass is on the body and wears out internal organs, and that carrying excess body fat is hazardous to your health. My job is not to motivate, rather educate and my intention is not to shame those who struggle with fat loss. As good coach will tell you, eat like an adult, get off your ass, exercise, rest and do not latch on to one aspect of fitness because it won’t get rid of whatever unhealthy thing you’re trying to fix by itself.

Look, everything has a purpose. A Lamborghini Aventador is beautiful, but it won’t take you far off-road. An oversized 4×4 Hummer is powerful and intimidating, but it won’t win you the Indy 500 or last long in a chase. The family crossover vehicle will carry your groceries, your camping gear, a few kids to little league practice, your office supplies and nowadays will pack enough powerful ponies under the hood without being too thirsty to hold its ground, even if it’s not as cool.

Georges Hébert discusses “strength” in his book on physical education for women:

“Physical strength, in its broadest sense, is made up of various elements [1], of which the most important ones are:

  • Resistance, endurance or breath, which allow the execution without failing of prolonged work, gymnastics or other, to sustain the same efforts and also to bear fatigue of any kind.

This element of strength, the most precious of all, depends greatly on the value and function of the internal organs. It is the natural outcome of regular and methodical training, as well as routine work of any kind; finally, it also depends on a hygienic and regular lifestyle, free of excess.

  • Pure muscular power, or simply muscle, which enables the execution with various body parts of sufficient efforts in many aspects: pull, push, squeeze, grab, lift, carry, throw, hoist, hit to defend, etc.

This element of strength depends directly on the degree of development achieved by the muscles, as well as the nervous arousal communicated by will, meaning the power of the nervous system.

  • Speed, meaning the ability to be able to do quick moves, rapid extensions, spring launches, sudden stops, etc.

This element of strength depends above all on the more or less high sensitivity of the nervous system, which transmits the command to the muscles to move into action. It also depends on muscular quality and more or less joint flexibility. Long muscles are more favorable to quick actions than short, thick, ropey muscles.

  • Agility, meaning the ability to not only to use one’s muscles and use one’s skills, but also to preserve strength to postpone the effects of fatigue.

Energetic, but clumsy individuals generally waste their strength without function or precise goal. They are often, because of that, inferior to those of medium strength who know how to better manage their efforts more adroitly.

  • Resistance to cold, as well as heat and any weather.
  • Energy and any other virile qualities: will power, courage, cold-blood, decisiveness, firmness, tenacity, the taste for action. Finally, self-control to dominate one’s fears under any circumstances, resist physical and emotional pain, etc.

An individual of medium physical value, but energetic, focused, courageous and tenacious, is always superior in life to an individual having exceptional physical abilities, but soft, lazy, scared and without mental toughness.

  • Knowledge of the process of execution of the fundamental exercises (basic educational exercises) and at the same time, a sufficient ability level in all of them.
  • Finally, sobriety, meaning temperance and moderation in eating and drinking, and frugality, meaning simplicity in choice of nutrition.”

[1] The Strength Code contains the detailed works characterizing strength and the practical tracking of those skills (another book to translate on my list).

 

Expanding The Natural Method to Equipment

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A conversation, or rather a question I frequently have seen in various groups I belong to, when it comes to natural movement patterns and not limiting the association to Hébert’s Natural Method, is: what makes a movement natural?

How is lifting a rock overhead any more natural than a barbell, for instance? Because a rock can be found out in nature, and a barbell is a man-made object, therefore it’s not natural?

Is squatting with a sandbag better than doing a double-kettlebell front squat?

The Natural Method is not about the tool, nor is it about the execution of a movement with a tool-specific technique or form. Additionally, this statement is also not about form-bashing or questioning one organization’s technique or approach. Quite the contrary, it’s surface level rather than digging deep, if I may say so.

Yes, essentials of good form require solid foundations in technique and form to ensure a safe execution, which leads to long term progress. There comes a point where you individualize, personalize and find your way. You can find your way by finding what you truly want and need, with trial and error, experience, education and observation. The guidelines set for any given tool serve as your launchpad to proper execution.

Martial Arts are a great example of this. At first, you teach a person how to adopt a good fighting stance that allows both offense and defense. You throw that jab or cross without dropping the non-punching hand cover that side’s cheek and ribs as the punch hits its intended target (air, mitt, bag or face). If there is an opponent on the receiving end of that punch that is faster than you and counters quicker than you punch, having that ‘guard’ minimizes damage to your person, depending on how well protected you are.

But, eventually, from that structured minimal effective dose, you develop your own style, stance and you may even drop your hands, keep them free to “operate” and deflect, trap, block more efficiently than she you started. When you start from nothing, with no skills, you need a starting point.

The upcoming Natural Method Training book will be rich in photos and succinct with words by contrast. The reason behind it being I don’t need to reinvent instruction on how to properly clean, rack and press a kettlebell or two. It’s already out there, from a variety of sources and chances are, if you are reading this, you already know at least one way to do it, and may even teach it.

My Ninjutsu teacher, the late Shihan Steven Petrus always told us “don’t focus on the exact technique, focus on the motion“. A punch or a kick comes, you can avoid it by triangulating out of the way, deflect it, block it, take it or trap it, and counter with a kick,a punch, a throw. Yes, we’d start by working off of a choreographed sequence, and over time would build variations, only to eventually reflexively respond to the strike and adopt whatever motion is necessary. Haven’t most of us heard or read Bruce Lee’s quote about having no way as a way? When it comes to equipment and The Natural Method, all movement is natural. We follow the pathways our body allow us to operate in. The knee only bends one way, or the elbow, and if you go against it, bending it “unnaturally”, your experience will not be a fond one.

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Don’t look for barbell squats, bench presses or deadlifts in the book, and please do not complain that they are lacking because they are important for X, Y and Z. The Natural Method is about all-around development in many elements of fitness and not all of us have hours to devote daily to only one facet of fitness. And not all of us have hours daily to devote to several aspects of fitness to become supremely well-rounded.

Do not misinterpret this also as an under-achieving stance. Not everyone is going to become as well-rounded as Captain America. Let’s start where you are, and go from there. Learn the lifts, the jumps, the throws, the basic educational exercises that will keep your body efficiently balanced, muscularly, esthetically and functionally, and then as time allows and conditioning improves, move on to the cooler, flashier skills.

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Until then, use the equipment to fulfill that purpose, and equipment evolved as much as we did, only faster. Just because you are not in the woods jumping over boulders, throwing stones or climbing rocks, trees or vines doesn’t make your session any less natural. Going out is awesome, yes! But doing stuff in a gym two blocks away from you because you live in a city and have no car is more important. Don’t delay your fitness.

“Oscars” of Fitness and Chris Rock comment about Kevin Hart

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How in the world did I manage to tie the 88th Academy Awards to this blog post? Is it about the fitness of certain male and female celebs for their superhero movie roles or fury road action?

Better yet, how am I, Mr Blond-haired, green-eyed white male connecting to Chris Rock and his on par tirade of Hollywood’s discrimination or lack of opportunity offering to minority actors? I particularly liked his opinion on not separating men from women actors, as it’s not a competition like track, rather an unnecessary disambiguation as performance is not tied to a person’s ability, other than to act.

No, I am only attaching myself to Chris Rock defending his integrity by saying that his refusal of hosting would not stop the Oscars from taking place, and that if he hadn’t accepted the gig, it would have (jokingly) gone to the extremely talented comic du jour Kevin Hart. Essentially, his ability to Always Be Ready and perform on stage regardless of the venue is where his art and craft come to life.

I was recently asked to participate and lead a fitness video for a popular fitness chain. My understanding was that it was down to me and some other guy, and since I haven’t heard back and the shoot is coming up very soon, I am guessing the gig went to the other guy. Now, I’m not going to name the fitness chain, and what I am about to write bears no negativity towards it. Like saying I don’t play the violin, but it doesn’t mean I have anything against playing the violin. Rather, the chain’s image and type of workouts doesn’t reflect what I personally promote with the Natural Method, my training programs and the methods I employ for myself and others. Even so, if you don’t know me (which is everyone in the world except for my FaceBook and direct friends, or my book and blog readers, this means nothing.

Had I gotten the gig, my answer to anyone wondering about why I’d do such a video shoot is simple: Always Be Ready! The process of becoming an all-around athlete via The Natural Method is to prepare you for any physical challenge life throws at you. The method was created to develop people who can protect themselves, their family, their community and ultimately, their nation. You’re not trained to battle only one way, but you need to be able to handle any kind of battle, right?

So, it doesn’t matter if you have to do some kind of workout that doesn’t directly reflect your philosophy or style (“sorry, bro, I only Oly Lift with barbells, running and kettlebells is for wankers”). If you aren’t able to perform for a general, all-around fitness task that’s thrown at you, your system doesn’t work, your method is a fail. Like the saying goes: you’re only strong in times of trouble, otherwise your strength is only a weakness.

Making it as a personal trainer is difficult. Heck, I even thing it’s harder to make it than being an actor (if you seek recognition and fame). I don’t have numbers to back this up, but I am pretty sure if you compare the ratio of celebrity trainers to the actual amount of trainers in the world vs the ratio of successful, famous actors to the obscure unknowns, the discrepancy is greater amongst trainers!

What would this have done for me? Well,firstly, it’s a paycheck and I am not against feeding my family. Secondly, getting your name out there helps you get recognized, and if you have a message to bring to a larger scale, it doesn’t hurt to have a platform and a captive audience! What your message is is entirely up to you, and that’s where your integrity comes from. Sometimes, we do have to be accept an opportunity and turn it into something great.

Now, I have no clue what I would have actually done for the fitness company, I do know that I would have done a great job and by kicking ass, I would have made my point that I was able to deliver and perform because of my ongoing preparation.

What’s The Natural Method and what does it mean?

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Shouldn’t I have answered this question many moons ago?

I have answered that in a few podcasts actually, the latest one from Joseph deLeo at Leo Training (link to come when it’s live)

I belong to a closed group on Facebook called the Movement Mavericks, started and monitored by Rannoch Donald and Neil Hill, who are not only huge supporters, they are also great promoters of proper movement skill and walk the walk when in comes to being all-around athletes and servicing their clients as such.

One way to explain it and make it a bit different from any answers I provided thus far is that it is simply the full development of our organism as nature intended, without excess or (whatever the opposite of excess is). Nothing unnecessary, nothing superfluous. We can all understand the notion of not having excess fat, being physically inactive, or needing to be physically active because we no longer are concerned with being part of the food chain. We don’t have to hunt and gather to survive, therefore we’re not utilizing our “naturally designed” physiology. I suspect some will potentially take offense, reject or misinterpret Georges Hébert’s vision when it comes to muscle building or strength training for what he considers to not be natural.

Hébert rejects things we now refer to as powerlifting, or bodybuilding. Training for hypertrophy is such a popular thing, especially among men, and it has been for decades (think of the Pumping Iron days and the buff look of superheroes). And while we can all value strength, how much strength do we truly need? We do like to say that strength trumps everything, that it’s a great go-to fix for most issues (and I agree), there has to be a limit, at some point. Hébert’s motto of “be strong to be useful” can also be translated as “be strong to be functional”. The subtle variation can be detected if you speak French and are familiar with both the original text and my humble translation/transliteration.

Indeed, much like I still struggle with the best English title for the book on women’s physical education, I modified the exact terminology of the original books to reflect a more current understanding of training. Terms we know and can identify quickly and currently may very well be used differently in 20 years. An example of a change I made a decision on is (and you can attack me for the stance, the choice was necessary and this blog, or any other platform like a workshop or speaking engagement can serve the purpose of further explaining my choices): utilitarian exercises, which I renamed functional exercises. Hébert calls them “utilitaires”, for utility, like a utility knife serves a purpose, or any tool. We like to call that functional today, and while utilitarian may be more appropriate, I still have to engage people in a way they understand it. I can’t break too much ground or challenge mindsets without some way to have people identify with it first.

So, reverting to utilitarian, “être fort pour être utile” has an element of functionality and because his program, his Natural Method is geared at all-around athleticism, a focus on just strength training, while it may provide one with the usefulness of being strong for a specific task, automatically eliminates other utilitarian or functional features. For instance, a strongman will usually not have the ability to run long distance, or run very quickly, yet someone who is a runner only (let’s pick an endurance runner) will not have the strength to be useful at other tasks. And because the Method originates from a military need, it all comes back to the source of what Dr Ed Thomas like to teach:

  • Medical/corrective
  • Military/Martial
  • Visual (for a harmonious development of the body)

Also, the hyper focus on strength training only, at the expense of other aspects, is a direct validation of the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).

Let us not misinterpret consequently that the Natural Method doesn’t apply to people with muscles developed beyond a natural environmental need (there is no such thing as environmental need, globally speaking, unless you’re a sherpa, a Maasai warrior or other exception). Bodybuilding has no real function, yes. But who cares? What’s important is the bodybuilder being able to have a certain level of skill in other areas: agility, coordination, basic climbing or scaling, throwing light or heavy objects, being able to run. I happen to work with bodybuilders who value the work and principles brought forth by Georges Hébert and apply them in their training while still working on developing their muscles beyond what Nature intended or daily needs call for (and I am not talking about drugs or other things, only that unless specific attention is given to hypertrophy, muscles will only grow so much from basic labors required in the wild).

There is a reason why many ‘natural’ movements (as in philosophies or fitness approaches) like to refer to our hunting and gathering ancestors looking a certain way, because no caveman would pick up a rock or tree trunk and dead-lift it for reps with the goal to get stronger or bigger. It simply didn’t exist or didn’t fit into the lifestyle. Today, it’s a choice and an interest with a health benefit, whereas fitness then was a necessity for survival. No one actually dies today directly from being unfit (heart disease will do it for you as a consequence only) because rare is the person who has a saber tooth tiger chasing them. Gazelles and lions get it, but we don’t have to. We’re not getting picked out of the herd anymore.

The Crossfit movement tries to adhere to that, actually, by pushing it to excess, though. That’s the spirit of competition (something Hébert rejected to a point, as he believes in competition among peers during training and development as a way to equalize all trainees, but not for the sake of competition and scoring). Hébert didn’t care about being Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger, but he believed in being strong, fast and harmoniously developed based on the stimulus provided by all the activities. He was a generalist, a jack of all trades, and you know what? That’s not such a bad thing to be. Consider pro athletes: their ultra specialization makes them broken, physically, sometimes mentally and there is a reason sports careers are short (the career spans depending on the damages caused by the activity on the body). They are masters at their craft, for a while, and many end up badly hurt after they retire. For the rest of us, being fit, strong, functioning individuals is a lifetime journey, its span only affected by our health and fitness.

I also believe in moderation, of course. What’s the point of being too strict if you’re miserable all the time? And how are you truly enjoying yourself if you’re unhealthy, in pain, popping pills all the time and unable to do basic tasks, be they for fun or utility? On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally inactive and poorly eating and 10 being gangbusters gym rat orthorexic antisocial, choose to be an 8: eat well, train, and reward yourself with a few vices that you earned. But only if you earned them. If you fall below a 6, you’re not even average or median, you’re simply far below optimal. The difference between 8 and 10 is just as big as the difference between 6 and 8, but it’s far easier to get from 6 to 8 than it is to get from 8 to 10, and the benefits of being an 8 over a 6 are vastly, vastly worth the effort. Claiming lack of time is simply stating that “it’s not a priority”.

As a friend of mine recently said on FaceBook, try to say from now on “it’s not a priority” rather than saying “I don’t have the time”, and see how you feel. Is your health not a priority? Your strength? Your bank account? Your family?

What did fit women look like a century ago?

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Even though a century ago feels like forever, pretty soon we will be answering the same question and posting photos of Jane Fonda or Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” video from the 1980’s and that will be our answer, and aside from the fashions, maybe a little closer to what contemporary fit women would/will look like. Unless the women of Crossfit Games competition become that standard.

I want to note that this post is a continuation of sorts of my previous post, which dismissed the need for smartphone apps, because as you will see below, fitness has been achieved 100 years ago without the use of any gimmicky gadgetry. We’re only victims of our era’s mindset.

I should replace the word “standard” as well, since the photos shown today reflect more of a desired direction, and the look that female students of Georges Hébert’s Natural Method looked like. Presented to you will also be photos of what Hébert called “covering”, which means with a bit of natural body fat, something that is in “maintenance” mode, when not training actively for some competition or, like all fitness models do, for a photo shoot or other way to exhibit a body in peak condition. As you know, or should know, very few people look super chiseled year-round. Even if their abilities can remain sharp, the low body fat look is short-lived and should be moderated for good health.

In the first “dual photo op” (top of post featured image), the emphasis is on equalizing men and women in the similarity of their muscular development. Aside from the obvious sexual organ and breasts differences, muscular development is the same in both genders. The use of Antique statues has its own dedicated chapter in the upcoming book on Women’s Physical Education, as Hébert likes to refer to the standards of that era, since the models were live representations of what was seen.

In this first photo, Hébert shows one of his students who represents integral physical development and muscular definition.

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In this next set, the woman on the right differs from the women on the left not only because of integral muscular development, but also in the shape of her waist. Hébert wants you to focus in these shots not only on the importance of muscular training, but also on how the wear of corsets or other shape altering devices can deform the body. The women on the left are corset-wearing non-training individuals.

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The last picture set shows yet again the importance of complete muscular development and how it relates to having good posture. All the females who are “in good shape” here are students and practitioners of his Natural Method approach to training.

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I know many times, social media photos of “fitness porn” tend to discourage or antagonize rather than motivate, making the fit women look like they seek attention, or working against any progress women have made to reduce the objectification associated with their sex. The idea here is not to use sex as exploitation, or nude photos to entice anyone to read this post. Instead, consider the time period. Early 1900’s, no magic supplements or fitness apps or latest greets shiny infomercial fitness junk products. Simply solid work put in sensibly, with discipline and commitment, over the long haul.

 

 

How your digital devices and apps do not move the needle.

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You downloaded the latest G50Xtreme workout series, you bought the compression training apparel, have the app on your smartphone and checked in via social media at your gym to keep yourself accountable, and posted a sweaty selfie so we know you didn’t just show up and lie. You’re doing it!

 

 

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You then grab a super-greens superfood drink, enter its caloric info into another smart app and track your intake of nutrients. Off to shower, a clean dinner of steamed veggies and grilled chicken or white fish with a sprinkle of pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and a small glass of Chardonnay (c’mon, live a little now, ya hear!)

You calculated at the end of the day that you burnt X amount of calories (and you’re on track), fulfilled your workout quota and beat it by 10% from last week, so now you can add a restorative session of yoga or Pilates. Book a massage, because your body needs it and you earned it.

Crash on the couch, catch up on emails with House Of Cards playing in the background on Netflix, finish up that presentation for tomorrow. Turn off the tube, but turn on the Kindle for a little reading on how to be more effective, assertive and confident (you’ll follow up with the podcast in the morning on your way to work). Sleep 6 hours or less, and after 12-16 ounces of overpriced coffee in the morning, it’s off to the races again. You sit for 8-10 hours. Wait, no, you have a standing desk too, because more and more offices do that, because it’s good for you.

How you doin’?

What are you working towards?

Why is the standing desk good for you? No need to tell me, by the way, I know you read the research, Self magazine and GQ tweeted about the benefits.

My question was about your workout: what’s it doing for you? Is your posture better? Fewer headaches? Good alignment and muscular balance? Right on!

Now, can you get those results without all the digital noise around you? Can you also apply your fitness to your everyday activities: do you hunch at your desk, do you stand evenly, is your neck bent at 45 degrees staring at screens, or do you practice good posture outside the gym, are you mindful when sitting, walking, standing, carrying your messenger bag?

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Bottom line: if you’re not getting the results, the digital gizmos and social media wear thin and become useless landfill fodder. Because if you’re so disciplined that you’re making progress, you don’t need them. And if you are not disciplined, no amount of toys will fill that gap between you and your goal.

Save some cash, save some time, reconnect with yourself and people without a crutch. Dumbo eventually learned how to fly without holding on to his feather.