Category Archives: Fundamental Exercises

7 Steps to a Fast Body

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Home of the Natural Method

From the concept of creating a FAST (Flexible Agile Strong Toned) body to deliver all-around athleticism, there are seven elements that should make up any training session in order to achieve your goal of total and complete fitness.

By following these simple guidelines, broken up into 7 easy steps, you will achieve what most programs promise you after 90 days without a realistic plan on how to continue beyond that. While it takes about 3 weeks to create a habit and about 3 months to keep one, too many of the advertised programs out there are short-sighted in the sense that their promise ends when the programs ends; you wind up usually too beat up from the intensity to even want to look at another set of jumping jacks or killer crunches. And that’s where the problem lies: sustainability.

Nothing else in your life works is encapsulated with finality into a short term period: it takes years to raise your kids, to get an education (and stay current). Your job is a great example too: for most of us, we have to stay and remain employed in order to live. I haven’t seen any get rich quick scheme that promises you to achieve all your dreams after only 3 months, followed up by a super early retirement!

“Anything worth doing is worth repeating”

So, just like your job, you have daily tasks that you do on any given day, which yield results and lead to the next day, week or month, giving you a sense of accomplishment, of progress, even if you know there is still more to do. The daily reward comes from the work, not from the results as they may not be near.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

 Chasing the end goal or results can be the downfall of any journey, as it makes you focus so much on it, you can lose faith in the process. I have had many weight loss clients who, after having lost 30, 40 even 50 pounds, still had another 50+ pounds to lose. To someone who didn’t know them, they were still overweight, they still hadn’t achieved their ultimate goal, but they were reaping the physiological and psychological benefits of better health and considence every day because they trusted the process!

 There is no secret, and there is nothing new. Just like an old family recipe, or a trade secret, what stands the test of time is the key to true success. It is no different in fitness, and here are your 7 steps to total fitness!

STEP 1: FUNDAMENTAL EXERCISES

Fundamental exercises

As their name indicates, the fundamental exercises, also called basic educational exercises lay down the foundation for all your work. Not just a warm-up to get the blood flowing and the joints loosened up, they also comprise movement in all angles used for every aspect of your workout, as well as for the ultimate goal of playing sports, being conditioned for physical labor, or simply enjoy a healthy life where you may have to resort to tapping into that “fitness insurance”!

Using the rules of 7, we have:

  • 7 major joints: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips knees and ankles.
  • 7 major arm positions: hands at hips, hands at shoulders, hands at chest, arms extended out, hands behind the head, one arm up & one arm down, both arms overhead.

Using the 7 joints guideline, we then use the 7 hand positions to perform movements that engage the joints. The simple placement of the hands takes care of joints 3 (wrists, elbows, shoulders) and by performing deep knee bends, squats or lunges, as well as single leg balancing exercises, we take care of the hips, knees and ankles.

The neck is taken care of through tilting, twisting, rolling, flexion and extension.

Another area to add to the mix is the spine, which can be worked the same way as the neck (even simultaneously): back extension, back flexion, lateral bending, twisting. The neck simply needs to follow the motions of the spine, e.g. if you bend sideways to the left, the neck, as an extension of the spine, also bends to the left.

STEP 2: KICKING AND PUNCHING

High Side Kick

Punching and kicking drills are both an extension of the fundamentals, as they simultaneously move the body in all planes and angles of movement and engage all the muscles and joints, with the added benefit of developing the skills of balance and coordination, toning up the muscles and promoting cardiovascular endurance.

STEP 3: WEIGHT LIFTING

Barbell Military Press

Keep it simple and pick ONE (1) lift per day. Yes, you read correctly! Only 1 exercise for weight lifting! How can this be?

Remember what we said about trusting the process? It may not make sense right now, so wait until you reached the 7th step of this guide J

However, I don’t want to keep you guessing: the 7 steps cover all areas of your fitness, for a full workout and complete integral development of your body.

By picking just one lift per day that you perform for a week, you get to practice it the same way you would practice a song on the guitar or piano, before moving on to the next piece or exercise. Like the song, the exercise will “play” more fluidly, strongly and then you can take a break from it and return to it more easily and strongly at any time.

STEP 4: JUMPING

Jumping over obstacle

Just like step 3, pick ONE type of jumping and work on it for a week, perfecting it, improving it by adding to it, be it distance, height, repetitions, etc.

Jumping is an important element of fitness because as we age, we lose our “spring”. It’s also a phenomenal “power” move because it forces you to generate a lot of power at once, recruiting several muscles, which can lead to better performance in other activities (including the ability to lift a heavier weight in Step 3).

People often think that because of issues in their joints, they shouldn’t jump, e.g. like bad knees or a bad hip. It’s the very weakness in those joints, when not addressed, that becomes the issue. Avoidance doesn’t mean acceptance, it’s only negligence. You don’t need to jump high or far, even with a full range of motion, to strengthen the bones and soft tissue used in jumping.

Remember, we are in this for the long haul. A one-inch jump on a soft surface, like grass, sand, dirt a wooden floor or a gym mat is still a jump. And it’s fun too!

STEP 5: CLIMBING

Straight rope climbing

Climbing can be anything from getting up on a stool to change a light bulb all the way to climbing rocks. It’s agility, balance, coordination and strength all at once. Whether it’s with the use of your hands only, a combination of hands and feet, or feet alone, the movement skill of climbing is quite useful and functional at all ages and in all circumstances and situations.

STEP 6: THROWING

Partner throwing exercises

A very underrated aspect of fitness, yet used more frequently than you think in your daily life. From tossing your keys to someone off the balcony (or to a person higher up), to lifting (lifting, yes) a trash bag and tossing it into a dumpster, throwing (light or heavy objects, with one or both hands) requires power, agility, coordination and can turn into a full body movement, depending on the weight of the object or the distance to throw it, with assistance from the legs (which got stronger from Step 4 and Step 5).

STEP 7: WALKING AND RUNNING

Any form of displacement is essential because, well, that’s how we get places (disregard cars and modes of transportation, those are not built-in to our body)!

Walking, a.k.a. marching helps you cover long distances efficiently and is a great fat burner, is sustainable and gets you outside!

By adjusting the speed, you adjust the effort and get a slew of other benefits.

Jogging is next and eventually sprinting.

The best part about Step 7 is that it’s the most readily available, aside from any movement fundamentals to loosen up the joints.

Greatly beneficial for all ages, Steps 1 & 7 help you maintain your mobility, flexibility and provide a general sense of wellness that is completely manageable.

Add all the other steps, by simply picking one exercise per category and changing it weekly, revisiting as part of a rotation every few weeks, or as you get more efficient with your time, combining two or more exercises per category, you will develop all-around athleticism.

The weights or difficulty of the exercises is up to you, just know that, unless you have a severely impaired ability to do something, all the categories have something in them you can do today! We’re not going after what’s three months down the line, we want you to feel great today and we want you to keep going for as long as possible.

Goals like weight loss, muscle gain or a specific performance will naturally fall into place as you follow the process.

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius”

-Michaelangelo

 

Note: According to Georges Hébert, Swimming should be part of this process, and Walking is separate from Running. All three are actually methods of locomotion, even if one of them is aquatic. I am lumping both Walking and Running together, being of similar leg-powered nature (albeit different mechanics). And Swimming is not always the most convenient activity to get to for many, while most everything else can be achieved with little to no equipment. The goal being to deliver you something to start doing right away without logistical hurdles.

Photos courtesy of Antje Anders Photography

Develop Jumping Young

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Develop jumping young

Or any skill for that matter.

The earlier you develop a natural skill like jumping, the better you get at it and the longer you might be able to do it in life. Injuries notwithstanding, also part of life, the skill comes with a sense of overcoming fear, spacial awareness, elasticity and timing you tend to never lose as you get older.

Yes, you might get a little less spry, a little less springy, but that tends to happen later than if you do nothing about it. Jumping develops full body power, requires a certain amount of flexibility, and is quite useful for emergency situations as well as being practical (jump out of the way of a moving vehicle, over a puddle or a ditch, onto something etc…). And, kids do it, so if kids do it, it means we’re meant to do it, whether it’s for fun,health, survival or other.

During a recent hike at my older son’s favorite hiking spot in Topanga, CA, called Time Tunnel, we had to climb over a variety of rocks or jump from one to the next, or down from one. Depth jumps, climbs, chasm clearance (for the kiddo at least and his perspective). What amazed me was his desire to go “I can do it” as well as “help me” when applicable. He knew to push, but he knew when to not. Like poker, “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”.

Here’s an example of a distance longer than his height, and drop of about his height. Ah, to have springy joints again…

Now, not pictured here, but when we went back in the afternoon for a second round, kiddo had me crawl through a tiny space between rocks that I didn’t I’d be able to crawl through. He didn’t want to have me go around, he said I had to do it. For him, it was as wide as a Hobbit’s door. For me, it was like squeezing through a mailbox. I made it, and was happy to wear my rugged 5.11 Tactial Stryke pants and a rugged t-shirt (no tears), but more so, I was happy to know that in a pinch, I have enough mobility and snake-ability to get through a crevice smaller than my shoulder width!

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.

Le Code de la Force: The Strength Code

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Georges Hébert’s “Code de la Force” book was published in France by Vuibert in 1914.

In its foreword, the author wrote:

The purpose of this book is to define the question of physical strength, by precisely defining the elements that comprise it and to give it a practical means of measuring it.

Because of the lack of works where notions relative to strength are codified [at the time of his writing], errors and preconceived notions of all kinds were plentiful on this topic. Thus, many people believe that large biceps constitute a criteria for strength; others solely consider strong individuals that are capable of lifting heavy weights; others finally habitually apply the qualifier of “solid bloke” to anyone tall and big. However, it so happens many times that the individual with large biceps shows inferiority when it comes to running or simply quickly climbing a slightly steep hill, that the weight lifter is unable to jump over any obstacle, that the solid bloke cannot follow an individual of ordinary ability in a long walk, a hike, a hunting game etc. 

He later writes:

On the other hand, no method concretely defines the outcome of physical education or training, meaning the goals to achieve. The result is trainees and coaches having no clue what to do. One not only trains without ardor or enjoyment when training without a goal, but one wastes time inevitably by repeating certain exercises without benefit. This is why I believed indispensable the need to establish exactly what the “training load” of the trained or educated individual ought to be.

One of my favorite parts of this foreword is that Hébert recognizes the need for experimentation, course correction and adjustment, his work being far from definitive. Philosophically speaking, isn’t it the first step to acknowledge what one’s limitations are in order to improve upon them?

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 🙂

Break it down into small steps

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With the upcoming and long awaited release of my updated version of Georges Hébert’s training program book, with equipment that we can find at any gym, playground, and surroundings, I feel it is important to understand that while some moves may look cool, difficult and even out of realistic reach for some, the basics of a move still carry benefits and can still be attempted by anyone at any fitness level.

Before your look at a heavy barbell back squat and say “I can’t do this”, realize that:

  1. You don’t need to if you don’t have to, unless your job or life depends on it. Your fitness doesn’t. If you want to, however, the next point applies.
  2. You didn’t come out of the womb sprinting. You didn’t even crawl for months. On point: you sit down on a chair, you stand up from it, you squat. Remove the chair, or lower it. Then, start holding on to something that weighs a few pounds.

See where I’m going with this? You’re squatting, just doing a different version from it. As the saying goes, we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year.

Take a look at this first short videoclip of a client going through a simple progression of how to clear a low wall: using both hands for support and landing his feet on the wall, then using only one hand with feet landing, then with feet clearing the wall entirely. Or jumping over from the other side, landing low (depth jump landing and continuing his run).

Now, take a look at this short clip of me doing what is an easy wall-to-wall, edge-to-edge jump, clearing about 6 feet of distance, immediately followed by a shot of the same client being afraid of performing the same jump (which he didn’t do that day, not ready yet mentally), as well as assessing jumping over the same low wall he cleared easily in the previous clip above. You can also see him do a running jump and clipping his foot on the edge nearest to him right at the beginning of his jump.

Regardless, doing such a jump is still, for most, a risky, advanced skill. However, a jump is a jump is a jump. Its requirements from a musculoskeletal standpoint, as well as command from the central nervous system, require the individual the be springy (something we lose with age if not practiced), supple, agile, strong and powerful, at whatever that level of strength, agility or flexibility one may be. It’s not how far, how high or how hard you jump (or lift, or throw, or punch), it’s that you do those things that matters.

So, go out and do something. Look at this funny little clip of my younger son jumping. That’s a big deal to him, to be able to do that, at 2 years old. Start there!

 

Addition by subtraction, or how to simplify the workout for better gains of any kind.

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Regardless of what your ultimate goal is in fitness, maintaining all-around athleticism remains key for your daily activities. And frankly, there is no ultimate goal, because that means it would be the end, with nothing to look forward to beyond. Goals change. Life, give or take a few variables, on the whole, does not.

You need to eat, sleep, rest. Your health and work will change, and how you eat, sleep and rest will adjust, like your training program. Unless you are competing as an athlete or are playing a superhero on TV, you don’t really need to be this big, or that strong. Really, you don’t, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. You do need to stay mobile, stay strong, maintain your muscles, and you do need to walk up stairs, pick stuff up, hold on to things, carry them, run to or from something, even if just walking quickly or avoiding something. Stay Spry!

There is no hack for any exercise, other than for the sake of breaking form so you can find it again. Like saying “there’s no place like home” after you’ve been around the world.

Pick a few things, do them well, do them often. Like, five. Do them for a while. Don’t count the reps, just do as many as you can in a short, predetermined duration of time (10 minutes?) and stop anytime you know or feel your form looks like crap. Start maybe by doing it as well as possible, then when the clock runs out of time, do something else, and come back to the previous exercise the next day.

Rather than add more stuff to do, to eat, to supplement with, get rid of what’s not super essential. If you did a chest exercise, a quad dominate exercise, a back exercise, a shoulder dominant exercise and a hamstring dominant exercise and have time for something else, go twist, rotate, throw, jump, climb or punch. But don’t add another chest exercise if it doesn’t make you better at something else other than pushing the buttons out on your shirt.

Or, if you ran, climbed, punch & kicked, jumped onto or off of something, and threw something, broke a nice sweat, feel a little tired, with a grin and sense of satisfaction: you’re good! keep at it.

Ignore the magazines, the pressure. Easier said than done, right? Do the stuff mentioned above, I promise you the pressure eases up as the feeling of well-being increases!

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.

brucelee1

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.

Cap_Throws_Shield_UA

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?