Category Archives: training program

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!

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?

How a complete “Natural Method” session looks like

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Home of the Natural Method

Not too long ago, I posted a blog about how Georges Hébert set up a complete session. If you go back and revisit that post with its vintage pictures, you will see that equipment was a bit different a century ago (like the mold below where you can pour concrete to make a construction brick). All goals are met, by the way, from developing strength, endurance, muscle mass, cardio, flexibility, agility (you know my FAST pillars by now), which incidentally leads to weight loss without it being the focus (all around athleticism leads to greater fitness, health and that leads to weight loss too!).


One of the reasons I wanted to give people an updated version of his training program is simply because equipment has evolved. Now, we’re not going to go show you all the selectorized equipment options or machines which isolate muscle groups which have been developed since. Instead, the focus will remain on variety of free weights, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, sand bell, medicine ball etc…

One additional key is the use of technique. Again, using machines requires a much lesser level of attention to proper form, as it’s almost “done for you”, and if you are going to use free weights, form is essential.

So, here is an updated equivalent post, which also serves as another sneak preview of the upcoming book with the program design of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education through his Natural Method.


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And of course, running (sprinting, jogging, racing) for speed, endurance, power, cardiovascular health, hygienic cleansing and waste elimination benefits through sweating etc…

Latest peek at photos from the upcoming book

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Because pictures tell a better story.

Many thanks (chronologically based on photography sessions) to Nick Bustos, Patrick Hartsell, Melody Schoenfeld, James Neidlinger, Ron Jones and Jennifer Winkelman for making yourselves available amidst all of your activities and busy lives to be part of this fitness project, shot by Antje Anders.

I also want to thank Throwdown and XFit Brands David Vautrin and Ted Joiner for lending us their facility and equipment!

Here is a sampler of jumping, lifting, throwing, climbing, fighting as well as some fundamental/basic educational exercises from the upcoming book based on Georges Hébert’s training program design.


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The Natural Method: How Hébert Programs Training

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Most training programs are designed with short-term goals, like infamous 90-day programs to get “insanely” ripped. Then what? I find that outside of hypertrophy goals (muscle gain) or people focused on strength training goals like power lifting, there isn’t much consistency or “longevity” built into training programs. Indeed, the most popular training goal is weight loss, and it tends to be patchwork of high intensity drills. Yes, they get you moving, sweating, burning, but most of the time, people wind up too sore to move, beat down, tired, quit too soon or worse, revert to their original “shape” because 90 days isn’t long enough to bring your body to a permanent “good shape” if the “bad shape” was established over a period of years, if not decades.

And for those who exercise diligently and still do not improve, be it at least skill set, abilities or esthetics/looks, you may want to revisit your path to your goal, or troubleshoot life outside the workout itself.

I routinely have noticed that martial arts practitioners tend to do best at learning, being disciplined and moving, and that’s because they are part of a system, regardless of the style chosen. You work on a drill, movement or exercise for a while before moving on to the next, after not necessarily having mastery over it, but a clearer understanding. Example: if you work on the pull-up, practice hanging and only retracting your shoulder blades daily for a week (scapular retraction). The following week, work with a band to assist you in going full range of motion. The week after, work on negatives (lowering yourself unassisted and with control). And yet another week after, try partial pull-ups unassisted, and so on.

Outside of movement fundamentals to prepare and prime the body for training, through warm-up, mobility and corrective exercise (which also develops as fundamental, basic educational exercises), the “meat” of a training session according to Hébert is broken up into several categories. If you hit ONE skill/drill/exercise per category, and you do that for a week, you get to progress gradually. Then, the following week, you either add a new one or continue an exercise (add if easy, repeat if more challenging). So, week 2 would have you either recap all the previous week’s exercises PLUS add one, or add one only in some categories on top of the previous, and repeat some of the previous week’s.

The difference between that and those “get ripped quick” schemes (which only rip you off your money) is that you don’t do too much too soon. It’s a more realistic, gradual and long term approach, where you feel satisfaction from knowing you’re doing things better, and keeps the boredom away. Kinda like Christmas (where you get all your gifts at once and are on overload) versus Hanukkah, where you get one daily for 8 days. I’m not Jewish, by the way, but I think getting something daily is a good way to appreciate things.

So, here’s a teaser of the upcoming programming book and example of how to design the weekly plan:

1 skill per week per category for 12-16 weeks, which gives you a full workout, all-around athleticism, and proper skill development. 
Fighting: cross punch.
Lifting: two-handed shoulder press.
Throwing: single-arm light object swing throw.
– rope: using hands and feet.
– bar: pull-up.
Photo from The Natural Method: Fundamental Exercises (Book 2) translate by Philippe Til
– obstacle (beam, scaffold, etc.): straight arm support to seated position.
– Jumping: high and/or broad jump, no momentum.
– Sprint: 30 meters, try to improve the time daily.
2nd week: (same order of categories)
– add front kick.
– jerk
– extension throw
– repeat last week’s (harder one, so needs more time)
– etc, etc…


Natural Method Beta-Testing Workshop

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Interesting fact about yesterday’s workshop. Wasn’t meant to be a huge event, rather a beta test group put together sort of last minute (logistically only, content was slightly accelerated because of the close attention to 6 participants). An element of mea culpa needs to be considered in the sense that this information is not only intrinsic to my being, it’s engrained incidentally since childhood P.E. and semi consciously letting my kids develop and allow the promotion of all that is taught (and I can expand later how kids are actually at the highest level of performance on some things, as Hébert essentially says “forget technique at some point, just do it, all right, you have been primed!”).
What I’m getting at is there is the performance of the moves, their simplicity and no need for an over explanation or an attempt to make it all “scientific”. Then, there’s the martial aspect (as one of the three objects of training: martial, pedagogical, corrective).
Martial meets pedagogical in the following sense: a punch is a punch is a punch. Be it jab, cross, hook or uppercut. The punch is the martial element. The pedagogical is the teaching of the punch. And amongst the martial artists reading this, can we agree that as simple as a punch is, it can take a long time to get someone to get how to do it right. A black belt is a person whose execution of the basics differs from a white belt (oversimplification maybe, I’m doing away with nuances as it would be a different topic of conversation).

Some attendees, fitness enthusiasts (clients, end users, not necessarily educators) got plenty out of the workshop, truly enjoyed it, made sense of the book better by getting the live instruction in person. But in the educators or “applicators” (physical therapy student), the “frying” of their CNS, their brain was such that it made me understand that the proper teaching of the content, for educators, needs to take the course of a few days. And those may need the prerequisite of frequent practice up until the point of a multiple-day event. One trainer actually felt like throwing up (because he came in with the educator mindset, while the others came with the “just do it and get a good workout while seeing what I should do more of” mindset).

I would except the martial arts crowd, as we are used to a different approach than the standard trainer approach.

But it makes sense to me with my 28-yr martial arts background, and the fact that Hébert was Navy, that the teaching of the Natural Method may be more akin to learning a martial art than teaching a barbell deadlift, kettlebell swing or snatch, or other lift.

It’s hard to just do a little 4-hr, even 8-hr preview. To truly get the most out of Hébert’s work, it does require a solid retreat, immersion process. I am looking to hear what participants feel like a few days after. My own Indian clubs certification was alike, where my brain was fried, but soon after, things “made sense”.

Hébert session programming at the workshop

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I posted last week 3 programming concepts: daily, weekly and annually (by ways of 3 quarters, so it’s essentially 4 ways, 2-in-1 on the last).

And while most seasoned qualified trainers have a good idea of what to put into a session, incorporating a new skill daily, how do we keep a sense of balance since not everyone can squeeze a daily session, as the world today is not as ideal as we’d like it to be.

Setting aside any excuses or reasons, it is important to have a good sense of the fundamentals and that’s precisely what will be covered at the workshop on the fundamental positions of arms, legs, trunk etc.

The design is such that some moves are changed every other day. Clever combinations can permit the time-challenged subjects to hit nearly all aspects of preparation of the body. Sounds almost like a tall promise in an infomercial to get all you training done in just minutes a day, but it’s not the case.

There also a lot of talk about needing an hour versus only really needing 10 minutes, and yadda yadda yadda, in today’s marketing confusion (and yes, that’s what it is: confusion so you fall prey to what’s sold).

Truth is: there is no universal truth other than everything works, especially if done well. You can’t really snatch 53kg for an hour at high energy output, and if you can, you can’t do it daily.

What’s better? A little everyday or a lot every few days? It’s all good really, and you’ll still need to change things up, while keeping others the same. And once you are proficient at a movement and have confidence in your skill, who really cares about the ultimate perfect form, as it varies amongst individuals and their own skeletal structure or abilities.

I was recently asked “what’s the Natural Method” vs “Unnatural”. It’s not about that definition of the word, just to discuss semantics, rather using what’s available to use according the the natural inclinations of our bodies and finding those, rather than fitting a square peg in a round hole, and to know that, you must go through a learning process and weed out the bad by focusing on the good and how it feels. Unnatural may also feel foreign to you when it’s a new skill, but if the body’s not fighting it with alarm signals, then you’re just learning 🙂


YEARLY PROGRAMMING according to the Natural Method

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A general program can be established monthly, quarterly or annually.
It is simpler to establish it annually, by choosing an academic (school) year, which allows a practical spreading of the training, which aligns itself perfectly with the conditions and requirements of social life.

From a training standpoint, the year is broken up into three periods of 4 months each:
1) A preparatory period (October, November, December, January) having for main goals:
a. The general development of the body.
b. The gradual training of the organism to produce an increasing amount of work.
c. The detailed study or the perfecting of the execution of various exercises (skill development).

2) An intermediary period (February, March, April, May) having as main goals:
a. Seeking out more difficult training conditions than during the preparatory period.
b. Attempting more difficult exercises.
c. Acquisition of practical results and achievement of respectable performance.

3) A final period (June, July, August, September) with main goals being:
a. Practical application of acquired qualities of the two preceding periods.
b. More specific development of agility and virile qualities through games and sports of all kinds.
c. Study and special practice of swimming exercises during the warm season.

WEEKLY PROGRAMMING according to the Natural Method

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Weekly programming consists of 6 daily sessions of roughly an hour, each divided into one or several takes.
The first 5 sessions are identical to the model described in the DAILY PROGRAMMING chapter.
The 6th session is more specifically reserved for long distance runs, games, sports and manual labor of all kinds.

Example of weekly programming:

Monday: hour-long complete session in 2 takes:
1st take: fundamentals.
2nd take: functional training.

Tuesday through Friday: same.

Saturday: Long distance run. Games, sports, manual labor.

Sunday: rest

DAILY PROGRAMMING according to the Natural Method

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Daily training contains at least one complete session, consisting of the following:

Self-defense: boxing and wrestling;
Swimming (whenever possible)

The daily program is performed in one or several “takes” inside of the same day.
Each take is generally composed of lessons as just listed: fundamentals or basic educational exercises, functional/utilitarian and complete lessons.

The order of performance is preferably in the same order as described in Chapter IV, book 1 [INSERT CHART] or as describe under GENERAL PROGRAMMING

If, for whatever reason (lack of space, equipment, etc.) a different order is followed, it must be logical, meaning go according to the principles of increase, then gradual decrease of energy expenditure, with max effort reserved for the end of the session/take.

Example of daily programming broken up into two takes:
– 1st take: Lesson revolving round basic educational exercises/fundamentals.
– 2nd take: Functional/utilitarian lesson.

Total duration of session: 1 hour.
1st take duration: 25 minutes.
2nd take duration: 30 minutes.
5 minutes rest between takes.

Both takes contain races/running. Preferably perform a distance or endurance run in the first take, a sprint in the second.