Erwan Le Corre seems to defy gravity—and not just because he's French.
I'm standing close by as the 39-year-old movement coach—shirtless, barefoot, and built like Mikhail Baryshnikov—hops up and grasps a wooden bar lashed eight feet off the ground between two stout maple trees. Le Corre dangles calmly from both arms for a moment before swinging one leg up to the side, hooking it over the beam, and—swoooop—crouching on top of it and looking down at us. The move is so swift and catlike that I'm not quite sure how he did it. A few minutes later, I attempt the same thing, legs scissoring awkwardly until my arms give out and I hit the dirt with a thud, kicking up a cloud of dust.
This is day one—hour one, in fact—of caveman camp: July's weeklong MovNat Reawakening Workshop, at Summersville Lake Retreat, an RV resort in West Virginia. MovNat, an abbreviation of "Move Naturally," is the outdoor fitness-and-conditioning business that Le Corre founded in 2008. Our camp—modern dome tents, a fire ring, and a kitchen area covered by a canopy—is set up in a grassy clearing a couple of miles from the lake. Gyms are out; wilderness is in. Instead of weights, we lift rocks, logs, and one another. Hand-to-hand combat is as much a part of the regimen as lying in the grass and watching billowy clouds blow by.
"MovNat is a comprehensive lifestyle," Le Corre tells us. "It's about diet and nutrition. It's about exposure to sunlight and nature. It's about getting rest. It's about feeding the mind with healthy insights and positive thoughts." Le Corre, who relocated to the United States full-time in 2009, founded MovNat on the premise that humans once dashed around untamed landscapes with power and grace, gathering berries, toppling mastodons, and so forth—and that proficiency at such things will help reconnect us to the world in which we evolved. Not only were we born to run, he says, but also to jump, climb trees, swim deep underwater, slog through swamps, stalk prey, and fight off attackers.
"We live like zoo animals!" he continues that morning, pronouncing it "ah-nee-mahls." It's an idea Le Corre borrowed from the British zoologist Desmond Morris, author of the 1967 classic The Naked Ape, and it's central to his worldview: that we are essentially wild creatures ill-suited to desk jobs and processed foods. "We have become divorced from nature, trapped in colorless boxes," Le Corre says. "We have lost our adaptability, and it's threatening our health and longevity."
Clearly, the approach holds some appeal: all five of Le Corre's $1,700 summer workshops have sold out. I'd worried slightly about the freak factor before arriving, anticipating a clan of wayward hippies and hairy Luddites. But the group is surprisingly normal—and cosmopolitan. Among others, there's a corporate-recruitment manager from Osaka, Japan; a musician and his wife from London; a journalist from Zürich, Switzerland; two brothers from northern New Jersey; a Web designer from Brooklyn; and a computer programmer from Tallahassee, Florida. Everyone looks reasonably fit and is either barefoot or, like myself, shod in Vibram FiveFingers, the simian-looking foot-gloves.
"When I saw his promotional video, The Workout the World Forgot, I thought, This makes sense," Richard Carlow, the manager from Japan, tells me when I ask what inspired him to make such a long trip. "I wanted to learn it from the Source."
The Source is being assisted by Vic Verdier, a 42-year-old former French commando who currently lives in Thailand, where he teaches Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and other martial arts. The only other staff is Allie Brodeur, 22, an accomplished acro-yogi and poi spinner—and our camp cook.