“Learn to walk before you learn to run” used to be just a figure of speech. These days, walking is something you can learn, or at least learn to do better, since poor walking mechanics have been linked to a host of other issues, from hip, knee, and back pain to neck problems and headaches. Likewise, there’s been an increased impetus for runners to focus on improving their form, both for performance purposes and injury prevention.
Increasing running efficiency is among the purported benefits of MovNat, “a physical education and fitness system” founded by the French paleo evangelist Erwan Le Corre. Outdoor living and training is crucial to the MovNat ethos, as evidenced by this popular YouTube video featuring Le Corre scampering around the forest. While a running coach might advise on things like optimizing foot strike or arm swing, MovNat is more concerned with ensuring that basic “natural human movement skills” are executed the way they should be. These, according to MovNat’s philosophy, form the building blocks for more complex “level 2” movements like running or climbing.
“We work on running efficiency and adaptability, but we also work on the underpinnings of the foundational movements that help create it,” says Danny Clark, a former elite-level wrestler and grappler who is the performance director at MovNat. “We work on things further down in the developmental cycle, like being able to roll on the ground or being able to sit on the ground like a normal human being.”
While improving the way you sit might not seem like the most obvious path to a marathon PR, MovNat takes the holistic approach that a deficiency in one “movement domain” can affect one’s ability to perform well in another. That might sound suspiciously New Agey, but the core idea is fairly logical: Improving your posture when you sit, for example, will give you a healthier, stronger back, which will in turn be more conducive to efficient, injury-free running.
“I think all this stuff has way bigger benefits for somebody who is either broken or is just getting into running versus the person who has been running their whole life,” says Clark. “But I think it has benefits for anybody, for sure.”
We asked Clark for a few sample exercises of the foundational movements every runner should master.
Clark Says: Start in a supine (lying down, belly up) position on the ground. Keeping your hips glued to the ground, first look to one side, and then reach as far as you can. When you reach far enough to feel a large stretch in your midsection, allow your hips to roll until you end in a prone (belly down) position. Remember to breathe as you reach.
Clark Says: Choose a natural sitting position—either cross sit, bent sit, or side bent sit. Try to move your center of gravity (located near your belly button) over your hips, so your spine is long and neutral. If you can’t do that, position your hands behind your back for support or elevate your hips on a bolster. Your shoulders should be in the center of the socket and away from your ears. Your chin should be down and back, lengthening the neck. Now breathe and switch between these three positions by articulating at your hips (that is, not rounding your spine, or rounding only minimally).
Clark Says: Step with one foot onto a two-by-four placed flat on the ground. Look down to make sure your center of gravity (belly button) is directly above your single-leg base of support. Avoid using the arms to counterbalance while slowly walking forward with straight legs. Now try the same, moving backward at a speed of about one step per second or slower.
Clark Says: Start in a knee-hand position, and press the shoulder blades apart while maintaining a neutral spine. Arrange the knees and hand to bring in one side’s knee and hand until they meet and the other side the same distance, except farther apart instead of closer together. Next, elevate your knees one to two inches off the ground, and start moving forward in the foot-hand crawl, using a contralateral pattern (opposite arm and leg move together). If the movement is too difficult to coordinate or maintain position, try just a knee-hand crawl first. Progress from the foot-hand crawl by moving in different directions: backward, sideways, circular, etc.
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