When we think about natural movement and humans moving in nature—climbing trees, for example, or lifting and carrying logs—we often visualize a male figure (like Disney’s Tarzan) performing such skills. If you know the story of Tarzan, you’ll recognize the character of Jane, the English woman. Jane is portrayed as a fragile, fearful, physically incompetent woman, in contrast to her strong, fearless male counterpart, Tarzan.

What you may not remember, however, is Jane’s transformation from incompetent city-slicker into true badass, once she discovers her own true nature. When she starts to explore more in her new home, the jungle, she becomes much more brave, confident, and physically powerful, like Tarzan in feminine form.

Our modern lifestyle no longer demands that we retain certain physical abilities, even if they are instinctual and adaptive traits for our species. We outsource our movement-centric activities for the sake of convenience because, let’s be honest, women are faced with multiple responsibilities (motherhood, careers, daily chores, maintaining social networks, etc.). This is not to say women aren’t capable of Tarzan-esque moves like climbing and lifting logs; it’s that we no longer have a “real” purpose to do these things in our “anti-movement” environment, just like Jane (before jungle life demanded that she become more physically capable).

Does the solution to this incapacity lie in dropping everything and moving to the jungle like Jane? No, of course not (although that could be cool). However, we can add more physical complexity to our environments and relearn natural movement skills, making us more efficient, effective, and adaptable movers.

Move like Jane
Photo credit: Kellen Milad, Team Instructor for MovNat
During a certification, participants had to navigate over three miles in the woods of New Mexico, using different natural-movement skills to demonstrate the ability to adapt to different environments in a particular application: the “graduation workout.”

So, how can you start moving more like Jane?

First, we need to define natural movement. Natural movements are the movements/tasks that our bodies have evolved to perform as part of daily survival. Examples of these would be crawling, walking, running, jumping, lifting, carrying, catching and throwing.

Now, as tempting as it may seem to jump up and hit the woods barefoot, I’d advise taking more gradual steps towards learning natural movement. The first step is to implement skill-building sessions into your training, in a controlled environment like your home or gym. As you move through these progressions, your confidence in your physical capability will increase. Before you know it, you will become your own version of Jane in the jungle…your jungle.

Natural movement in the gym or at home.

Warm up with five minutes of Natural Developmental Sequence (NDS) and breathing. NDS is a sequence of developmental, ground-movement patterns aimed at restoring the fundamental mobility and motor control commonly lost in modern living.

Emphasis:

3×8 Deadlifts (hinges) 

3×1-minute counter-balance on 2×4 board 

3×4 upward jumps

Combo:

30 seconds of foot-hand-crawl

30 seconds of inverted crawl

30 second tap or tuck-swing with break 

Do three rounds total, minimizing rest between rounds.

Cool-down: 

Use different ground-based movements and seated positions to cool down.

Photo credit: Jenny Ploss from Langford PT
One exercise at a women’s-only MovNat certification where the goal was to throw/catch the ball(s) while trying to maintain balance.

Taking your training outdoors.

After you’ve developed competence and efficiency in a variety of movements, you can apply your skills in a less-controlled environment like your local park or a groomed trail. This is where you’ll find an increase in complexity/intensity, simply from the changes in environmental character, density, and surface textures. As you build your confidence in moving within these environments, you can start wandering “off-trail” and exploring more “wild” and uncontrolled environments. As your competence increases, your appetite for such movement will also increase, ideally leading to a more naturally-active daily lifestyle.

Training in nature’s gym.

Warm up with five minutes of NDS and breathing.

Emphasis:

3×8 squats with a natural object, like a rock 

3×6 cross-sit-get-ups or another variation

3×10 leg swing jumps across an obstacle (like a stream)

Combo:

2×5 rounds of foot-hand crawls up an incline, with an inverted crawl down. Take as little rest as possible between rounds. Rest for one minute after the 5th round; then repeat.

Cool down with a light walk and some ground-based movements. 

References

MovNat, the Natural Movement Fitness System.