Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Be strong to be useful (the Natural Method)

Balance and lifting. Not perfect form, but not bad.
Pictures are from Mt. Sladdin in Clevedon, it has a cool little natural method style course and a one hour walk, up to 250m and back.

Georges H├ębert (who developed the natural method) described the bodies of the indigenous African people as “splendid, flexible, nimble, skilful, enduring, resistant and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.” Their bodies were honed by the daily interaction with their environment. This strength allows them to provide and protect themselves and their families. It served often little purpose for competitions or showing off (though if they did compete it was generally only for fun, or to hone their skills. See primal blue print law 6). They, like our (and their) pre agriculture ancestors required no training, they had no gyms, nor did they set aside time to go for a run.

Given their strength, flexibility and endurance, they would be ready for anything life might throw at them. They could sprint from an angry rhino and climb a tree to escape, they could fight off an attacker, and protect their family, if a friend twisted an ankle they could carry him (or her) home.

The average western 21st century person however probably couldn’t jog to their letterbox, let alone sprint from an angry animal. A flight of stairs might be hard to climb, no chance they could climb a tree. If a friend was injured they probably couldn’t drag them to safety, let alone carry them. Their strength is gone (if they ever had any), so in a dangerous or life threatening situation they cannot be useful, and would likely perish.

I don’t want to be like that, I want to be strong and useful. I can want this for selfish reasons, to be able to protect and help myself in dangerous situations, I can also want this for altruistic reasons, so that I can protect and help others, be it my partner, family, friends or strangers in a dangerous situation. It need not even be a dangerous situation; it could be changing a tyre, moving furniture or gardening.

There are ten fundamental groups to a natural method training: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, equilibrium (balancing), throwing, lifting, defending and swimming. A person proficient in these actions (and more that I may add) would be considered strong, and could make themselves useful in a given situation.

Walking (A bit of a hill climb really)
Walking ('move at a slow pace' law 2) is a key component to any human life, yet we do so little of it when we have cars, trains and escalators to do our walking for us. Everyone should be able to walk easily and quickly to their neighbour’s house, or to a friend’s or to somewhere to gain help. To be able to walk 10k’s would be a great baseline. Better yet try walk 50k’s per day to safety.

Running and sprinting (sprinting is law 4) are also key human movements, to run 5-10k’s to get help, to sprint from danger or chase after someone (a handbag thief for instance). Tabata sprints and similar interval training once a week is great for both sprinting and longer distance runs.

Jumping is not to be forgotten in human movement, be it a vertical jump to grab a ledge or tree branch, or distance jump such as a river, or gap which must be passed. Parkour is in my opinion the best example of human movement involving jumping (and balancing). It can be useful in chasing or fleeing, and involves important skills everyone should strive for. Parkour also includes quadrupedal movements, and climbing. As a side note, climbing is excellent for generating high levels of upper body strength, as well as the back strength necessary for heavier lifts.

A bit lifting, a bit climbing, all round good work out.
Balancing when coupled with lifting is simply gymnastics, one of the pillars of crossfit and a favourite exercise of mine (This would be 'lift heavy things' law 3). The strength and control over one’s body necessary for many movements is extraordinary.  Performing a pistol squat, one armed push up, handstand push-up, muscle up (and more) requires not just a high level of strength in any one or two selected muscles, but in a huge array of musculature throughout the body. It not just about big biceps and abs, it’s about a movement which prepares the body for what life has to offer. If you can perform a muscle up you can pull yourself to safety, if you can perform a pistol squat on either leg you can probably carry someone of equal weight for a short distance, if you can perform a one arm push-up on either arm, you can probably bench press your own weight. Add in throwing (throw rocks or medicine balls or yourself in plyometric push-ups, pull-ups etc.) and you have yourself an all round strength routine with real world cross-overs.

One part of the natural method which is not touched on by the majority of primal/paleo followers (except for fighters specifically) is defence. This part of the natural method trains people to protect themselves and others from a would be attacker. Modern hunter-gatherers are often skilled in warfare, and many have their own unique forms of combat preformed for both fun, and preparation for real conflicts. I see no reason why our pre-agriculture ancestors would not also be skilled fighters. For a modern example of this skill see the amazing strength to weight ratios and multiple fighting skills of MMA fighters. This is one part of primal life I have not yet taken on, but endeavour to in the future.

It is debateable how much swimming our pre agriculture ancestors did, and I would say they had less need for it than we now do. But the fact remains that swimming should be considered a necessary skill in modern times. Be it so save our own lives or lives of others, we should all aim to be proficient swimmers. A distance of 100-200 meters seems reasonable (though I intend to go for a 1k ocean swim). To be honest I can’t yet swim 100 meters, so this is something that requires serious attention.

So there are the ten main areas of the natural method, and how I see them to fit with primal life. To distill it down to the most basic of elements it is about movement. We should all be able to move ourselves (and sometimes others as well) through their environment as safely, efficiently and quickly as possible. In future I may dedicate articles to each of them, including examples of how I (and you) can train for them.

May 2011

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