“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states.” – Carol Welch, Neuromuscular Therapist & Biokinetic Specialist
Natural Movement is simply that – natural. It is something that every human being is designed to do, regardless of your age. Young kids are experts at natural movement – they know how to naturally sit on the ground, crawl, jump & land, climb & hang – it is second nature to them because we are born with these abilities, skills, and knowledge. It’s an innate part of our human body’s hardware and software system. Over time most of us lose the ability to move naturally (myself included) – due to excessive sitting, lack of practicing these movements, and an over-emphasis on strictly building as much muscle as possible.
From progressing in my own personal movement practice and watching other teachers in the natural movement world, I have come to learn that the average human being is capable of so much more than what our society has led us to believe! The bar for health, fitness, and natural movement has been lowered so greatly that, as a culture, we’re beginning to forget what our true movement potential really is. You don’t have to consider yourself a serious athlete or be extremely fit to practice these movements – they are literally for everyone! It sounds cliché, but you just have to start from where you are without any self-judgment. And even if you do consider yourself an athlete who is extremely fit, there is always room for improvement – whether it’s improving the efficiency of your movement skills, increasing complexity & volume, changing the environment, etc. As a collective, it is our job as human beings to put in the work to reclaim our true nature and capability of movement skills – I am a first hand testament it’s an extremely fun and rewarding journey!
Below is a list of 11 natural movements that every human should be able to do. As with anything, the most fundamental movements are the ones that are most often over-looked. Don’t let the simplicity of any movement trick your mind into thinking you can automatically do it proficiently. Take them seriously and focus on efficiency over effectiveness (i.e. mere success). Efficiency is proper form, technique, and the ability to perform the movement effortlessly with the least amount of energy expenditure.
Now go play & explore!
1) Side bent sit
Side Bent Sit is a natural sitting position where the knee of one leg is positioned next to the bottom of the foot or heel from the opposite leg. You can start in Bent Sit position and swivel back and forth from one side to the other working on opening up hip mobility. Ideally, you want both hips touching the floor at all times and a nice straight & relaxed spine posture.
2) Deep kneeling
Deep kneeling is another natural sitting position that opens up the mobility particularly in your knees & ankles. Again, you should be relaxed with a straight spine & posture. You can use this sitting position to do work or eat a meal at a low coffee table.
3) Deep Knee Bend
Deep Knee Bend requires balancing skills & mobility on the front of the foot & toes. You can transition into either a deep squat or flexed-foot kneeling position from Deep Knee Bend.
4) Deep Squat
Deep Squat is one of the most important movements (if not the most important) to do every single day in my opinion! There is so many subtle movement skills going on at once here. Starting from the ground up: your ankles need sufficient dorsiflexion, your knees & tendons around them need to be stable, and your hips need enough mobility to drop as low as possible to the floor. The goal of all these lower level mobility skills aim to get your center of gravity forward enough in order to avoid falling backwards onto your butt. If trying to keep your posture as straight as possible, you are also working your core and the mobility in your spine & neck which reduces "forward head" posture. Use a weight to counterbalance yourself if you cannot hold this position efficiently at first.
5) Foot-hand crawl (forwards & backwards)
Foot-hand Crawl (aka Bear Crawl) is on the same level of daily importance as the deep squat in my opinion. A truly foundational movement that mobilizes every major joint and strengths pretty much every big & small muscle in the body! In my personal practice and experience, it particularly strengthens your fingers, forearms, triceps, quads, and core. The most important aspect to obtaining efficiency in this movement is that your arms & legs should be moving in a Contralateral pattern - i.e. your opposite hand and leg are moving at the same time.
6) Inverted crawl
Inverted Crawl (aka Crab Crawl) is typically used on downhill terrain to get your center of gravity as low to the ground as possible. You should maintain a Contralateral pattern (i.e. your opposite hand and leg are moving at the same time) for efficiency. I find this movement is great for shoulder mobility as it moves your shoulder forwards & backwards in a circular motion. It also particularly strengthens your fingers, forearms, and triceps.
7) Balancing walk (forwards & backwards)
Balancing Walk (forwards & backwards) on a 2x4 wooden plank is great for all-around proprioception (internal perception of body & limbs) and exteroception (extermal perception of environment). Efficiency is maintained by keeping a relaxed upright posture with minimal to no flail of your arms. Your feet are used as "receptors" to feel the balancing structure and place your feet appropriately in a stable position while you keep your eyes focused on your surroundings. This movement works on "body-weight shifting," a repetitive motion of moving your body weight from one to the other. If you catch yourself beginning to fall off balance, proper form is to counterbalance yourself with the leg that is not you main point of support.
8) Balancing split squat
Balancing Split Squat (forwards & backwards) is a natural progression of the previous movement balancing walk, where all of the main info still applies. This movement strengthens your major leg muscles in addition to particularly stabilizing the knee & ankle joints. You can add weight or increase the complexity of the environment to build upon your skills and make training more fun.
9) Dead hang
Dead Hang is the foundation for learning to hang & climb. This movement strengthens your fingers & hands, forearms, lats & other back muscles. It is particularly great at mobilizing & stabilizing the shoulder joint. As you can see in the video there are also various types of grips you can play around with. Practice this movement daily or at least a few times a week, and challenge yourself to hang for as long as possible without losing your grip.
10) Dead Lift
Dead Lift is the foundation for learning to lift & carry an object. It looks and is quite similar to a dead lift someone at the regular gym would do - however, I would say there is more focus on mindfulness & efficiency in the MovNat version. The two main concepts are: hinging hips from a standing position while keeping your spine straight, and moving your hips backward in space without letting your knees come forward of your toes. In MovNat, we must be super mindful of how we place our hands under the object to lift it because it can be anything! This is a great movement to strength the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
11) Vertical jump & Depth Jump (w/ precision landings)
Vertical Jump & Depth Jump are combined together because the most important part of jumping is learning to land properly. I see a lot of people complete high vertical box jumps but then step down lackadaisically, which defeats the benefit of the initial jump in my opinion. It creates instability in the knee & ankle joints, while signaling to the body that landing properly is not important. To focus on efficiency here, it is important to practice precision landings (aka sticking the landing) on the way up and coming down. Practicing precision landings stabilizes the knee & ankle joints, and works on your balancing skills at the same time.
Bonus: Toe Splay!
Yes, Toe Splay is considered a movement in my book! Think about it... your feet are your base of support for almost everything you do. In any physical training or athletics, coaches always teach that you are more stable and less likely to be knocked over with a wider base of support. If your feet are the foundation for your base of support and you widen the foundation (however subtle) by increasing/widening your toe splay, you now have a stronger & wider base of support. You have increased the strength, mobility, and stability of your toes and feet. Subtle improvements can result in exponential benefits here.