We’re in the middle of a big shift in fitness. There’s a growing departure from exercise as we’ve traditionally thought of it: treadmills, bikes, and the squat rack. With the increasing popularity of MovNat, parkour, and CrossFit, we’re seeing more gymnastic-strength training, more animal movement, and more things that leave the typical gym-goer scratching his or her head compared to the traditional simplicity of treadmills, bikes, and the squat rack.
These complex movements have tremendous athletic value, but leave many of us asking, “How the heck do I program bear crawls into a training session?”
Let’s make it simple through a process I call intuitive programming. The aim of intuitive programming is a balance between the quantitative world of sets, reps, and time and the qualitative feel of exploratory movement. This approach helps to simplify the big, scary world of movement programming, giving you a full-spectrum athletic base with minimal headache.
In addition, intuitive movement sessions give us a welcome reprieve to explore new movements, have a bit of fun, and perhaps highlight weak links in our regular programming.
Begin With Breath
Breath happens whether we think of it or not. What we should be concerned with is the quality of our breath. Without it, we’re essentially treading water. Karel Lewit, founder of the Prague School of Manual Medicine and Rehabilitation, said it best: “If you don’t own breathing, you don’t own movement.” Steady breath is not only a green light for movement, but it also reduces the oxidative stress of exercise.1
- Take 5 minutes to lie in the constructive resting position (pictured), bringing awareness to your body and breath.
- Do you feel your body move with your breath? Where?
- Notice areas of tension, where you feel your weight, and so on.
Constructive Resting Position
We’re building a proprioceptive map through this practice. Enriching our mental map of the body has a powerful effect on neuromuscular function by regulating the sensory-motor systems of the body.4 Think of it this way: when we know what exactly we’re working with, it’s easier to accomplish the task at hand.
Detail the Map
Now, we’re going to prime the nervous system for optimal function through slow, gentle movement. There will likely be a few eye rolls here, but bear with me. Slow movement leads to better movement perception and improved mechanics. This is thanks to a little-known principle called the Weber-Fechner Rule.2 It essentially boils down to this: the magnitude of a stimulus is inversely related to the brain’s ability to sense differences in magnitude.
“Slowing down and simplifying our movement gives us a rich sensory-motor playground[.]”
Feldenkrais practitioner and Rolfer, Todd Hargrove, gave a useful example in his article Why Slow Movement Builds Coordination. Imagine being in a dark room with one candle lit. You can easily tell when a second is lit, right? Now imagine there are 200 candles. The 201st lighting isn’t as easy to discern, is it?
We know this intuitively, yet never apply it practically. Slowing down and simplifying our movement gives us a rich sensory-motor playground and much insight into what is going on with our body in motion.3 As the founder of MovNat, Erwan LeCorre, is fond of saying, “Speed masks inefficiency.”
- Take a main training movement (squat, deadlift) and perform it very slowly. Think of a sixty-second deadlift. Use PVC, not a barbell.
- Tune in to which muscles fire and when. Are there hitches in your control? Efficient movement comes from awareness of movement.
The 3 Training Blocks
Once we’ve primed the nervous system for efficient function, it’s time to get the body in motion. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll break down our intuitive movement into chunks of locomotion and manipulation. Move yourself, then move something else.
Block 1 – Locomotion
Aim for 10-15 minutes.
Locomotion encompasses all of our earliest movement. Rolling, crawling, walking, running. You could even include jumping and climbing. This is a time to explore how you move your body through space.
You could begin with light plyometrics like skipping rope or box jumps. After that, work crawling progressions and climbing. It isn’t necessary to train to failure. Remember, it’s okay to have fun with your movement.
Block 2 – Manipulation
Aim for 15-20 minutes
Manipulation is how we exert our bodies on our environment. This is where more familiar strengthening movements come into play. For intuitive movement sessions, I recommend one upper-body pulling movement, one lower-body movement, and one upper-body pushing movement.
You might choose the pull up, the deadlift, and the L-sit to handstand. Cycle through these movements with 5 repetitions each (keeping them “virtuous”). Again movement quality is key. Give yourself a break as needed. You’ll end up with a qualitative feel of your training and quantitative measures of progress. Win-win if you ask me.
Block 3 – Conditioning
Aim for 15-20 minutes
For conditioning, you might cycle back to your locomotion practice. Sprints make an excellent finisher, or you could try my favorite locomotion complex: crawling coupled with sprinting. The explosiveness coupled with the grind makes for a powerful shock to the system.
As you wind down your intuitive movement session, check back in with your body. What differences do you notice? Your breathing has likely changed, and your pulse has quickened. Are you more aware of certain parts of the body?
This style of programming makes for both an excellent deload or a practice all its own. By simplifying the broad field of movement, we make it accessible and give it much-needed structure without taking the inherent fun out of the practice. Keep moving!
Check out these related articles:
- Your Mind Is Your Gym
- 3 Basic Drills to Improve Your Strength and Movement
- You Need Natural Movement
- What’s New On Breaking Muscle Today
1. Martarelli, D, et al. “Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011. https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nep169
2. Hecht, Selig. “The Visual Dsicrimination of Intensity and the Weber-Fechner Law,” The Journal of General Physiology. 1924. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2140693/pdf/235.pdf
3. Ma, H., & Trombly, C. A. “Effects of task complexity on reaction time and movement kinematics in elderly people,” American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2004. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15068150/
4.Payne, P, et al. “Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy,” Frontiers of Psychology. 2015. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00093
Photos courtesy of Breaking Muscle.