How to Integrate MovNat Into Your Strength and Conditioning Routine

To build your own MovNat program, it’s important to understand the relationship between conditioning and skill acquisition.  Far from being mutually exclusive, your current strength and conditioning program can absolutely feed into a rich natural movement practice.  The key is progression – a relationship I call the skill-conditioning continuum.

Conditioning-Skill Continuum Arc

Gray Cook writes in his book “Movement” that we should never add strength to a movement dysfunction.  This sentiment is echoed in MovNat’s philosophy – you will gain conditioning through training movement skills, but not necessarily the other way around.

However, rather than replacing my understanding of strength and conditioning, MovNat’s focus on skill acquisition has enhanced it.

The human mind works by creating categories, allowing us to process and store large amounts of information.  In strength training, we have many ways of categorizing movements.  The simplest  (and my personal favorite) are Dan John’s squat, hinge, push, pull, carry, and ground work (see a sample ground work program here).  These categories create balance in your programming.

In MovNat, on the other hand, we divide human movements into skill categories.  Again, this shifts the focus away from conditioning and towards skill acquisition, as this provides a much richer experience and practicality.  One of these skill categories, Lifting and Carrying, is what many traditionally ascribe to ALL of the above strength training categories.  But I believe the connection goes deeper than that.

Skill Set Progression

For example, Dan John’s “pull” category and MovNat’s “climbing” can be related through a skill-conditioning continuum.  Some baseline level of conditioning, especially in populations that are severely de-conditioned (read: Zoo Humans), will ease your entry into climbing skills.  For example, if you can’t support yourself in a hang position, or don’t have the ability to keep your shoulders out of your ears, or lack the strength to support yourself with one hand while transferring to the other, starting with some lat pulldowns or band assisted pull-ups is a viable starting option.  You are at the beginning of the continuum for this skill-set.

Conditioning is never really devoid of skill.  Even in this example, it’s still important to focus on technique that will transfer more easily to your practical goal (packed shoulders, etc.).  But for the sake of organizing our programming, it’s still a useful distinction.

Once we have this base-level of conditioning, we can progress into low-level climbing skills, gradually building to skills that demand a higher and higher level of technical difficulty.

The final step comes after mastery of skills, where now the skills themselves serve as tools of conditioning as we introduce metabolic demand.  You can perform an elbow pop-up onto a beam? Great!  Now can you perform it as part of a combo, where fatigue becomes a factor? 

Single Skill Progression

This framework also works for individual skill progression.  Staying within the climbing category, let’s say you want to improve on your aforementioned elbow pop-up.

First, you can ask yourself:  do I have the pre-requisite conditioning to perform this skill?  Check.

Second, what beginning skill progressions (or components) can I use to introduce this skill?  Maybe you work on pulling yourself up into an active hang position.  Check.

Third, we can work on sequencing the component parts together.  Remember, to learn a new skill it’s important that you are NOT fatigued – you want your central nervous system to be firing on all cylinders.

Finally, once you have attained a certain level of mastery, the skill once again becomes a viable mode for conditioning.  Pretty cool, eh?

Conditioning-Skill Continuum Bar

Here are some practical takeaways of this concept.

1. Use the skill-conditioning continuum to judge your current abilities and guide your programming.

2.  Add skill components into your conditioning wherever possible. (Breathing, posture, context, etc.)

3.  Focus the core of your program on skill progression.

4.  Use mastered skills for advanced conditioning – a beautiful expression of human movement!

I hope this helps with your understanding of how MovNat can enrich your strength and conditioning practices.  In later posts, I hope to provide you with some templates showing you how I group these different movements into a complete skillful strength and conditioning program!