I work with really smart people. Like the post from Rod Root (Depth Jumps), I have turned to another one of the awesome coaches on my team to explore an idea that I love. Matt Myers is a MovNat certified trainer and the head coach of our adult training program at Force. Matt just so happens to specialize in things that make him look like a ninja (black costume withstanding). I asked Matt how to train athletes to move naturally, freely, and BETTER. He came up with this awesome piece.
Throughout all of history, stories of athleticism have helped to define our human heritage. There was Milo and the first Olympians – legend has it that Milo trained by carrying a bull on his shoulders everyday. As the bull aged, Milo became stronger (this may be the first known example of progressive strength training).
In his book “Born to Run”, author Christopher McDougall highlights the fossilized footprints of early humans whose stride-length suggests sprinting speeds faster than that of Usain Bolt.
There was Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles in two days to beg the Spartans for help against and invading Persian force, who landed in Marathon, Greece. He then ran 25 miles to Athens to announce the victory, and fell dead (the modern “marathon” takes its name from his legend).
Even in modern times, athletes like Bo Jackson are famous not only for their unrivaled athleticism (including the fastest ever 40-time at the NFL combine, 4.12s), but for the seeming lack of modern strength and conditioning we associate with such feats.
These stories are not only a part of our collective history, but our own personal histories as well. My great-great-great-grandfather, John R. Murphy, was strong as a bull. Even after getting hit by a train, which disfigured his arm, he was called the “strongest man in Fairport (NY).” Legend has it that he used to win all kinds of bets down at the railroad station showing feats of strength such as moving hundreds of pounds casks from one platform to another with one arm. He routinely carried railroad ties home 1.5 miles at the young age of 65, and boasted that he would’ve beat John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight boxing crown if he had two good arms. These were the types of stories my father told me as a young child, and shaped my understanding of what it meant to be an “athlete”.
Obviously, athleticism was a part of our humanity long before the advent of barbells and bumper plates. Which begs the question: put in their situation, how would you perform?
With all of our modern knowledge, but without modern conveniences, how would you train your athletes?
What is a Natural Athlete?
In order to design a program, we must first have a goal. What qualities are important to athletes? Here’s my best stab at three of them – and they might not be what you think.
Situational Awareness – In quarterbacks we call this “pocket awareness” – being able to sense the environment around you and make quick decisions. This is a useful ability in all athletes, however, as the more externally aware you are, the better you can adapt to the situation.
Fluidity – The best athletes in the world are often described as making amazing feats look “effortless.” The flow of their body from one position to the next seems otherworldly. We could also call this “efficiency”. There is no wasted movement. No wasted tension or effort. Many disciplines, from Olympic Weightlifting to Martial Arts, teach us to be fast and powerful means to be relaxed.
Self-Dominance – This is a term I picked up from Ido Portal’s teachings – the idea that you are in complete control of your self at any given moment. It closely relates to being efficient, but expands beyond that. This is awareness not only of your environment (as in situational awareness), but of yourself. It is only when both of these qualities are mastered that you truly unlock the human athletic potential.
Now that we have defined some qualities of an athlete, let’s talk about training. If you were plucked out of the gym and set down in the wilderness, what could you do to become more fit (besides just survive.) I’m talking about Rocky vs. the Russian in Rocky IV. If you were in Rocky’s situation, stuck up high in the mountains with no high-tech equipment, no olympic lifting bars, how could you best train these athletic qualities? How could you become a “natural athlete”? Here are five simple drills to get you started.
5 Drills to Train the Natural Athlete
1. Ground Moves – Ground moves represent perhaps the most essential part of human movement – being able to get up and down off the ground in multiple ways. Not only do they have carryover to martial arts such as grappling, but they serve as a great warm up tool, build proprioception in the whole body (self-dominance), and force you to adapt to your environment. I especially like to explore different get-up variations, such as those shown below.
2.Bear Crawl – The bear crawl is a critical component of building contralateral patterning in the brain. It sets up reflexive core activation to make sure your shoulders and hips work in unison. Crawling has even been shown to improve “binocular vision, your hand-eye coordination, and even your binaural hearing (your perception of sound from two ears.)” Crawl like Spiderman, and get senses like Spiderman? Count me in.
3. Throwing and Catching – In the gym, we often see athletes throwing medicine balls to each other in a partner drill in order to add an element of fun and reactivity. But I think the true benefit of this drill is lost when we switch on beast mode and just try to knock each other over. Catching and throwing allow us to not only learn appropriate force production, but appropriate force absorption from an outside object (think of the catching the bar in the clean) and accuracy. By throwing in different patterns, stressing accuracy so that your partner can adjust and make a clean catch, we start to see some real progress. (Don’t be afraid to try different objects as well!)
4. Precision Jumping – The ability to land safely is one of the most important skills an athlete can have. Though it is common to use the vertical jump as a measure of athletic potential, we often overlook the mechanics of landing and precision. This comes back to our concepts of situational awareness, fluidity, and self-dominance. Do you have the awareness to land exactly where you need to? Do you have the efficiency to absorb the impact of your landing safely (force absorption of your own bodyweight)? And do you have the control to do it precisely every time, regardless of circumstance?
5. Tag – Why did we ever get away from playing tag? I can’t think of a better expression of speed, agility, awareness, and reaction skills. Even better, this is an awesome way to test out those footwork drills you’ve been working on in a random environment. Do you see transfer? Another cool drill to try is “knee tag” – essentially, you try to tap your partner’s knee without getting tapped in return. Keep score, and add space restrictions to increase difficulty. Very cool.
So there they are! Five moves for the natural athlete to start practicing, training, and perfecting. Take these and run with them! You never know what creative minds will add to these drills – in my experience, it’s when you get a little off the beaten path that the real magic happens.
Learn more from Matt Myers at his website freefitguy.com