Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Natural Movement Exercise

During my recent visit to Moorea, French Polynesia, I met a physical education teacher, Jody Grosma, who taught at the island's agricultural school. We were training no-gi jiu-jitsu together at a cool little outdoor fare (open air structure) dojo he'd built outside his home on the beach. We loved talking training with each other and were pleased to discover our health and exercise philosophies had much in common.

Jody mentioned that while getting his physical education degree in France, he'd studied the "Methode
Hebert" of natural movement exercise. Now, I'm extremely well-read on the subject of old-time training systems and I've always based my own training on pre-1950's systems. This is because of the specter of performance-enhancing drugs. You have to be suspicious of so-called "results-producing" post-1960's protocols because the results of the adherents may be tainted by drug use but as a natural athlete I can completely trust exercise systems of the mighty men of old.

There were some kick-ass dudes way back during the times of our grandparents and great-grandparents who didn't have access to so much as a Flintstone vitamin, yet they produced stunningly, incredible, athletic results, coupled with superior health.

The physiques of these men, and few brave, pioneering women, were more in line with the ancient Greek ideals of body proportion and symmetry. It was health first, in their regimens; performance second, and increased aesthetics were the result of the first two. It seems to be the reverse today: everyone's after the "six-pack look" with little thought for optimal health. Anyway, despite having read volumes of old books, I'd never yet heard of Georges Hebert.

I was greatly intrigued and did some quick internet research...with happy results! I discovered that Georges Hebert, a physical culturist of the late 19th century, was the father of many exercise systems, some still in use to this day. While the French, unfortunately, never took him as seriously as they ought to have, the Germans put his ideas to work and used his methods in molding their elite fighting troops, such as the SS. My own Maxercise exercise system is virtually identical to the Herbert Method. Naturally, I found this pleasing. Great minds think alike!

I've always striven to meet the standard set during the Golden Age of Greece. My version of the natural exercise movement system is based on the same ten movement patterns:

  1. walking
  2. running
  3. jumping
  4. climbing
  5. various crawls upon all fours
  6. wrestling/grappling
  7. lifting heavy objects
  8. balancing
  9. throwing
  10. swimming
Almost all mammals engage in the above activities. My whole life, I've based my exercise routines around these principles. I've blended both Eastern and Western conditioning systems and much of my work incorporates the classic yogic principles. I've always preferred to be out-of-doors in the fresh air and sunlight, either in the woods or near a body of water--the way nature intends it! What I see in most gyms across the country is a major step in the wrong direction: mindless hamsters, utterly divorcing their minds from their bodies, iPods blaring, working isolation movements, all the while pumping and preening in the mirror. In other words, producing little in the way of worthwhile results. Those who do have an ability to produce significant hypertrophy end up all show and no go. Many of these mirror athletes are athletically compromised or incompetent.

There is a growing trend away from this unfortunate norm. On my trek across the United States, I was invited to visit Gym Jones, in Salt Lake City UT, owned and operated by Mark and Lisa Twight. Mark and Lisa trained the cast for the movie 300, and designed the original 300 workout. Mark, a world-class climber, developed an array of amazing apparatus for body weight climbing, pulling and pushing. I've never seen so many different pull-up bars in my life! Lisa is an excellent martial artist and works as a trainer on movie sets. Both Mark and Lisa are both stellar examples of their own philosophy.

Another awesome gym is the Monkey Bar Gym in Madison WI, owned by my good friend, Jon Hinds an inventor extraordinaire of many unique fitness devices, including my beloved Lifeline Jungle Gym. At the Monkey Bar Gym, there are neither music, mirrors nor machines. The single machine permitted is the human body. Their system of exercise is nearly identical to my own. What do I like best? No shoes allowed! The Monkey Bar Gym emphasizes foot and ankle development through barefoot training--nature's way.

Both Gym Jones and the Monkey Bar Gym hearken back to the ancient athletic principles that built men like the Spartans and the gladiators.

If you want to learn more about the Maxercise system, get thee nigh to the Underground Gym in Edison NJ Saturday 12 July for a day of heavy, natural sweat and good times. click here.

If you're a trainer, want to be a trainer--or look like one--I'm presenting a body weight exercise certification at Maxercise, in Philadelphia, 20 July. Contact maxercise@gmail.com for more details and get yourself on the list.

I'd be so pleased to show you what I've learned over 36 years as a trainer! Hope to see you there.


Peter Kim, MD said...

Awesome and inspiring, as always.

Do you have any bodyweight seminars or certifications planned for California anytime after the Summer?

Have been increasingly interested in getting more adept at moving my own body through space (as opposed to just moving other objects around around myself).

And welcome back to civilization! I'm sure you're sorry to be back :)

Robert said...

I really want to be in NJ for your workshop but I my duaghter has a big show that day and I can't miss it. Tough to be torn between the 2 though! I guess I will try to soak up the energy you guys give off into the atmosphere that day.


Igor said...

Dear Mr. Maxwell

Thanks for sharing this incredible information.

Today I walked for four hours together with my wife and 6 month old baby, yesterday I ran for an hour (ending with a 200 meter sprint) and today I will go strong with weighted pushups and pullups.

Please know that you are an inspiration!

If I lived in the US I would follow your seminar, kept my mouth shut and listen.

With the upmost respect
A 34 year old ICT consultant, who enjoys working out in nature to stress of big time ...

john said...

Great blog entry, Coach!

You mention the "Greek ideal" and that you look to pre-1950s fitness systems for inspiration. Elsewhere on your site you state that "My workout system develops not only my body, but my mind and fighting spirit as well."

With regard to developing the mind and fighting spirit, do you have any favorite texts from the "old masters"? Works that integrate the body, mind, and spirit?

p.s. The photo of you sitting in mediation on a raft in the ocean is so perfect on so many levels.

Wild Geese said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more about the Methode Herbert, after reading your post I spent aout 2 hours googling it and then had a play in the back garden inspired by what I saw (did loads of breakfalls, rolls, alligator pushups and bear crawls, in other words, played like a kid!)

What good resources are there for the methode herbert? there is a website thast gets listed over and over but seems to be dysfunctional.

You're living the dream, keep it up.


Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Dave,

When I was in Tahiti doing the search I chanced upon a beautiful pictorial online I've been unable to find since. Here's a couple more sites:



And here's one for the women, some beautiful, feminine, curvy, ideal, classical female forms:


Steve Maxwell said...

Hi John,

One of the most difficult questions you can ask me is a list of my favorite texts! Because it keeps coming up, I'll make a list and post it, but I can't get to it right now.

It is on the to-do list and when I get to Philly I'll peruse my old library and start writing down some titles. One of the cons of living in the van is not having all those old books at hand.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Peter,

My only CA seminar so far is San Jose 13 September. Thanks for the welcome! The trip across the US was epic. A great exploration.

Steve Maxwell said...


I'm sorry we'll miss you. The Edison seminar is going to be great and I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for writing-Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Igor,
Thanks for the note. Where are you?

MOVNAT said...

Hi Steve and hi guys.
I've been training Methode Naturelle for years and I'm extremely knowledgeable about the philosophy, the techniques, the training and pedagogy as well as the history and I'm also connected to existing practioners in France and Belgium (I am French myself).

Considering the volume of books Hebert has produced, an Internet based information or background is a very light insight...It is necessary to study Hebert's books, which haven't been translated and that are very hard to find even in France to become "MN literate".
As for knowing how to actually train MN and not just mixing a little of everything from various disciplines or philosophies, one has to at least have trained under the supervision of MN instructors.

One thing, MN doesn't incorporate any yoga posture and its philosophy is very different, being fully based, not on any traditional or conventional form or sequence such as often found in oriental disciplines, but exclusively on natural and "useful" movements i.e adaptive movement in relation to practical situations (real-life demands).
I have recently created MovNat, a retooling of MN, improved and updated version to revive it and bring it back to the 21st century.
There's a video of my training in the coaching section, that you can also watch here http://www.vimeo.com/2697080

Steve, I like what you do, we share a similar orientation, we should meet and train some day ;-).

Best regards,

Erwan Le Corre

Steve Maxwell said...

Thank you for writing, Erwan, that is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful videos I've ever seen!

Have you trained in jiujitsu? Have you seen Ginastica Natural? I'd very much like to learn more about MN and I'm looking for your assistance! I'm setting up some EU seminar dates now, though not finalized, and hopefully we'll meet this summer. - Best, Steve

MOVNAT said...

Thanks for your positive feedback Steve I appreciate.
Yes I have trained BJJ(half a year in Brazil actually)and ground fighting is part of MN-MovNat.
Yes I've heard of Ginastica Natural and it's a cool fitness concept though again my interpretation of what is "natural" differs :)
To me humans beings don't have to mimic other animals but should understand how the human animal himself is supposed to move and what are the evolutionary movement skills he should develop and maintain his whole life to be true to his human nature.

Maybe contact me at contact@movnat.com so we can go on sharing stuff?

Best regards,

Wild Geese said...


We are practically neighbours. I would love to learn more from you.

I have friends in Paris, I don't know if you have heard of Charles Joussot and FISFO? We occaisionally get together with them for training and seminars, next time we are getting togethert I'd like to meet you.


Dave Hedges