Within the fitness industry in recent years there has been the fad of functional fitness. This is fitness aimed at helping you overcome physical tasks you may face in life. I have always liked the idea of that. I liked the idea of being ready for anything, of being able to save yourself or others from danger. To me its like being a hero whether that being able to fight off an attacker or carry an injured person to safety. The problem is in the way the fitness industry tries to apply this goal. Exercise balls, stability boards, lightweight kettle bells, trx bands, the vast majority of crossfit, lightweight power bags, rubber tubes, 1 legged everything and various other silly things. What they fail to do is acquire full body strength which carries over to virtually any other fitness endeavour.
The phrase to be strong to be useful comes from Georges Herbert after he helped evacuate a town from a volcano eruption. This experience had a profound effect on him, and reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. This is something I believe is fundamentally missing from the fitness lifestyle. Health, fitness, bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, are all seen as rather vain and selfish pursuits. Normal people view you as obsessive while you view yourself as elitist. just because you lift weights you are somehow a better person than someone who doesn't. Here's something for you, your worth as a person is not dependant on your physique or how much you bench its dependant on your morals and how you act upon them.
After his encounter with the evacuation. Georges began travelling. He remarked the impressive physical development and athleticism of the native tribes he encountered during his travels. He noticed that the tribesmen did no set exercise routine bit will merely a result of there lifestyle in which they would often have to run, climb, crawl, lift, hunt, carry and perform a number of basic human movements. This led him to develop an exercise system based around these movements and taking elements of gymnastics in a hope to emulate the athleticism of the native tribesmen he had encountered. He called this system Methode Naturelle or the Natural Method.
Georges was a pioneer of physical education and spread his method as well a becoming a teacher of physical education. He came up with the idea of using obstacle courses as a way of training and much of the military training came from his influences. Even childrens play grounds are based on some of his original training structures.
Fast forward to the 1950's and the beginning of a more modern devlopment from Georges teachings derived from a man called Raymond Belle. Raymond was an orphan who lived in a military institution. While the children would do daily physical training Raymond decided that he not only wanted to survive his time in orphage in what must have a pretty tough childhood, but wanted to excel. He wanted to be phycally capable enough to be able to defend himself from bullies. He began performing additional training at night such as sneaking out and playing on the obstacle course's and climbing trees. Raymond carried on training in this manner and when he grow up he was drafted into the French fire service where is physical attributes became a great asset.
Raymand Belle had a son named David. As a teenager David became bored with traditional sports and began discussing the training his dad had undertaken himself. Raymond taught David of training in a useful way, a way in which you can help others in an emergency and use your strength and fitness for something more than yourself rather than to just play a sport for entertainment or winning. Not only did Raymond teach David how to train but emphasised the attitude of Georges Herbert of being strong to be useful. David took his farther teachings and with the help of his friends began to develop his own discipline. What started out as games and physical challenges for one another developed into worldwide physical activity known as parkour.
The overriding philosophy of parkour as created by David Belle is similar to that of Georges Herbert's Method naturelle. The purpose of parkour is not to look aesticly pleasing by performing incredible stunts and flips but to move effiently and quickly through your envirment with the aim of developing this ability to help you in life, whether this be in escaping from danger, reaching someone in need or any situation where you need to get somewhere. Unfortunately this philosophy of parkour being something practical used to help yourself or others has been lost in an attempt to perform the most impressive stunt or craziest flip. While these things are impressive to watch they are missing the point of why parkour was originally developed. It has become commercialised by advertisers to promote irrelevant products and there are even competitions based on who can do the most impressive tricks. While there is nothing wrong with competition it is losing the original discipline of parkour. But there are those who are bringing it back to the teachings of George's Herbert about developing useful physical attributes to help yourself or others in need.
Check out MovNat a site run by Erwin Le Corre a man promoting method naturalle in its original form taking it back to the foundation of human movement and ability.
Also check out his promo video
So why as a powerlifter am I promoting this method of physical training rather than just lifting heavy things? I want to promote the idea of useful strength. Taking the idea of being strong to be useful and applying it to weightlifting. Alot of weightlifting is fueled by ego and while this isn't entirely a bad thing I see training as something more. Just because you have an impressive physique or can lift a lot in the gym it doesn't mean you can do anything outside the context of the gym. I feel incorporating this kind of training where you are using your body in almost every athletic way will help to round out your strength. By lifting and carrying heavy awkward odjects such as rocks, logs, sandbags, barrels etc you build an odd kind of strength which you can't get from the gym alone. By learning to move through your environment you develop not only the functional and athletic ability but are also getting fantastic condition at the same time. The term general physical preparedness is used in powerlifting to describe any exercise that isn't lifting. Exercise designed to get you in shape and improve your recovery capacity so that you are better able to handle heavy lifting. Well I feel that method nataulle training might just be the best form of GPP for a lifter. It let's you train every physical trait while also enjoying nature and improving your functional ability for any physical situation. What I found interesting is check out this old videos of polish weightlifters:
Its looks pretty similar to method naturelle training to me and this is a top weightlifting nation using it for gpp on Olympic athletes. It will certainly take some time and creativity to come up with effective method naturelle workouts but here are a few ideas. First of all get yourself into nature. Woods and forests are a great start. Select a short course with obstacles. These can be trees you have to weave between, branches you have to duck under, fallen logs to jump or climb over or similar things. Now you will train intervals using this short course. You will train in both directions. Limit the length of the course to about 50-100 metres at most. You don't want to make it too long and turn it into long distance running.
Look for logs or rocks the heavier the better and practice clean and press, shouldering or deadlifts with them. Preferably train singles but this will depend on the weight of what you can find. Its also great to carry them for distance zercher, on the shoulder, overhead or any way you like.
The other form of training I suggest are movement challenges. These require creativity. The basic idea is to set yourself a challenge of getting somewhere in a difficult way. Some good ideas are climbing trees, balancing on logs, climbing rocks or bouldering that kind of thing. Try to get some ideas from the videos.
Work on developing your conditioning through moving through a varied enviroment as well as odd strength through lifting and carrying awkward objects. The possibilities are endless in terms of workouts and conditioning. I will begin to come up with more ideas, sample workouts and videos in due time on becoming strong to be useful.