When discussing what I ‘do’ for fitness, I’m usually met with confused looks when I say ‘natural fitness’. The concept is not widely known and for some reason I can’t quite fathom yet, not accepted by some. This usually leads me to a lengthy description/discussion on the ins and outs of natural fitness, a difficult concept for some, as by today’s fitness standards it doesn’t really adhere to any quantifiable boundaries. I just get blank stares and slow nods as I can see the cogs of their brain trying to fit this round peg into their square-hole view of fitness. So as a way to square it up a little I’ve written this…
Also known as evolutionary fitness or natural movement, natural fitness is basically the categorisation of the movements that any human should be able to perform. We evolved because of our ability to survive through sourcing food, self defence and escape – all of which obviously require movement. Those movements that make up these abilities (e.g walking, running, jumping, climbing, etc.) are the things that are responsible for our survival, so can be described as in-built, or natural.
Now that we have taken away (or at least masked) the immediate struggle for survival by creating a system of convenience, and with it the need to move, we now have to replace these movements through exercise. The increase in abundance and excesses of food, in conjunction with the lack of need to move for that food has created an energy gap – where we now have more energy going in to our bodies than going out, which is ultimately stored as fat. In response to this unnatural imbalance we have built an industry aimed at getting people to move more, but not necessarily better. Gyms, an unnatural environment of concrete and florescent lights, where we can go and do unnatural movements on machines designed to make the exercise easier. Conversely natural fitness means performing movements (or exercises) that utilise functional movements, often in natural environments. This explanation is usually followed by the question “But what is functional?”
Most people who have been anywhere around the fitness industry lately would have heard of the term functional fitness. But with so many people throwing it around out there, the term appears to have lost some of its meaning. For a movement to be functional it obviously needs a function. In other words, if you never have the need for a specific movement, then practicing it is a waste of time. For example, I have never had the need to lift an object up at arms length out to my side. I have had the need to be able to dive down onto the ground and quickly jump back up to my feet. Therefore for me lateral shoulder raises = not functional, burpees or plyometric push-ups = functional.
The caveat to this is that in some cases an individual may not be able to perform the movement and so would need to build up the strength or the motor patterns required. As natural movement is what we should all be able to do, anything needed to build up to that point is rehabilitation.
Natural movement patterns are not only the mechanism that allowed us to survive up until this point in time, but also our legacy to the future. It is sadly a legacy that we are wasting. Previously fitness was just a by-product of surviving, whereas today we are almost at a point where surviving is a by-product of fitness. We need to shift our focus from being fit for fitness sake to being fit in order to maintain capabilities.
If we do not preserve our innate abilities to survive now, we may find that those abilities are no longer there when we do need them. When it comes to survival skills, it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.