Trail Running 2.0: An Introduction to Natural Movement

by Jason Fitzgerald

Over the years, Strength Running has focused on so much more than just running.

If you’re training for a 5k or a marathon, you can’t simply run every day and expect to stay healthy and reach your goals.

There’s more to it than that:

  1. Varying your goal race distance, terrain, shoes, and paces can help you prevent injuries
  2. Dynamic stretches help you warm up before a run
  3. Strength exercises keep you healthy and can rehabilitate an existing injury
  4. Trail running improves your coordination and enjoyment of the sport

Indeed, variety is a hallmark of my coaching philosophy.

That’s why today I’m excited to present a guest post from Logan Jones, the creator of Wild Movement.

Take it away Logan!

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In high school, my cross country coach used to prescribe us “road workouts.” He’d map out a loop through the surrounding neighborhoods, telling us to “stick together and stay on the roads.”

But…we weren’t very good listeners.

In fact, the second we were out of sight my buddies and I would disappear into the woods. The trails. Often barefoot. And spend the next hour hurtling streams and scrambling up mud hills.

It’s not that we disliked running. We loved it. We simply disliked the monotony of “pavement pounding.” And so we chose to disobey. And while I’m still not sure if my coach knew, he never complained. Because — through our unorthodox training regimen — my friends and I led our team to a regional championship.

Natural Movement

Whether trail running was responsible for our success I’ll never know. But one thing’s for sure: “Off road” running kicks ass. It’s fun. It’s therapeutic. And it sure as hell beats trudging down Main Street as cars spew exhaust in your face.

But it gets even better.

You see, after graduation I stumbled upon something that shattered my reality. Something that validated my unconventional training style…and something that took “trail running” to the next level.

What is Natural Movement?

The concept I’m hinting at is called natural movement.

Basically, natural movement is trail running on steroids. It’s running…plus climbing, lifting, jumping, swimming and a slew of other movements — all strung together into one never-ending “adventure.”

Here’s an example.

Now I’ll be honest:

This style of training is not for everyone. It’s raw. It’s primal. It’s a bit “out there.” And that’s fine. I don’t expect everyone to embrace it with bare feet and open arms. But if you’re like me…if you live for the sensation of flying through the forest on a crisp fall morning…it might be for you.

I’ll give you the step-by-step “kickstart plan” in just a second…but right now there’s a question I want to address:

“I’m a runner focusing on performing well at an upcoming race. So why should I break up my well-planned training to go prance around in the woods?”

Good question.

Here are three reasons:

1.  Natural movement “injury proofs” your body

Running is a repetitive movement, which creates muscular imbalances that can lead to injury. You know this. You also know that diversifying your training  can help correct these imbalances. But are you actually doing anything to offset all those weekly miles?

If not, listen up:

Some estimates put the injury rate for runners at 70% every single year. 70 PERCENT! If you don’t want to join the “cripple club,” it’s critically important that you vary your training. Natural movement is a great way to expand your “training arsenal” while embracing nature, challenging movement, progress, freedom.

2. Natural Movement increases your motivation

Back in high school, whenever I started a training regimen I’d be incredibly motivated. I couldn’t WAIT to go run.

But after a while, this intense drive would begin to fade. I’d still run, but it wouldn’t be filled with the same passion and commitment. I’d be “going through the motions,” checking days off in my training log, but not really enjoying the process.

And while I used to curse myself for being lazy, I now realize that that wasn’t the problem at all. It was a lack of variety. My training had grown boring. And as a result, I had grown bored.

Here’s the deal:

Results are directly linked to consistency. Consistency is directly linked to motivation. Motivation is directly linked to excitement. And excitement is directly linked to variety. So mix things up. If you do, you’ll find your running reinvigorated with a new found sense of energy and enthusiasm.

3. Natural Movement is the ultimate form of cross training

When some people are first introduced to natural movement they say, “Okay, it looks fun, but will it actually help me improve my fitness level?” It’s a good question – and my answer is a clear and resounding YES!

Not only is this style of training stupidly fun, it’s also extremely challenging. It’s freaking HARD. And because it works practically every muscle group in your body, you couldn’t wish for a better form of cross training.

A Step-By-Step Plan to Get Started with Natural Movement

Okay. You’ve got the overview. You know why natural movement can help you become a better runner. But how exactly does one “move naturally?” And how can you — as a runner — seamlessly integrate this style of training into your weekly routine?

You see, natural movement is a bit of a paradox. It’s laughably simple and, at the same time, remarkably complex. Its essence is as pure as my high-school trail runs: simply head out in nature and explore.

But at the same time, each respective movement is unique. Each movement takes time and practice to master. And, believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to perform each movement.

While I can’t possibly cover all the subtleties in this post, I can give you a basic action plan designed specifically for runners. Something tangible you can weave into your training schedule starting today.

Here you go:

Step 1: Get into nature. As much as you can, try to steer clear of pavement and instead, take to the woods. Or your local city park. Any natural setting will do.

Why?

Because natural surfaces are easier on your joints, exposure to nature increases wellbeing and, as you’ll probably agree, trail running is where it’s at.

Step 2: Complete a bi-weekly strength routine. One of the biggest investments you can make in your running is a consistent strength training routine. It minimizes your injury risk, improves your form and, of course, makes you look like a hunk.

Whether you go “fully wild” and build strength by lifting boulders and climbing trees  doesn’t really matter. Any strength routine will do. The key is to “un-specialize” your training by incorporating functional strength exercises.

This is Strength Running after all…

Step 3: Have a weekly “epic adventure.” And finally, I recommend performing a weekly “epic adventure:” the heart of my training philosophy. If you watched this, you know what an epic adventure looks like.

Basically, it’s a 30-60 minute movement sequence during which your string together unlimited movement combinations. No rules. No regulations. Just pure, explorative, vigorous play.

Your Challenge

I’m going to wrap up now, then give you a chance to snag my free bootcamp at the end of this post. But before I do, there’s one more thing that I want to stress.

When you get down to it, I don’t run to compete, improve my fitness or even test my limits. Those are all nice bonuses…but they’re not the reason I run.

I run because I love the way it makes me feel. I run for the endorphin-rush of a hard-fought race or the clarity that accompanies an early morning 10 miler. And I’m pretty sure you do too.

With this in mind, here’s what I ask:

From today onward, try to infuse your running with a new level of joy. Instead of falling into a boring pattern and “hammering out the miles” like everyone else… disobey. Give conformity the finger. And pursue a training style that makes YOU happy.

Whether or not this includes “natural movement” doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point. The point is to reconnect with the reason you started moving in the first place…and make every run, strength workout and “epic adventure” the best part of your day.

That’s your mission. Now get moving.

When he’s not running barefoot or climbing trees, Logan runs a health and fitness blog at www.WildMovement.com. If you enjoyed this article, he invites you to join the Wild Movement and sign up for his Free 4-Day Bootcamp.

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