A Physical Therapist's Journey Back To Natural Movement, Step 1: The Plan

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With the start of a new calendar year, many people set new year resolutions or goals. I have chosen to set a physical performance goal for myself. This year I want to successfully do a strict “muscle up” by June. The reason for this goal has to do with my enrollment in a MovNat level 2 certification course coming up in July. MovNat (short for Move Naturally) applies primal movement patterns, such as crawling, squatting, jumping and climbing, to explore our body’s full range of motion and agility potential — so that we can rebuild how we move from the ground up.

When you take a course like this, you are expected to practice what you preach. I will have to be able to physically perform certain movements with proficiency in order to become certified at a higher level. This is similar to martial arts where someone completes physical skills to attain the next color belt.

I am fairly new in my journey with MovNat and I have several areas of weakness, largely with upper-body pulling strength and power. This deficit shows up most during movements where I am hanging, pulling, or climbing.

One of the fundamental movements required of a level 2 MovNat certification is the power up exercise, better known as a “muscle up” in the fitness community. This involves pulling your body weight up from a hanging position (i.e., pull up), and then into a propped up position with your upper body above the bar. In terms of a practical application, the power up movement could be used to climb up on top of a surface or object such as a tree branch. Here's what it looks like:

                                                                                You can also check out this video demonstration of a MovNat Power Up.


In this blog series, I will take you through my journey to accomplish my performance goal. I will also help outline how you can apply this same framework to other movement goals.

My plan consists of 3 phases of training over the next 5 months:

  • Phase 1 (Jan - Feb):  Strength Training and MovNat hanging progressions
  • Phase 2 (Mar - Apr):  MovNat pull up progressions
  • Phase 3 (May):  Skill refinement and technical practice

So let's discuss what goes into each phase.

Phase 1

Since upper-body pulling strength is a weak area, I have decided to dedicate some time to building a foundation of strength using conventional weight training methods. This will include a few isolated exercises for the lats, rhomboids, biceps, and traps, with a specific prescription of 3-6 reps for 4-6 sets at a very high % of 1RM. This approach is best suited to build strength within a muscle group, rather than power or endurance. However, since exercise prescription is not the main intention of this blog post, I encourage you to reference a credible resource such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) for more information if you are interested.

Exercises in this program:

  • Lat pulldown
  • Bent over row with dumbbell
  • Chin up
  • Tricep dip

In order to accomplish more advanced movement skills such as a pull up or a power up, we must consider starting with some basics first. Once we practice and refine the fundamentals of a movement pattern at its easiest, then we are safe to build more advanced movements on top of it. For example, I have chosen to adopt a 6-week progression to build my tolerance to hanging. This has numerous benefits including increased grip strength, improved overhead shoulder mobility, increasing efficiency of upper extremity muscles, and incorporating breath control while under load.

Movements in this progression include:

  • Side hang
  • Front hang
  • Scapular pinch
  • Foot pinch
  • High hang
  • Side swing

For a glimpse into what these movements look like, I encourage you to visit the MovNat Youtube page which has a tremendous library of videos.

Phase 2

Details of this phase will come in my second blog post. Movements in this progression can include:

  • Forward swing
  • Side swing traverse
  • Forward swing traverse
  • Climb up
  • Swing up (variations)

Phase 3

Details of this phase will come in the third blog post. Movements in this progression can include:

  • Pop up variations
  • Power up
  • All previous movements

If you have a movement based goal that you have set for yourself, try to incorporate similar phases which gradually build upon one another, eventually leading up to your goal deadline. Be sure to provide ample time with each phase. Most research suggests 6-8 weeks for actual strength training gains to be observed. I would suggest using similar time frames when setting your training phases.

Another factor to consider when working on a hanging related goal like mine, is the process of building up callouses on your hands. Initially, if you have not done much hanging exercises before, it can take a toll on your hands. Be sure to gradually adjust to the increased workload. If you do too much too soon you risk skin breakdown and possibly tearing a callous which can be quite painful and debilitating to your progress.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

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Our commitment to help you be active for life lives in every member of today’s Activcore team. But its origin can be traced to the inspirational stories of our company founders, Ian Kornbluth, Jamie Kornbluth and Tyler Joyce. The meaningful actions of these physical therapists have led us to three essential values that guide our work.
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