“Being Strong to Be Useful.”
This is the motto of Georges Hébert. Hébert was a French Naval Officer before the First World War. In 1902, he was stationed in St. Pierre, Martinique when the island was hit by a disastrous volcanic eruption. Although Hébert managed to help hundreds of people survive, he was struck by how many people died needlessly because they were not physically fit enough to escape.
Upon returning to France, Hébert convinced the French Navy the allow him to teach French recruits a more natural method of physical fitness so that they could be more fit for the purpose of their jobs. Hébert later wrote down his Natural Method. For those of us who don’t read French, these writings have been translated by Philippe Til, a French personal trainer and fitness entrepreneur based in Los Angeles as The Natural Method, George’s Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education.
Hébert has also been very influential on more modern training modalities such as Parkour and Erwin Le Corre’s MovNat. One could also argue that the recent sport of Obstacle Course Racing like Spartan Race is based on the teachings of Hébert. Hébert is also mentioned in Christopher McDougall’s new book Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance. This book is also worth a read and will be reviewed here soon.
Get Off the Couch and Move
The gist of of the book is that the due to the “advent of technological comforts, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle resulting in a regression of our physical fitness paired with the removal of humans from the food chain, the need for fitness on a daily basis is gone.” Scary considering that this was written 100 years ago and the problems seem the same. Hébert basically goes on to say that you don’t need to join a gym or buy a device or DVD from a TV commercial to get fit. You just need to move naturally, walk, run, swim, climb, throw things, lift heavy things occasionally and learn how to defend yourself.
The Fitness Pyramid
Fitness is a essentially a pyramid. At the base is breathing and circulation. Hébert refers to the Hygienic Effect that is “produced more specifically by the exercises that activate breathing and circulation.” This seems to be similar to the focus on breathing in many fitness systems such as yoga and kettle bell programs such as StrongFirst.
The next level of the pyramid is the “Aesthetic Effect…produced by the exercises that develop the muscular system, which remedy poor shoulder position, expand the rib cage and bring the spinal curve back to its optimal alignment.” This is essentially a focus on what we might call mobility and alignment and is in response to all of the time modern man spends sitting on their butts. This is where the Functional Movement System (FMS) would play today. On this level, you focus on basic body movements such as the movements that can be found in Original Strength, as well as balance and hanging.
The next level up on the pyramid would be the Functional Aspect where the functional movements of marching, walking, running, swimming, climbing, lifting, throwing and defensive tactics come into play. You don’t need to go to the gym however. Go for a run or walk, do body weight exercises like push ups, pull ups, burpees, lunges and squats. Jump up onto things. Hang from bars on the local playground. Get out of the gym with their machines and limited movement and return to the movement your body has always been programmed to enjoy.
Lastly, in the pyramid of fitness comes sports specific movements such as baseball, football, soccer, ultimate frisbee or whatever strikes your fancy. These movements are now learned on top of the base of breathing, circulation, mobility and alignment and functional strength. This means that you will be much more efficient in your sports movements and much less likely to get hurt.
Get Outside and Enjoy
So, in the spirit of Hébert, go out for a run or a walk, jump up onto something, hang from something or lift something heavy or at least read what he has to say. Reclaim the fitness and health that you were designed to enjoy.
Do you belong to a gym or do you find ways to exercise outside and using your body the way it was meant to work?