Overcome these 4 challenges and you’ll be a primal fitness hero

by Ryan Wagner

I stumbled across a great video recently by Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months. If you haven’t heard of Benny he’s a polyglot – he speaks several languages – and is an expert at language learning. The video that really caught my attention was his talk at a TEDx event where he discusses what he considers to be the biggest challenges behind why people can’t learn a language. As I watched I couldn’t help but think that a few of these challenges are exactly the same for those of us that are training in the so-called primal fitness style.

Many people want to train in a more natural way, but lack the actionable tips to really make it happen.

I’ve met many people who certainly like the notion of climbing trees and jumping across streams and so on. But actually doing so or performing similar movements indoors seems very ambiguous. It’s easy to ask yourself, “Where do I begin? What am I actually supposed to do on day 1?

And so it’s Benny’s video that really got me thinking about how so many of us (myself included) view the primal/natural/animal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it fitness philosophy.

Let’s begin with some of Benny’s points in the video below (definitely worth watching) and see how we can use it to solve our fitness challenges.


Benny starts off his list by explaining how many people feel that learning a new language requires some sort of ‘language gene.’ Therefore, they think that’s the reason they are just not good at learning new languages – that they simply lack the natural talent.

When we look at this argument through the filter of fitness it’s easy to feel the same way – that your genes may be holding you back from where you really want to be. And while we have glossy magazines to thank for promoting unrealistic standards, moving like a human and moving well doesn’t demand good genes at all.

But the big problem that us movement geeks have is overcoming the stigma that adults are supposed to workout in a gym using machines. And while I’m not saying that all machines are bad, I do believe we have developed a fitness industry that revolves around isolating body parts and training them one at a time and often in only one plane of motion at a time.

While your genetics may provide for you an advantage in certain advanced movements, the big basic ones – the squat, pull, press, deadlift and carry – are for everyone. Same as with reciprocal patterns like climbing and crawling. None of this requires talent, just practice.

You think you’re too old

It’s easy to watch Movnat videos or other primal fitness tutorials and say to yourself, “Sure, I could do that as a kid, but now I’m too old for that sort of thing.”

But as adults we have some distinct advantages. We already have well developed motor control – at least as compared to children. We also have the discipline to learn something new and follow a program. Discipline in following a method is key to learning anything new, whether it’s French or natural movements. But we also need something else, we need to play and improvise.¬†If there’s anything we grow out of, it’s this ability to let go.

Being old won’t hold you back from moving better and training in more fundamental ways. You just need to remember to unlearn some of your ‘adult bias’ and have fun with it!

You don’t have a jungle in your backyard

Now I’ll be honest, this obstacle is one that I really found challenging when I started to adopt the Movnat philosophy. After all, Erwan Le Corre is climbing actual trees and swinging his bodyweight on top of logs suspended above waterfalls! Do I need those natural tools at my disposal to make the program work?

No, of course not. And with a little creativity you can capture a lot of the same movement and skill training indoors – even in your (gasp!) big box gym.

You’re afraid of looking silly

Benny says that one of the major reasons people can’t learn a language is that they focus too much on an unfounded fear of angering locals by wrongly pronouncing words. In other words, you’re afraid of looking silly.

Same thing with fitness.

This is a tough challenge to overcome. I remember the very first days I started integrating crawling on all fours into my warm ups. It definitely felt unnatural warming up in this manner in the weight room and I had this feeling that everyone was looking at me.¬†Climbing a rope is another good example. We all want to climb rope because it looks so much fun, but there’s that fear that if it’s your first time you’re not going to get very far.

My advice to overcome this challenge – focus on the movement.

Here are (2) examples:

1. I’m sure you’d love to carry a log throughout your gym, but the ownership may have a little talk with you afterwards. Avoid that uncomfortable conversation and opt for some heavy dumbbells a do a farmer carry. Or if you have access to a heavy sandbag, load it on up and throw it over your shoulder.

2. Brachiating (swinging from arm to arm) like an ape is tons of fun, but unfortunately not many gyms have monkey bars these days. Hack it by hanging from a pull up bar and while maintaining complete control, hand from only one arm at a time and then reach up and switch arms. And on the advanced end of the spectrum, here are some cool movements from Ido Portal to consider:

The big takeaway

Towards the very end of Benny’s talk, he says that many people practice a language because they think that someday they will need to use it, instead of actually doing it! Instead of endlessly using vocabulary cards try going to a public place where you may find a native speaker of the language you are trying to practice. Dive right in!

And so regarding fitness, how many times do you find yourself training for activities you’d like to do one day? Indeed, sometimes we do need to train and practice skills and carefully move through the right progressions, but sometimes we could all do ourselves a favor and just go do it. Whatever it may be.

Do you want to try yoga, but don’t feel that you’re ready? Bust through the inertia and sign up for a class.

Do you want to move like Tarzan and join the ranks of the natural fitness crowd?

Well, today’s the day.

Happy movement everyone.

By Ryan Wagner

Overcome these 4 challenges and you'll be a primal fitness hero by