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Finding the Sweet Spot
Principles of Natural Movement: Dosage
This is part 5 of an ongoing series bringing the Georges Hebert’s “Natural Method” training protocols to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In this installment, I present sections 13 - 17 of Chapter 1: Principles of Natural Movement – dealing with the topic of “dosing.” First is my commentary. If you just want to read the translation, you can skip ahead.
If you want a dystopian image of the future, picture a human running on a treadmill—forever. The entire fitness industrial complex is built around the idea of “chasing exhaustion” as a way to atone for all of the time we spend sitting around. Pain, we’re told, is just weakness leaving the body.
But health doesn’t work this way. You can’t brutalize yourself into shape any more than you can shout yourself into wisdom. And tiring yourself out is a good recipe for burnout.
As I've gotten older (I’m 34), I've come to be more intentional with my effort. Where I use to try to push myself past my limit with regularity, I now strive to find the "sweet spot." I still push hard—and sometimes quite hard in short bursts—but I’m aware that when I go too far, my energy levels will tank the next day.
I wonder how many PE teachers and personal trainers are alert to these signs of overdoing it in their students or clients? How many Americans developed a lifelong hatred of exercise at a young age because their incompetent teachers forced them to push their heart rate past sound limits for the duration of an entire 10-minute mile?
In this section of the concise guide, Hébert dispels some of the myths around “dosing” and makes it clear that a good instructor has to be attentive to the objective signs of fatigue – minimizing burnout and overexertion, while making sure that everyone still gets a good workout.
Regardless of the trainee’s skill level, Hébert recommends limiting the running section to just 1 minute, at maximum effort. When a trainee hits that point of fatigue, they are not to stop moving altogether, but adjust by adding a few extra seconds of slow walking. “Keep Moving” is the mantra of the natural method workout. This is a much better model for sustainable fitness than “chasing exhaustion.”
13. Determining the Proper Exertion Level - Administering the Dosage
The instructor must tailor the students' workout based on:
Their current fitness level and degree of training;
The weather conditions at the time of the session;
The clothing being worn;
Activities done earlier or planned later in the day.
14. Methods for Pacing the Session
There are several ways to properly pace the workout:
By adjusting the walking pace.
For adults, recommended paces are:
Slow pace: 40 to 80 meters per 1 minute
Moderate pace: 80 to 120 meters per 1 minute
Brisk pace: 120 to 140 meters per 1 minute
Maximum pace: 140 to 150 meters per 1 minute or more
For children, reduce paces proportionally to their age.
By setting appropriate running speeds.
Slow jog: 120 to 150 meters per 1 minute
Steady run: 150 to 200 meters per 1 minute
Fast run: 200 to 250 meters per 1 minute
Sprint: Over 250 meters per 1 minute
For kids, reduce speeds proportionally to age.
By calibrating both the length and duration of walking, running, and quadrupedal drills.
By adjusting the speed or duration for exercises other than walking and running.
By allotting appropriate time for each exercise relative to the others.
By determining the number of repetitions for jumps, throws, and similar moves to be executed in succession.
By adjusting exercise difficulty: height of jumps and climbs, distance thrown, etc.
By managing rest intervals of slower movement.
By setting the total session length.
By adopting suitable overall workout rhythm and movement-specific rhythms based on the skill levels of the students to be trained.
15. Recognizing Fatigue and Overexertion
The instructor's main concern must be to never push past the limits of the students' capabilities. To that end, he should carefully observe the students, especially weaker ones, and frequently check on their condition.
Signs that fatigue is setting in include:
Sudden or gradual paleness – the most important sign, as it indicates a weakening heart unable to withstand the effort;
Extreme facial redness. In some subjects (overweight adults especially) this may signify the same as paleness;
Exaggerated mouth breathing or flaring nostrils (signs of shortness of breath);
Gasping, halted breathing (another sign of shortness of breath);
Unusual overall stiffness in movement (indicates general muscle fatigue);
Slight trembling of muscles or limbs during pure strength exercises like climbing or lifting (local muscle fatigue);
Characteristic backward head tilt;
Decrease in energy or sudden listlessness contrasting with session start;
Lack of attention;
Forced, constrained, or bored appearance;
Irritation – a major sign of emerging nerve fatigue, manifesting differently by individual but often as impatience, bad mood, reluctance, clumsiness, etc. Especially noticeable in children.
Upon the slightest sign, the instructor should immediately have students walk at a very slow pace to recover and prevent fatigue or breathlessness.
A few extra seconds of slow walking, added judiciously, are critically important. They can restore the body to continue exertion, whereas omitting this brief respite quickly saps strength.
A mildly flushed complexion and closed or slightly open mouth even during intense effort signal proper calibration, as does consistent enthusiasm.
At the end, students should appear in good shape – not too red or pale, not breathless, and ready for more. Otherwise, the instructor has miscalculated the proper dosage.
16. Limiting Principles for Individual Dosage
The instructor and student must always keep in mind the following limits:
Always stay within your comfortable heart rate and breathing rate. Reduce the intensity or stop before arriving at physical discomfort from an elevated heartbeat or shortness of breath. One must never feel their heart or breath. Above all, one must not be forced to stop by their heart rate first. The heart should be the last to fail, after the muscles, nerves, and respiratory system.
Cease the workout or exercise before the onset of local muscle fatigue or even its slightest manifestation. At the end, one should feel capable of repeating the same exertion.
Decrease the work, intensity, or cease the current exercise, taking relative rest through slow walking as soon as any objective signs of general fatigue appear – especially complexion changes like paleness or, in some subjects, extreme redness.
17. The Importance of Dosage
The instructor alone judges suitable dosage and difficulty for the category of students under his direction.
If the dosage and difficulty are too low, progress will be minimal. If excessive, overexertion or accidents could occur.
The end results of training depend entirely on the instructor's ability to properly dose and increase exertion, which only comes through experience. An inexperienced instructor should err on the side of caution and dose lower.
With proper dosage, the training session plan suits weak and strong, child and adult, beginner and athlete, girl and boy alike. The exercise categories are the same for all; only the amount of work or exertion constituting the dosage can differ considerably between student groups or individuals. This work amount should always be limited by the onset of visible fatigue signs, which act as a signal to cease exertion - one the instructor must not exceed.
The “wave pattern field workout” organization (see below, Ch. II, no. 1) allows both strong and weak students to exert themselves freely during the various exercises. Thus, individual dosage happens almost automatically under optimal conditions.
Let me know if you would like me to modify the translation further based on our discussion.
doser le travail - tailor the workout
robustesse - fitness level
degré d'entraînement - degree of training
état du temps - weather conditions
allure de marche - walking pace
allure de course - running speed
parcours - course, route
durée - duration
vitesse - speed
difficulté des exercices - difficulty of the exercises
fréquence des mises au pas - frequency of slower paced movement
durée totale - total length, duration
rythme général de travail - overall workout rhythm
rythmes particuliers de mouvement - movement-specific rhythms
possibilités organiques - natural abilities
valeur des aptitudes - skill level
limite de résistance - limit of capability
signes de fatigue - signs of fatigue
règles-limites - limits
se mettre au pas - slow down, walk slowly
être arrêté par le cœur - be forced to stop by heart rate
manifestation de fatigue musculaire - onset of muscle fatigue
prendre un repos relatif - take relative rest
dosage approprié - proper dosage
somme de travail - amount of work
production d'efforts - exertion
organisation du travail en vague - wave pattern field workout organization