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Principles of Natural Movement: The Proper Training Session
Georges Hébert's vital distinction between getting a proper workout and mastering technique
This is part 3 of an ongoing series bringing the Georges Hebert’s “Natural Method” training protocols to an English-speaking audience for the first time.
In this section, Hébert lays out an ideal format for a “proper training session.”
A proper training session resembles High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), where the goal is to repeatedly elevate the heart rate, with short rest periods in between. The alternation among different families of exercise keeps things interesting. No tiresome circuits that make you feel like you’re running around in circles, chasing exhaustion.
Hébert was writing before the advent of “wearables,” that measure real-time heart rate. Something tells me he would have spurned the FitBit on the principle of unfettered movement. Nonetheless, he feels comfortable using cardiac output as an approximation of effort.
In his framework, training was performed during a particular window of the year. More of a bootcamp than a habitual routine. The Natural Method was intended to bring up the fitness level of large groups of people in a short amount of time – without extreme methods. As we will learn in subsequent sections, these workouts were short – 25-30 minutes – not the brutalizing hour-long indoor fitness classes that have become the norm.
90% of the workout is conducted below the threshold of 2/3rds of your maximum heart rate. This puts it just above the trendy “Zone 2” workout for the majority of time, as you switch between exercises that demand more strength and cardiovascular effort (i.e., crawling, jumping, and lifting) with those that demand more coordination (i.e., balance and throwing).
Hébert emphasizes that trainers should not halt the workout to teach technique. Continuous movement is essential for, well… keeping things moving. If you stop to fix someone’s poor form, you not only stop their progress but that of the whole group.
And now, here’s Hébert.
4. Proper Training Sessions vs. Pure Technique Special Sessions
From the outset, the instructor must clearly distinguish between these two types of sessions, as they serve different purposes.
The proper training session aims above all to generate an adequate amount of exertion and effort. Refining exercise technique is only a secondary concern.
Pure technique sessions, however, break down movement mechanics through fluid motions that mirror ideal form. This could apply to any of the numerous natural, practical drills, or to isolated elements within them. Technique sessions focus on honing execution, identifying and fixing flaws, and tailoring the ideal movement style for each trainee based on their body type, coordination, strength, and natural abilities.
Graphically, the intensity of the workout can be represented by an ascending curve with more or less pronounced inflection points, corresponding to periods of relative relaxation or rest:
There are three main rest periods during the session.
After the initial warm-up of running and walking exercises, a first rest period occurs in the form of climbing exercises, which require more muscular strength than cardio.
After the cardio-demanding jumps, a second rest period ensues—longer than the first—incorporating exercises focused on coordination with relatively moderate muscular effort (i.e., balancing and throwing).
Finally, after significant cardiac and respiratory exertion from lifting and lowering, throwing, and timed sprints, a final rest period follows—a slow walk with exaggerated breathing, especially exhalation.
This graphical representation of workout intensity is only approximate, given the imprecision of scientifically gauging heart rate. It should be viewed as indicating the general shape of the intensity, not an exact picture.
In reality, the intensity curve is not as simple as in the graphical depiction. Until the timed sprints, it consists of small fluctuations (see the small diagram) reflecting the continual alternation between strenuous and moderate efforts. The magnitude of the undulations also depends on each subject's capacities and recovery needs, varying based on the difficulty of chosen exercises.
The intensity should remain well below maximum heart rate, only nearing it briefly at the finale.
When placing lifting before throwing, you should utilize additional rest, as evidenced by the intensity curve.
The proper training session is the most important one – it is the standard lesson. Its primary aim is to develop baseline endurance and strength. This is only accomplished when:
adequate exertion occurs each session.
the workload increases gradually over successive sessions comprising a full program.
A session fails its purpose if it involves frequent, prolonged stops for the instructor to explain the exercise or provide feedback. Even with imperfect technique, core endurance can progress as long as the level of effort remains adequate.
Special technique sessions provide subjects an opportunity to master specific exercises, but these should be equal or shorter in duration than proper training, to preserve time for the workout itself. Complete or partial technique sessions mainly happen during the off-season, and when weather forces indoor training.
In actual training, technique should never be fully neglected. The instructor should provide feedback without halting exertion.
The curricula may match, but in training sessions, the activity flows continuously with minimal explanation. In technique sessions, after demonstrating and analyzing exercises, execution is perfected without pausing exertion.
leçon d'entraînement proprement dit - proper training session
leçon de technique pure - pure technique session
perfectionnement d'exécution des exercices - refining exercise technique
périodes de détente ou de repos relatif - periods of relaxation or relative rest
dérouillement initial - initial warm-up
exercices de grimper - climbing exercises
exercices de saut - jump exercises
exercices d'équilibrisme et lancer - balancing and throwing exercises
parcours chronométrés - timed sprints
marche lente d'apaisement - slow cooldown walk