Global fitness program has roots at Summersville Lake
MOUNT NEBO, W.Va. -- For the past four years, a campground overlooking Summersville Lake has hosted five-day training camps for a rapidly growing worldwide fitness movement.
In fact, Summersville Lake Retreat was the first American base of operations for Erwan Le Corre, "the Frenchman who may rank as one of the most all-round physically fit men on the planet," according to Men's Health magazine.
Le Corre is the founder of MovNat, a fitness concept that teaches people how to get reacquainted with their childhood ability to move naturally, and to do so with ease, power and grace. He developed MovNat while living in Brazil, where he began training men and women from around the world in a remote outdoor setting. After Men's Health produced an 11-page, 16-photo article on Le Corre and his fitness approach, he said he was deluged with inquiries from people wanting to learn the MovNat process.
"Brazil was too far away for most people, so I came here," Le Corre said, in an interview last week at Summersville Lake Retreat, during the fourth of four five-day training sessions held here this summer. "A guy from Virginia who I know had spent some time here and recommended the site to me. I did some Internet research and decided to come to wild and wonderful West Virginia."
During his first session here, Le Corre was the sole instructor and MovNat staffer.
"The first year, we had three bear encounters -- they got into our food and ripped up a tent," he recalled. But the area's rugged terrain and the presence of Summersville Lake, accessible by trail from the campground, more than made up for any adrenaline spikes caused by bear sightings.
While other fitness programs make use of barbells, resistance machines, treadmills and elliptical trainers, a MovNat workout can involve rocks, logs, water, ropes, trees -- even picnic tables.
"Here, people don't exercise for the purpose of burning calories, losing weight or building up isolated muscles," said Le Corre. "We go way beyond worrying about the size of your biceps or how toned your butt is. Here, you start by learning to move naturally -- think of what works for wolves, bears and eagles. From there, everyone can attain some level of power, grace and agility, if they go about it mindfully."
While climbing, crawling, running and jumping on natural features can be involved in a MovNat workout, "we don't do crazy things, like you see on 'Jackass,'" Le Corre said. "It's just movement-based fitness with safe, progressive conditioning and a lot of camaraderie."
Le Corre believes that being fit, healthy and useful to others in the event of an emergency is part of being a good citizen and a good person. "We all need to be able to run, jump, climb, lift something heavy, and be able to help ourselves and others," he said.
Le Corre studied judo and karate as a teen and later took up Combat Vital, an activity that involved, among other things, jumping from roof to roof, climbing bridge piers and balancing on elevated objects in urban settings. Weightlifting and triathlon training followed until he began researching European physical education history and came across Methode Naturelle, a fitness regimen developed by Georges Hebert in the 1920s. Hebert's program focused on running, crawling, throwing, balancing, climbing, lifting and swimming, generally in an outdoor environment.
"Long before Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger, people used to exercise this way," Le Corre said. "The stuff people do in a gym to accomplish their idea of being fit is divorced from natural movement and so limited and boring; It's no wonder so many give it up."
Le Corre has developed a certification process for instructors, who help bring MovNat workshops to students across the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe, Asia and Australia.
"Thousands of people have had MovNat training, and before long, there will be hundreds of thousands," said Le Corre. So far, nearly 100 instructors have been certified, he said. More than 20 one- and two-day workshops are scheduled in U.S. cities from now through the end of the year, along with 12 international sessions in cities ranging from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi.
At Mount Nebo, MovNat activities include barefoot running, log-lifting and carrying, rope climbing, practicing movement routines on narrow balancing planks, and running the Summersville Lake trail, where dozens of wind-toppled trees enhance the path's fitness factor. In the lake, participants swim, dive, swim underwater and practice lifesaving techniques.
Participants sleep in dome tents, and communal meals are prepared in a cook tent.
When students arrive at the MovNat session, strength and functional movement capabilities are tested, and a general physical competence test is given. Students are filmed at the beginning of the week as they perform a variety of climbing and balancing functions. At the end of the session, they are filmed performing the same tasks again so that they can see and appreciate improvements in performance.
"It's been a fantastic experience," said MovNat student Chris Malone of St. Louis, after instructor Ryan McCartney, a Morgantown native now living in Greensboro, N.C., recorded his "after" version of a climbing and balancing routine. "There's an element of strength involved, but it's more a matter of movement, timing and technique."
"It's fun, but some of the things we do are very challenging," said Melissa Delara of Atlanta. "I was surprised to learn that I was good at some things, like being able to get up on an elevated bar, and also surprised that I was bad at other things, like lifts involving sandbags. At home, I'll keep doing what I learned here, and I'll remember the good food and the beautiful scenery."
"It was worth the trip," said Magdalena Duczko of Stockholm, Sweden, who had taken a one-day MovNat workshop in her hometown before coming to the five-day session in West Virginia. "It's been a challenge, but it has also been fun and relaxing to spend so much time outside."