Relearning Natural Movement at Laidback Fitness

Laidback Fitness taps into what made us all ninjas when were toddlers.


Have you ever watched a toddler running around and thought, I wish I could move like that? You were probably referring to their boundless energy, but there’s actually a lot to envy. It turns out that toddlers are badass ninja warriors who can instinctively perform feats of physical prowess that leave us feeble adults gawking.

While that might be a slight exaggeration, the point is this: fundamental physical abilities like walking, running, balancing, jumping and climbing come naturally to us homo sapiens, hence the fearless and fully present movement of developing children. But as we get older and have less occasion to climb a tree, jump off a wall or throw a rock, we tend to lose touch with those basic physical competencies.

That’s where Ryan McGowan of Laidback Fitness comes in. He offers a variety of classes for adults and kids alike, ranging from kettlebells and kickboxing to specialized training for obstacle races and “Ninja Essentials,” but the foundation of his practice is MovNat, a system based entirely on, as the name would imply, natural movement. MovNat emphasizes both locomotive skills (running, balancing, jumping) and manipulative skills (lifting, catching, throwing), and Ryan strives for “physical competency” over fitness; he believes that if you master the coordination, balance and body awareness essential to natural movement, fitness will follow.

We began with baby steps: crawling. I don’t know if you’ve tried crawling at any point since you were in diapers, but it’s harder than you remember. It engages your core and your coordination, which I learned as I struggled with a simple “right hand/left foot, left hand/right foot” sequence. We scrambled on all fours straight ahead, side-to-side, and rotated in a circle – and that was just one type of crawling. It turns out there are several other methods. Who knew babies were dealing with such complex stuff?

Over an hour, Ryan took me through the Whitman’s Sampler of MovNat, moving on to balance, lifting and carrying, jumping, rolling, and finally a bit of climbing and swinging. Each one illustrated that so much of what our body is constantly doing is redirecting energy. Whether we’re bending our knees to absorb the shock of landing when we jump, or leaning slightly forward to push our center of gravity out ahead of our feet while running, this fluid transference of energy is what allows both ninja warriors to effortlessly breeze through daunting obstacles and little kids to take a nasty spill without getting hurt.

Just like a developing child, I was able to progress quickly from basic movements to increasingly complex physical competencies. At the beginning of the hour I struggled just to crawl; by the end, I was attempting to hang from a monkey bar, lift my knees up to my chest, swing back and then launch myself forward to grab the next bar. It took me a few attempts to get it right, but I was eventually able to stick the landing (once). Not bad for a grown-up.

Join Laidback Fitness on January 1 for the first ever Frozen Clam Obstaplunge, a unique take on the traditional New Year’s Day “polar bear plunge.” This ¼-mile obstacle course ends with a dip in the icy waters of Goddard Park State Beach, and proceeds benefit the RI Mentoring Partnership.

Laidback Fitness
2800 Post Road, Warwick