When the going gets tough, it’s time to rely on your physical skills. From being able to build a shelter so you can survive in the wilderness for weeks or months, building traps and snares that won’t kill animals but will catch them for food, starting fires without matches–these are all things that take practice and skill. What could be more important than knowing how to use these skills when disaster strikes?

“The art of manliness” is a blog that provides advice on how to live the life of a “manly man.” The site covers topics like hunting, fishing, cooking, and other physical skills.

We’ve chosen to reprint a vintage essay each Friday to assist our younger readers discover some of the greatest, evergreen jewels from the past, with our archives currently totaling over 3,500 items. This article was first published in May 2017 and has since been updated.

You presumably began crawling at the age of nine months and walked at the age of a year. You probably started running a year later, and you learned to leap not long after that. You learned a variety of additional bodily motions during the months and years that helped you explore your surroundings, play with your friends, and get through PE class.

You probably don’t think about the many ways you can move your body now that you’re an adult (unless it’s to note how much more painful some of them are now days). After all, you’ve been doing such basic tasks like running and leaping for decades and they’ve become second nature to you. You don’t need to worry about fundamental bodily actions as much as you used to.

At least, that’s how most people assume. However, this is a misguided and harmful viewpoint.

What we consider “simple” turns out to contain levels of complexity that we haven’t yet found.

While we may not think of physical motions as skills, they are, and like other skills, they must be purposefully, routinely, and constantly practiced and challenged in order to remain in fighting form and really master them.

What Does It Take to Be Truly Physically Skilled?

While many physical actions are instinctive, and most men can do them efficiently, merely being able to complete a task is not the same as doing it well; having an aptitude for something is not the same as being talented in it.

I can carve a sharp point out of the end of a stick, but it does not qualify me as a skilled carpenter.

Similarly, being physically fit and successful without being physically adept and efficient is feasible. That is, you might be well-conditioned and have plenty of strength and endurance without knowing how to move in ways that improve fluidity, save energy, and prevent injury.

Functional fitness may also be achieved without adaptive fitness.

CrossFit has benefited the former group by bringing it to the forefront and encouraging people to exercise their bodies in methods other than utilizing Nautilus machines and weights. Even these “functional” exercises, however, are restricted and limited in scope. Outside of the metaphorical and physical box, they don’t quite match the environmental and situational criteria.

In the gym, you can perform a lot of plyo box jumps, but in nature, where rocks and ledges aren’t all the same shape, height, or surface, how many landings could you stick to? On a bar, you can perform a dozen pull-ups, but could you pull yourself up even one on a tree branch? Would you be able to carry another person uphill and over obstacles and garbage while carrying a sandbag back and forth across a parking lot? You may be able to lift a barbell, but can you lift and carry a large, rough, uneven log? You can run a mile on a treadmill in air conditioning, but can you run in the rain and wind — in scorching heat and freezing cold?

 

The objective of a man’s physique should be expansiveness, which includes all of these qualities: efficacy and efficiency, fitness and competence, functioning, and flexibility.

A guy should be able to do a broad variety of motions with the best technique possible; he should be able to accomplish not just a large number of movements, but also a high quality of them. Not only should he be able to move, but he should be able to move with grace. And he should be able to do it not only in the gym, but also in a variety of terrains, surroundings, and weather conditions, on a variety of surfaces, heights, and distances.

To become physically well-rounded, master all of these areas, or, as the MovNat (“natural movement”) method, from which the above concept stems, puts it, to achieve “physical competence for practical performance.”

To genuinely develop physical abilities.

Listen to Erwan Le Corre, the creator of MovNat, in our podcast:

 

Physicality as a Practice

Physical motions are talents, and like other skills, they must be refined and developed through time. You may be born with a natural affinity for particular movements, but that aptitude must be purposefully honed and sharpened. With the correct amount of discipline, understanding, and committed practice, a man’s physique may be used to an incredible, and even inspirational, number of applications.

Physical skills training is similar to other types of training in that you must first learn the basics and then gradually raise the amount of difficulty you can bear. This necessitates effort in the following areas:

  • Technique: Technique entails employing the optimum body posture, form, tension, breathing, and other factors to properly perform an action – in a manner that uses less energy, enhances speed/endurance/strength capacity, and avoids injury.
  • Physical talents come in a variety of shapes and sizes, requiring different strategies. For example, you can leap vertically or horizontally, crawl with your belly on the ground or up on your hands and knees. The more variants you master, the better at that movement you will become.
  • It’s one thing to be able to do a physical talent for a single rep or across a short distance. True physical competence, on the other hand, implies being able to go short or long, easy or hard, light or heavy.
  • Environmental/Situational Demands: Increasing the complexity of the environment in which you practice physical skills — such as training on different surfaces, heights, and even in different mental states — makes performing a physical movement more difficult and the skill you earn in that area more adaptable.

The next issue is, of course, what set of skills you should be exercising now that you know physical skills must be performed and how they must be practiced.

The Top 10 Physical Skills That Every Man Should Know

While the human body may move in a variety of ways, balancing, running, crawling, leaping, climbing, traversing, lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching are likely the ten abilities that constitute the basic foundations of physical proficiency. These abilities are the foundation of the MovNat system, and they’re also very similar to the “essential military physical skills” outlined in the Marines Physical Readiness Training for Combat manual – movements whose “fast and skillful execution” “may mean the difference between success and failure on the battlefield.” These are the abilities that will enable you to successfully do daily chores, rescue yourself and others in an emergency, and traverse your surroundings with confidence and even excitement.

 

We’ve put together a quick rundown of the ten physical talents that every guy should know, along with explanations and graphics based on the (very useful) Level I MovNat Certification booklet. The goal of this essay is to provide you a general overview of each talent, including practical applications, some potential modifications, and techniques to push yourself and advance in that area.

The drawings show the fundamentals of these moves as well as various variations on them. There isn’t enough space in this page to display every variant of every talent or provide step-by-step technique lessons; text isn’t the greatest method to acquire physical technique anyhow. In many situations, I’ve included links to Erwan Le Corre, MovNat’s originator, giving quick examples of these talents. However, I advocate obtaining in-person tutoring by attending a MovNat workshop or certification to fully improve your technique (you can read my review of it here).

(I have no financial ties to MovNat; I just like their concept and approach to physicality; they’re the masters of physical mastery.)

Balancing

Man balancing on a log over a canyon illustration while crossing it.

Even when you’re merely standing up, you’re balancing yourself by counteracting and regulating gravity’s pulls. The same goes for whatever movement you make. Balance, on the other hand, is a more difficult ability to master when you’re negotiating a surface that’s more unstable, slippery, and narrower than you’re used to, such as crossing a log or railing.

Because balancing is commonly done at a slower pace, it isn’t as strenuous or strengthening to the anaerobic and aerobic systems as other workouts. As a result, it’s sometimes ignored as a valuable physical talent. It not only increases joint stability and awareness, but it also improves joint stability. The attention necessary to maintain balance links the mental and physical. Plus, when the only option to cross a river, chasm, or other barrier is by means of a thin beam, it’s a talent that will come in useful.

Balancing is a simple skill to practice in small bursts throughout the day; in fact, I have a 2X4 in my living room just for this reason.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Basic balance with proper technique should be practiced.
  • On the board/beam, move backwards and sideways.
  • To change direction, pivot on the beam.
  • On the balance beam, practice standing on one foot.
  • On the balancing beam, do a split squat and stand up without losing your balance.
  • Change directions while doing a split squat on the beam.
  • Maintain your equilibrium while standing still (standing on two feet, one foot, crouching, etc.)
  • Rapidly traverse the beam (without sacrificing technique)
  • Cross a beam while carrying a heavy object, such as a sandbag.
  • Various-height cross beams
  • Narrower, slicker, and more unstable cross beams
  • While crossing the beam, catch or toss anything.
  • When your heart rate is raised after a session of vigorous activity/exercise, do any of the following.

Running

Man running outdoors illustration.

 

Running is the most fundamental type of human mobility, along with walking. It is also perhaps the most effective kind of full-body aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Running provides a vital foundation for success in a variety of leisure pursuits, as well as team, individual, and combat sports. Racing is essential for surviving and prospering in crisis situations, whether you’re running to an emergency to provide assistance or running away to seek help.

Unfortunately, running is associated with a high incidence of injury. While MovNat recommends a forefoot/midfoot strike, as well as a transition to barefoot running, I’m skeptical of people’s capacity to modify their running form dramatically, and I’m not certain that the forefoot strike is definitely the best for everyone. Heel striking has been unfairly stigmatized in recent years, despite the fact that it does not need as much energy as is usually assumed.

Improve your form where you can (such as cadence, stride length, and posture), but I feel the best and most successful strategy to avoid injuries is to run less and “cross-train” more (MovNat encourages this approach as well). All of the other activities on this list, from leaping to balancing to lifting, can enhance your overall strength and agility, as well as assist you avoid injuries when running. Running on different surfaces, rather than only concrete and/or treadmills, will also assist a lot.

Run as quickly as possible.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Practice running with proper form.
  • Vary the pace, distance, and time.
  • Run on a variety of surfaces, such as in the woods, on sand, and so on.
  • When you’re running, practice evading obstacles and changing directions rapidly.

Crawling

Crawling was most likely the first basic movement you learned as a newborn. Yet, as adults, it’s arguably the most underappreciated, maybe because it appears too “simple” to need mature practice. But it’s not the case.

Crawling is an ideal on-boarding stage for motor skill development in newborns because it uses the whole body and requires coordination between the arms and legs. This feature is still useful for grownups. Crawling requires contralateral movement (moving your right arm and left leg forward at the same time), which is more difficult than it seems at first. It challenges you to be attentive of your body posture, strengthens all of your limbs, particularly your core, improves your limberness and agility, and is a terrific conditioning workout when done over a long distance. Crawling is properly dubbed “body armor” by Aaron Baulch, a MovNat teacher in Tulsa, because of its whole-body advantages.

Crawling is also really useful. It enables you to crawl under low obstructions, remain moving as threats (such as gunfire) loom above, creep silently, stalk animals and people, and ascend/descend steep and slick terrain while keeping balance.

Depending on how low you want to go, how rapidly you need to go, and if you need to carry equipment while crawling, you may use various combinations of hands, knees, feet, and even your bottom in touch with the earth.

 

Crawling methods illustration foot/hand push, pull shoulder.

The Foot-Hand Crawl is a short crawl that is useful for moving up a slick slope and transitioning quickly to standing or other ground activities. The Push-Pull Crawl is a little slower, but it gets you lower and closer to the earth. The Shoulder Crawl is slower than the Push-Pull, but it consumes less energy and enables you to see more of what’s going on around you while crawling. It also allows you to carry anything.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Knee Hand Crawl: Crawl with your hands, knees, and feet in touch with the earth.
  • Crawl with your knees up and your hands and feet in touch with the ground (“Foot/Hand Crawl”).
  • Push-Pull Crawl: Crawl with your forearms and legs in touch with the earth.
  • Crawl on your back with your feet and shoulders on the ground (“Shoulder Crawl”).
  • Crawl on the ground with your back to the ground and something on your belly/chest.
  • Crawl beneath low-hanging obstacles for practice.
  • Crawl over a sliver of a beam.
  • Crawl inverted crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab crab
  • Crawl up and down the slope
  • Long-distance crawling
  • Crawl on a variety of surfaces.

Jumping

There’s a reason we equate leaping with happiness; it’s a wonderfully liberating activity that enables you to temporarily defy gravity’s pull. Leaping is an extremely utilitarian activity, allowing you to comfortably explore complicated and tough settings, whether you’re jumping over a stream, over a barrier in your way, downwards from a ledge, or upwards to grab a piece of fruit from a tree.

It’s also a movement that has a significant effect on your physiology, improving your body’s work capacity and power. As a result, it’s an important part of athletic training, particularly for individuals who participate in high-intensity sports.

The talent of leaping is divided into two parts: leaving the ground and landing. The latter is much more crucial than the former; you must know how to land in such a manner that the impact forces are absorbed and dispersed, both to reduce the stress on your body and to keep your balance when you strike the ground. As a result, it’s preferable to master the landing technique before moving on to the actual leaping method.

Man doing broad jump over stream vertical jump illustration.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Climb to the top of a low box/obstacle and “leap” down (you don’t need to perform any actual jumping; simply lean forward on the edge and let gravity take care of the rest) to improve your landing technique.
  • Use two weight plates to practice wide leaping for distance; jump from one and land on the other, altering the distance between the plates.
  • Vertical leaping for height is a good thing to do; vary the heights of your leaps.
  • Experiment with leaping on one leg.
  • Start on grass and leap onto a rock; hop from rock to rock; jump between wet and slippery rocks, etc. Vary the texture, evenness, and stability of the surfaces you jump to and from.
  • Vary the size of the surfaces you leap to and from; for example, jump from one 2X4 to another or one railing to another.

Climbing

Man climbing cliff face illustration.

 

Climbing is an activity that is both rewarding and enjoyable. Perhaps it’s because it requires all four limbs, or because the pleasure of leaving the ground and climbing a height, or because the struggle of maintaining your bodyweight and defying gravity. Part of the appeal is undoubtedly due to the variety of objects to climb – rock faces, pipes, fences, walls, cargo nets, and ladders — each offering a unique challenge and a real hurdle to overcome. Climbing is a beautiful kind of exploration in any case, and it may even make you feel like a different species for a short time.

Climbing is a lot of fun, but it also has a lot of physical benefits: it uses your whole body, enhancing your strength, work capacity, and agility.

Climbing technique is vital for both safety and energy saving, and it includes things you generally don’t consider of as having a method, such as hanging. There is a proper technique to hang, and it is a talent that is useful not just for climbing but also for traversing.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up 

  • As long as you can, do a dead hang from a bar or from the edge of a wall.
  • Hang from the top of a wall and push yourself up and over it to do a climb-up/muscle up.
  • On a bar or a tree limb, do a muscle up.
  • Only use one hand to hold on to the structure or wall you’re climbing; extra points if you can do anything else with your spare hand.
  • The heights of the buildings you climb should be varied.
  • The surfaces, textures, materials, and architecture of the buildings you climb should all be different (rock, ropes, nets, walls, trees, pipes, etc.)

Traversing

Traversing is basically vertical climbing on a horizontal plane. While you swung over the monkey bars with easily as a kid due to your optimal strength-to-weight ratio, crossing as an adult with a lot more height and poundage is a lot more difficult. This increased difficulty is due to the fact that you must be capable of climbing more structures than simply monkey bars, since, let’s face it, horizontal ladders are few in both wild and urban environments. You’re more likely to find yourself crossing a pipe between buildings or a rope hung over a river.

Man traversing across stream power and hook methods illustration.

The Power Traverse is swift and explosive, yet it utilizes more energy and fatigues the upper body since it just employs the hands. The Hook Traverse, which use both hands and legs, is slower, but it saves energy and provides a firmer and more secure grip on the surface.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Swing back and forth over a horizontal ladder with a “front swing” – your body facing front.
  • Swing side-to-side across a horizontal ladder or a single beam/pipe/rope using a “side swing,” with your torso parallel to the ladder’s side rails and both hands holding the same railing.
  • Traverse a building using a “Power Traverse” from the front or side, going hand over hand.
  • With the “Hook Traverse,” you may traverse a structure.
  • Change the breadth and texture of the structure you’re passing through.
  • Change the height and/or length of the building you’re passing through.
  • With extra weight, traverse (like wearing a backpack)

Lifting

Man lifting heavy stone rock illustration.

 

The notion that strength is the cornerstone of fitness is only one of many reasons why a guy should be strong. It enables you to perform all other actions in a more robust and adaptable manner, reducing the risk of injury. Lifting, although all physical talents generate strength to varying degrees, does so in the most concentrated manner.

What’s less well known about strength is that it also works the other way around: being able to move enhances strength. The simpler it is to get into the right lifting postures, the more flexible and nimble you are — and these traits are gained not simply through, or even most efficiently from, real stretching, but by exercising the greatest possible variety of physical abilities. Because lifting isn’t only about brute strength and effort, but also about technique. Technique, which includes things like posture, tension, and breathing, helps you save energy, lift more, and avoid accidents.

Lifting power is useful not just in the moment — for example, lifting debris that has fallen on someone — but also as a warm-up for another exercise, such as lifting a bag of mulch and carrying it into the garden. In any scenario, it’s beneficial to have a wide range of lifting capabilities, not only in terms of pure strength (the amount of pounds you can lift), but also in terms of variety. You may be an expert at lifting a bar while standing on rubber matting, but you should also be able to lift rough and oddly-shaped things – boulders, logs, and even people – while standing on mud, sand, or other uneven terrain.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Lifting with proper technique should be practiced.
  • Lift a variety of things with varying levels of evenness, texture, size, and weight (including people)
  • While lifting, change the surface of the ground you’re standing on.

Carrying

While lifting gets the majority of the attention and glory in today’s fitness world, the ability to carry the goods you lift is just as vital, if not more so. You don’t hoist cement, sandbags, or grocery sacks off the floor, or your kid out of bed, or your friend off the battlefield, and then stand there in a static stance – you take them over to where you need them.

Carrying requires a form of strength that most of us don’t use very often, either in the gym or in our daily lives, therefore it’s important to develop this ability and acquire the appropriate technique for holding and gripping a weight.

Man carrying sand bag three different methods illustration.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Waist, Shoulder, and Chest carry styles are all good to practice.
  • Switching a burden (such as a log) from one shoulder to the other is a good exercise.
  • Squat with a weight on your shoulder for practice.
  • Experiment with different carrying grips.
  • Carry things of varying evenness, texture, size, and weight for practice (including people)
  • As you carry the thing, change the surface you walk/run/march on.
  • Carry a thing while straddling or slithering beneath a stumbling block.
  • Long-distance transport of things

catching and throwing

Tossing and catching are two separate physical talents, but I’ve merged them here since they’re commonly used in tandem: you’re most often throwing something to someone who will catch it, and you can’t catch something that hasn’t been thrown! Many of the throwing and catching actions are virtually mirror reflections of one another.

 

Throwing and catching are important aspects of many organized sports, but they also have many utilitarian and even survival applications. Farmers hurl hay bales; soldiers toss equipment over a wall or between themselves. If you’re fighting a flood, you’d toss and catch sandbags down the line to create a barrier; if you’re trapped in the woods, the skill to throw a spear precisely might save your life.

Throwing and catching is one of the most pleasurable physical abilities to learn and perform because of its dynamic and cooperative character, as well as the requirement for attention and response. Simultaneously, honing one’s throwing and catching skills strengthens the core and improves the mobility of one’s stomach, hips, and back – mobility that is useful for a variety of other actions, including delivering a punch.

Man rational throwing and catching, chest throwing and catching.

The Rotational Swing Throw is useful for tossing items out of your way, or tossing them to someone else who will toss them to the side; the catcher may grab anything tossed low without them impacting their body. However, it is not a good throw/catch for heavy things. The Chest Throw may be done while moving and is a precise throw for getting anything to, onto, or over something, while the catch enables you to manage an item that is coming at you straight or from above.

Ways to Improve This Physical Skill by Practicing, Challenging, and Leveling Up

  • Practice throwing/catching methods using the Front Swing and the Chest.
  • Objects of varying evenness, texture, size, and weight should be thrown/caught.
  • The distance between the thrower and the catcher should be varied.
  • Kneeling throws and catches
  • Objects must be thrown over a towering barrier.
  • As you throw/catch, vary the distance the item is held away from your body.
  • Change the side of your body from which you throw/catch.

Getting Past the Physical Foundation

While the 10 abilities listed above are the foundation of a man’s physical skill set, they are far from exhaustive. You may work on additional talents like vaulting and combatives after you’ve mastered the fundamentals of these “basic” moves and incorporated variations in technique and intricacy (striking, grappling). Of course, you’ll want to become an aquatic animal that can swim, dive, and explore the oceans in addition to being physically capable on land.

As you develop both the breadth and depth of your physical abilities, you will feel more confident in your ability to manage your surroundings in ways that are both practical and fun, joyous, and creative. You’ll feel confidence in your ability to behave excellently in an emergency while also getting daily delight from learning the effective use of your greatest asset – your body.

Every guy should be able to move naturally, yet obtaining the capacity to do so, ironically, takes a lot of work.

 

Ted Slampyak created the illustrations.

 

 

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The “artofmanliness exercise” is a blog that focuses on the physical skills every man should master. It includes topics such as: how to walk, how to run, and how to lift weights.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 10 basic physical skills?

A: The 10 basic physical skills are gymnastics, strength training, flexibility exercise, cardiovascular endurance exercise, speed exercises (e.g., running), power development and muscular endurance workouts.

What are the best physical skills to have?

A: The best physical skills to have would be agility, dexterity and reaction time.

What are basic physical skills?

A: A basic physical skill is something that allows you to interact with the world in a way other than through virtual reality. This could be walking, dancing, or painting.

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