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Can has Avatar? Training like the Na’vi

December 30, 2009

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or training extra hard in a dungeon gym, you’ve probably seen or at least heard of James Cameron’s latest action film, Avatar.

The first time I watched the film I enjoyed myself, (Go #Stanford 🙂 ), even though my friend and I got stuck in the first row of an IMAX theatre. Oh noes…

The second time I watched the film, I spent the first half of it thinking about how well the Na’vi move compared to modern humans on this planet. And guess what, they move like hunters and warriors whereas most of us move like, well, sedentary couch patatas.

**Warning: very minor Avatar movie spoilers ahead**

So, what can we learn from Avatar, beyond the importance of “proprioceptive stim” and Nervous System Development? Well, if we start at the feet (an undertrained body part some would say) you’ll note that the first time Jake-Sully runs in the Pandoran forest, escaping some rampaging beast, he’s wearing extremely restrictive boots, which block mechanoreceptive stimuli, inhibiting proper proprioception.

In contrast, by the end of the movie Jake-Sully is bounding barefoot, more like the Ramaruri (Tarahumara) of Born to Run, even though his SI joint movement could still have been a bit better. In a voiceover, Jake-Sully talked of how his feet got stronger (they do if you train barefoot or with VFFs and learned to trust his instincts over time.

That said, he still didn’t move as well as the body actor that played Na’vi princess Neytiri, who had incredible mobility especially in the hips and lower body. Check out how many of the Na’vi can do a full, deep squat with planted heels like Sara Cheatham (Sr RKC & Z trainer), the next time you watch the film.

While full ROM (range of motion) may seem unimportant, even if you don’t do bilateral barbell overhead deep squats ass to grass, you should know that you won’t get the most of your glutes unless they are activated and you go below parallel. And while your team may not have the luxury of having a FMS or Z-health certified coach to screen, test, and assess your athletes, having them do a dowel overhead squat FMS-style is an easy way to reveal asymmetries and movement dysfunction (also check out the ASLR and single-leg squat pattern if you have time).

I’m not suggesting that athletes spend all their time in corrective exercise, or skip off-season training to go train with Erwan Le Corre, MovNat style, but perhaps we could all benefit from being a little more like an Exuberant Animal, running sometimes free in the wilds.

I’ll end with just my amazement at how simply and effectively Neytiri coaches Jake-Sully to shoot an old-school bow. She knuckles his abs to make sure he stays tight (in the core with good IAP) and tall (in the spine), nudges his right shoulder down & back to “pack”, and elevates the opposing shoulder, all without words. If you serve as a formal or informal strength or movement coach for your Ultimate squad, do you talk too much? Forget the chattering monkey brain and remember that “monkey see, monkey do”–mirror neurons FTW.

Ultimate players world-wide, I see you!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. gregypoo permalink
    December 30, 2009 12:15 pm

    Methinks we need a Navi bootcamp for silicon valley nerds like me who want to move like the Navi.

    • December 30, 2009 10:07 pm

      There’s been at least one barefoot running camp by the Born2Run guys, and we’re pretty blessed with the diversity of terrain out here. Perhaps if MovNat / Erwan comes around?

      I actually was thinking of training with Erwan but ended up focusing on Z-Health in 2009 to keep things focused =)

      That said, there’s a new Stanford Parkour club which I’ve been thinking of checking out.

  2. tim permalink
    December 30, 2009 3:49 pm

    Leslie, you crack me up. I love your writing style.

    I can not wait to one day meet you.

    Have you been working on getting your Stanford Ultimate
    teams treated like varsity sport athletes and getting a time
    slot to get into them into the athletes weight-room to train with Coach
    Forbes? That would be really cool and if I have anything to do with
    it, its on the horizon at many schools.

    • December 30, 2009 10:05 pm

      @Tim haha, thanks but I’m pretty sure that’d be pretty anti-climactic since I’m usually quiet in person =)

      I don’t know if folks are looking into more formal recognition by Stanford but I have been thinking about getting to know more about what’s going on in the non-club sports world here at The Farm.

      With Ultimate being the fastest growing team sport in the country according to the National Sporting Goods Association, I’d say we’re making progress, and at least among youth people definitely understand the intensity behind Stanford Ultimate.

      The folks who have formally or informally served as strength coaches for the various A/B teams here are getting to know each other, which I hope is a good thing!

      You have to wonder, if Nike makes NCAA Lacrosse cleats, how soon are they going to flip those into Ultimate cleats? =)) Anyone know any designers/managers at Nike? Maybe when the new Nike buildings (Knight MBA school) open up on campus we can start infiltrating their ranks to get more Nike / Ultimate ❤ in 2010& beyond.

    • December 30, 2009 10:16 pm

      Oh yeah, I haven’t met Coach Forbes but at the San Jose RKC in 2009, Stanford S&C coach Chris Gaines was there (who previously played for Stanford Rugby & Football). Michelle Wie also showed up (to buy some K’bells but I haven’t seen her swinging around campus, either ‘bells or clubs =) and I think trained with RKC Doc Cheng for a while.

      If you’re interested in more about Stanford dominance check out this interview with Director of Sports Performance, Coach Brandon Marcello, StrengthCoach podcast episode 35:

  3. February 16, 2010 9:05 pm

    Nice post Leslie. Will you email me when you get a minute? Thanks!


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