In this post, I explain why working out with stones and other natural objects is beneficial. I share a video of one of my workouts using stones (embedded at the bottom of the post) and I also share some tips that might help you incorporate stones into your workouts.
A foundational natural movement
“Picking up heavy stuff” is one of the foundational natural movements. Humans have been doing this since humans were invented. Moving food, children, building materials, firewood etc. from one place to another is something that we evolved to do.
The strength required to carry out these necessary tasks supports our structure in other ways, too. Carrying heavy loads encourages and maintains bone density, stabilizes our joints and makes body-weight movements easier.
Stones vs. conventional weights
The conventional, western fitness model tries to replicate these movements using specialized gym equipment. But, for me, there is something lacking:
- Hand weights, dumbells and barbells are all designed for one type of grip position.
- Modern gym equipment tends to be symmetrical.
- Even kettlebells and medicine balls (staples of the functional fitness world) are uniform in shape
- Conventional gym exercises tend to train isolated muscle groups or linear planes of movement
But if we think back to the tasks that our bodies evolved to be capable of… since when did an animal carcass or a harvest of tubers come in a uniformly shaped package? Since when did logs, stones, or children come with convenient carrying handles?
If we want to get more realistic, functional, natural movement workouts, we need to use real, natural objects. That’s why I’m a big advocate of working out with stones.
The benefits of working out with stones
Here is what happens when we manipulate heavy, natural objects instead of modern gym weights:
- More muscles are recruited for the same or equivalent exercise.
- We are forced to use different grip positions, which trains our hands in different ways.
- Our core has to stabilize more to compensate for the asymmetry of the object.
- More coordination is required when working out with stones compared with conventional equipment.
- Added bonus: we save money – rocks and logs are free! (Note: Children are great strength-training devices, but I am lead to believe they can be more expensive than dumbbells in the long run. Invest at your own risk).
I have been working out with stones for a while now. It works really well for me because I live in a small apartment so having a lot of weight training equipment at home isn’t an option for me. I find stones when I am out walking or exploring new locations for workouts. I tend to stash a few of them in my favourite spots. The good thing is that they are very unlikely to be moved or “stolen” (technically you can’t steal an natural object – they don’t belong to anyone, at least not in my opinion) so they will always be there when I go back.
I made this workout video as an example of how I like working out with stones. The video pretty much speaks for itself, but here are a few things that I like to incorporate:
1. Switch grips and orientations
One of the best things about training with stones is their irregularity and asymmetry. Make the most of it my deliberately switching up the way you are holding the stone with each repetition of an exercise. Not only does the different position challenge your body in a new way, but switching between the positions adds an additional element of coordination and control to the exercise.
2. Incorporate ground movements
In my video, you can see that I include ground movements such as a bear crawl, inverted / crab crawl, crouch walk and cross-legged get up. This keeps the workout interesting and makes it more of a full-body effort. Doing these movements while carrying or manipulating a large stone increases the challenge and deepens my skill in that movement.
3. Include an element of play
In my opinion, the best workouts feel like play. I still want to work hard, but I want to test, explore and push my boundaries in a playful, joyful, curious way. Not beasting myself just for the sake of it. The warm-up I use in the video is a good example of that; I get my body moving and increase my heart rate by playing with a small stone. It’s fun and challenging and gets me ready for the higher intensity exercises later in the workout.
4. To count reps or not?
I don’t generally count reps, unless I’m creating a workout for someone else. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with counting reps but, when I’m using a natural object like a stone, I’m not sure I see the point. I don’t know how much it weighs (and I don’t really care either) so why feel the need to track any other metrics? What I do watch out for are signs that my body is getting fatigued and no longer using good form.
I hope this video gets you interested in using stones for your workout. if you have any questions I would love to hear from you, and be sure to check out my free natural movement fitness starter guide. It’s full of tips and ideas for starting your own natural movement practice.