So Murakami, a certified trainer who had worked in various gyms for more than a decade, rethought everything. Hed mastered bodybuilding, powerlifting, bodyweight training, and Olympic lifts. But he shifted gears, first exploring the origins of strongman training in the late 1800s, then going even further back in history to study how ancient Chinese warriors trained. That led him, in 2018, to create Human Strong Training, a California-based strength workout program inspired by nature.

Murakami still works with actual barbells on most days, but on occasion he pushes clients (and himself) through shoulder presses and cleans using jagged rocks, uneven tree trunks, and anything else he finds in the wild. The symmetrical, linear box we put movement in doesnt necessarily translate to the chaos of life, he says.

man lifting wood
man lifting wood

Nature replicates that chaos, delivering uneven loads and imbalanced surfaces that hot-wire your nervous system, forcing oft-neglected stabilizing muscles (think rotator cuffs) into action and challenging your core muscles, too. (Hello, abs!) There is a certain strength IQ we gain from training with these organic loads that offer much-needed complexity, Murakami says. Its not just the weight that prevents you from lifting it. Its the awkwardness.

Nothing exemplifies this better than rocks. They were used as training tools by Chinese weightlifters as far back as the 1300s. (Translation: way, way before Concept2 anything.) Every single one is a complex riddle that requires a different solution, Murakami says. The weight is a mystery. The right grip must be found and the weight distribution adjusted for in real time. Every rock is an opportunity. These six moves from Murakami involving rocks, trees, and sand will help you see those opportunities, too.

Ground-to-Overhead Rock Lift

Build total-body strength: Hinge your torso forward, get your hands under the base of a heavy rock, and brace your core. Deadlift it to your thighs, then squat and let the rock settle on them. Roll it up your torso to your shoulder, then shift your hands position one at a time until both are beneath it, and press it overhead. Let it drop to the ground. (Its a rock, no biggie.) Thats 1 rep; do 3 sets of 5. A note on reps: As a rule, keep heavy lifts to 3 to 5 reps and medium ones to 8 to 10.

Rock and Row

Fire up your lats and forearms: Hinge your torso forward and place your hands under a rock. Tighten your core. Pull the rock toward your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades. Lower it slowly back to the ground. Thats 1 rep; do 5 sets of 10.

Log Zercher Squat

Challenge your legs and core: Get your arms under a medium log, holding it in the crooks of your elbows. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your elbows and chest up, core tight, bend at the knees and hips, lowering your torso until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Stand back up. Thats 1 rep; do 3 sets of 8 to 10.

Stump Flip

Build explosive power: Stand beside a heavy dislodged tree stump. Squat down beside it and get your hands underneath it. Brace your core. Push the stump up and away from your body, using the leverage from your legs to flip it. Run around to the other side and repeat. Thats 1 rep; do 10 sets of 3 to 5.

Sand Sprint

Upgrade your agility: While barefoot in the sand, sprint for 10 seconds, focusing on speed and lifting your knees high. Walk back and repeat. Do 10 sets.

Gorilla Hops

Ignite your core and shoulders: Get on all fours in the sand, core tight, hands shoulder width apart. Hop your feet forward, just outside your hands, keeping your butt low. Move your hands forward, extending your legs as you do so. Thats 1 rep; do 3 sets of 20.

Gear Up: Gloves

Gloves protect your hands from flinty rocks and painful splinters. Outdoor Researchs Splitter Work goat-leather gloves are tough but also tactile, so you can grip with precision. $55; outdoorresearch.com