Instinctive Exercise

The book started after I asked myself a simple question:

Why has it become necessary for humans to make an effort to get fit at all? After all, it’s not like wild animals have a strict exercise programme. No other animal on this planet stresses about its fitness: they don’t count the calories, worry about nutrition or ask if their hips look too big! No, they simply do what they do, and remain at peak fitness by doing what they have evolved to do: living active lives, eating all the nutritious food they crave and leaving plenty of time for rest and play.

Our ancient ancestors were strong, lean and agile long before the cross trainer and the spinning bike were invented. They enjoyed a natural fitness, achieved through running, jumping, climbing and lifting. They never counted calories, worried about diet or felt the need to push themselves through the pain barrier – and they certainly didn’t consciously analyse or endlessly stress over the best way to keep in shape, achieving supreme fitness naturally through balanced work, rest and play.

“I’ve never seen an Iguana going hard-core with weights or a snow leopard warming up before heading out for a ‘light jog’. (Instinctive Fitness, p. 16)

A simple look at Evolution sheds light on why humans need to exercise. It’s simply because in the past, we had no choice but to do so, and our bodies still expect this to be the case today. Essentially, our  unchanged Paleolithic bodies have been left far behind by society’s technological advances which has have left the requirement for physical exertion largely redundant. Having made this simple but startling realisation,  it seemed to make a lot more sense to search out the nuts and bolts of just how our lifestyle has changed since we once roamed the wilderness and were dependent on our bodies to make our next catch and stay alive.

Our instincts balanced to our environment:For millions of years our natural environment subjected us to specific challenges; and to survive and thrive, our bodies and instincts grew to become attuned to meet these challenges nature threw at us. We are, in essence, like any other creatures – a well-honed product of evolution and the environment in which we evolved.

Perhaps, I thought, if we just dared to stop and look back at our past we could re-discover why our ancient ancestors were so much more fit, healthy and disease-free than we are today.1  In doing so we can begin to find the root causes of modern ailments we now suffer from such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Introducing Our Caveman Cousin

In the book I take the reader through what a day of hunting and gathering would be like. I show how the hunter-gather’s day was made up of movement that took three basic forms: relaxed and sustained low-intensity movements (walking, jogging, swimming, easy climbing, etc); brief spells of more explosive movements (such as jumping, tree climbing, lifting and dragging heavy objects); and finally, one extreme full-effort burst of energy for just a few seconds when necessary for survival (‘the fight or flight response’). Their day was movement – but continual, low-intensity, high-variation movement. This movement was interspersed with periods of authentic relaxation, occasional bouts of hard work and the very occasional burst of extreme high energy activity (what we call ‘fight or flight’).

A fateful contrast: This is roughly representative of human life on earth for 98% of the time we have been here on this planet, but what demands do our days generally place upon us now? For many people, in terms of movement; it goes something like this: “Rise, scratch, walk a few steps, descend stairs, sit, eat, walk a few steps, five breaths of fresh air, drive, walk a few steps, sit, sit, eat, sit, sit, walk a few steps, drive, walk a few steps, 5 breath of fresh air, eat, sit, ascend stairs, sleep”.

Of course some people try and make up this difference by going to the gym. But even with a daily 40 minute period dedicated to exercise, it’s likely to be either an unrelenting, unvarying plod on a treadmill or a  ‘beasting’ of some sort with the heart rate way up towards its maximum for prolonged periods of time. This does doesn’t not fit with the lifestyle we are genetically predisposed to expect at all. A lack of variety and excessive, prolonged stress on the cardio-vascular is positively neglectful and harmful respectively.

So what is ‘caveman fit’?

To get into a ‘caveman fit’ shape, ideally we advise replicating the movements which featured heavily in a hunter-gatherer’s day. Our ancient ancestors weren’t banging away doing the same type of movement every time they was active. For that reason, all round fitness shouldn’t be about isolating one body part and hitting it intensely to get a single aesthetic result as people typically do at the gym.

Which brings us on to the Instinctive Fitness model of exercise:   Instinctive Fitness places its emphasis on these three core areas. Although equally important as each other, here is how training time is devoted to them.

  • 80 – 85% Relaxed and Sustained Movement
  • 15 – 20% Explosive Movement
  • Less than 5% High-Intensity Fight or Flight Sessions

For a closer look at what we can do to produce a lifestyle and training schedule that it based around the Paleolithic ideal please order the book.

Instinctive Fitness will help cut through the smoke and mirrors to get to the heart of the health and fitness riddle, better understand the human body – and allow anyone to unleash their magnificent caveman within.

  1. Eaton SB, Konner M, Shostak M (1988) “Stone agers in the fast lane: chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective.” American Journal of Medicine, 84:739-749. “Medical anthropologists have found little cancer in their studies of technologically primitive people, and paleopathologists believe that the prevalence of malignancy was low in the past, even when differences in population age structure are taken into account” (Rowling, 1961; Hildes and Schaefer, 1984; Micozzi, 1991)
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