Author Topic: Paleolithic Exercise  (Read 13517 times)

Offline Lord Snoolington

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Paleolithic Exercise
« on: July 09, 2007, 07:58:23 AM »
Physical activity is sure to have near as great an effect on health as diet. It seems to me that while we put enough focus and effort into achieving a good diet, we do not put the same thought into whether we are practicing the best possible exercise program. It should be entirely possible to use for exercise the same principle we use for diet: the attempted emulation of the pattern of life of our ancestors, making allowance for our own modern convenience and taste. I know Art de Vany has done some stuff with this. I haven't read it, but judging by what I have seen and read of his scheme, it is built on modern science (albeit tinged with thought about our evolution) more than a straightforward application of what we know is the lifestyle of our ancestors. He specially calculates set, rep counts and weights to target different muscle fibers at different intensities. I think a good analogy is

(Any modern low-carb diet... Zone, whatever) : Paleolithic diet :: Art de Vany Evolutionary fitness exercise scheme : what I propose

In other words, A is the more modern science, B is the paleo way. They might end up being similar, as paleodiet comes close to the modern low carb diet. But we believe that the paleolithic emulation is the best for our health, and I for one would rather follow it even if the absolute truth was that the scientific way worked better, just because I enjoy being so mindful of and in touch with my inner caveman.

(I haven't actually read Art's whole essay, I don't really know what I'm talking about)

Anyway, I hope that makes sense. So in order to formulate a paleo exercise routine, we do the same thing we do for the diet: Look back and see what our ancestors did. (I'm not a scientist, so again I don't really know what I'm talking about.)

The paleolithic band lived in a camp in one location for a couple weeks (?). During that time, every day some portion of the able-bodied men (or all of able-bodied men?) went out on one(?) hunt per day, lasting around one to two hours (?). The hunt was a long period of walking around with short periods of extremely intense activity interspersed within. (When a prey was sighted, and the pursuit takes place) This activity would include some mixture include sprinting, jumping, throwing, climbing, beating, all conducted in very irregular areas, where vegetation grew thick and footing was not sure. The intense activity might be followed by a small rest. After which the hunt would carry on (because they were killing small game, not megafauna, and had to feed the entire band). The product of the hunt would have to be carried back to camp. The women spend the day out foraging for fruits, vegetables, nuts, insects, etc, probably carrying children and with children following (walking, climbing, bending over a lot, carrying loads). The rest of the day was spent lazing around camp, eating and socializing. There was certainly a good amount of playing, dancing, fighting, etc, spread throughout the day. Around camp there were always things to be done -- things to carry (water, perhaps), shelters to set up and take down, items of technology to craft, and lions, tigers, bears, to keep at bay. Every couple of weeks the area ran out of resources, and camp was dismantled, everyone was given a share to carry, and they walked with it until they reached a rich area again. There, camp was set up again, and the cycle continues.

It's good to point out what this does *not* contain: long distance running, exercising with sets and reps, exercising with uniform weights, performing the exact same maneuver more than once in a row, running on a track...

I think a main point here is (as in the diet) VARIETY:
-Maybe one day a bear decides to come into camp and run amok. It has to be fought.
-Maybe some neighboring band came to visit. There would be a few days of trade, play, competition, and dance. Or maybe fighting.
-Maybe the band accidently drinks from a stream they shouldn't, or all come down with some other bug. They aren't as active.
-Maybe one location proves extremely rich, and they stay there for a long time, maybe it proves extremely poor, and they leave immediately.
-Maybe the band rotates hunting and gathering duties - people have days off if they are tired, sick, lazy.

It's easy to see how a lot of this could be adapted to our needs. It is impossible to emulate this perfectly, but following the idea from paleodiet, the closer we get, the better. Sprinting and leaping around aimlessly in any vegetation filled area will do for hunting. If you wanted to make it more convenient, sprinting and leaping around on a track or sidewalk. When the animal climbs up a tree, or if there is fruit or honey in a tree, find a good tree to climb, and climb it. Or, if you want to make it more convenient, do lots of pullups with different grips and different rest periods. Carrying meat or produce back to camp, or moving things around in camp is deadlifting, carrying any odd objects available (Sandbags come to mind). Putting up a shelter? Find a bunch of logs and branches and things and lift them up. If you want it more convenient, do clean&press with a barbell and moderate weight, but just keep it irregular. Get into a fight with another person or a bear? Box with a bag. Every few weeks (keep it unpredictable, of course) have a "moving day" where you do lots of putting up and taking down exercises, and walk for hours that day.

Maybe I'm taking it a bit far, but I think this is a good idea.

I sincerely apologize for this rambling mess, feel free to ignore it. :)

Offline 21st-century caveman

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2007, 09:49:32 AM »
Lord Snoolington  (I can't help but grin when I read that name),

It may be rambling, but I get the sense that you're on the right track regarding the optimal kinds of exercise we can strive for.. variety is a good thing, and parallels what life throws at us.  What's pretty clear to me is that paleolithic people:

A)  spent most of their lives outdoors
B)  had a higher level of physical activity (hunting and foraging) than your average modern couch potato
C)  experienced varying conditions, threats; therefore varying levels of physical activity to cope

Given this, and your scenario of typical paleolithic life, we should strive to be more active, enjoy the great outdoors often, and as in our choices of paleo foods, strive for variety in our physical activity as well.  Going out and jogging at the same pace for 4 miles might be better than no physical activity, but it's not really the optimum.  That's why I like to do various forms of exercise- weight training, as well as 'wogging', my term for walking/jogging at varying paces.  I also like mountain hiking, although I haven't been doing that lately..


Offline Lord Snoolington

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2007, 10:41:07 AM »
Looking at it again, I guess it's a bit ridiculous. But there are definitely things to learn from it. The variety, as you say, is important. Weight training, for example, is a repititious activity that paleoliths would not have engaged in. The human body is not adapted to it, therefore people get bad injuries weightlifting. But maybe that's even taking it too far. The body is certainly adaptable...

Whatever... In any case, I'm going to try to start thinking of my exercise in these terms. :)

Offline 21st-century caveman

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2007, 11:28:57 AM »
No, I wouldn't say 'ridiculous' at all- it's an interesting thought experiment, trying to visualize what daily life might have been like for a small group of our paleolithic ancestors.  If we combine this kind of theorizing with hard scientific (archeological, anthropological) research, as it becomes available, we will come to a better understanding of human existence in paleolithic times, and its effective emulation to benefit our lives in modern times.  I think we have the basic concepts pretty well already; but sometimes, the devil is in the details..

Yes- the human body is amazingly adaptable.. and on an individual level, some people can do 'bad' things, like drink or smoke heavily, and still live long, productive lives.  But, as far as weight training injuries go, many times it is because of carelessness, or incorrect form, when performing a particlular move.  I grant you that a paleolithic person might not have lifted rocks over his head repeatedly, just for the hell of it, but he might have done strenuous repetitive motions, like pulling back to camp a hunted and killed animal that was too heavy to lift, etc..

We have to keep in mind, too, that the emulation of paleolithic life is not necessarily the holy grail of human existence..  as we come to a better understanding of how our bodies and minds operate, through scientific research in exercise physiology and biomechanics, for example, we can understand how to make ourselves stronger, have more endurance, etc..  which are both good qualities to have, in coping with life's physical challenges.  Just my opinion, but I believe that we can combine the best of both worlds, emulating paleolithic life for its benefits, as well as benefitting from modern science and medicine.

Offline AndroNYC

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2007, 03:20:38 PM »
...Weight training, for example, is a repititious [sic] activity that paleoliths would not have engaged in. The human body is not adapted to it, therefore people get bad injuries weightlifting. But maybe that's even taking it too far. The body is certainly adaptable..
I believe that there is much merit in what you've shared in this thread, but perhaps I could expand on this particular notion.

I believe that you are referring to what we would consider 'modern' bodybuilding- particularly machine oriented work requiring effort only in a single palne of motion- or worse, isolating a single muscle [think 'leg extensions']- and if that's the case, I am basically in qualified agreement.

But Og did have to lift sh*t when dealing with that bear, if only to whack him over the head with his stick. And you surely saw the TLC/ History channel show on Og and his crew slaying mammoths and other large prey by pushing boulders off cliffs onto their skulls. And he did have to pick up the pieced out kill as well as drag medium large prey back to his pad....

So lifting sh*t was a part of his day, just not 'modern bodybuilding' style.

What and how can we duplicate this?

I will be addressing this in detail overtime elsewhere as this is where I believe my experitise lies, but for now, just think Kettlebells, Clubbells, Sandbags, Deadlifts, SledgeHammers and other strongman stuff. Paleo-Fitness is far more than this, but I firmly believe that true "weightlifting" must be incorporated into an overall 'plan'.

Pax et lux


Offline Lord Snoolington

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2007, 04:12:17 PM »
Agreed, especially about the isolation, machiney, bodybuilding stuff. I also agree that the strongman type -- "functional" -- stuff you listed is a much greater emulation of Og's physical activity.

But while I know that there was definitely "lifting sh*t" going on, I think that the fact must be emphasized that lifting animals, shelters, rocks in natural life formed a pattern completely different than the pattern we associate with "weight training." Og may have lifted animals and rocks around in his daily life, but it is most certain that he did not go into a gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday reliably for years on end and grab onto a regular load with easy handles and perfect weight distribution (e.g., a barbell) and lift it, with identical form each time, for so many reps and sets and then go home. Og's weight lifting was irregular, unreliable, and imperfect in every conceivable way. Bears are oddly shaped, and every time he picked it up, he used a different grip. Each bear has a different weight. He carried them over varying distances and terrains. Every tree he climbed had a different route - the branches were different distances apart and he used different grips. It is this variety that we should focus on if we seek to emulate his activity patterns.

It must be emphasized that there is no doubt that the human body has great capacity to perform and adapt under even this kind of reliable stress. However, it is nonideal in several ways. With such regularity and longevity, repetitive activity stresses our bodies in ways that Og's body would never be stressed. Nobody critically hurts their back in their first week of deadlifting in their life. Nobody busts a ligament in their knee the first time they squat. These injuries come after years of use and abuse. Another factor is maintaining progress - Sustained repetition of the same routine and the same exercises always causes progress and growth to stop after a certain amount of time because the body perfectly adapts to one particular type or pattern of stress. Another factor is the added benefit in muscle targets from variety and irregularity. Squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc, using a barbell all stress the body very regularly -- they target large, main muscles. Especially in the upper body, there are tons of little muscles and stabilizers that are all important, but are forgotten by regular and few exercises. Every time Og lifted the bear, his leg was twisted a little bit in such and such direction, and every time he pulled himself up by a tree limb, the limb is in a slightly different location in relation to his body, his other arm, etc...

Like I said, a lot of the strongman exercise media you listed should be fine - sandbags must be gripped in odd ways, and give an exercise different leverage every time. You swing your sledgehammer a different way every day. Of course, barbell weightlifting if not done the same way for long periods of time should be fine - the body can handle it. As long as the guiding principle is variety, irregularity, and unpredictability.

Offline AndroNYC

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2007, 01:56:17 PM »
Scheduling is different from 'weight-training' per se.

And an element that I will address when I get back online from home later this summer.

Ever have a dog/ cat? An outside dog/ cat?

Ever notice their "workout"?

Without tooting my own horn [too loudly] all will be revealed....

Promise.

Pax et lux.

Offline Lord Snoolington

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2007, 03:50:20 PM »
I'll look forward to it.  :)

Offline xaipe

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Re: Paleolithic Exercise
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2007, 04:54:38 AM »
Agreed, especially about the isolation, machiney, bodybuilding stuff. I also agree that the strongman type -- "functional" -- stuff you listed is a much greater emulation of Og's physical activity.
...

Of course, barbell weightlifting if not done the same way for long periods of time should be fine - the body can handle it. As long as the guiding principle is variety, irregularity, and unpredictability.

This is pretty much exactly what my boyfriend is always telling me - he just doesn't put it into an anthropological/paleo diet spin on it. He won't use weight machines, only free weights and nags me daily to get over my dislike of gym guys and get my butt to the squat rack. Right now I just do hindu squats, regular squats and deadlifts at home with a low-weight 'girlie' barbell, and I'm resisting his pressure to steadily increase the weights because it seems to me that that's where the injuries start. I'm totally going to appropriate your argument to make mine now - thanks!