Palaeolithic exercise questions

We received the following question by e-mail in April 2010:

i am a 26 year old lad from germany. i have some questions for you:

1. do you really think, that cavemen moved hard things every other day like you train?

2. you don´t train with heavy stones or something, which is a lot more cavemen-style. why not?

3. what do you mean about the use of soap on the body?

4. do you have the FiveFingers?

5. for you, as a senior it must be much easier to live a life like this because you lack of a boss, right?

6. you even train in a closed gym. why not outside, like methode naturelle?

that is it for the moment. i am looking forward to your answers

Our reply

Thank you for your questions and for arranging them in such an orderly way.

1. No. My aim is to achieve, as close as I can, the metabolic outcomes of life in the Palaeolithic. Not to mimic the experiences and activities (the inputs) of human living in the Palaeolithic. Naturally, mimicking those inputs would be one way to do achieve those outcomes, but, as you imply with your question 5, we all have to live within our society, family, economy, and this will mean many compromises. I maintain my focus on heavy lifting because we can be confident that extreme exertion of some kind enabled survival in the unpredictable Pleistocene environment. The bodies and minds that were able to survive over millions of years (your ancestors and mine) had the physiology which enabled them to be survivors, so I aim to stimulate my physiology in ways that comes close to being prepared for those sorts of survival events.

2. See also 1. Although I don't train with heavy stones, I have used sandbags and have just made a 38kg sandbag in order to do something like that. I am also attracted by Paul Wade's "Convict Conditioning" and hope to incorporate some of his ideas in my exercises soon. (No promises.) I don't think Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers trained with heavy stones. [1] The appeal of sandbag work is that it is exercise in three dimensions which exerts the body core. Such exercise replicates to some extent the exertions of wrestling and most other natural human movement. In the Palaeolithic, successful wrestling or sprinting would have been critical for survival occasionally and may also have been useful in competition (which, in turn, would have attracted mates). Just a couple of weeks ago I built up to 50 burpees and now I have switched to a Concept 2 ergometer (10 stokes flat out, 10 strokes rest for a total of 60 strokes and I'll build up to 10 sets of 10). Both the burpees and the rowing interval sprints mimic the exertion necessary for survival in an emergency and have a significant metabolic effect.

3. I'm not sure what I wrote about soap, but it's true that I don't use soap much - generally once a day to scrub my fingernails briefly in the shower. That bar of soap lasts over a year. I do not use shampoo, deodorant or other chemicals on my skin. Oh, yes, I do apply a basic (additive-free) sorbolene after shaving. There was no soap in the Palaeolithic and the ingredients of most soaps and other washes include manufactured compounds that do not occur in nature and that can permeates the skin and even the cell walls. I can think of no reason why I would not want to minimize my exposure to them.

4. No, I don't have FiveFingers. I have Nike Frees for some walking, as broken glass and occasional syringes are non-Palaeolithic hazards that confront urban dwellers today and I want protection from them. About 30 years ago I went for about 4 months without wearing shoes at all and am pleased to have done that. Nowadays I do my deadlifts in bare feet as my sneakers are too spongy to give stability with the weights I lift. I see FiveFingers as a consumerist gimmick and second-best to bare feet for most things - if it's important to you.

5. I adopted Palaeo features into my lifestyle in the period 1997-2000 when I was still employed. I switched to Palaeolithic eating in 2000. Clearly there were compromises, but I ate Palaeo and got out of the office every lunchtime for a walk, or to toss medicine balls around. At my desk, I got up for a couple of minutes every hour. Now that I'm retired (since 2003), I have NEVER used an alarm to wake up and I spend a lot more time outdoors. I do have a couple of part-time jobs and one of these enables me to be on my feet all day (just once a week) without a meal or snack or break from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Employment does bring the need for compromises, but that does not mean that it rules out attempting Palaeo living. I'm pleased neither of my present jobs are in air-conditioned offices and neither require me to inhale exhaust fumes or industrial chemicals.

6. I do train in a gym, but it's not air-conditioned and the windows are always open with the exhaust fans going. That's where the weights are. I do admire methode naturelle and Erwan le Corre's video is one of the most inspiring I have seen: not only what he does, but the poise and grace with which he does it! Perhaps if I was 30 or 40 years younger I would emulate some of this. I have only one fundamental misgiving: the individualism. When I go to the gym I chat with other gym-goers. Erwan is out on his own doing something resembling a decathlon. I guess he has time to smell flowers and contemplate vistas, and hope the relentless individual athleticism in his video is complemented by less hurried activities outside when the camera is not running. My time in the gym is rarely over 45 minutes and most of the rest of my time is spent outside. I cycle or walk to and from the gym, to and from work. We have no air-conditioning in our house and I'm outside much of the time anyway, active and on my feet, wearing shorts in daytime most days throughout the year.

These were good questions [name deleted]. Everyone will have their own constraints and opportunities in their life and everyone will be able to move closer to the Palaeolithic ways to which their fundamentally Palaeolithic bodies and minds are adapted.


1. For more on the differences between the Palaeolithic and the present day, see notes on the Evolutionary Health Principle Back to text

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