Since before Ivan Drago “crushed” Apollo Creed in Rocky IV, man has looked to science for physiological perfection. Supplements have become an acceptable source of sustenance, shoes are being made from the same material as fighter jets, and it practically takes a college degree to operate some of the latest workout machines.
As more and more gym rats race their ellipticals towards a fitter tomorrow, a school of thought has emerged that sets physical training back approximately 2 million years. It’s called Paleo Fitness, and in case you fell asleep in Human Evolution (or vehemently believe in Adam and Eve), The Paleolithic time period spawned everybody’s favorite Geico spokesperson, the caveman.
But what does a being from the Stone Age know about fitness in the age of smart phones and plastic surgery? Everything, as far as Paleo Fitness practitioners are concerned. From our weight rooms to our dinner tables, these super-retro exercise enthusiasts believe we learned everything we needed to know about exercise and eating in 2,000,000 BC.
Take our athletic shoes, for example. True Paleo Fitness gurus believe that the best running equipment on Earth are our own two feet. To paraphrase a study conducted by Daniel E. Lieberman, PhD and professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, no pair of Nikes can compensate for a poor stride.
As a matter of fact, over-supportive footwear can actually promote podiatric injuries by enabling improper technique. That’s why many members of the Paleo movement mimic our forefoot-striking forefathers by running and exercising either barefoot or in minimalist footwear like Vibram FiveFingers (or one of their many imposters).
The second phase of Paleo Fitness is all about replicating our ancestors’ huntering and gathering techniques. They ran, they climbed, they threw, they fought, and a charismatic Frenchman by the name of Erwan Le Corre took note.
Le Corre, founder of the MovNat fitness concept, believes, “There is within yourself an ancestral memory of movement that you can reawaken and that longs to be reawakened.” To hasten this reawakening, Le Corre has identified three categories of movement utilizing a total of 13 different skills.
The largest category of movements is the Locomotive group, which contains common cardiovascular challenges like walking, running, balancing, jumping, crawling, climbing and swimming. But Le Corre doesn’t suggest we pick and choose our favorite activity from the list. To keep in line with the MovNat regiment you have to partake in each motion, preferably in a continual sequence. Think of it as an archaic form of parkour.
The second most common category is the Manipulative group, which includes lifting, carrying, throwing and catching. As the name suggests, this portion of the workout is all about gaining strength by “manipulating” your surroundings. (See what he did there?) If Le Corre comes across a boulder or slower runner on a hiking trail, he doesn’t just go around it. He lifts it over his head like a powder keg and hurls it out of his way, stimulating every muscle in his body. You know, like a caveman.
The last class of motion is the Combative group, which focuses on striking and grappling. Like Bamm Bamm Rubble pummeling a saber tooth tiger, Le Corre believes we are genetically prepared to engage in physical combat. He's not suggesting we whittle a spear and fight to the death like our knuckle-dragging brethren. He just thinks Greco-Roman wrestling or going berserk on a punching bag every once in awhile is crucial to developing a biologically superior physique.
Sound a little crazy? Not to Outside Magazine it doesn’t. After selling out all five of his $1,700 summer workshops, Outside chronicled Le Corre and his class in a feature-length article and ranked Paleo Fitness “#1 of the Top 10 Health and Fitness Trends of 2010,” gaining the MovNat YouTube channel almost as many views as a sleepy kitty.
Like many modern fitness regiments, the caveman lifestyle is part exercise and part eating habits. If you’re going to workout like primal man you have to eat like primal man, and that’s where the Paleo Diet comes in.
Paleolithic dining revolves around one simple guideline; if the Flintstones couldn’t eat it, neither can you. Foods like Snickers and Doritos are a no brainer, but even everyday groceries like milk, whole grains and beans are off limits to fundamentalist cavemen.
According to Loren Cordain; PhD, professor at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet; our genome has not yet adapted to grains, dairy and legumes, and eating such foods could cause inflammation at the cellular level. He blames these items for the Pandora’s box of diseases modern civilizations has struggled with for centuries, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Contrary to Cordain’s claims, many health practitioners and dietitians maintain that whole grains, low-fat dairy products and beans are excellent sources of nutrition and should remain in everyone’s diet. However, if you want to stay entirely true to your evolutionary roots, you have to stick with organic meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits and berries. And, “be sure to supplement the plane with calcium and vitamin D,” says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, and Director of Nutrition for WebMD.
Despite the famous Geico tagline, the caveman lifestyle isn’t easy for modern civilizations. With our society inching closer and closer to a Wall-E like future, it’s becoming harder and harder to find the time, equipment and nourishment to keep up with Erwan Le Corre, Loren Cordain and the other leaders of the Paleolithic movement. But is it worth it? Try watching Le Corre in action without nodding your head yes.