This article originally appeared in our book Paleo Fitness.
Last I checked, tapping away on the built-in Wi-Fi of the gym’s elliptical trainer, checking your smartphone e-mail while hunched over on a weight bench, or barely breaking a sweat with a stretchy band so you can earn yourself a giant Jamba Juice…
… was not ancestral. One could argue, in fact, that this style of fitness and fat loss is just one tiny step away from the scene in the movie Wall-E that features morbidly obese space-age civilians tooling along the space deck in their giant, soda-equipped vehicles.
Perhaps you’re chuckling contentedly—after all, you’re not one of those people. Instead, you go to a CrossFit box and punish your body under a barbell, or you strap on a pair of minimalist sandals and go running through the forest, or you twist yourself into pretzel shapes while lost in a deep-breathing trance. While I’ll admit that these modes of exercise are a much closer step than most to a Paleo, primal, or ancestral fitness model, they can still be lacking in some respects. For example—at the risk of sounding haughty, but hear me out, anyway—I’ve hung out with many a CrossFitter who whimpers at the prospect of any icy shower and can’t last an hour in a dry sauna or swim in a glacier river, many a trail runner who can’t pick up a heavy rock or break into an all-out sprint without pulling a hammy, and many a yogi who would definitely be the first to go in a zombie apocalypse (granted, with a pacified smile on their face).
So what’s one to do? Here’s my recommendation: Review these four rules for ancestral fitness and fat loss in a modern world. Make sure you’re following some semblance of these rules each week, and if you’re a real go-getter, even each day. By following these four rules, you’ll be well on your way to moving like a warrior, feeling like a beast, and rising one step above our modern world’s acceptance of what it means to be truly fit.
1. Shiver & Sweat
Go out of your way every day to make your body uncomfortably cold, uncomfortably hot, or both. I take a cold shower each morning, I keep my house below 65 degrees, and I visit a sauna several times a week. Why do I go out of my way to experience temperature extremes? Because under temperature stress, the body churns out compounds like brain-derived neurotrophic factor, heat-shock proteins, nitric oxide, and fat-burning adiponectin and shuts down inflammatory cytokines.
2. Hunt and Be Hunted
I’m not saying you have to don camouflage, hop in a pickup and go shoot all your own food (although I highly recommend it as a valuable life skill). But you can still simulate the ancestral feel of the hunt by including sporting and fitness events that allow you to spot, stalk, and capture prey. For example, rather than hopping on the treadmill, grab a few friends and head to the park for an exhilarating game of freeze tag.
3. Build Stuff
Our ancestors had to craft everything from weapons to shelters, and if you’ve ever spent the day tilling a garden, building a rock wall, or doing farm work, then you know that building can be hard. But even if you’re not inclined to build things, you can easily include items such as hay bales or boulders in your workout environment that force you to simulate the act of building by carrying, rolling, dragging, pushing, and pulling those objects, and by including heavy swinging and chopping activities such as sledgehammering a giant tire.
4. Be an Ape
I’ve purposefully equipped my house and living environment with things to hang from. In this way, I’m keeping my shoulder mobility tuned and my grip strong, and I’m tapping into yet another primal form of movement: gripping, hanging, swinging, and using forms of locomotion that go beyond simply walking, jogging, or running. Once you begin to view the world through the eyes of a chimpanzee, your perspective on fitness will change, although your banana budget and Tarzan-style grunts may also increase.
For more articles like this one, check out our Paleo Fitness ebook.