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This article was originally featured in our Oct/Nov 2013 issue

We are all born with an innate desire for movement, for play. As children, we are ever-curious about the physical world and our place in it, going from the simple motion of a crawl to the first few, shaky steps toward outstretched hand and, eventually, out into the open to bound, jump, run, and leap.

Children at a playground never require teaching. When set loose upon an open field, a game of chase or tag evolves as naturally as those first steps. Yet something about our society squelches the love of play, kills it early on in adolescence when we start to feel the pull of technology and other distractions. The modern world instead trains us for more productive means.

Our bodies suffer, and so do our souls.

In his book, Paleo Fitness: Primal Training and Nutrition to Get Lean, Strong and Healthy, Darryl Edwards advocates for the return of those functional, innate movements natural to every human.

Edwards writes: “Anthropological evidence tells us that our Paleolithic forebears were lean, tall and athletic and avoided the chronic diseases that plague us today. By looking backward to move forward, we can reintroduce key elements of our ancestors’ lifestyle – better food choices, appropriate physical activity, and stress management will mitigate the risks associated with the development of chronic disease.”

Edwards grew up in a home where fresh food was a priority and activity was encouraged. He spent his childhood training for sports and martial arts, but once in college Edwards admits to eating poorly and rarely exercising. This lifestyle pattern carried over into his post-collegiate career in IT. In his sedentary job he subsisted on fast food and, incredibly, remained very slim. In his thirties, however, Edwards began to gain the weight he always tried to pack on in the gym, but this time it was concentrated around his midsection. From this began a seemingly endless cycle of gym memberships, diets, workout routines, and frustration. But like many who have joined the Paleo movement, Edwards’ story has a happy ending.

Edwards decided to take his health into his own hands and began a radical makeover of his diet, exercise and lifestyle habits, habits inspired by the Paleo movement that he still teaches to clients today. After seven years of Paleo living, Edwards has made a commitment to choices he knows will bring him vibrant health and longevity – choices he shares in detail in Paleo Fitness.

“The objective of the Paleo lifestyle is to pick the critical aspects of Paleolithic life that make a positive difference. We don’t want to turn a blind eye to the medical and technological advances that have improved human health and well-being, but integrating the best of our ancestral inheritance with the best of the present enables us to achieve optimal wellness,” Edwards writes.

With this philosophy, Edwards outlines a specific set of movements, complete with a strict Paleo diet plan to help readers – and his clients in the UK – achieve lasting health and their ideal body composition. Broken down into three sections, Paleo Fitness addresses the science behind the Paleolithic Diet, the foundations of Paleo nutrition, and the basics of functional movement.

Edwards’ comprehensive chapter on Paleo workouts comprises the bulk of the book, and as it should. Edwards makes his living teaching others how functional fitness and play can combine for an effective, primal workout. Professional certifications include MovNat certification, Crossfit and Olympic Lifting certification, Kettlebell Strength and Conditioning and POSE running L1 certification, all combined to focus on evolutionary fitness and natural movement.

Edwards outlines an 8-week training program to build strength, increase stamina and flexibility, and encourage longevity. The program is simple – with movements like the bunny hop, squat jumps, push-ups, and sprinting intervals – and minimal equipment is required for results. Each movement is explained in detail with text and example photos. And what seems like child’s play is actually physically challenging. A bear crawl for 15 meters after a few muscle-ups? Not for the faint of heart.

Even so, one of the best qualities of Edwards’ Paleo Fitness program is its accessibility. All that is required is determination and a little bit of space to move around in, plus the sort of devil-may-care attitude that comes in handy when performing a 10-meter crab walk at the park before an audience of curious onlookers.

Edwards references a list of 10 markers by which people judge their level of athletic competency, and goes on to expand that list to 25 attributes of total fitness. Among those attributes are balance, flexibility, posture, response time, speed, stamina, and strength, all of which are aspects of Edwards’ training plan. His goal is to encourage fitness in every sense of the word, to create a body that is fully functional for every scenario. This is evolutionary fitness at its finest.

The section on Paleo nutrition is simple, straightforward, and yet full of useful information that even the most seasoned Paleo dieter would do well to be reminded of. Edwards addresses the relationship between food and hormones, food and hypertension, and gives compelling reasons why we should avoid various foods that, for others, might still be included in a Paleo diet. For example, Edwards argues that dried fruit should be avoided because of its high sugar content, which can often be as much as that found in a piece of candy. It’s uncertain whether Edwards recommends life-long abstention from all the food he discourages, such as coffee, salt and cassava, but he writes that “avoiding

[those] foods will make positive, detectable improvements to your health.”

Edwards also works to dispel some of the common myths about food in the nutrition section. One example concerns the difference between weight loss and fat loss; the first phrase is too often bandied about in the fitness industry when, in reality, it is fat loss that should be the main concern. Edwards addresses the tendency toward calorie counting, and instead, encourages a more holistic focus: “Calorie intake versus calorie expenditure can’t be ignored, but it isn’t the only factor when we’re talking about managing body composition.”

With a solid nutrition foundation established, Edwards then provides a 2-week meal plan and a wealth of inventive Paleo recipes, from Caribbean Fish Stew to a Persian Shirazi Salad to a Paleo Bloody Mary.

Edwards’ writing is honest, and his heart for health and fitness shine through in the text. Paleo Fitness rests somewhere in between the conversational style of Jason Seib’s The Paleo Coach and the scientifically playful focus of Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint. It’s an easy read but by no means “light” – information abounds on every page, from references to scientific studies to a handy chart explaining healthy body fat percentages.

Paleo Fitness offers the perspective that there is room for experimentation, there is more for us to learn, and there is definitely a place for play, even in modern, Neolithic life.

Listen to our conversation with Darryl on Paleo Magazine Radio Eps 12.