The gym is a uniquely human experience. We don’t see gazelles logging countless hours on the treadmill, or gorillas trying to squeeze out one more set of curls. True, this could come down to the fact that animals lack the capacity to erect their own indoor playgrounds. But the more important consideration is that they don’t need to.
Once upon a time we were an active species. Those small pockets of hunter-gatherer societies that still remain offer a glimpse into what life looked like at large several generations ago. Even our more recent pioneer ancestors, whose agrarian lifestyle resulted in the consumption of considerably more grains than their predecessors, at least came by those grains on the merits of their own physical labor. I don’t recall seeing Charles Ingalls locked in a sitting position for days on end at his hand-hewn table. He was too busy caring for his livestock, tending to his land, and rescuing Half-Pint from trouble to laze the day away. You simply couldn’t afford to sit. If you weren’t working, you weren’t eating.
Today survival is easy to come by. Food can be ordered up at the click of a button. And as technology and innovation draw us farther away from a dynamic lifestyle, we have to invent activities that mimic the way we used to move. Few of us still spend our days driving spikes, chopping and hauling our own wood, or digging our own wells. Instead, we pay gym owners good money to swing sledge hammers at tires that never give. Or to transport loads of sand bags as if building a levee against imaginary rising waters.
To be clear, I’m all in when it comes to physical activity. And when your day is conspicuously absent of movement, a regular exercise routine, no matter how contrived, is necessary to fill in the gaps.
But whether your workouts steer you toward your desired outcome or just result in chronic burnout depends on the pattern of movement and the types of activities you are engaging in.
Today’s gyms are dominated by legions of treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes, and it is not uncommon to see folks slaving away on one of these machines for an hour or more at a time. And that’s only part of their workout! If you’re the rare athlete training for long time trials, then keep at it. But more likely, you’re the typical motivated individual looking to change your body composition, and willing to go to any extreme to make it happen. So there you find yourself week after week, literally and figuratively spinning your wheels.
Rest assured, there is an easier and more effective way to change your body. And it requires far less indentured servitude to your personal trainer than you have been led to believe.
We are genetically wired to cope well with frequent low to moderate level activity while occasionally spiking into the more intense zone. Think of the Bushman who works to tidy up or improve his camp life, obtain water, or gather tubers, while periodically engaging in intense bouts of activity like hunting down his meals or evading predators.
Providing that we are ingesting optimal food sources, a good looking movement profile should be a nice balance of daily varied activity, a few days a week of strenuous resistance training, and some all-out effort sprinting activities sprinkled in every week or so. Constantly working through extended bouts of max effort cardio will quickly spill over into burnout and will sabotage your best efforts at losing body fat.
The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid below offers a great visual representation of optimal movement for most people. At the least, it is a great starting template that can be expanded upon to accommodate more specialized or sport-specific activities.
Of course, this all exists under the caveat of healthy, primal based eating. The cliche is true. You can’t outrun a bad diet. Believe me, I’ve tried.
If you’re consistently letting bad things seep into your diet, such as sugar and other sweeteners, processed oils, and excessive grains, or if you’re simply over-consuming calories out of habit or boredom, you can run and run, but you’ll never catch up.
But when you get your food dialed in, the movement becomes much easier and far less demanding. Just about anybody can build a routine of movement structured around the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid.
There are endless possibilities for frequent daily movement. For example, walking, cycling, swimming, hiking, playing catch, throwing a frisbee, kayaking, paddle boarding, climbing trees, or slacklining, just to name a few.
When lifting heavy things, get proper instruction on full-body, functional moves such as deadlifts, squats, cleans, lunges, farmers walks, overhead carries, etc. Focusing on multi-joint movements that demand greater overall work than single-joint moves like biceps curls will give you the most bang for your buck and combat the monotony that often comes with lifting routines.
Max effort sprints, especially hill sprints, can really accelerate muscle growth and fat burning. If you have issues with your knees, you can opt for bike sprints or even swim sprints. The point is to draw maximum effort from every cell in your body for brief, intense periods.
In my experience, when it comes to physical activity, most people live at one of two extremes. At one end is the camp that only moves out of pure human necessity. At the opposite pole are those folks who you pretty much need to threaten with bodily harm to coerce out of the gym.
The interesting thing is that both groups share the same catalyst for their actions: fear. The inactive group dreads the perceived effort and commitment required to improve their health. And the hyperactive group is afraid that dialing back the intensity will negatively impact them.
The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid offers a sensible balance of movement that can serve as a productive middle ground to those living at either end of the exercise bell curve.
Put together your own routine of movement based on the Pyramid and then commit to sticking with it for the next 12 weeks. You’ll probably find that staying fit and mobile requires much less effort than you initially thought.
Be Your Best,