Ancestral Fitness: Framework vs Re-enactment

One idea that I have been very pleased to see begin trickling out of the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness/Ancestral Fitness community as of late is the notion of  Paleo (writ large) as being a framework of ideas and technologies vs being some sort of paleolithic re-enactment movement.  In other words, there’s a profound difference between melding the best practices of our paleolithic ancestors with that of modern science, and that of simply becoming caveman re-enactment aficionados on par with the Civil War enthusiast who gathers on the weekend to time-bend back to AntietamRobb Wolf has mentioned this, along with Andrew, of Evolvify.  Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with the “time-benders” per se — hey, to each his own — but I do think it’s wrong-minded to assume that blind, attempted  mimicry of past practices will somehow lead to positive/enhanced outcomes in the here-and-now.

I tend to think of my own Ancestral Fitness journey as being an n=1 best-scenario composite of fueling and forging my mind and body according to primal dictates, but enhanced by the luxury of additional knowledge afforded me by the  study of modern science, and the study of n=1 results reported by other like-minded individuals.  A Luddite I most certainly am not; a skeptic, critical thinker, an epistemocrat most definitely, but not a Luddite.  My HIIT training certainly does not consist of hunting cave bear, nor does my post-workout chow-down consist of the BBQ’d carcass, nor do I feel that I need to re-enact that moment of paleolithic plunder in order to better my health in this modern environment.  For better or worse, the bulk of my daily existence is spent on city streets, my hunting is done in farmers markets, and my physicality is challenged in gyms, and on pavement and manicured “tundra”.   I’m not out in the sun as much as I’d like, so I augment with D3; my omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is lacking, so I supplement with a good bit of fish and/or krill oil.  I work too much and sleep way to little, and for that the ancient hunter-gatherer would be laughing his hairy ass off, casting a wtf shrug my way.   Back off, cave brah; I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that’s the essence of the game.

Late edit, 11/25/10 – I just came across the following Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in a recent  Mark Sisson newsletter; apropos, my friends, to our discussion here:

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

On the workout front –

The theme for last week was “very, very little available time”, and my workouts reflected as much:

Not sure how to classify this one; had a few minutes between clients, with the former of those clients having just used a 350-pound loaded trap bar within his routine.  What to do?  Break the bar down at a leisurely pace and set-up for the next trainee?  Maybe grab a quick cup of joe as well?  How about instead let’s see how many 350-pound trap bar pulls I can reel-off in a couple of minutes?  Yeah, that was the “workout” — if you wanna call it that — for 11/9; 4 sets of 15 at 350 pounds with the trap bar.  I think it took roughly 3-minutes to complete, but left me temporarily wobbly and blowing like a freight train.  A nice little jolt of “fight-or-flight” that kept me humming for the rest of the day.  Random?  Yeah.  Fractal?  You bet.  But hey, when opportunity knocks…

So I jump on many opportunities like this throughout the week that I don’t think to report here in TTP.  An Oly bar loaded with 225 looks like a quick burst of power cleans for example, maybe some btn jerks.  The results of doing something like this are, of course, something that I can’t really quantify — other than to say that I feel really “good…alive” after having done a bout of one of these intense micro bursts.  And maybe it does have something to do with the pulsate nature of the fight-or-flight response being a natural phenomena?  Who knows.  If you have a home gym, or otherwise “happen by” training opportunities throughout the day, give it a shot yourself and see what you think.  But never “force” yourself into one of these intense micro bursts, rather, let it come about organically.  Listen to your body.

The following day, 11/10 — my birthday, by the way (46 if you’re wondering) — and the luxury of 20-minutes worth of  precious, unbroken, available time.

med ex back extension: 310 x 15 reps (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure

super-slow ham curl: 200 x 10 (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure

true squat (0 lbs offset, full ROM): 45 x 8, 90 x 5, 135 x 6, 180 x 6 (30×0 tempo) — final set to positive failure

Nautilus pull-over: 240 x 11, 255 x 2, 2 (51×0 tempo) — single set to positive failure + 2 rest-pause sets

Thursday, 11/11 — An hour-and-a-half of fixie saddle time bliss.  The ATX is fixie heaven, y’all 🙂

Friday, 11/12

cable lunge flye: 125 x 15; 155 x 12, 10, 10

floor press: 135 x 7; 185 x 5, 4, 2  All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)

snatch-grip rack pull (knee level): 315 x 5; 385 x 3, 3 (rest-pause).  All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)

Get healthy or get fit?  Let’s define the terms a little better so that we’re all on the same page.  Skyler Tanner does just that over at our Efficient Exercise blog.


In health,


13 responses to “Ancestral Fitness: Framework vs Re-enactment

  1. I agree with your philosophy and attempt to achieve a balance between available time and technology. So… what follows is kind of an open question to the universe reflecting my own attempts at balancing everything…

    I kind of think of technology as being applied in an economic, supply-demand curve kind of way… a (non-strict) philosophical utilitarianism to some extent. But at some point, technology can only marginally mitigate time lost in the modern world. Some lifestyles (read: jobs) simply demand too much time. This is a matter of math, not philosophy. Do you have a barometer or rule of thumb that warns you to adjust the supply of your available time? Should the estimates of hunter-gatherer lifestyles’ weekly output of about 20 “work” hours and 20 hours of miscellaneous “household chores” inform our scheduling targets?

    • Maybe it’s more like art, in that we know it when we see it…or more appropriately, in this case, we know it when we’ve lost it (i.e., the proper balance/ratio).

  2. Great article, as usual. I do agree we make the best of both worlds, taking the knowledge of today & what we know to be the history of our past & we live within the constraints of our personal lives, to the best of our ability, a re-enactment, at our house? I think not. I love the reference to the ancient hunter-gatherer laughing his hairy ass off at you…very funny, my love.

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  4. QUOTE:
    “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that’s the essence of the game.”

    Unfortunately, that’s all any of us can do, especially since modern foods don’t bear a lot of resemblance to their Paleolithic ancestors.

  5. You put out good stuff Keith!

    I think many (most?) people desire a specific blueprint to follow whether in training, diet or how to do their jobs. They get uncomfortable when they have the lattitude or need to go beyond the lines. I think that’s why we see people get hunkered down behind their Paleo “rules of engagement.” They want you, Art, Mark, and Robb (or whomever they’ve aligned themselves with) to give them step by step on what to do and when to do it. The slightest deviation results in a “fear outbreak.”

    There are a few people, the clear minority, who tinker, poke and prod the concepts to develop their own “n=1 brand” and they run with it. These people are the difference makers and the ones who take the discipline (whatever it may be) to the next level.

    • Yes, “following orders” is very freeing, in that it absolves you of any responsibility of the outcome. With n=1 experimentation, the onus is completely on the experimenter. Not everyone is wired for that kind of responsibility.

  6. I just had to say that I’m extremely happy you interviewed with Kevin from the Healthy Mind Fit Body podcast. You have another subscriber, my friend. Keep on being a badass and thinking like an epistemocrat.

  7. I like that first paragraph. It seems that a lot of people against Paleo take it so personally, and instead of engaging in intelligent discussion, they resort to childish names like “Paleotard”, or saying things like, “Cavemen didn’t have antibiotics, so I guess that means you have to die if you get really sick.” There are forums devoted to bashing Paleo; it’s actually kind of sad that people are that bored.

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