The Human as an Endurance Athlete?

Is it just me, or is there something missing in the whole “humans evolved as endurance athletes” story?  To wit, here’s an interesting story from the folks at NPR.  Interesting, no doubt – however, there’s an obvious (and, in my mind, at least) whole other half of the story that’s continually left unexplored.  And not only unexplored, but seemingly unacknowledged.

No doubt some humans are superbly suited for endurance endeavors; whippet-thin, slow-twitch dominant – all lungs, ligament, tendon and bone – and part of the problem here may be that the researchers themselves are, for the most part, (1) put together thusly, and (2) are themselves, endurance athletes.  Confirmation bias, anyone?  Seen through the prism of the endurance enthusiast, all of mankind is either a well trained, severely untrained, or badly trained, distance athlete.  And sprinters?  Simply a forced phenotypical expression (read ”ill-advised” and “ill-conceived”) that an underlying elegant and — quite natural! — endurance chassis must endure.

Now, I’m certainly not a trained professional in this line of study, but this “endurance” line of logic just doesn’t resonate with me.  Something, my logic tells me, is badly amiss.

Of course, I could be accused of the same manner of confirmation bias in my own insistence that there also had to be an evolutionary niche for the powerful, sprinting human, a niche that “endurance man” simply could not fill.

And, too, the idea of the “persistence hunt theory” – though no doubt part of the overall human evolution story – simply cannot be the whole, end-all of the story.  These “sprinting types” peppered about humanity had to have evolved from a set of specific evolutionary pressures that had little to do with endurance and persistence, and more to do with swift, powerful and lethal.

It seems to me that the energy expenditure to energy pay-off for persistence hunting (as defined in the “endurance” theory) has to be dreadfully low – even if we are to consider exceptional running mechanics.  I have no doubt that in some niches that this was necessary – surely, though we co-evolved in diverse settings that required a diverse set of evolutionary skills.

And possibly endurance evolved among humans, not for the purpose of persistence hunting, but for the purpose of scouting for the tribe?  Think overall calorie intake for the communal band as a whole – women and children included — not simply a few runners and one (relatively) small, and no doubt lean, animal.  A band of humans might more effectively and efficiently deploy scouts in numerous directions to locate promising hunting grounds and/or rich scavenging/gathering sources, allowing the tribe as a whole to find the best options within a large range. This method would, it seems to me, maximize caloric intake at a minimum of total communal expenditure, as the specialization within a group allows several to run for scouting/exploring purposes while the remainder can conserve energy for hunting (sprinting?) and gathering purposes once the most promising site has been found.

Again, this is not to say that I dismiss the “endurance theory” out of hand, but simply to state that I know there has to be a “rest of the story” left to be uncovered.  Simply put, I just don’t believe that the sprinting/power-inclined phenotype can be overlooked in an evolutionary sense, especially vis-à-vis the endurance path.  Of course, this opens up the debate about genetics in sport; a debate that either focuses on the “endurance gene” (what makes Kenyans and Ethiopians so dominant?) or on the “speed gene” (West Africans, Jamaica and the USA).  To be sure, it’s a debate that is heated, because it has anthropological, racial, cultural undertones.  It’s a debate for another time, though, and a bit beyond the scope of today’s post.

One thing that all runners benefit from though, is the superb spring/recoil characteristics of the foot structure.  For more on that most interesting story, check this out.

Ok, so in my humble opinion, not every human is naturally wired for efficient endurance endeavors, however, listening to Dr. Lieberman, though, would lead one to believe it so.  I think I’ve established here that I have to disagree with the good doctor’s stance – I do, however, think that Dr. Lieberman’s choice in footwear absolutely rocks!  🙂   Now if he’d just give my power/sprint-inclined phenotypical brothers some well-deserved love, already!

Moving on to Tuesday Evening‘s Iron Session –

I began this session with squat cleans – “greasin’ the groove” with 25 perfect rep singles at 135 lbs, with an approximate 7-second recovery between reps.  I returned the weight to the floor (i.e., no drop) after each repetition, took my hands off the bar, stood up straight, took a breath, re-gripped and hit the next rep.  Each rep was with perfect form, and as fast as I could make it.   The first 12 or so will make you feel like a well tuned machine; the second half of the set will make you feel as though you’re quickly coming apart at the seams.  This is a good, explosive lead-in to the meat of the evening’s workout.  Next up was a superset of the following:

reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 x 10; 60 x 6; 80 x 6, 5

barbell muscle-ups: 135 x 5; 145 x 4, 4, 4

A black-sky storm was rolling in, so I left the gym immediately following that superset.  Not that I would have done much else anyway, though; I was pretty well zorched after the chin/muscle-up pairing.  And lemme tell ya, there’s nothing like close proximity lightning strikes to put a little *umph* in your fixie get-along.  Holy sprint-wasted legs by the time I got home.  And by the way, I did beat the rain – again!  Still battin’ a thousand for this summer. I know this rain-dodge cockiness is going to do nothing but get me drenched here before long  🙂

…Which Leads Us to Wednesday’s Bout with the Iron…

Same idea as with Tuesday’s “greasin’ the groove” power cleans, only today’s lead-in exercise of choice was the whip snatch to overhead squat; 115 lbs x 15 singles, 7-seconds between reps.  Again, I went to the floor between each rep, then re-gripped & pulled easy to the power position, then hit it.  The ol’ PC was feeling it for sure by the end of this.  From here, I hit a superset of barbell lunges and btn jerks:

reverse barbell lunge: 115 x 10 (10); 135 x 6 (6); 185 x 5 (5), 5 (5)    Left leg(Right leg)

btn jerk: 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 185 x 2, 2;

Then, following the superset, I continued on with the btn jerk, 200 x 5 rest-pause singles.

Shaky, post beat-down hands make for a lousy picture, but here’s a shot of my lunge/btn jerk set-up –

The problem that I have to deal with here of course is the lack of bumper plates and a lifting platform.  But, I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with; that’s all any of us can hope to do.

Anyhow, put a fork in me after this workout – I was damn well done.  A well deserved and much appreciated off day is on tap for tomorrow; some light riding, maybe some barefooted strides, depending on the weather.