4 Ways to Be as Fit as Your Primal Ancestors
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.
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Last I checked, tapping away on the built-in WiFi of the gym’s elliptical trainer, checking your smartphone e-mail while hunched over on a weight bench, and barely breaking a sweat with a stretchy band so that 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 cartoon Wally that features morbidly obese space-age civilians tooling along the space deck in their giant soda equipped land rovers.
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 to following a Paleo, primal, or ancestral fitness model, they can still be lacking in some respects. For example (at the risk of sounding haughty – but please hear me out anyways), I’ve hung out with many a Crossfitter who wimpers at the prospect of any icy cold 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.
1. Shiver & Sweat
It is perhaps once each week that my hand turns the hot water handle on my shower, and that’s usually after a 20-30 minute swim in the icy river or the cold tub in my backyard. Aside from that, I take a 2-5 minute cold shower each morning, with water from a well fed by an underground spring 800 feet below my house. I keep my basement office at a crispy 55 degrees, my bedroom at 60 degrees, and my home rarely above 65 degrees. I visit my sauna 4-5 times per week to do yoga and will sit for 30-60 minutes until sweat is bleeding from my entire body and my mind and heart are humming with an intense heat.
So why am I so adamant about going out of my way to experience extremes in temperature? Go listen to the podcast episodes I’ve recorded with scientists like Ray Cronise and Rhonda Patrick: it’s because under temperature stress the body churns out compounds like brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), heat-shock proteins, nitric oxide, fat burning adiponectin and a shutdown of inflammatory cytokines. Our body’s are ancestrally wired to not be in a constant comfort zone of air conditioning and heaters, and so rule number one is to go out of your way every day to either make your body uncomfortably cold, uncomfortably hot or both.
2. Hunt & Be Hunted
Now don’t stop reading because you saw the word hunt and you don’t have a gun or a bow and aren’t comfortable plucking a turkey or field dressing a deer. I’m not saying that you have to don camouflage, hop in a pick-up with a rifle rack and go shoot all your own food (although I highly recommend it as a valuable life skill). But instead, you can at least simulate the same ancestral feel of the hunt by including sporting and fitness events that allow you to spot, stalk and capture prey.
For example, one my favorite workouts is getting a group of my buddies together and playing a giant forest or field game of capture the flag, complete with crawling through the mud, sprinting, stalking, and attempting to outwit the competition. Another favorite is putting on camouflage and a protective face mask and heading out into the woods with my twin boys and an arsenal of paintball guns. It can also be an exhilarating feeling to not just be the one doing the hunting, but also to be hunted. For example, rather than hopping on the treadmill, grab a few friends and head to the park for a game of freeze tag (I played for an hour last week and it was my toughest sprint workout of the month) or get on a bike, pretend a lion is chasing you, and ride as hard as you can for a mile – or until your lungs and legs are smoked. There are many ways to hunt and be hunted, and remember to tap into this strategy at least once a week.