When Does Biohacking Fitness Go Too Far?

In this two-part series, you’ll get plenty of examples of how and when biohacking can cross the line, and smarter, more natural and ancestral alternatives to the current crazes of cryotherapy, electrical muscle stimulation, digital meditation, nootropics, and strapping your own equivalent of a goat-limb prosthetic to your body. 

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #312

Lately, I’ve been “called out” quite a bit about my fringe, nerdy, technology-obsessed biohacking shortcuts to achieve body and brain performance.

See, a common problem in our era—even among the Paleo, Primal, ancestral, natural living community—is a growing obsession with self-quantification, biohacking, biomarker-exploring, Bluetooth-sporting, brain-zapping and beyond.

But how much is too much? When have we crossed the line from modern science and smart hacking into the realm of damaging our bodies, our happiness, our lives, and even our genes? Where do we drawn the line between biohacking and ancestral living?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely a biohacker. In the past twenty four hours alone, I’ve performed tDCS, electroencepholography, intranasal light therapy, electrical muscle stimulation, peptide injections, electric compression boots, eight different nootropic pills, and much more. But in the same twenty four hours, I’ve also done a fifteen minute sit spot in nature, a gratitude journal, a boatload of natural spring water, a forest walk, yoga, a glass of raw goat milk, and deep breathing.

So in this two part article series, you’ll get plenty of examples of how and when biohacking can cross the line, and smarter, more natural and ancestral alternatives to the current crazes:

Hypoxic Training

Let’s begin with hypoxic and hyperoxygenation biohacking: the practice of using hypoxic air generators or hyperbaric chambers or fancy masks and lung training devices to play with the level of oxygen in the body. Both excess oxygen and oxygen deprivation have been shown to cause interesting effects on components such as nitric oxide production and free radical management.

I’ve certainly discussed these type of techniques in Do Training Masks Really Work?

But instead of face masks and air chambers, you can try breath hold walks, box breathing, pranayama breathing, kundalini yoga, simple apps that train you how to use the same static apnea tables as freedivers, and even swimming and underwater workouts similar to those big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton has recently popularized. Believe it or not you can get a potent oxygen training effect without necessarily dragging out the expensive or modern electronic biohacks.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation

Also known as EMS, Electrical Muscle Stimulation, in which a signal is transmitted from a controller device that acts as an external brain to shock the muscles into a contraction, is a great way to train. It stimulates a lot of muscle fibers and can increase muscular endurance and blood or lymph flow with a very little joint impact. Many athletes will use this method as a way to churn out massive amounts of lactic acid in localized muscle tissue. You can learn more about this in the Get-Fit Guy episode Can You Lose Fat With Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)?

Yet you can achieve similar results with isometrics, or static holds, which is a type of strength training in which you do not change the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. So before you strap electrodes on your body to shock your muscles, you can certainly try these low-impact, joint-friendly isometric activities such as wall sits, pushup holds, lunge holds, and dead hangs for time.

Engineered Foods

If you attend any number of other “natural” health events, you’ll still come across an enormous variety of pre-packaged, engineered “meals” that promise to contain optimal amounts of the nutrients necessary to support your body for hours on end. And I won’t deny that our ancestors used tinctures, essential oils, and concentrated extracts of everything from plants to animal livers for getting targeted delivery of medicinal or body and brain enhancing compounds.

But at the same time, meal replacements, protein shakes, energy bars, and beyond still require or include the addition of preservatives, sweeteners, chemicals, and other substances you wouldn’t be ingesting if you went for a more natural method of targeted nutrient delivery.

What do I mean by this?

Consider the following: you can easily harvest or purchase high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, dry them in the sun or in a food dehydrator, pulverize them in a blender, and get nutrient-dense vegetable powders that you can keep in jars in your pantry—no fancy meal subscription service or fancy packaged powder required. Admittedly, this is just a single example, but the takeaway message is this: before turning to engineered fuels, ask yourself if you can naturally replicate something similar at home with less packaging and preservatives. Is an egg a “perfect” protein bar? Is sea salt an electrolyte? Is coconut oil a ketone producing food? You bet.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.