“There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion” ~Carl Jung
It starts with the mother of all reality checks; an examination from head to toe of that completely naked person standing in front of you in the mirror. How are we doing? If you can see a defined muscular system, you are in an elite group of modern-day humans who are lean enough to see what is intended to be visible. For all others, a plan of action should be considered that will help you to realize the strong, lean highly functional body that you were designed to have. It is important to note that the number of obese and overweight people in the U.S. is far higher than it was just ten years ago. The big three categories that must be addressed to maximize or at least improve the appearance, performance and wellness of the body are nutrition, cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. One of our (distant) relatives that was not sitting around thinking about all this was Cro-Magnon man, if in-fact he ever sat at all. On that rare opportunity he had to rest, he squatted for a few moments, and then went back to work until the sun went down. Ever day he arose with the sun and began the work of survival. He committed some time to social interaction and child rearing and occasionally grazing on fruits and nuts but most of the time he was focused on staying light, quick and strong to survive. In case it had not occurred to you, there were likely no fat cavemen because they simply would not have survived.
Nutrition is an increasingly controversial topic as the battle continues over whether carbohydrates or fats are the principal culprits in causing the accumulation of body fat. What is not subject of debate is that the vast majority of the population consumes too great a percentage of their caloric intake from simple carbohydrates, most notably sugar and grains. The principle culprits are all foods with added sugar from sodas and juices to breakfast cereals. Simple carbs include the massive category of “snack” foods including all chips, breads, pretzels etc. The human species by-and-large does not metabolize these foods well and is quick to store them as fat. The second fact is that overweight people chronically consume more calories than they expend. Thermodynamics Law says:
If energy in = energy out, then there is no change in mass.
If energy in < energy out, then there is a decrease in mass or weight loss.
If energy in > energy out, then there is an increase in mass or weight gain.
The New England Journal of Medicine conducted a study that looked at subjects that repeatedly failed to lose weight on self-reported caloric intakes of 1200 calories. Researchers concluded an underreporting of actual food intake by 47 percent (+/- 16) and an over reporting of physical activity by 50 percent. Compare this to the Caveman, who simply ate what he was able to harvest and hunt, stopped when he was nourished, then went back to his full-time job of survival.
Cardiovascular exercise is necessary to strengthen and protect our heart and lungs and condition our bodies for low intensity activity. It additionally provides us with a method to burn calories to maintain an equitable energy exchange (calories in = calories out). Mr. Caveman was always on the move so he did not need to ponder whether to use the stationary bike or the treadmill, but what’s most important to modern man is to just get moving on a regular basis. The most general guidelines as provided by the “Father of Aerobics,” Dr. Kenneth Cooper, state that exercising 20 minutes a day, three days per week is adequate for maintenance. This is for people already at their goal weight and body fat percentage. For those looking to lose fat weight, most should increase the number of days per week to six. The Caveman was moving, hunting and gathering from sun rise until sun set, in a low intensity fashion, burning calories at an elevated level all day long.
The Caveman needed to be strong, agile, flexible and mobile to survive in his rugged environment and that meant the condition of his body became a literal translation to his life expectancy. For modern man, it’s no different as care of one’s physical self has a dramatic impact on both the quality and quantity of life. Strength is a crucial and often overlooked physical quality. In the early eighties came the “aerobics” craze, spearheaded in popular culture by Jane Fonda and her aerobics classes. This got millions of people moving in group exercises classes, yet during this time the population became fatter then ever. What was lost when the focus shifted to pure low intensity cardiovascular exercise was the muscular system. The human species is designed to be strong and move with power in daily activities. Pure cardiovascular training does nothing to cultivate muscular strength or power and the energy thirsty muscle tissue that accompanies it. Building muscle happens only with the regular execution of high intensity resistance training whether it’s done with barbells, dumbbells, machines or ones own body weight; it does not matter as long as one works hard. The caveman never got a day off so he essentially worked out seven days a week. For most people, resistance training should be performed a minimum of three days per week and should address every muscle from head to toe in every plane of motion (sagital, frontal, transverse). Resistance training when performed properly is intense, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable work that when embraced, is among the most rewarding expressions of human physicality.
There is much to be learned by examining the evolution of the human species. The keys to success lie in the diligent application of our modern conditioning techniques and adherence to twenty-first century nutritional guidelines to gain maximum benefit.
When in doubt think and behave like a Caveman by eating a preponderance of foods only available to him in his day and attempt to exercise as frequently and intensely as his lifestyle would suggest. Start a new trend and do like Pete Koch says “eat and move like a Caveman” and in time you will undoubtedly be satisfied with the appearance and performance of that person standing in front of you in the mirror.