What does it mean to be “Primal”? Part 2: Fitness

April 4, 2012 at 17:30

Little Miss Sicky Poo


In my last post I talked about what a primal diet looks like.  Today I’d like to focus on primal fitness.    If you are like most health conscience people, trying to do the right thing, you are probably going to the gym about 3-5 times a week, perhaps lifting weights and doing about ½ hour to an hour of cardio on those days.  In times when you are really trying to get in shape, you step up the cardio to the point of exhaustion.  If you really want to get rid of that belly fat, you’ve got to sweat till you collapse, right? Does this sound familiar?  What if I told you that you may be working too hard or that all of your effort may actually be working against you?  Don’t we all need a reason to slow down a little these days?  Well, if so, today is your lucky day.

Chronic Cardio; A Good Reason to Slow Down
Conventional wisdom tells us that lots of sustained aerobic exercise is good for cardiovascular health, but this idea is a recent one that has unfortunately gained acceptance and staying power over the last 40 years. However there is much evidence to the contrary. “Chronic Cardio” which is a prolonged state of training at more than 75% of your maximum heart rate has been shown to have damaging effects on the body and heart.  This type of punishing exercise can raise cortisol levels which increase stress and systemic inflammation. In long-term endurance runners it has been shown to cause decreased right ventricle (RV) function and even heart scar tissue.

Holy crap Batman!  Step away from the treadmill!  I could do about 20 posts on this alone, and I probably will in the future, but for now, let’s just say that that too much cardio at too high an intensity is bad for your health.   There are other ways to reach your fitness goals that won’t potentially kill you.

How Our Paleolithic Ancestors Stayed Fit
In the Paleolithic Era, fitness was a necessity but probably not something that was thought about often.  It came naturally.  Humans spent the majority of their days walking and constantly in motion.  Occasionally they needed to lift heavy objects or sprint in order to chase game or flee from a predator.  The constant low level activity coupled with high intensity bursts of exertion was enough to maintain athletic ability and a toned, proportioned physique.  This was the way our bodies were intended to function.

Basic Principles of Primal Fitness
The principles of primal fitness are an adoption of the types of physical activities that our Paleo friends engaged in.  The chart below was created by Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint.  It illustrates the three principles of primal fitness:

  • Sprint: This can be done outside, on a track, down a dirt road (like I do) or even on a treadmill or stationary bike.
  • Lift Heavy Things:  Strength training sessions are great for this.  For those of you that can’t get to a gym, go outside and get creative.  I’ve seen some primal folks go outside and lift rocks, do pull up on trees, do squats holding a tree branch…embrace your inner caveman or cavewoman.
  • Move Frequently at a Slow Pace: Get walking, clean the house and take your time, stay off of the couch and keep yourself busy.  You’re not trying to get your heart rate up with this one, just be in a relaxed state of movement.

In addition to these principles, it is important to listen to your body.  Don’t ignore signals of pain and fatigue.  Take a break if you feel like you need it.  An attitude of perseverance can sometimes be misguided and may incline us to power through at the detriment of our health.  Try to recognize this when it happens.

Other posts in this series:
What does it mean to be “Primal?” Part 1: Real Food



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