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Have you ever done body weight squats, box jumps, or deadlifts? If so, you have been practicing functional training, which has recently become one of the most popular training method among personal trainers. In gyms across America, the muscle isolation machines like the leg extension machine and the chest press machine remain untouched as trainers lead their clients through grueling workouts that include jumping, body weight exercises, and balancing exercises.
Now, functional training is old news. The newest (and some would argue best) way to get a full body workout while limiting the risk of injury is called evolutionary fitness. Evolutionary fitness goes beyond the philosophy of functional training. While the purpose of functional training is to move the body the way that it naturally moves in real life (multi-joint movements, etc), the purpose of evolutionary fitness is to move the body the way that it evolved to move. Evolutionary fitness is not just a training method. It is also a lifestyle that seeks to repair the damage done by a modern lifestyle that discourages movement and encourages long hours of sitting, escalators, elevators, and take-out delivery.
The two most prominent figures in the evolutionary fitness movement are Art DeVany, the author of The New Evolution Diet and Erwan Le Corre, founder of MovNat. To learn more about Erwan Le Corre and his training philosophy, check out this talk that he gave this year at the Ancestral Health Symposium:
The foundations of evolutionary fitness include:
- Your entire body is a muscle - Instead of completing multiple sets of an exercise that isolates a muscle, use your entire body to move heavy weights. The human body was designed to use many muscles at the same time to move weight.
- Practice balancing – Incorporate balancing exercises into your workout. Practice balancing on rocks, logs, and ledges to train your brain to use your stabilizer muscles.
- Short bursts of intensity – Don’t do long slow workouts. Do frequent short bursts of intensity to mimic the way that humans chased prey in the wild.
- Lift heavy – Lift heavy weights a few times rather than lighter weights many times. Mimic pushing a log, lifting a boulder, or striking a tree. Cavemen wouldn’t lift 3 sets of 15 moderately sized boulders; they would lift a giant boulder 2 or 3 times.
- Vary your movements – Each day was different in the wild. You never knew if you would be chasing down prey, climbing a tree, or jumping over a river. Never plan your workouts, and make each day different.
- Use multiple planes of movement – Modern exercise moves us along one plane. Most exercises involve us moving forward, including running, cycling, squats, bicep curls, etc. Try running backward, jumping backward off a small ledge and landing in a squat, etc.
If you are new to evolutionary fitness, try incorporating the following exercises into your regular routine:
- Sandbag carry – Place a heavy sandbag over your shoulders and carry over a distance. This movement mimics carrying prey. It strengthens the back, shoulders, and core.
- Cross body chop – Grab a heavy medicine ball and swing repeatedly from your bottom right foot to a full extension at your top left. Move as if you are picking up a bucket of water on the ground on your right and throwing it over your shoulder to your left.
- Sprints – Sprint 100m then run backwards 100m. Repeat. This mimics chasing and retreating.
- Climbing – Climb a wall, a rope, or a boulder instead of completing an upper body workout.
Have you recently tried incorporating evolutionary training into your workouts? What exercises have you found to be helpful?
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