The 5 Switches of Manliness: Physicality

by Brett on May 22, 2011 · 73 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

This post begins our series on the five switches of manliness. The five switches of manliness are the power switches that are connected to our primal man and deeply ingrained and embedded in the male psyche. When they’re turned off, we feel restless, angry, and apathetic. When they’re turned on, we feel alive, invigorated, motivated to be our best, and just plain manly. The two principles behind these posts that must be adopted in order for the recommendations to be successfully integrated are: 1) the switches are simply either on or off, and 2) turning them on requires only small and simple changes in behavior. The biggest obstacle to flipping the switches will be pride–the belief that firing up our masculinity requires arduous, mystical, and/or perfectly “authentic” tasks. Just because you cannot do everything, does not mean you cannot do something. The maxim to adopt is this: “By small and simple means I will flip the switches of manliness.”

When seeking to activate the deeply encoded parts of primitive masculinity, there is no better place to start than physicality. Primitive man used his body all day every day: building, hunting, walking, dancing, fighting.

For modern man, these activities have been replaced with sitting. Many of us sit for twelve hours or more a day. Sit down for breakfast, sit in the car on the way to work, sit at your desk all day, sit in your car on the way home from work, sit in front of the tv at night….Rinse and repeat.

Sitting represents the ultimate in passive living; it practically shuts your body down–your heart rate, calorie burn, insulin effectiveness, and levels of good cholesterol drop as your risk of obesity and diabetes goes up. Or, as Dr. James Levine, leader in the emerging field of “inactivity studies,” puts it: when you sit, “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse.”

“Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.” And he’s not kidding. A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpha Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years (not to mention the years that are simply wasted from sitting as opposed to doing anything). Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.

Not only is sitting around literally killing us, it’s also throwing a wet rag on our manliness. As Dr. Levine observed:

Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day. The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.

Made to Move

Nearly every top killer in the Western world–heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen other forms of cancer–was unknown to our ancestors. They didn’t have medicine, but they did have a magic bullet–or maybe two, judging by the number of digits Dr. Bramble was holding up. “You could literally halt epidemics in their tracks with this one remedy,” he said. He flashed two fingers up in a peace sign, then slowly rotated them downward until they were scissoring through space. The Running Man. “So simple,” he said. “Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.” -Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

Our bodies were made to move. We’re beings of flesh, bone, and muscle. If we weren’t designed to move, we would have evolved to be great blobs of tissue–human clams.

And we didn’t evolve to move slowly, either. We’re made to move vigorously for long periods of time…to run, and run far.

How do we know this? It’s written into our anatomy. Unlike humans, walking animals like chimps lack an Achilles tendon and an ample gluteus maximus–both of which are needed for running–as well as the nuchal ligament, which keeps the head steady when an animal is moving quickly. For a long time scientists puzzled over why we have such features and yet are such seemingly ineffective runners…what was the evolutionary advantage behind our slow and steady running ability?

The answer is “persistence hunting.” Primitive tribes hunted by running down an animal until the prey dropped dead of exhaustion. The fact that humans could run for hours on end without overheating was a distinct survival advantage.

Women likely joined in these persistence hunts as well (athletic parity between the sexes increases as distance increases; some of the top finishers in ultra races like the Leadville 100 are women). But a greater share of the hunting and heavy labor fell to men. Researchers speculate that this is why, while men and women have the same number of sweat glands, men sweat more than women. Regardless of fitness level, women’s bodies are less effective at sweating, and thus dissipating body heat than men, because, researchers hypothesize, women could stay in the shade more frequently, while men had to have greater protection from overheating while out in the sun chasing the herd.

So running is what we were born to do. And of course our bodies show us that we were made to move in ways that extend far past a long jog. Our arms and grip, quadriceps and hamstrings reveal a body crying out to push and pull, lift and grab.

How a Sedentary Lifestyle Keeps This Switch of Manliness Off

Perhaps all our troubles–all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome–began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way. -Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

If we were made to move, then remaining sedentary is going to have dire consequences for our motivation and vitality. Let’s take a look at some of those consequences.

A sedentary lifestyle makes us depressed.

When men are depressed, we feel angry, apathetic, and unmotivated. While we often think about our brains when we think about depression, perhaps we should look to our bodies first.

If our bodies are made to move, then sitting passively all day is like, as we mentioned last time, keeping a well-trained regiment of soldiers who are itching to fight in perpetual reserve. Angst and anxiety will naturally follow.

Anyone who has exercised regularly is familiar with the phenomenon of the “runner’s high.” It has been described by researchers as:

pure happiness, elation, a feeling of unity with one’s self and/or nature, endless peacefulness, inner harmony, boundless energy, and a reduction in pain sensation.

That’s a pretty powerful feeling. Can you really expect to feel fully alive without a regular dose of it? It’s no wonder that studies have shown that exercise is just as effective as antidepressants in treating clinical depression.

A sedentary lifestyle makes us anxious.

I know men who can’t move ahead in life because they’re crippled by stress and anxiety. When challenged by setbacks, they curl up in the fetal position. Oftentimes, these men who struggle with their resilience are men who are not physical in their lives. It’s not a coincidence. A study done on rats showed that when the rats exercised, they created brain cells that were better able to deal with anxiety, creating a more stress-resistant brain. Says Michael Hopkins, neurobiology researcher:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms. It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

In addition to making our brains more steely over the long run, exercise has also be found to offer immediately soothing benefits. Researchers have found that exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoid molecules in our blood, the same endocannabinoids that are responsible for the pleasure and pain relief produced by the consumption of marijuana. So exercise let’s you take the edge off, without a single negative side effect.

A sedentary lifestyle kills our confidence.

Men who exercise gain more confidence because they’re happier, more relaxed and resilient, and feel more comfortable in their typically fitter bodies. But I think the biggest way exercise boosts a man’s confidence is that it gives him the experience of consciously and purposefully putting himself in pain.

If you watch any weight-loss show, you’ll notice that the person’s transformation goes though a predictable pattern. When the obese person first starts exercising, they hate it–they yell at the trainers, talk about how much they detest sweating, break down in tears (more frequently seen in female contestants), excessively whine, and generally give up, sure that they can’t go on. They’ve never exercised before and so the feelings of exercise–the shortness of breath, the burning, the sweating–feels foreign and terrible. It’s a shock to a system. Unless we make a concerted effort to get outside our comfort zones, we can glide through life very comfortably, with minimal sweating, minimal pain.

So it’s important for a man to be familiar and comfortable with what physical pain feels like, to have the knowledge that it’s not the end of the world and that he can endure it. Running has indeed been shown to boost our pain threshold; it takes a higher dose of pain for the fit man to cry uncle. Confidence grows when you feel you are up to whatever task lies before you and you know that your mind can overcome the desires of your body.

A sedentary lifestyle saps our virility.

And finally, we get to the very heart of the issue. So much of what makes men unique can be linked to the hormone testosterone. Men and women both have testosterone, but men tend to have it in greater quantities. It’s what’s responsible for the hair on our chest and faces, our lower voices, and bigger muscles–in short, all the outward marks of manhood. And testosterone is not only responsible for how we look on the outside, but how manly we feel on the inside. A lack of T makes a man feel depressed and shiftless, devoid of that drive and aggression that fuels our manliness.

Testosterone levels have been steadily falling for men over the last couple of decades, and a variety of factors are cited for this decline, from environmental toxins to diet. But we really need to look no further than the increase in time spent sitting on our asses. Strenuous exercise and weight lifting boosts our T, sitting around kills it, and the more we sit around, the less motivated we feel to get out and work out, and the cycle continues.

Vigorous exercise must be a part of every man’s life. There’s something about the feeling of sweat dripping down your body, the blood and testosterone coursing through your veins, and the lactic acid pumping through your muscles after a tough workout that makes you feel supremely manly and ready to take on the world.

How to Flip On the Switch of Physicality

Living a sedentary lifestyle keeps this switch of manliness in the off position. Getting active switches it on.

There are two aspect to flipping this switch:

1. Get in a bout of vigorous activity several times a week.

Do something that makes you sweat buckets and puts you in pain. You need to rediscover your body and what it feels like to push it to its limits.

  • Run. There’s no better way to purely connect with those primal instincts. And it’s cheap and convenient. Just lace up your shoes and head out the door.
  • Pump iron. Do compound exercises. They’re good for the body and good for your T.
  • Join Crossfit.
  • Do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The best workout there is. Do 20 minutes, where you alternate a minute of rest with a minute of all-out, balls to the wall exertion. Do it on the stairs and you’ve got the world’s most effective exercise. There’s no better path to copious sweat and pain.
  • Take up parkour.
  • Work out like an oldtime strongman. Swing the kettlebell, throw medicine balls, flip over tires.
  • Don’t listen to music when you work out. I know, the music helps you take your mind off things. That’s exactly what’s wrong with it. Zoning out severs the connection between body and mind and keeps you from being fully present in your physicality, which is the whole point of exercise.

Switch Accelerators: Want to flip the switch faster and increase the manly boost you get from it? Switch Accelerators add an extra power boost:

  • Take up a martial art or combat sport. Fighting gets you in touch with your aggressive, competitive, primal side.
  • Hit a heavy or speed bag. Even when you’re not wailing on another man, simply kicking and punching for your workout relieves a lot of stress and makes you feel pumped up and manly.
  • Start a lunchtime pick up game of basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, etc. Some friendly competition really ups the positive benefits of exercise.
  • Work out outside. Exercising in the great outdoors is far better than doing it inside a gym. More on this when we get to the Nature Switch.

Need some more ideas and inspiration? Watch this mustachioed man-machine train for the Tough Mudder:

2. Incorporate more physicality into your day to day life.

Exercise is great but this switch won’t get flipped if you work out for one hour a day and sit around for fifteen. Not only will an isolated bout of exercise not cure your malaise, but scientists have shown that it won’t counteract the ill-effects of excessive sitting on your health either. Instead, you need to find little ways to move more throughout your day. Obese people make an average of 1,500 little movements a day and spend 600 minutes sitting; farm workers make 5,000 daily movements and spend only 300 minutes sitting. The closer you can get to moving as much as primitive man, the more physical you can make your life, the more motivated and manly you will feel.

Every little bit helps. Even fidgeting is believed to up your fitness. Remember, small and simple.

  • Take an evening walk after dinner. This is great if you’ve got a baby–it gets you moving and out of the house and keeps the baby quiet and occupied. Ahhh.
  • Get a dog so you have to go take walks.
  • Bike to work.
  • Make dinner yourself and wash the dishes by hand.
  • Do a set of push-ups right after you get out of bed.
  • Make household repairs by hand. Change your own oil or air filter.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Purposely park your car far from the entrance to stores.
  • Work standing up. You can buy a stand-up desk or place your laptop on the counter.
  • Garden.
  • Heat your home with a wood-burning stove and split the wood you need for it yourself.
  • Pace back and forth when you’re talking on the phone.
  • Do household chores, like raking the leaves, mowing the lawn, and shoveling snow yourself, instead of hiring someone to do it for you.
  • Get up from your desk every hour and do 25 squats or push-ups.
  • Install a pull-up bar in your door and crank out some reps every time you walk through it.

Switch Accelerator:

Switches of Manliness Series:
The Cure for the Modern Male Malaise
Switch #1: Physicality
Switch #2: Challenge
Switch #3: Legacy
Switch #4: Provide
Switch #5: Nature

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JR May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Excellent article. I’m looking forward to the future installments in this series.

I began working out much more seriously last fall, after years of “skating by”. When I went to get a yearly exam early this year, I was doing “ok” (at best), but after my blood results came back, was told there were areas I really needed to fix while still at a young enough age to ensure I don’t needlessly create issues in the future.

Since then, I turned it up a notch to say the least, yet I’ve kept it basic. This article really doesn’t mention diet, so I won’t go far into that. On the physical aspect, I started with just basic minimum 3 mile walks, parking further from store entrances and at work. I started doing a morning push-up or weight lifting routine right at home.

When I went back to get a further check-up, to see how I was progressing, I made great leaps. In 6 weeks, I dropped nearly 14 lbs., with no gym, no insane changes, no pills, just basic diet and exercise changes.

Since the fall, when I began, I’ve now dropped 2 clothing sizes, my first time not having an X next to my shirt size in YEARS. Obviously, this has lead to a greater feeling of self respect, which shows up as confidence when dealing with others.

2 Cassandra May 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Interesting food for thought as always, Brett!

Women definitely need to be physical too, I would say. Although I don’t know if it would be a “switch of womanliness” for us. (Are there switches of womanliness? Sometimes I really wish there was an “Art of Womanliness” to explore these issues.) When I workout out I definitely feel alive, but I don’t feel womanly…actually, I would say I feel more manly. Like I can literally feel the testosterone I do have being activated.

And it’s interesting, some women have more testosterone then other women, and these women tend to be drawn more to sports and exercise, especially more physical, contact sports (basketball, rugby). I’m one of these women and you can tell by looking at us that we have a little more T than the average gal. Women who are super feminine, and you can tell have a lot less T, aren’t typically drawn to sports (although they do workout sometimes, because they don’t want to be fat).

3 Jason May 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Great to see you back, Brett. Art of Manliness inspired me to get back in shape a while ago with the mini-biography about Byron White, and the instructionals on burpees and kettlebells. It’s awesome to see you keeping the fitness posts fresh and exciting. I might have missed it, but I believe you left out an important benefit… my wife loves it!

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. Thanks for the hard work.

4 Kevin May 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Don’t discount the ability of yoga to deliver these benefits, and more. It’s also humbling to be in a class, huffing and puffing, and watching women absolutely kicking your ass.

5 Shane May 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Who knew all the pacing and fidgeting I do was actually good for me.Excuse me while I pace a few miles.

6 Lyle May 22, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Nice article, but I almost didn’t make it past the born to run quotes. Quoting that book sets off my BS meter. Read this post for another perspective:

I’m glad I kept going though, the rest of the post was bang on.

7 Frank May 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I love the “don’t listen to music while you workout” piece of advice. I’ve been yelling at my friends for years for listening to ipods at the gym. If you need to listen to music while you workout, you need a more interesting workout.

8 Peter May 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Nice article Brett. Kudos on mentioning standing up at work. I started doing it a few months ago and it’s made a big difference to my metabolism

9 Mr Writing III May 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Loved it. Men are inside too damned much. I know because I speak from experience. Very good points and realistic.

10 Robert May 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Good post, its only been after the last few years of reading this blog that my life has significantly improved, the more I read the better I get. Keep up the good work!

11 Alec May 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Think you could write an article on getting started running? I know there’s thousands of websites dedicated to it, but I’d prefer advice from Art of Manliness.

12 Darnell Clayton May 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Disagree with the listening to music part. If you don’t want to, don’t, but as far as I can tell listening to music (especially fast beats) has improved my workout as I try to match reps with the beat.

For those of you who loathe wasting money on gym’s and equipment (kettle balls and medicine balls excluded), I’d recommend using various iPhone apps that can help keep track of your progress (I use Fitfu, although others like RunKeeper are great too).

13 Eric May 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Been a while since we have seen anything on The Art of Manliness but as always it was totally worth the wait.

14 Boyan May 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Man, this website is about to change my life.. in a good way! I can’t believe I found gold on the internet! Thank you so much for existing

15 David Y May 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Great article. Creaky knees limit my running these days. But, do lots of bike riding, walking, hiking and weight lifting. It does make a difference in how I feel physically and emotionally. I tend to get more cranky and down during the winter when getting outside is harder.

Like the idea about hittting a heavy bag for relieving stress.

I also prefer doing things manually when possible. Would rather rake leaves and shovel the driveway than use a blower anyday.

16 Patrick May 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Beautiful article Brett. This truly defined manly physicality. It brought in all the aspects of physicality: psychology, anatomy, history, fitness, inspiration, courage, and mental strength. Well written, I can’t wait to see the other parts of this series. I’m definitely spreading this around

17 Juan May 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Heres a video I found on youtube about the Kalahari people in Africa. It shows the ancient hunting method of persistence hunting and how the man pays tribute and thanks to the animal after it dies. Very cool video.

18 David Koo May 22, 2011 at 9:57 pm

From a family doctor: great article! Very true indeed!

19 Ted May 22, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Born To Run is an amazing book. It’s great to hear it mentioned in this post.

20 Nat May 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Back in the days when I was seriously cranking, I’d go to the gym every other day. First, I’d do a session of step aerobics. That’s feels a little fruity at first, until you realize you’re in a room with 20 or so healthy, sweating, spandex-wrapped women. Then I’d hit the weight room and do the frontside muscle group one day and the backside group the next. Then I’d hit a session of yoga. Drink a Slim Fast about a half hour beforehand so you don’t get sour stomach.

Now, in my middle age, I’ve given up the car. Hey, I go to the office and do my 8. I don’t really need to drive to do that. I’ve got an annual bus and rail pass and a ZipCar card, which I almost never use. I don’t miss the stress of driving in rush hour, and having to make travel plans in advance actually results in my going to more events. Furthermore, it’s really dietetic when you look at each item at the grocery store and think if you’re willing to put it on your shoulder and carry it a mile home. You really feel like you’re bringing home the bacon, and you really feel like you earned that one Foster’s Lager.

21 Peter Zefo May 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm

@Alec (re: Getting started running)

Allow me to share what worked for me. First, I looked at a calendar of upcoming 5k/10k’s in my area. I picked one that was two months away and signed up. There is something about giving up cash that provides extra motivation. Then, I began training.

I set out to time myself running one-mile. It was bad…really bad (11:46). I had to walk more than a 1/3 of it and realized I might be in trouble. But, I had already committed to a race, so I was determined to keep going. I followed the following plan:

Mondays: 30 minute jog/walk (I would walk when I needed and push myself a little further each week; by the third week I no longer needed to walk)

Thursdays: Timed 1-mile run. (If I didn’t beat my mile time of the previous week I would take a 5-minute break and run another one)

Saturdays: 1 hour jog/walk (same as the 30-minute run…it took a month before I could jog the entire hour at 10-minute/mile pace)

As I gained confidence, endurance and strength, I always set out to either beat my distance or beat my time.

22 Joe @ Not Your Average Joe May 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Brett and Kate, thanks for mentioning the greatness of the almighty heavy bag here. I’ve posted on my blog, and commented on AoM, the heavy bag is the best workout tool of all time. How manly you feel when you give that bag its well deserved beating!

23 Maria May 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Great article, I can’t emphasize how much people need to move around. Unfortunately, today’s lifestyle is much more sedentary. Most of us sit at work for 8 hours a day, like myself. I get irritated and think crazy thoughts being still for too long. We wonder why there are all these health problems and cancers, and they just get excused as “genetics.” Well, we have the same genetics now as we did at our beginning, and these problems were unheard of until the past 50 or so years.

“Women definitely need to be physical too, I would say. Although I don’t know if it would be a “switch of womanliness” for us. (Are there switches of womanliness? Sometimes I really wish there was an “Art of Womanliness” to explore these issues.) When I workout out I definitely feel alive, but I don’t feel womanly…actually, I would say I feel more manly. Like I can literally feel the testosterone I do have being activated.”

Yes, I would say this should also go for women (Sex is good for us, too ;) ). I hope you don’t feel embarrassed or bad in any way about “not feeling womanly.” Primitive woman didn’t exactly sit around all dainty and eating whatever the primitive version of Bon-Bon’s would have been. Testosterone is in all of us, some of us women just can activate it better. I know I like to challenge myself physically. When I’m working out, sometimes I go at it so hardcore, I feel an adrenaline surge and just want to kick the crap out of everything. Also, my grandmother swears up and down that being physical throughout pregnancy is good for you. She lived up in the mountains and did more physical work before noon than most modern men do in a month, gave birth smoothly to all of her kids at home, and was right back up.

Even if there were an “Art of Womanliness” article, I don’t think I’d be able to relate to it, haha.

Have a great evening, everyone!

24 Phil May 22, 2011 at 11:59 pm

I’ve been training for the U.S. Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection course and have had great success with my endurance training following the workouts on

25 Tyler May 23, 2011 at 12:02 am

Awesome article. Been following AoM since close to the beginning, and the quality of the articles has not once decreased. Talk about value.

Really looking forward to the other four. Keep up the great work!

26 Andrew May 23, 2011 at 12:28 am

Here’s a trick I learned to get you up and moving in the office: drink a lot of water.

Think about it: the more you drink, the more you have to get up to use the washroom. Instead of wasting your money on snacks or coffee, which you often reach for out of boredom most of the time, water hydrates you and cleans you out. And nobody can fault you for needing to pee.

27 Dawsy May 23, 2011 at 12:35 am

Great article! It’s true about the long-distance running. I took it up a year ago after never having enjoyed running before, and I’ve just finished my first half-marathon this week. I’ve never felt better than I havve this year. I look fowrard to the rest of the articles in this series

28 Davo May 23, 2011 at 2:56 am

Exercise is good but your article tries to say it makes you live longer. However even fat people live longer than primitive people ever did……. And, not to be naughty but why is this MANLY? women have almost the same body- isn’t it HUMAN Not Masculine?

29 Glenn Bernard May 23, 2011 at 4:46 am

Welcome Back!! Great POST!

30 Tomas May 23, 2011 at 6:37 am

Great article!

Regardin those of us who work sitting on a chair behind the desk. Personaly – besides taking breaks for push ups every hour! – I prefer to sit on a “active chair” whitch is based on a ball and does not allow sleeping on the chair because you can easyly fall of it. Since I’m from the back hills of the EU and this site is based in the USA I think it won’t be a problem if I post the link so people can see what I’m talking about.

31 Joe May 23, 2011 at 8:25 am

Thank you for this great article. This states alot of what I believe people are rediscovering. Keep stuff like this coming.

32 Brian May 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

I was all for this article until persistence hunting was mentioned. Great overall message but running is not the end all.

33 Sean Glass May 23, 2011 at 9:38 am

Great article, I don’t agree with all of it but the basic principle is as true as an Indian’s arrow. ;-P

I was trying to explain to my chronically sedentary sister the other day that just sitting around all day not exercising is like wasting away in a hospital bed- just a little slower. That’s why they have to put those massaging/pump apparatus on the limbs to keep some blood moving and slow down atrophy. WE ARE MADE TO MOVE. Sitting all day every day is slow death.

I also have really upped my exercise and I hope to do more. I’ve done physical labor but never much running.

34 Curt May 23, 2011 at 9:49 am

As a man who loves dogs very much, I didn’t care for the suggestion to “get a dog” because you have to take him on walks. I know what the author is getting at here, but to suggest getting a dog for that purpose, rather than for the pure love and enjoyment of the animal, is wrong. A dog is a companion, not an exercise tool. If you need to get up and walk, then get off your ass and do it. Don’t adopt an animal for the purpose. Bad advice, that. Personally, I bike rather than run. I don’t believe that running is the end-all, and in many cases, it’s hard on the knees, especially for older men who’ve never done it much.

35 Barry May 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

This is just the article I needed after a weekend of watching movies and feeling restless about it. Thanks!

36 Matt May 23, 2011 at 11:20 am

Thanks for doing this series. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the posts.

This series hits home with me as I’ve recently made the switch from Outward Bound instructor to desk job in D.C. Ever since I made the move, I’ve struggled with depression and this nagging feeling like the life is being drained from me. I still can’t put my finger on it, but this series seems like it’s going to come close to the mark.

Trouble is, I don’t know how to support a family of 5, given my skill set, without a white-collar job. I appreciated your suggestions for a stand-up desk, and moving every hour. It does seem, though, that for a guy like me who is more comfortable sleeping in the dirt than in a bed, this would be a band-aid on the problem.

Just thinking out loud.

37 Daniel Calvo May 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Great article Brett, keeping in touch with your body sure is awesome. I find most bodies are overly indulged and forgotten these days. But so are some minds, eh.

Exercising has been a part of my lifestyle for a long time now, yet I’m always improving my records, methods and diet. That’s one thing so awesome about it, its a process of constant improvement and self-discovery. You get to know yourself, your workings, what you are capable of, and what you are not. (yet)

Shame sometimes I have to make calls between working out and actually working. Perhaps sooner than later I should join some Fire dept or similar profession.

I do disagree a bit about the music though. Sometimes I go out on hour-long runs and I live in a pretty noisy/crowded area. Music helps me to remove the outside interference to concentrate while attempting heart-attack by running. Perhaps its one of those whatever floats your boat things.

38 Brian Young May 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm

A simple way to get out of a purely sedentary work habit, if you’re like me and are in a cube-farm job that requires a lot of sketching/diagraming/equations or on-paper brainstorming is to get a big white board and do those things there instead. Its not exercise, but its not sitting either — you end up pacing a lot too.

In college we got a few cheap ones and they were a great way to do homework. You can get big slabs of white board type materials at Home Depot or Lowes (I believe they are sold as bathroom materials), get some turtle wax and you’ve got a 4×8 whiteboard for about $15.

39 Doug May 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Great article. Even inspired me to get out on a run on Saturday morning (the next time I have a chance). Looking forward to the rest of this series.

40 Bruce Egert May 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I started a more intense exercise program with a class of health conscious middle agers (like me) as led by a certified trainer. What a difference ! I am losing weight and re-defining my physique. This article is proof to me that proper exercise and eating will improve outlook and longevity. The real challenge is getting people off their backsides because once on the couch, the toughest thing is to get off of it.

41 Daniel Comp May 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Getting in shape for this year’s 5k3c expedition has me wondering how in the world guys can get so out of shape. I struggle if I gain just 5 pounds, so i can’t imagine what must be the challenge for really heavy guys. That’s why I appreciate your recommendation to simply start with small increments. 60 cal / mile cycled at a moderate pace means I can lose a pound a day (3600 cal for 60 miles). Done that way, a guy can easily ‘fit it in his day’ to simply ride or walk to the mailbox, deli store, post office, etc rather than driving!

42 Mike D May 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Great article! When I left the military I spent the first six years in civilian life not doing any kind of workout. I had gained 66 pounds was miserable to be around, hated life and everyone and everything around me. I spent 10 years running and working out because I had to. It was part of my job. We would do some of the hardest physical training we could. We were a special operations unit and had to be in the very best physical condition. And that was the problem for me. I had to do it; I did not want to do it anymore.
After shooting my mouth off at work one day about the upcoming marathon, on a dare I agreed to run a marathon without any training because I said I could (not recommended). I finished, but it just about ruined me.
More than the disgust in the physical state I found myself I was motivated and influenced by the people participating in the event. These were positive, upbeat, happy people. They were genuinely excited about the challenge of the run. I was there because I shot my mouth off, but they were there because they wanted to be! They lived for this stuff. The experience really opened my eyes to what a physical lifestyle would do for you and had done for me in the past.
After looking back on it all, even though I was an unwilling participant in the physical training I received in the military, I benefitted greatly from it. So many times as a civilian during those six years after I got out I would refer to how happy I was in the military. I never once remember getting sick during that time, injured a couple times, but never sick. I slept better as well! It all had to be connected to living a physically demanding lifestyle.
It has truly changed every part of my life and all for the better. I have continued ever since and am a happier, more pleasant and content person because of it.
Great article. It is so simple, and it works!

43 Timothy May 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I never felt like much of a man until I fixed my diet and started serious exercise. Now, after a typical hour’s workout, I feel like I could wrestle a gazelle to the floor, chew right through its abdominal wall and bite out a chunk of liver. Sadly, the opportunity has never presented itself, but I remain hopeful.

Here are a few tips that helped me:

1) Sledgehammer swinging. Weights are nice, and kettlebells are great, but come on, there’s nothing like 12 pounds of iron on a stick to bring out your inner paleolithic hunter. Sledgehammering (or “shovelglove”) is devilishly fun and gave me the upper body I have today. Try it yourself: go to the hardware store, buy a sledgehammer, and within 10 minutes of random swinging you’ll see what I mean. Or you could check out the guide on my web site.

2) Bodyweight exercises. Your body was meant to be used for real-life functions, not just isolated muscle reps with easy-to-hold barbells. Thanks to Mark Sisson for identifying the essential movements: push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, and overhead presses. Within those categories are endless variations, more than enough for an ongoing weight routine, and because you’re using your body the way it was intended, you’ll see a lot of synergistic results. You will never need weights again (except for the aforementioned sledgehammer).

3) Freezing cold showers/baths. A workout that doesn’t end with one of these is a missed opportunity. Yes, it’s uncomfortable at first — the first time I tried a cold shower, it felt like stepping into whirling fan blades — but that’s the whole point. You will instantly feel your metabolism soar, and after you towel off, you will be a human torch of thermal radiance. (The “whirling fan blade” effect goes away after the first week.)

4) Barefoot running. Does running bore you? Take off your shoes and be bored no longer. It’ll take some getting used to, but you’ll develop dozens of muscles in your feet and legs that you never knew existed, and once the skin on your feet thickens up, it feels simply outstanding — like developing a new sensory organ that was dormant for your entire life. Balancing becomes a game in itself, and you’ll find yourself a lot more nimble, and a lot more conscious of the path ahead. (Barefoot running is a bit like the original vertical scroller, to use a video game reference.) We were indeed made to run, and our bodies were perfected for this purpose long before the invention of shoes.

5) What’s wrong with a little music? If you want to be strictly traditional about it, then go running with your six best friends and sing cadences to each other while you persistence-hunt the megafauna. But when this isn’t possible, technology provides a partial replacement. Try some heavy-hitting dance music or fiendishly worded hip-hop and tap the energy that our ancestors relied on with their tribal songs and chants.

44 Richard, Ogden, UT May 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Another great article!
This AofM website is really great. I know I’ve been sitting around too much. This should wake me up to doing better.

45 Matt May 23, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Awesome article. I liked how it touched on things that are nearly free to do, to those things that are quite expensive. Crossfit anyone? $125+ a month. Martial arts? Slightly less, but generally around $100 a month. I’m glad some of us have the money. I don’t. My gym is $9 a month, where I do compound exercises, all of them mentioned on your website at some point or other. I’ve decided to “crossfit” my regime by doing 1 set of each all in one visit, as much as I can in 1 minute, with 1 minute rest in between. You’ve piqued my desire to be outdoors. I’m going to take up kayaking, with my first time out scheduled in a few weeks. I think one of the best parts about this article is what it doesn’t talk about. Self-discipline. The more I accomplish in the gym and other hobbies, the more I want to accomplish in all the areas of my life. Thanks!

46 Joe Roberts May 24, 2011 at 1:22 am

“Exercise is the common man’s health insurance”

47 Jaymes May 24, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Great article. I would disagree with blaming disease on inactivity though. The main reason we didn’t see so many diseases 50 years ago is people didn’t live as long and died before these diseases showed up.

48 Peckallan May 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I am anxiously waiting for the next installment.

I have to agree with the overall post a healthy lifestyle boosts T increases confidence and lengthens your life. Where I have to put my two cents in is running isn’t enough for me last year I trained for a marathon and although I worked hard and had a great sense of accomplishment I didn’t get to feel a high testosterone beat-your-chest, howl at the moon, kind of pump from running like I feel when lifting in the gym.
Overall though I agree movement is better than sediment.

49 Sam May 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I was recently reminded of how much even fidgeting can do for your health. Every day, I talk to my fiancée for about an hour on the phone; I’ve always been that type of guy who has a hard time sitting still (even when I’m sitting at the computer, I’m always jumping my leg or doing something like that), so when I talk to her, I pace around the hallways, go up stairs, walk in circles, etc… I did the math one day, and I found out that every time I talk to my fiancée, I walk about 4.3 miles.

Yes, even those little things can make a difference!

50 Ken Morgan May 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I am so happy I read this today. I was feeling upset earlier in the day and thought about blowing off my visit to the gym, but I didn’t. Now I feel happy, healthier and ready to take on the rest of my day.

I have shared “The 5 Switches of Manliness: Physicality” with at least 6 friends of mine who are feeling down in the dumps (misery loves company), and I feel that this bit of literature will affirm my belief in Physical activity.

Thank you! = )

51 Don J. May 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I intend full well to follow this advice. Although living where I do, taking up parkour won’t be possible.

52 Carter May 25, 2011 at 9:26 am

Great post, one of your best. I have always thought that exercise and diet are the best things you can do to ward off ailments and you have shown ancestral proof of that.

53 Mark May 25, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thank you very much for this series and this post especially. I was encouraged to take action and ran 2.6 mi yesterday morning for the first time since I was in high school. Hopefully, consistent running will reverse the slow-creeping fat stores that marriage has been so kind to contribute to my midsection.

54 Scott May 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Just read this article the other day about persistence hunting. A few guys actually tested the theory in New Mexico.

55 John May 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Excellent article. I probably sit at least 14-15 hours a day and it’s a killer (driving/taking the bus, eating, using computer at home/work, etc). I was able to get away with it in my 20′s but I recently reached my 30′s and started to get all sorts of health problems (bad posture, tension, bad digestion, etc). In response to that I started taking walks and/or treadmilling at least an hour a day, stretching 45 minutes daily (most of which is not sitting positions), working out every 2-3 days, and am planning to take up martial arts again for the first time since university. I can definitely say my mood, body, and overall health improved dramatically when I started consciously trying to decrease my “sitting time.”

56 Rahul May 26, 2011 at 9:59 am

I was waiting for this switches of manliness series to start and this topic really speaks to me….I loved it. I wish more people would understand the mental, spiritual and emotional benefits of working out quite apart from just getting a good body…. I am totally with you on the music…. if you really love the sweat, the intensity and thorough shredded feeling after every workout then there is no need for the music to get you through the workout………. the exercise, the challenge and the straining of every nerve and the pride of manipulating huge weights, mastering them should by itself provide enough satisfaction and a feeling of achievement and pride…..

57 josh May 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Regarding the recommendation not to listen to music while you work out, I was hoping for some evidence to back up the statement that it’s not helpful. When I did some research, I actually found scientific studies that argue to the contrary:

58 Kaye-Lee May 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

I love this article. In fact the whole site seems really interesting to me. I work as a psychotherapist and see lots of men. I know the man world is different. I spend a lot of time in couple counselling translating between the worlds of men and women. However, men need guidance from men! Good job!

59 Brett McKay May 28, 2011 at 2:38 am


Interesting article. Thanks for the link. But while exercising with music may make your brain sharper, I would argue that’s still not the main benefit you should be looking for. I believe that when you exercise you want to reconnect your mind with your body, so that you want to be aware of what your body is doing during the workout…how is it feeling, how is it reacting, what does the pain feel like, what does the burn feel like? Music takes your mind off of what your body is feeling–that is why people like it–it disconnects them from the pain and they get lost in the music. But I think you want to connect fully with your physicality, and that it’s good for you to do so. It’s an entirely subjective belief, and it’s not something you can prove in a study, so to each his own.

60 MagnusWard May 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Good post. The idea of five switches is a good one to explore.

On the physicality side, you missed out on “VOLUME.” It’s incredibly important to get the testosterone going.

One has to speak like a Man to feel like a Man. Involves volume. Speak louder and the body starts to think you have something to say. Leads to testosterone. The blog in my link “” has an article

“Speak LIke a Man or You’ll Act Like A Wuss.”

I think that about sums it up.


61 Clay May 29, 2011 at 2:02 am

Nice start for the series, excited for the other switches.

I think, we should not get caught up whether we’re born to run or walk. The main point is we should move, get off that chair and do something. Walk, run, jump, swim, lift weights, do martial arts, climb up stairs,do the chores, have sex, the options are unlimited. Just use your body, make it move, introduce stress, let it get tired then let it recover.

About the music stuff, I listen to music when I lift workout, and if you say music breaks any connection between mind and body, for me it actually doesn’t. When it’s time to pump iron I barely notice any sound and just feel the tension in my muscles. :)

62 Harry R. Burger May 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm

In the Army, they teach about the FITT factors – Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type.
Frequency: how often you exercise. For most people, 3 sessions of intense workout per week is the most recommended, with at least a day of rest between. If you are working out every day, alternate muscle groups so your arms rest one day and your legs rest the other day, and throw some abs work into the mix.
Intensity – if you aren’t elevating hour heart rate enough, you don’t do yourself the most good. Lifting heavy weights for low reps will build up lifting capacity, but you also need lower weights with greater reps to build endurance, and cardio/aerobics to work the whole system.
Time – at least 20-30 minutes per session is needed for your main workout, though if you are just trying to break the monotony of desk piloting that’s not really necessary. An acupuncturist recently told me he recommends not sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time if you can avoid it, even if you just stand up and walk to the water cooler on the other side of the room.
Type – do different types of activity. Work different muscle groups. Don’t just run all the time, do weights or play another sport sometimes. And don’t neglect those abs.

And I agree, martial arts are excellent. They work the whole body and teach you a skill that might save your life someday. Plus the confidence that you could take a hit and dish one out if needed makes you feel like just that much more of a man. This fall it will be 8 years since I started.

63 Brian Schorr May 31, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Part of being a man is being strong. Being strong is a matter of mind, heart, soul, and body. I’d like to address physical strength because this is an important element of a man’s life and it is a serious topic that should be in the mainstream rather than in the margin. As a dedicated lifter for nearly twenty years I would like to share some of my thoughts about why I lift.

It’s 6:30 a.m. in Northport. Snow is on the ground. It’s 28 degrees this morning. When I go down to the beach to drag a 200 pound sled I don’t do it to show you how strong I am. Not in the abstract. I do it because you stopped trying years ago and I want to be a positive influence in your life. I want to you join me to rediscover that primal feeling I get when I push my body to the limit. I do it because it is the greatest form of therapy ever invented. I do it because it hurts. You sit on a couch and wonder why that shirt is fitting worse on you than ever before. You sit too much. I life because I refuse to live a life of protracted suicide.

No vitamin S for me. I eat salads and seafood. Go ahead a mock my friend as I will get my reward when we hit the beach while you will wonder why she keeps you in the friend zone. You eat that double-cheeseburger because someone told you you’re not good enough and you decided to believe him. I decided that he was a loser who will never challenge himself to be better than he is now. You lift for ten minutes then spend twice that time talking on your cell phone. You lost the edge. I am busy with rows, pull-throughs, deads, pullups, incline bench work, rack lockouts, and sled dragging. You tell me that a 225 good morning exercise will hurt me yet your girlfriend is asking me to help her start the lawnmower because you have a bad back. I bench 355 with chains on the bar because I want to do 410. You can’t do your own bodyweight because you choose the path of least resistance. I choose the path of most resistance.

You choose to eat junk food and smoke, betraying your health and destroying so much of what makes us men. I choose to stay healthy until I draw my last breath. To the guys in the bad part of town I look like a “don’t tread on me” sign. You look like prey. We in the fellowship of iron invite you to take back the physical element of being a man.

64 Zak June 4, 2011 at 1:14 am

+1000 to above comment.

Loved the article. I’ve been anxiously waiting for the release of the article on the next switch!

65 Phil E. June 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Now that got me motivated! I am going cycling tonight, once the temp drops a bit. Thanks!

66 Mark Gill June 9, 2011 at 9:31 am

How many men will just think ah, now that last suggestion is the one that really talks to me.

“Have lots of sex (in a committed relationship). It’s physical, it boosts your testosterone…and it’s sex.”

I’ve recently taken up alternate days of running and weights and it’s been hard work. Dragging my scrawny arse out of bed before work to run around a park full of drunks and smack-heads has not been easy.

However after even only a few weeks the benefits have been remarkable. I’m sleeping better, my reliance on painkillers for my back has gone, I’m a lot less of a grump. Throw the switch.

67 Carl June 12, 2011 at 9:25 am

Great article, I’ve been espousing physicality for years, I drive my wife crazy because I rarely sit still unless I have drink in my hand or am sleeping.
However the Tough Mudder Guy video was a tad over the top; if I was an overweight couch potato reading this I’d feel more inclined to slit my wrists rather than adopt some of the simpler lifestyle changes this so importantly recommends.

68 Core June 17, 2011 at 9:08 am

That toughmudder event sounds awesome…

Also, great post. Been reading about depression and the whole exercise, or lack of and it seems to be a huge part.

69 Carl April 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

this website and article, both AMAZING. another website i can recommend on the subject of exercise is and an article in there that also brings us back to our “primal roots” is the Paleo Diet, found here
have fun and keep lifting!

70 James May 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I was halfway through this article and I couldn’t take it anymore…

15 min AMRAP:
15 KBS 1 pood
10 26″ boxjumps
15 ledgedips

6 rounds + 8 dips

“Don’t listen to music when you work out. … Zoning out severs the connection between body and mind and keeps you from being fully present in your physicality, which is the whole point of exercise.”

What a great tip and probably why I enjoy running outside with no music than inside with music.

71 Eric August 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm

So glad I found this article. Awesome! I have felt the deep yearning to ditch society like Christopher McCandless, or at least find a better balance. Sitting all day staring at a computer screen will make money, but it really kills my will to exist. Great site, great article.

72 advracer September 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

Great article…and spot on…I’m working through all five….and currently reading the Paleo Manifesto. I’m a CrossFitter and Mountain Biker..outside as much as possible….with so much emphasis on Women’s rights…Educational system..single mom’s…equality..diversity etc. It seems one group has been left in the dust….Men. Thanks for bringing some light to a problem which I think we are only beginning to experience.

73 Hawk November 19, 2013 at 11:07 am

Although I haven’t read them all, I have read quite a few and I think this series is one of your best.

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