March 25, 2015

Fitness, Health & Sports, Wellness

You Are Not a Zoo Animal: How to Escape Human Captivity and Reclaim Your Primal Health

vintage illustration tarzan with knife hunting in jungle

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jonathan Mead.

The average man’s life in modern times is not that different from a wild animal in a zoo.

Sure, comparing modern living to captivity might seem dramatic, but it’s not far-fetched when you consider the average American is sedentary for 21 hours a day. Sitting is the new smoking is in the headlines everywhere these days.

And death by sitting doesn’t seem so incredulous when you hear stories like this:

“I work 11 hours a day, seven days a week selling insurance. I don’t really care about it, I don’t think anyone does, even though some people pretend to. It’s not natural to sit in a cubicle for that long every day. I mean, I’ve had coworkers next to me die because of this work. Their hearts just went out.”

Sadly, this story shared to me by a friend is starting to become more and more common.

But just because something is the norm doesn’t make it normal.

It’s very clear: domestication and the outsourcing of movement is making us weak.

Your Workouts Aren’t Enough

Unfortunately, going to the gym isn’t enough. Moving for just 4% (60 minutes a day) of your total 24 hours is like expecting a tablespoon of spinach to make up for the three bacon cheeseburgers you just ate.

If you want to really change your body, something more is needed. I’m here to offer you a radically different paradigm than the latest workout fad or technique.

All you need to do is return to what your body is built for.

Let’s look at how and why we got off track, and then some tips for reclaiming what your body was meant to do.

Outsourcing Our Movement = Broken Bodies

Once upon a time we were required to move to live. Hunting and gathering is our ancestry, which called for a complex range of movements. Squatting, crawling, climbing, sprinting, hanging, and jumping were all in a day’s work of just getting dinner on the table.

Our movement patterns became more predictable with the advent of agriculture. Farming took some of the uncertainty out of movement, but still, there was quite a bit of physical work going on. At least we weren’t stationary all the time.

Things really got worse with the industrial revolution. Our movement’s repertoires became smaller and smaller, and for the first time, a majority of humans were sitting for long periods of the day.

The knowledge or information age (the age we’re in today) is easily the worst. Within the digital world we can get almost anything we want with very little movement required. All it takes is a quick Google search and a couple of clicks. In under an hour, dinner is on your table without you having to do a lick.

As a quick test, try this now: Standing feet shoulder-width apart, can you reach down and touch your toes without bending your knees? If not, you’ve lost one of the most basic movement capabilities you should have as a human.

We Did Not Evolve to Sit at Desks All Day

evolution of man ape to man sitting at office desk

Our bodies did not evolve to be stationary. Our tissue stiffens and becomes weak when it isn’t continually challenged. Bad backs, kinked necks, inflexible shoulders, and “tricked” knees? Hey, that’s just life it seems.

And as I said earlier, going to a gym for a fraction of your day just isn’t enough. We need to change our paradigm.

An overhaul of the way we view what our bodies need in order to thrive is long overdue. The fitness viewpoint of compartmentalizing movement into a small box during the day isn’t working for us. When you go from stationary for 10+ hours to intense exercise, it just doesn’t work.

What we need instead is a lifestyle — a nourishing movement diet — rather than a workout “supplement.” We need an approach where we’re moving in various micro-sessions throughout the day, continually diversifying our positions and introducing new challenges to our bodies.

But we also need to address the movement debt that exists.

Just like sleep debt catches up with you and you must pay the Sandman, so too must you pay off your “movement debt” or your body becomes stiff, weak, and prone to injury (if it isn’t already).

This is one of the big reasons kids are much less prone to sprains and strains than adults. We simply don’t move as much, and our debt has accumulated over years and years.

So, how do we get back to a resilient, pain-free body that is strong and capable?

Step 1: Assess Your Level of Movement Debt

The first step is to honestly take a look at where you’re at. I know, this might sound a bit scary, but it will only take a few moments and if anything, will be a good dose of motivation to get you moving more.

Here are some questions for you to ask:

  • What does an average Tuesday look like for you?
  • How much do you generally sit or remain in static positions throughout the day?
  • What kind of movement patterns do you most often use in your work? What parts of your body are neglected?

Getting an honest look at where you’re at is important to starting your rehabilitation. Don’t worry, having awareness of where you are is half the battle. Next, you can begin to plot your escape from the captivity of a sedentary life.

Step 2: Reintegrate Primal Movements

Humans are not really the best at any particular physical activity. We’re not the fastest runners or swimmers. We’re not the best climbers. But what we do have is the highest level of movement diversity.

We’re able to do a lot of things pretty well, and this ability to be well-rounded should be reflected in the way you train and live.

Two foundational movements you should be able to do easily are squatting (like when you “pop a squat” in the woods) and hanging (from a branch or bar). Reintegrating these basic skills is the first step to getting your body back on track.

Step 3: Create a Movement-Supporting Environment

If you’re trying to change the way you eat, you know that it’s easier if you change what’s in your cupboard. Resisting cookies is better accomplished if they’re not in your house.

The same principle can be applied to help us move more. The way our houses and workspaces are structured can encourage us to move or not move.

Here are two quick things you can do to create more of a primal movement environment:

  1. Put a pull-up bar in your doorway. Every time you walk through, hang for 10-15 seconds.
  2. Use your coffee table or yoga blocks for short bursts of squatting while you work.

Bonus tip: Try squatting while you brush your teeth to anchor the habit to something you already do multiple times a day, every day.

Whatever you can do to make your environment just a bit more wild will help you not feel like such a caged animal. Go ahead, roar.

Step 4: Join a Tribe of Movers

You’re more likely to change your approach when you have other people supporting you. We’ve addressed your physical environment, but your social environment is just as, if not more, important.

Here are some ways you can create more social support right now:

  • The easiest way to get started is by joining the movement lifestyle group.
  • Find a partner to meet up with at least once a week to hike or do some training with.
  • Create a meet-up group at your local park and invite your friends.

The key here is to create a strong alliance. If you’re going to escape captivity, it helps to have some allies with you on your quest.

Step 5: Create a Morning Practice

I like the word “practice” more than workout. Workout just sounds boring — not to mention a lot like work. Practice sounds like something you can screw up or explore while doing. It’s just practice, right?

If you can create the habit of moving as soon as you wake up, it acts as an anchor that sets the tone for the rest of your day. Since the best way to make a new habit is to link it to an existing one, try using your morning cup of coffee (or whatever your beverage of choice is) as your trigger.

Do some squats, lunges, a few pushups, maybe a bit of hanging, and some crawling. Explore and have fun with it.

Who knows, maybe after enough time a bit of movement will be enough to wake you up and you can ditch the caffeine. Okay, okay, I said maybe.

Step 6: Assess Your Weak Links

Once you’ve reintegrated a bit more primal movement and have made daily movement a practice, it’s time to look at your areas of weakness.

For most of us, we tend to do more pushing movements than pulling, and we tend to do more flexing than extending.

We also tend to not do much twisting or rotation, and for the most part, we walk too much on flat ground.

Rowing movements can round out your imbalance with pushing, and hanging and bridging-type movements can help you incorporate more length and opening.

Rotating your torso (like you do when you’re backing up your car to check for anyone behind you) while throwing and kicking are good things to incorporate.

Every time you catch yourself in a slumped, rounded posture, try to take a moment to stand up, reach your arms behind you, and extend.

Step 7: Level Up Your Repertoire

You don’t create an antifragile body by doing lots of the same things over and over. The more you can incorporate novel movements into your exercises and daily life, the more your body will be capable and ready for whatever happens.

Instead of just doing front lunges, try doing side lunges. Instead of regular pull-ups, try climbing on a rope instead.

Don’t just walk on the sidewalk. If there’s a patch of grass or rocks in between the curb, walk there instead and give your ankles and feet the joint articulations they crave.

Think like a wild man, rather than a robot who repeats the same predictable moves and patterns it’s been programmed to perform. You’re a human, not a machine.

Step 8: Go Wild and Own Your Primal Strength

Life as a primal mover is not meant to be the same day after day, year after year. We crave new challenges and problems to solve.

Instead of seeing a sidewalk, see all the different paths you can take. Is there a curb you can balance on? Can you hang from a tree branch? Can you turn a rail into an obstacle course?

You don’t have to live in the wild to be a creative mover, you simply need to reawaken your imagination.

The key is to start looking at what your overall movement diet looks like, then to start making incremental changes. You might not incorporate all eight of these steps overnight. You might not do all of them in the next year.

But you can start right now, by making small changes.

The two best are changing your environment and joining a community. Each of these leverage your natural influences to help the change become more automatic.

You might be wondering, “What’s the easiest way to get started? If I were to just do one thing, what’s the most important change I can make today?”

Easy: make a habit of squatting.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

Rather than leave your escape of human captivity to chance, join the squat challenge. The 30-day squat challenge will help you assess your squat, rehab it, and give you the right tools to rebuild it. Join the 30-day challenge now.

Over to you: what’s your motivation for reclaiming your primal strength? Leave a comment and share your story.

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Jonathan Mead is an eternal rebel and aspiring ninja. Get his smart training tips here and join the squat challenge if you’re ready to escape the matrix.


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