Think Like a Geek. Eat Like a Hunter. Train Like a Fighter. Look Like a Model.

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Context: The fitness community surrounding “paleo” doesn’t work for me. I don’t mean it doesn’t physically work, I mean that I don’t find it satisfying in the context of pursuing a life less agrarian. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things, but my impression is that many of the same people who scrutinize dietary dogma to the nth degree  have a different standard of analysis when it comes to training.

I get that people have jobs and families and schedules and live in cities and all that, and within those confines (though ultimately voluntary) it’s necessary to make some compromises. I get it; I really do. But that ain’t me (babe). If what I was looking for (babe) is out there, I couldn’t find it. I quit searching for the perfect thing a while ago.

I have a problem: if I can’t find what I’m looking for, I assume that I’m not the only one. Sometimes, if it’s something I care about, that drives me to build something. I don’t wake up trying to think of new projects to spend a ton of time on. I wake up trying to stop myself from doing all of the project ideas I have. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s a compulsion. Anyway, when it comes to fitness/training, I couldn’t bury the compulsion any longer, and I started building stuff.

What follows may be a little jargony, overly stream-of-consciousness, and completely unreferenced. It probably won’t make complete sense, but it would take a book to make the full case.

Actual content starts here: I started getting into paleo and the training systems it comes into contact with shortly after moving aboard a sailboat. The only gym I had within a 2 hour radius was your standard fare of treadmills, ellipticals, machines, and some free weights. Moving the free weights was largely frowned upon as the noise detracted from Fox News and {insert name of show really old people watch while giving a treadmill what for on the lowest speed}. “They were the best of times, they…”

For a while, I made do with Crossfit Endurance. One of those 24-hour card-entry gyms had opened up and despite the backlash against actually using weights, I could go after 4pm when the place cleared out for blue plate special hour. The only approximation to a squat rack was a Smith machine shoved in with so many other benches that there was no room to put a bar on the floor. If nobody was looking, I’d shove aside the equipment that wasn’t bolted down and do claustrophobic deadlifts with my face nearly leaving streaks on the ubiquitous wall mirror to avoid my ass smacking into steel plates. But whatever, I swapped in pistol squats and dumbbell versions of CFE S&C WODs, then headed outdoors for the run/cycle/swim sessions. Then CFE got all main-site and weird and I bailed for an even more DIY approach.

Impetus Ingredient 1: Frustration

Long story longer, “training” is somewhat paradoxically (and mostly by socialized expectations of training) more difficult in an environment with more access to nature. I’d already been on a path to changing my relationship with the industrialized spectacle, and had already immersed myself in the application of evolutionary theory to human psychology. My increasing exposure to “paleo” made me think about applying the same evolutionary principles to physical activity. For some reason, it seemed (and still does seem) that diet had been placed into the “massively aided by evolutionary theory” box, but physical activity was mostly placed into the “modern methods are better” box, and mostly disassociated from the evolutionary framework. And generally speaking, that’s likely to be useful in some cases, but I think the center of that debate is way too far to the modern end of the spectrum. I couldn’t get this simple thought out of my head:

Hunter-gatherers don’t train.

That’s almost self-evidently true without having to invoke debates about the thrifty gene hypothesis. As wild animals, human hunter-gatherers do work necessary to acquire the food necessary to sustain themselves. The time leftover varies widely by resources in any given environment, but when the work is done, they aren’t shy about two things: 1) playing 2) NOT working. The concept of laziness exists, and humans are highly attuned to it, but it is in reference to the need for immediate work, and not a socioeconomic tool used to motivate the sheep to enrich the shepherds masters. The protestant work ethic, and its non-euro-centric cousins are agrarian developments.

This is the same across the animal kingdoms. According to the protestant work ethic, Jesus would totally hate lions and tigers and bears. Animals go to great lengths to avoid work. This is so important that communication has evolved between predator and prey to increase efficiency and reduce waste.

So at this point, I had two ideas lodged in my brain:

  1. Evolution is just as important for training and movement as it is for psychology and diet.
  2. Hunter-gatherers don’t train.
Both of those ideas are simple on their own, and they’re apparently simple when taken together. However, the rabbit hole goes deep — too deep to elucidate today.

In contemplating the topic as a whole, “Think like a geek. Eat like a hunter. Train like a fighter. Look like a model.” seemed to be something approximating a distillation of what I was thinking. I posted it on facebook, and it was immediately well received. It definitely taps into something — whether it’s a zeitgeist thing or something more fundamental I’m not sure.

Think Like a Geek.

Intelligence is sexy. It confers both survival and reproductive advantage, and was certainly selected for in our paleolithic ancestors. It’s woven throughout so many levels of our evolutionary past that it’s hard to reduce it to one thing. In this context, it carries the implication of the very word paleolithic itself — the reference to tools. Thinking like a geek helps us choose tools and develop tools.

Eat Like a Hunter.

The fuel we provide to our biological systems has effects that ripple through every aspect of our individual life. From mental acuity to mood to structure to disease, our choice of fuels is crucial. Thinking about food from the angle of a paleolithic hunter quickly provides answers to questions science is unable to efficiently adjudicate. This is not about pure carnivory, but a nod to optimal foraging theory. Once we understand something about the strategies of a paleolithic hunter we can begin to merge our ancient food system with our modern food system. If we lose either perspective, we will quickly go astray.

Train Like a Fighter.

This gets into a mess of words and concepts. Ignoring the “hunter-gatherers don’t train” bit for a moment… This is about training as a fighter fights, and not training to be a fighter per se. It is also about adopting modern tools with the intent of unlocking parts of our DNA that lay dormant within sedentary humans anesthetized by economically abstracted violence. Humans fought their own battles prior to the rise of agriculture. Being able to pay for violence to be conducted on our behalf appears to be a moral and physical benefit, but the signals and interaction between our genes and our environment are not easily faked and not easily replaced. Our physical and mental potential as individuals is not always aligned with those of industrial agricultural civilization.

Look Like a Model.

Because “look” embodies multiple tenses in the English language, this one is open to much ambiguity. My meaning is primarily in a passive sense. If you think like a geek, eat like a hunter, and train like a fighter, then you will [more or less] automatically “look like a model” in terms of phenotypic expression. It is also important to note that “model” means many things. There are many inputs for advertisers deciding on models, but I’m specifically not talking about three types of models. 1) Men as advertised in men’s magazines. 2) Women as advertised in women’s magazines. 3) Fashion models of either sex. Without going into too much detail today, it has been shown that men pictured in men’s magazines tend to be more muscular than the ideal women find attractive, and women in women’s magazines tend to be thinner than men find attractive. Advertisers manipulate us according to evolved heuristic biases.

I use “model” to imply something closer to an ideal attractiveness influenced by Darwinian sexual selection (inter-sexual). The intent is to get at things that are relatively generally attractive to the opposite sex. This is contrasted to the use by advertisers of intra-sexual selection… or… competition with others of the same sex. Our brains do not analyze these questions in a rational way, but in a way that tracks markers of health in the context of evolutionary time. “Look good naked” is a great goal. Unfortunately, our intuitive self-assessments of looking good are likely biased to the point of being counterproductive.

Common Threads

All of the above are related to the ecological context of us as individuals. The interaction between our genes and our environment is implied in each level. The association with gyms and training with the active physical components of health is similar to synthetic and isolated components being packaged and sold to us as “food”. Real food is not enough. We need real life as well.

The impact on our psychology is entwined in each of these concepts as well. We know that points of attractiveness shift depending on the ecological context of the beholder. Some use this as a refutation of attractiveness as an evolved psychological component. However, this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of human ethology. I am not interested in mimicking the optimal attractiveness ratings of people influenced by sub-optimal (resource depleted, etc.) environments. A better question is this: What is optimal for humans in an optimal environment? We need to answer other questions to say what environments are optimal, and they are not easy questions. They are also not so difficult that we should be flummoxed by those who descend into relativist or quasi-relativist arguments representative of myopia.

Hyperlithic

I’ve been working on these concepts specifically for months, generally, for my entire life. I’ll soon be launching hyperlithic.com, a website that seeks to relentlessly answer all of the questions raised above. It will be too awesome and fun to be free.

If “paleolithic” roughly means old-stone age, “hyperlithic” roughly means beyond stone age. There’s a nod to the old, and a hint at a modern update.

This is just the tip of the conceptual iceberg. More to come on all of this!