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.


I’ve been working on these concepts specifically for months, generally, for my entire life. I’ll soon be launching, 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!

  1. Karen P. 12 years ago

    Right. On.

    I just posted about this very thing myself, having just taken my first MovNat workshop this past weekend. “Workouts” feel so disconnected and useless. “Exercise” is so lame. How do we rip out the seams and make it integrated into life so that labels become meaningless?

    I’m curious. My thought process right now sees traditional exercise as a logical necessity since the work we do (typically) for a “living” is no longer connected to labor. Meaning, we no longer cut down trees to make our house or squat in a meadow all day foraging for greens. We sit in a chair and shuffle papers which has no direct, tangible connection to the abstract numbers sitting in our “bank account”. Moreover, how many numbers you have in said bank account is no longer connected to how “hard” one works physically, in fact, it’s usually the opposite.

    Which is all to say that I wonder if what you’re after is work/”exercise” that is tangible to life? It seems to me the closest one can come is farming/ranching (yes, a position from the agrarian model) or something like landscaping, maybe being a ranger? To return to a situation that produces benefits from our own sweat and ingenuity. Is that the goal?

    • Andrew 12 years ago

      This is probably beyond the scope of Hyperlithic per se, but I do think humans suffer psychologically from division of labor in an indirect sense. Research seems to indicate that ambiguity and uncertainty about future events is relatively absent among HGs. My view is that things like Buddhist meditation techniques and attempts to be “present” are intuitive expressions of this — though wrapped in an unscientific religious explanation. HGs have no conception of time as we might describe it, and are almost “present” by default.

  2. BillVick 12 years ago

    After trying to be a Paleo loyalist (I am totally wheat and milk free now) starting in November I too felt the workouts were not satisfying. The diet is and is working for me.  I now kind of follow my own instincts and walk daily for about an hour give or take, hit the gym twice a week and on Monday do intense HIIT lifting, kind of a 5X5 program, then on Thursday I do a SuperSlow or Scientific workout of heavy weights to a count of 10 positive and negative. It works for me and in last three months I’ve lost about 3 to 4 lbs of fat and gained about 2 to 3 pounds of muscle.

    I believe in your mantra of eat like a hunter (paleo) and train like a fighter but at age 73 I think I’m more than holding my own and no, I’m not one of them “They were the best of times, they…” you refer to.

  3. jhughston 12 years ago

    Looking forward to the activation of the new hyperlithic site.

    Agree that ‘exercise’ as in ‘working out’ has never felt natural.  Have always much preferred to have ‘exercise’ being incidental to other activities.  Going for a walk, or body surfing, or climbing because of the enjoyment it gives or the goal it achieves (e.g. walking gets you where you want to go).  Usually any of these activities are more enjoyable if done with others.

  4. Pieter D 12 years ago

    Andrew, I’m really curious what you will bring on the hyperlithic site. ‘Traditional’ fitness and strength & conditioning already covers a lot of ground. And then you have MovNat and Exuberant Animal, both in their unique way, add some evolutionary logic. Add in some martial arts and dance, and outdoor sports, and…

    Really curious what your take on this will be. Oh, and good luck with the 77Zero Adventure!

  5. Aaron Blaisdell 12 years ago

    Great thought, Andrew! This resonates with me on many levels. It also sparked the memory of a thought I had many years ago about how beautiful sexy, intelligent, and naturally proportioned women look to me. I summarize the relationship with the pun “the belle curve” (David Buss meets Dick Herrnstein).

  6. Anonymous 12 years ago


    Really liked this post – it gels with a lot of the things I’ve found myself thinking about and talking about with my coaches and students.

    You touched on this a little at the end, so I know you’re on top of it, but the only piece I see missing from your think/eat/train/look framework is Community. A lot has been said and written on this by better thinkers than me – I’m sure you’ve read all of Frank Forencich’s stuff.

    In terms of training, I like taking a journeyman approach – working on physical skills I enjoy with an eye towards eventual mastery, but enjoying the process. I agree that foragers didn’t seek out grinding toil, but I do think there was a lot of practice mixed in with their play and, in many cultures, an appreciation of the development of physical prowess.  But I do agree that between skill development and play, the conditioning does seem to get pretty well taken care of.

    …and I love the term hyperlithic. Good stuff.

    • Andrew 12 years ago

      I totally agree that there’s an important distinction between training in terms of activities and ‘training’ in terms of “working out”, or… training for training’s sake… or what might be phrased… “the sport of fitness.” Oh words and their ambiguity.

  7. Anonymous 12 years ago

    Strongly agree.

    I shall be subscribing to your newsletter, sir.

  8. Aloka Gambhir 12 years ago

    Some real good food for thought here. I have had almost no trouble in the last 2 years eating like a hunter but the ‘training’ is definitely the more ambiguous part. I think it stems for from the fact that our lives are so routine and so even the exercise and the time slot kept aside for exercising as part of our daily ritual becomes well, routine. 

    So yes I think all of us have to think a lot more about what we can do to make our lives more ‘real’ physically

  9. Anonymous 12 years ago

    Andrew, it sounds awesome. But how much $$ are we talking for a subscription?

    Good luck on your upcoming adventure, too! Looks like it’s going to be epic.

    • Andrew 12 years ago

      Pricing is faaarrrrr from finalized. Did you see the Hyperlithic reward level on the expedition project? That’s meant to be somewhat lower than the regular price as a thank you to early supporters so you might use that as a hint.

      I dunno… my informal survey of Crossfit gyms came out to be about $171/month on average. Online triathlon training sites run about $99/month. Those are bad analogies in many ways, and I’m not even worried about competing on price, but I expect our yearly price will be somewhere around their monthly fee.

      • Anonymous 12 years ago

         OK. I was just trying to verify that it would not be some ridiculous sum. I should have known better, though. 🙂

  10. Celeste visconti 12 years ago

    Not living the agrarian proletariat life is a choice, is it? For seven billion of us? As it currently stands, its very simple, there aint enough room for grass fed steak and organically grown plant matter for everyone. 

    Does it not take an economic superstructure to produce an internet age to allow for funding of your expedition by likemindeds across the other side of the world? 

    Count yourself one of the lucky ones, at the relative top of the agrarian hierarchy, with the luxury of an education and a place of birth that allows you to take more than 1 7 billionth of the world’s resources and float around on a boat writing what you feel like. Others fund your ability to do that with their lowly agrarian work. It’s a worthwhile cause, but far from the fiction of equality.

    • Andrew 12 years ago

      Muddling these various arguments together is common and commonsensical. Overall, this line builds upon a series of false dilemmas and assumptions that fall apart under scrutiny.

      My least favorite among this list may be the circular argument that we should double down on industrial agriculture now that we have a population artificially inflated by industrial agriculture. This is a distraction that insidiously insinuates that those advocating a departure from agrarian assumptions want to control population by starvation. If we take a break from this false dichotomy, we can proffer a number of positive alternatives. 

      Not least of these options is the functional right of every woman control over her own reproduction. Increasing education and countering the idea that women are property (other humans as property being one of the first ‘gifts’ agriculture bestowed upon us) would lead to completely voluntary negative population trend that would significantly reduce population in 30-50 years.

      The expedition is a tool. Again, the quasi-criticism above lives and breathes entirely in the world of false dichotomies. When building a house, the hammer isn’t the end result. Once the structure is in place, the hammer can be relegated to the dustbin of history and nobody will miss it.

      • Celeste 12 years ago

        Common sense! Now there’s a worthwhile trait. An ought and an is Andrew.

        The hammer will never be relegated to history, because false ideas about what humans can be mean the house will never be finished.

  11. Author
    Candice Stone 12 years ago

    Word!  I had also been thinking along the lines of why should us modern-day humans need to work out to stay lean and fit but given our environment and lack of physical labor in the acquisition of food a little planned movement is probably a good idea.  However, the human hamster wheels at 24HrFitness and the crazy Crossfit  philosophy didn’t really gel with me anymore.  We are fortunate to have found a trainer who thinks like you do with an intense focus first on correcting damage done by modern-day lifelike (eg. sitting all day), then functional movement and finally on catabolism.  There is a time for catabolism but also a time for anabolism.  A time for sympathetic stimulation and a time to focus on parasympathetic.  He chose to name his business Functional Patterns (.com) because he believes neural ‘patterns’ are as important in achieving and ‘encoding’ functional movement as anything you do with your body.

    • Bill 12 years ago

      human hamster wheels


      I’m with you. The commercial gym-exerciseregimen-fitness scene is totally repugnant, sort of like a weird mix of 70’s-bar-scene, gym-rat testosterone frenzy, and one-size-fits-all (let’s all be Olympic lifters!).

      Or maybe I just don’t like people telling me how I should exercise, which to me should be fun. Do you need to pay money or get instruction to go outside and smell the flowers? Heck no. Just exercise, or not, as the mood grabs you. There are way too many people intensively training (or overtraining) for no perceptible purpose, except that someone has told them they should be more buff.

  12. Author

    […] This post is from Evolvify…To Read the whole article….MORE…. […]

  13. Author
    Trace Kather 11 years ago

    Contrary to a hypolith that resides under a rock, the aforementioned hyperlithic is a great evolutionary step of getting out from under that said rock.

  14. Author
    Arron Lock 11 years ago

    I just landed here from Mark Sisson's site and I am hooked. You, sir, have been Ctrl+D'd (bookmarked), Also, I love the "eat like a hunter, train like a fighter" bit and was wondering if you would mind if I use something similar as the tagline on my site?

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  16. Author
    Creatively Paleo 10 years ago

    I particularly love the think like a geek aspect of this post – I have spent quite some time pondering the nature of geekdom in evolutionary terms, so am pleased to see it being put forward like that here. Did hyperlithic ever happen? (link took me to a dead end).

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