All are lunatics, but he who can analyse his delusions is called a philosopher – Ambrose Bierce
First, a little prospective…
My Efficient Exercise clientele, widely speaking, consists of folks situated smack-dab in the bullseye for being the most susceptible to “diseases of affluence” — those maladies exacerbated (and, arguably, initially brought-on) by poor dietary choices and lack of proper and sufficient activity. By poor diet, I’m referring, of course, to a non-Paleo/Primal way of eating — a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, and poor-quality fats. In the larger Ancestral Health community, we may quibble on some of the finer dietary points within this context (potatoes?!), but broadly speaking (and especially in terms of where “the rubber meets the road”, i.e., in dealing with the general, “not geeked on diet and fitness” public), we offer a united front. Can there be much argument, for example, that implementing Robb Wolf’s Quick Start Guide is not a great way for John and Jane Q. Public to begin taking charge of their health and wellbeing?
Ahhh, but then we get to the other side of the healthy lifestyle coin — the “activity” side — and here, in my opinion, things begin to degenerate rapidly. Let’s see if we can put things back into prospective.
First and foremost, ours is a genome that, to steal a riff from from Dr. John Ivy, is hardwired for daily activity. Now before I kickoff a shitstorm royale here from the HIT crowd, I said daily “activity”, not a daily WOD beat-down, or Bulgarian-style, multiple-times-per-day Oly thrashing. That some mutants (myself included) can survive frequent sightings of the great-white-buffalo-in-the-sky does not at all imply that it’s necessarily a healthy thing to do. I’ve pontificated on this before and, more recently, Skyler Tanner has written a superb post examining the relationship between “exercise” and “activity”, and the wide, wide spectrum of “movement” wherein these terms settle. And let’s hold onto that notion of high-end performance beginning where health begins to degenerate; let that be our guide-star in this discussion.
And we are speaking of a full spectrum of movement/activity here, from chasing the great white buffalo, to “play”. Part of the problem, though, in discussing this subject is (1) there are so many moving (pardon the pun) parts to consider, (2) this is a highly, highly n=1 subjective subject, i.e., due to my strength and work capacity, my “play” may be another’s gut-busting “exercise”, and (3) the language used in discussing this subject is vague at best, and at it’s worst, imprecise; the term “workout” can mean many things to many different people. Case in point: in discussing my attendance of a recent MovNat workshop here in the epicenter of Physical Culture, the ATX — an awesome experience, by the way, with Clifton Harski (@cliftonharski) and Brian Tabor paving the way for a most excellent, and challenging, day of fun and frolic — with a client of mine (and emphasizing the “fun and frolic” part), she shook her head and replied “fun? Sounds like a hard-ass workout to me!”. Of course, I considered the experience more a day chock-full of rough-and-tumble play, but that’s exactly my point. Think of strength and work capacity together, as being a workhorse. The bigger and stronger the horse, the more “stuff” you can pile on it’s back. A 500 pound load is nothing to a Clydesdale, but might cripple some poor, exhausted, slat-ribbed thing.
Of fractals and power laws
Art DeVany, of course, has made many constituent, bedrock, contributions to the Paleo/Primal/EvoFit movement — none so more important, though, and in my opinion, as the application of fractals and power law within the totality of life experience. And more germane to this discussion, fractals and power law as applied to the full spectrum of human activity. If you haven’t yet read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness, by all means do so — it’s a gem.
Now, if we consider, in the context of optimum human activity, the ideas of fractals (repeating patterns), power law distribution (intensity vs frequency distribution), we can see how this dovetails nicely into the work of (the above mentioned) John Ivy, Frank Booth, and Boyd Eaton (nifty little paper, here). Add the notion of n=1 individualization, and this generic power law distribution curve then becomes personalized; my long-tail is (to whatever extent) different from your long-tail, as my strength and work capacity are pretty damn high. The extreme right of my long-tail includes roughly 7 hours per day of training clients (on my feet moving, scampering, climbing, squatting, loading/unloading weights, demonstrating lifts, etc.) and at least some fixie riding and/or walking; this is what I consider a “day off”. Workout days, of course, ramp-up exponentially from there.
To the extent that we endeavor to make one a more healthy individual (fitness and performance, remember are altogether separate pursuits), we will need to bump this curve up and to the right. Just how much? I don’t know exactly, but this is something I’m attempting to quantify. Although I’m a huge fan of John Ivy’s work in principle, I’m less sold on his concept of figuring one’s “minimum daily allowance” of activity. You’ll have to checkout his book to see what I mean.
But back to the practicalities of boosting one’s health: in everyday speak, this is simply known as increasing the subject’s strength and work capacity (subject for a later post). The problem with saying this, though, is that folks automatically relate the terms “strength” and “work capacity” to the high-end performance realm. What I am speaking of here, though, is that minimum amount of daily (long-tail) activity required to keep an individual healthy, nothing more. Which, by the way, is not that damn much daily activity. This, in fact, is the basis of my proposed AHS12 presentation, and and area where, I believe (along with the erudite Ken O’Neill), the Paleo/Primal movement (writ large) has trended off the skids. For all we attribute to healthy eating, we turn a blind eye to the necessity of honoring the requirements of that long-tail, daily activity level. Let’s make no mistake here, our genome is predicated on daily activity — we are first and foremost obligatory movers, then opportunistic eaters. Discounted by many in this movement are the positive epigenetic triggers established by this minimum daily, or long-tail zone, activity. In essence, the community as a whole tends toward too little long-tail activity (classic HIT), or too much (mainsite CrossFit). We quibble over the make-up of a stone-age vs modern tuber, and totally discount (or grossly under-estimate) the average daily activity level of the stone-age hunter-gatherer. Hunted-gatherer is a more accurate definition; these poor bastards had to be ever-vigilant and constantly on the move.
Note: Dr. John Ivy’s recognition of “Minimum daily activity levels” as normalizing efficient metabolic pathways (or “circuits”, in his explanation) just might be the brigde between the Calories-in/Calories-out dogmatists and 1st Law of Thermodynamics apologists. Stay tuned.
Is HIT “Paleo”? Is CrossFit “Primal”?
My blog, so obviously, my opinions here; take ’em for what they’re worth. My contention is though, that the traditional (dogmatic?) HIT schema of a single day of blast and 7 (ish) days of full-on sloth fails to meet the minimum daily long-tail activity level, and so falls short of being an optimum total regimen choice. Of course, at the opposite end of the intensity frequency spectrum (but no doubt equals on the dogmatism scale) lay mainsite CrossFit where, if a little bit of high intensity work is good, a lot more is fo’ sho’ a hellova lot mo’ better. This scenario sets us up for over-reaching at best, overtraining at worst, and the sacrifice of long-term health for short-term performance gain. The answer, in my opinion, lay somewhere between these two extremes. Take a 30k-foot view of my personal exercise proclivities trended over the year and you’ll see that I skew much more toward the mainsite CrossFit end of the spectrum, though I’d like to think that (1) my workout-to-workout programming is a bit more intelligent, and (2) my day-to-day intensity and volume are more sanely regulated, and wind-up graphing pretty damn close to the power law distribution. And remember, too, that my n=1 given is that of a good deal of strength and a pretty high work capacity — my long-tail activities reflect as much. I’ll turn 47 this week, and I’m still healthy, fit and somewhat muscular so I think I’m on to something.