“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer

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Quiz time.  The above is (A) Keith’s response to “the coffee bar is now closed”, (B) Keith’s response to seeing no cleans, chins, dips or sprints in your last week’s programming, (C) a feisty Tasmanian devil, or (D) all of the above.

The “epigenetic crucible” is something that I think about quite often.  Namely, to what extent does environmental (and mental!) input shape the organism; not via evolution, per se, but in the here-and-now?

For a dramatic example, consider the run-of-the-mill pig.

Below, the domesticated version….

 

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… and here, the feral variety:

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An incredible difference, and a testament to the power of an organism’s ability to adapt to its surroundings and epigenetic pressures.  And, particularly in pigs, these changes begin to manifest within weeks.

The “feral pig phenomena” came up in conversation during this episode of the Joe Rogan podcast in which Paleo f(x) speaker Chris Ryan (the author of Sex at Dawn) is interviewed.  It’s yet another fantastic episode, and just one more Rogan-initiated nail-in-the-coffin of my Audible account 😉

But the feral pig phenomena also reminds me of something I noticed as a kid; surrounded, as I was, by “men of hard labor”.  Have you ever had the opportunity to study the hands and forearms of a lifelong welder or pipefitter? Ever shake hands with one of these guys?  Let me tell you that you will at once notice the difference between the hands, grip and forearms of a pipefitter and those of the average Joe.  Or even between those hands and those of a seasoned gym jockey.

And here’s the thing: it’s impossible to train that type of development.  Ten hours a day — every day — year after year after year?  I’ve been around S&C my entire life, too, and I can tell you that the development of even the strongest S&C guy’s extremities doesn’t compare to even an otherwise scrawny pipefitter’s paws and forearms.

But here’s my main point with all of this: even though the human animal may not manifest the same degree of external changes exhibited in the domesticated-pig-gone-feral model, we, as humans, do possess an incredible capacity to morph mentally (and possibly hormonally, as well) to severe epigenetic pressure.  That’s our strong suit as a species.  And these mental adaptations can then help manifest changes on the physical level.

The most striking examples of this were the numerous “metamorphoses” that I witnessed during my time in the military.  Otherwise mild-mannered guys, thrust into the pressure cooker of an extended, soul-crushing, and physically-demanding deployment, emerging on the other side as completely transformed, “hardened” individuals. Some of these individuals I then saw take up (or re-awaken to) weight training.  The following physical changes were then nothing less than dramatic.  What changed?  Simply this: the ability to persevere.  The mental quality of not quitting; of “embracing the suck”.

I know that by now the Roger Bannister 4 minute mile phenomena is a hackneyed example of belief that something can be done, but still. Now imagine the multiplication effect the internet will have on phenomena; whatever the task might be.

So I pose the following more as a question prompted by observation; a question, as opposed to my opinion on the subject (though I for sure have an opinion). And the question is this: how much of “hard gaining”, “over reaching/training”, “propensity toward injury” and any number of the other “roadblocks to performance” are mental rather than hard-wired, genetic determinism?  Might you have a “4 minute mile”-like barrier buried deep within your psyche that needs a good Roger Banister-like opening?

Look, there are no doubt genetic limits as dictated by our DNA.  But there is also no doubt that epigenetic influence can alter certain aspects of those “limitations”.

Just something to consider.

 

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –

Keith

3 COMMENTS

  1. Just curious. The feral variety of the domestic pig? Has its meat ever been marketed for gourmet food in the U.S. ? I know it’s a delicacy in some parts of Asia.

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