My intention is for this to be a living, “work in progress” page. I’ll update this piece with new information as it becomes available, and as it influences me to adjust my working theory; my take on the subject of Physical Culture and Ancestral Wellness, my “life’s trajectory”, so to speak. My theories do not remain static, nor do I intend this page to remain so. As a consummate epistemocrat, I am forever on the prowl to uncover material that forces me to expand — or completely change, if need be — my most held-to beliefs. What follows are what I consider my to be my currently held “truths”, as they relate to overall well-being and the pursuit of Ancestral Wellness and the Physical Culture “high life”.
My General Premise
- Forget, and completely so, what you previously thought of as diet and fitness and overall well-being “Gospel”. Wipe the slate clean; be receptive to a completely new paradigm in nutritional well-being, Ancestral Wellness and Physical Culture.
- Wrap your mind around this one very simple idea: that agriculture is a relatively new development (within the last 10,000 to 50,000years, or so) vis-à-vis the human genome. Compare this relatively short span to the 4.5 million or so years that we have been, essentially, in our “current iteration” as humans. Our bodies (and by extension, our genotype) have not evolved sufficiently, and are therefore not adequately prepared to handle, the “modern” onslaught of grain (in all of grain’s multi-varied derivatives) and especially so that of other simple, highly-refined, carbohydrates. Our thinking may (arguably) be well-advanced from that of our stone-age ancestors, however, our bodies and brains, genetically speaking, are relatively identical to the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer. There is more to the story, of course, when discussing this environmental mismatch we find ourselves in. However, this story line gives us the directional accuracy we need to make excellent health choices in the here-and-now.
- Performance is not a direct indicator of health. In fact, high level performance can (and often is) highly detrimental to overall health. Exercise (in the pursuit of health) should be infrequently intense, mostly of short duration, and highly variable. This periodic, high-intensity work should punctuate numerous periods of low intensity training and “play”. I like to call this, waving intensities and weaving modalities. Training for a specific athletic event/sport is an entirely different animal — and (and I can’t reiterate this enough) not necessarily a healthy one. In fact, to the extent that we correlate sporting prowess to overall health and well-being is indicative to just how off-base, irrelevant — and hurtful, even — mainstream ideas toward health, diet and fitness have become. It’s just another variant of the “Biggest Loser” fallacy.
- Following a Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, within the confines and limitations imposed by the modern, work-a-day world, is no doubt a daunting prospect — at first blush. Adherence to the Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, though, is, in practice, easy to pull-off. The aim of Theory to Practice is to chronicle, demonstrate, and lead by example, just how one does go about achieving Ancestral Wellness via a life of finely tuned, Physical Culture. Remember, knowing the right thing to do does not imply that the right thing will get done. The toughest ravine to navigate is that which separates knowledge from execution. I hope to be a living, continuous example of execution, and not simply a purveyor of knowledge.
- This process is an ever-undulating, ever-expanding journey; there is no static or defined “destination”, per se. “Good health” must always be measured in context, and against the background of one’s goals and one’s environment (more on that in a bit). Constant adjustment and refinement must be the rule of the day and not the exception, as new scientific findings must be continually evaluated and reevaluated in light of practical application. All things must be evaluated through prisms of an n=∞ and n=1 nature; that is to say, all “truths” carry with them a universal and an individual component. This blog, then, is more of a signpost along the path than it is “the answer”. Take from it what is useful in your own on-going journey, and make it your own.
- Remember that intense exercise is only as effective as one’s recovery allows. Work hard, recover harder, if you will.
- Proper supplementation is crucial; but it is just that — a supplement to an already dialed-in diet / lifestyle. “Supplement” does not imply “substitute”.
- Ancestral Wellness? I use the term “ancestral wellness” (you’ll see the term “Ancestral Momentum” as well) as a proxy to describe the all-encompassing epigenetic inputs that influence a healthy expression of our inherent genetic code. A roadmap, if you will, toward an optimized phenotypical expression of the human experience. In the simplest of terms, our current genetic code is the result of millions of years worth of fine-tuned evolution; a code that must now attempt to express itself in an environment (and with environmental input) that is anything but what it evolved to thrive in. The aim of ancestral wellness is not to attempt to reclaim some fanciful “lost paradise”, but to seize the best of what modern advances in technology have availed, while simultaneously avoiding modern environmental pitfalls.
One goal, four pillars, and five Ts
You’ll see and/or hear this phrase from me repeatedly. The phrase acts as a reminder to me that:
- I can only focus on one goal at a time. Not that I might have many goals active in my life at any one point (I most certainly do), but that I can only focus on one right now. I have to have systems in place that allow me to move toward my higher-level goals when I’m not actively focusing on them.
- My health and wellness is supported by knowledge or action that fits nicely within one of the four pillar categories. If I have problems figuring out which category an item fits in, I need to think twice about it’s applicable value in my life.
- Every goal I have has to be measured against five “qualities” that comprise ME at this point in time. I think of the goal as the destination, the five Ts as the navigation, and the four pillars as the mode of transport.
In my view, the Theory to Practice way to achieving solid ancestral wellness can be broken into four broad categories (or “pillars”), as follows:
- smart exercise
- leveraging 21st century technology (cool tools)
- diet & lifestyle
- pinpointed supplementation
As such, every post within TTP will fall, broadly, under one of those categories. Also, I’d like to point out that I believe so vehemently in the power of these four pillars that I have manifested businesses tied to each of them:
- smart exercise / Efficient Exercise
- leveraging 21st century technology (cool tools) / ARXFit
- diet & lifestyle / Paleo f(x)
- pinpointed supplementation / ID Life
So yes — I put my financial viability where my mouth (and mind and heart) is! I’m not just suggesting what you do, I am living by example.
The Five Ts
So there are, as you might guess, five elements comprising the Five T’s. Those elements are:
Time – how much are you willing and/or able to invest, per week? How much time per day/session?
Tools – what equipment/facilities do you have available to you? A full-blown S&C facility, or simply nature’s playground?
Techniques – Oly lifts? Gymnastic moves? Can you pull-off a devastating set of JReps? Can you effectively prescribe and implement a French Contrast session? Can you effectively mix and match modalities, rep schemes and tempos according to your goals? Are you simply painting by numbers, or are you S&C’s version of Jack Pollock?
You’ll see each of these elements covered more fully throughout TTP, but for now I’d just like you to become acquainted with them.
Notice that these attributes vary in their “mutability”; in other words, one attribute (trademark, for instance) will remain relatively fixed over a lifetime, where another (tools, for instance) may shift wildly over the same period.
But even those attributes that you might think of as being “fixed” have the potential to change over time. Not that one’s DNA just magically shifts, but that one’s perception of themselves and of their capabilities can change over time. Sometimes drastically so. I have seen trainees who’d previously considered themselves ectomorphs or “hardgainers” suddenly begin to put on substantial muscle once they got a firm handle on the other four Ts, reestablish realistic goals, and optimize their diet, lifestyle, supplementation and exercise prescription. In other words, they focused on an appropriate goal, and squared-away the four pillars of Physical Culture. This, then, set the table for an effective and efficient navigation (via the Five Ts) toward that goal.
It’s a hackneyed cliche, but also very true: perception is reality. Change your perception, and you can drastically change your reality and, therefore, your outcome. Trademark and Temperament may not be as fixed as you previously thought.
And remember: it’s rarely the “one thing” that triggers a dramatic shift in potential outcome, but rather a culmination of many small things done with consistency. Ultimately, the Five Ts is a method by which one can maintain a culture of consistent improvement through optimization, relative to one’s circumstance. This may be a tough pill to swallow in today’s age of quick fixes. It is, however, a key component of real, and lasting, habit change.
In my own case, those periods of extended military deployment stymied any progress in absolute strength I may have gained if I’d remained stateside and with access to a full-on S&C facility. My simply not having access to the proper tools (in this case, heavy barbells, etc.) directly and negatively affected my ability to attack that quality. However, and in spite of some pretty abysmal conditions, I made some spectacular gains in bodyweight elements — bar work, ring work, floor work and the like — that then catapulted my absolute strength gains once I was back stateside and one more with access to heavy barbells and dumbbells. Though during deployment, my access to certain tools and available time was diminished, other options appeared. The Five Ts kept me on track, and in the game.
…and now, a quick word on goals
I spoke earlier of the Four Pillars as being the mode of transportation and the Five Ts and being the effective and efficient navigation. Goals, then, are quite simply, the destination. How you choose to consider this 3-way relationship, though, does not ease or alter the fact that harsh realities exist, and tough decisions must be made. For instance, it’s all fine and well to want to put on some serious muscle, but what if you simply don’t have access to heavy barbells and dumbbells? Or what if you want to get serious with gymnastic work, but you don’t have access to proper coaching? Sometimes your Five Ts will require you to rethink (at least, in the short term) your goals. If you want to get to Paris from New York, and all you have is a dingy, something’s gotta give. Other times, your goals will require you take a harder look at your Five Ts assessment (are you sure you can only spare 30 minutes a day to work out? Can’t we squeeze in an additional 15 minutes?). Quite simply, it boils down to what you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve stated goals. There are few shortcuts in life. Ultimately, success is derived via smart, directed and consistent work.
Now, the last thing I want you to do is to get hung up in a purely manufactured, chicken-and-egg conundrum. Which came first, the goal, Four Pillars or the Five Ts assessment? In reality, it doesn’t matter where you start as long as three things are defined: (1) the destination, (2) the best route, given the circumstance and (3) mode of travel. That’s it. Sounds so simple, right? However, it’s precisely the “that’s it” part that ultimately hamstrings most trainees.
Small chunks, vs the whole enchilada
Numerous dissertations could (and have) been written on the psychology of successful goal setting, but here’s the most prevalent take-away: small and incrementally attainable vs global and overarching.
Not that the big picture shouldn’t be kept in mind (you need to know you’re headed to Paris, not NYC), but your goals should be more like what the hour-to-hour progress of that journey needs to look like in order for you to reach Paris
So it doesn’t matter if your ultimate destination is 100 lbs of total fat loss, or adding 100 lbs to your squat PR, the idea is the same: small, incremental victories on the way to winning the war. In other words, attack each 5 lbs in the weight loss journey; attack each 5 lb increase in the squat. Because the thing is this: each of those 5 lb chunks may require a re-evaluation of your Five Ts and/or a tightening-up of your Four Pillars. Biting off too big a chunk will ultimately derail you and, in the process, totally discourage you from attaining your ultimate goal.
So the take-away is this: small, attainable, consistent steps. Reevaluate your Five Ts. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s that easy.
Every journey begins with a first step; the TTP journey begins here. And what the hell? We might as well include the second step, too.
Step one; the Diet Component…
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”
The basic concept of a Paleo-like diet is that our bodies are genetically best adapted to utilize the foods we evolved to eat, and that humans (and ergo, the human genome) evolved over a few million years as hunter-gatherers. Agriculture did not appear on the human landscape until between ten to fifty-thousand years ago. Although most reliable estimates place the appearance of agriculture at closer to the ten thousand year mark, even using the maximum fifty-thousand year estimate yields a similar outcome — not nearly enough time for our genotype to evolve sufficiently to cope with the introduction of these new, agriculturally-grown (read, grain) foodstuffs. And especially so, highly refined carbohydrates.
The most prevalent source of calories for our Paleolithic ancestors of 50,000 years ago would have been lean meat and (preferentially) internal organs. The fatty parts, when available, would have been favored (as it offered more caloric “bang for the buck”). As most wild game is (relatively) lean, though, the average fat intake would likely have been moderate for most cultures. Our genes are cued to respond favorably to a much higher fat intakes, however.
Dairy, too, would not have been consumed until just a few hundred generations ago, when livestock was initially domesticated. Lactose intolerance is an extreme symptom of our genotype’s having not yet evolved to handle this novel food. Lactose tolerance, however, is a good example of “rapid evolution” in our species and an argument for considering the risk/reward ratio of all foods before making choices about whether to include that food in one’s diet. I take an agnostic approach when it comes to dairy, as many people (myself included) do tolerate it well, and (in the raw / unpastuerized form at least) dairy does provides a multitude of healthful benefits.
Ultimately, the genes we inherited from our Paleolithic ancestors now determine what our optimum diet should consist of. These same genes — virtually identical to those of our ancestors harbored some 50,000 years ago — evolved according to the environment (including food varieties that were available to them) in which those ancient ancestors evolved. And although our ancestors did not eat just one single diet — but rather, consumed various diets, depending on geography, ecologic niche, season and glaciations — these various diets did, however, share some of the following, universal characteristics:
The available carbohydrate sources were:
- Plants, leaves
- Roots and tubers
- Nuts (could be considered a fat source as well)
The available protein and fat sources were:
- Wild animals of all sorts (including muscle tissue, fat, organs, brain and marrow). However, the total amount of fat, and the fatty-acid composition of that fat, was different than that found in modern domestic animals.
- Fish and seafood
It can be argued, as well, that the carbohydrate content and load for the modern version of the fruits/berries (and to some extent, vegetables, as well) is much different that that available to our ancestors. The same can be said for the nutrient density per calorie of these items as well (actually, the nutrient density of all foods have dwindled, but that’s another story for a later time). That fruit is the most modernly “altered” of foods we assume are “safe” is minor point of contention, though I do tend to agree. One can, however, avoid problems here by simply limiting the ingestion of these foods. The same can be said for opting to eat grass-fed meat when possible and where available. I am a realist, though, and will always opt for taking care of the major worries before attempting to fix the minor stuff. See my thoughts on the 80/20 rule, here.
I think if one approaches diet with the aims of (1) keeping insulin levels consistently low and (2) controlling satiety, then all else will take care of itself.
The Exercise Component…
In general, an exercise session (for health purposes — performance is an entirely different animal) should be constructed such that it is consistent with the following dictates:
- episodes of intense, though short duration bouts should punctuate bouts of lesser-intensity work
- the chosen movements should be functional and/or compound in nature
- the individual components of the workout — as well as the workout itself, when considered in total — should be constantly variable.
- workout intensity and workout frequency should act as inverse variables.
- above all, try to learn to listen to the fractal rhythms of your body and adjust the four prior-mentioned points accordingly.
- there should be periods of low-intensity “play” interspersed throughout the more intense exercise outings. This can consist of virtually anything you enjoy that involves fresh air and bodily movement. Walking, for example. Light tennis. Softball. Personally, I enjoy fixed-speed and mountain biking. Partake in whatever lifts your spirit and fuels your fire.
- Waving intensities, weaving modalities should be the overriding dictate.
So there you have it, Theory to Practice in a nutshell. I am, at my very essence, that epistemocrat I spoke of in the opening paragraph. One as defined by Nassim Taleb (in his marvelous book, The Black Swan), as being “someone of epistemic humility, who holds his own knowledge in greatest suspicion” (hat tip to Brent Pottenger, at Healthcare Epistemocrat, for that fine quote, and for taking the lead of expanding this idea as it applies to expression of fine Physical Culture). As such, I consider myself a consummate seeker of knowledge, but one not married to any single notion. Dogma, to me, is an anathema. The only dogma is, that there is no dogma! This blog, then, is a composite of my own n=1 journey through the wilderness in search of the best that might be obtained in the wide world of Physical Culture.
That we are only now beginning to uncover and wrestle with the effects of poor diet and inadequate fitness upon our overall health is an indication of just how far we have to go, as a species, to live in proper alignment with our inherited genetic potential. And what an awesome potential it is!
Remember: each and every one of us has perfectly tuned minds and bodies… for a world we haven’t seen in 50 thousand years. In the same way that the sailor cannot change conditions, but only navigate the sea, we have to navigate the modernity we’ve inherited.
So pack your bags, grab your sextant, and come along for the ride of a lifetime.
In health, fitness, and Ancestral Wellness –