Getting Evolutionary Fitness Wrong

Surely anyone who cares about their health and is somewhat internet-savvy has at least heard of the “Paleo” diet or variations of it at some point in the past five years. Of course, there is, however, more to a “Paleo” lifestyle than just the diet. What I prefer to call “evolutionary fitness” seems to be making its way into the mainstream. Earlier this year there was an article in Outside magazine titled “The Workout that Time Forgot” which profiled MoveNat founder Erwan Le Corre and was nicely done. Le Corre is fond of saying that “we live like zoo animals!”. And I certainly agree with him.

Then, today, there was an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Aping the Early Human Workout” which profiled a long-distance runner who claims to gear his training using the principles of evolutionary fitness. The problem, however, is that he gets at least two things wrong.

First, I know the book Born To Run is incredibly popular right now (to be fair, I haven’t read it), but it seems to me that there is a very weak logical case for suggesting that humans evolved to run long distances. I certainly believe that humans were designed to walk long distances and to sprint, but not to run long distances. I like to think about it this way: marathoners, generally speaking, look fragile while sprinters generally look robust. From an evolutionary perspective, sprinters bodies would not preclude them from being able to walk long distances if they needed to track down a kill, but a frail marathoners body would preclude them from participating in a short intense hunt that required explosive power.

People who believe that humans evolved to run long distances must answer the following question at some point in their argument: What is the evolutionary advantage to being able to jog long distances as opposed to walk long distances? It’s also important not to discount the role of sexual selection from the argument. Anecdotally, I have never heard a female who claims to find the typical male marathoner’s physique sexually attractive.

Secondly, the gentleman featured mentions in the article that he works out seven days a week. I believe that humans did not evolve to follow a rigorous training schedule like that, or for that matter, any type of schedule. Hunt and gather when you need to and relax or play when you don’t. Surely, there must have been days when enough food had been hunted and gathered that it allowed humans to relax and enjoy a day of true leisure. Applying the concept of Taylorism to fitness seems like a terrible, terrible idea to me.

If you’ve never seen Erwan in action, check out the video below.

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