I Challenge You to Train Like a Human

How to use our bio-evolutionary programming to make our exercising in today’s world more fun and interesting.

Summer is near, and you’ve felt caged for far too long. No, I’m not talking about the quarantine. I mean locked in your life—the 9-5 job, the commute, the nightly TV, and a disciplined workout routine. It is all so typical and, yet, so inhuman.

Summer is near, and you’ve felt caged for far too long. No, I’m not talking about the quarantine. I mean locked in your life—the 9-5 job, the commute, the nightly TV, and a disciplined workout routine. It is all so typical and, yet, so inhuman.

Throughout most of human history, there has been no need to work out. Life did that for you. Between hunting, foraging, building, climbing, and playing, burning calories was never a concern.

Humans’ Bio-evolutionary Program Works Against Us

We are programmed to conserve energy whenever possible and to gorge food whenever it’s available.

This propensity is one of our many evolutionarily ingrained quirks that work against us in this bizarre modern habitat. Today food is everywhere, and a million new inventions have removed the need to move. Thus, we make it an obligation to work out.

But understanding our bio-evolutionary programming can give us insight into how to make our exercising a bit more fun and interesting.

We have many competing needs that work as a thermostat to keep us balanced and focused on the right thing at the right time.

Even a well-fed hunter-gather wouldn’t conserve energy forever. Boredom would spur our ancestors to use their time more efficiently.

How Boredom Motivates Humans Today

Today, boredom usually prompts us to click a different app or pick a new show, but it does initiate action.

As Michael Easter, author of the new book The Comfort Crisis, explains,

“As humans evolved, we’d become bored anytime we were doing something that had a low return on our time invested.”

Boredom spurred humans to try more effective fishing techniques, build better structures, create better tools, kill more animals, and play with their comrades.

The traditional way that humans cured boredom was by either taking on some new physical project or leaning into more social connection, or both. We can make our fitness a little more inspiring this summer by doing the same.

Some suggestions:

  • Workout partners: Fun training is almost always social training. Create a good group, and you’ll look forward to seeing them at every workout.
  • Take on a new sport or physical skill: Racquetball is social and fun. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will ignite your competitive fire and motivate you to practice new skills. Embrace sport again.
  • Build something: Whether it’s a garden, a deck, or a set of cornhole boards, building taps into something primal and gets you moving in a natural, low-and-slow kind of way.
  • Take on a grand challenge.

Easter’s book details his month-long caribou hunt in backcountry Alaska. Isolated from civilization, he spent weeks lugging supplies as he pursued more food. This example is another one of those profoundly human experiences.

Hunter-gatherers frequently move, carrying all their possessions and young children along with them.

We, humans, are slower, weaker, and more physically exposed than most similarly sized mammals.

But, despite being known as a physically inferior species, humans are elite endurance athletes compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.

Society’s Standards and Rites of Passage

As Sebastian Junger explains in his new book Freedom:

“Other primates can’t come close to matching human performance on the ground, and even horses, dogs, and wolves have trouble outrunning humans in steep terrain or hot weather.

The Western States 100, in which western runners and horse-back riders race 100 miles over the Sierra Nevada, sees humans and horses running roughly similar times. (Runners and riders compete separately but on almost identical courses).

The record for runners, fourteen hours and nine minutes, was set by ultra-marathon runner Jim Walmsley in 2019. Walmsley covered the distance almost two hours faster than the fastest horse and rider entrant that year and would have beaten all but one of the horse and rider entrants over the previous twenty years.

Many animals sprint faster than humans, but few can compare across such a range of distances—especially in the heat.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to get out and conquer some treacherous terrain. This desire is natural for humans; it is one of the staples of every society’s standards and rites of passage.

Nearly every Native American tribe required their warriors to be capable of running all day.

Likewise, Christopher McDougall writes in Natural Born Heroes that in the ancient Cretan culture, youth was known as apodromos, meaning not quite a runner, and the ritual ceremony for entering adulthood was called the festival of Dromaia, meaning the running.

The 50-Mile Challenge

American society has a tradition of distance excellence as well. Disturbed by the low physical standards of older military officers of his time, Theodore Roosevelt issued a directive requiring officers of all branches to prove themselves capable of marching 50 miles in 20 consecutive hours.

When John F. Kennedy became president, he put this challenge back to the marines. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, jumped in before the marines had a chance, and he finished in under 18 hours. The marines followed suit.

The media covered these events, spurring organizations all over the U.S. to begin taking on the 50-Mile Challenge.

Around this time, World War II veteran Stanley LeProtti created the legendary La Sierra High-School P.E. program. He also included distance standards, notably a distance Man Lift and Carry (also known as the Fireman’s Carry).

His lowest group was required to carry a similarly weighted classmate 800 meters, and the most elite group required students to carry a like-weighted classmate five total miles.

Well, reader, the gauntlet has been laid down.

I guess there is nothing left to do but decide which of these challenges you want to take on and then lace up your shoes and get moving. It’s time we became a little more human.

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