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Why You Should Exercise Like a Caveman

A Sailor lifts weights.As a Rolfer I’m always seeing clients who injured themselves from exercise. It’s not really their fault; it’s the fault of how we’ve been trained. For more than 30 years, I’ve seen the weekend warrior to the professional ball player injured because of an arcane exercise model.

This model contains beliefs such as: “no pain no gain,” “more is better,” and “harder and faster is best.” What makes me mad is that often these injurious ways of exercising are being doled out by older men who suffered the effects of older men telling them to perform that way.  Does that make any sense? “Look, I know doing it this way made my knee blow out, but hey *shrug* it’s the way I was taught.”

The “no pain” approach is getting new attention with increased incidences of Rhabdomyolysis – an extreme condition that causes the breakdown of muscle fibers leading to the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. This condition used to be virtually unheard of. Now, with more and more “extreme” forms of exercise, it’s not just hitting athletes, it’s hitting everyday people just looking for a great workout. Rhabdomyolysis often causes kidney damage. It can cause permanent, irreversible loss of muscle tone. “Going for it” can do more than cause a lot of pain, it can actually kill you.

A better way

We wouldn’t be here if our ancestors abused their bodies this way. They couldn’t chase down their prey or run (so they wouldn’t be prey) if they were tight, misaligned, and injured. They didn’t need to “exercise” because life kept them in shape.

We might need exercise, but we don’t need to be injured. We just need to adapt the caveman approach. Simply, think about what a caveman would do with his or her body on a regular basis and do that. For example, he wouldn’t spend much time lifting things over his head. He would be more likely to be climbing or pulling himself up.

As amazing as our shoulder joints are, they aren’t designed to repeatedly lift heavy objects above our heads. Evolution decided that, for the shoulder, range of motion was more important than overhead strength. A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that overhead shoulder press lifters were at a greater risk of shoulder instability.

Leave the possible injury-producing behaviors to the machines we have—that is, use a crane to lift something over your head and workout in a way that gets you strong without getting you tight or injured. As Christopher McDougal’s book, Born to Run, points out; the simple activities of our ancestors are the ones that we can continue to do through our entire life—if we are using what I would call Natural Form.

Next week’s article: How to Exercise Like a Caveman

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advanced Rolfer,, with 33 yrs experience – call if you have questions: 265.8440.

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