The Importance of Connecting Evolution with Exercise.
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Kangaroos hop, fish swim, birds fly, and most land mammals walk and run on four legs. What about humans, how do we move? Well, humans are capable of all kinds of movements, but principally we have evolved to walk and run, fight by kicking and punching, and hunt by throwing, swinging, and thrusting objects like sticks, stones, clubs, and spears.
Humans evolved as hunter gatherers and covered vast distances, with many scientists proposing our success as a species was partly because of persistence hunting, i.e. running-down animals all day covering vast distances. What many don't realise is that we are long distance experts. Unique to most animals we sweat, which means we don't tend to overheat, even in hot weather and under extreme physical hardship. And we are very efficient movers when moving optimally.
Every year in Wales runners compete over a 22 mile course with horses. Many would think it impossible for a human to win, and often they don't, but in the hottest years humans do win, much to the surprise of the average person. Over an even longer distance the human would come in first even more often.
We are designed to spend a lot of time on our feet. Being bipedal we are in a constant battle with gravity, which inevitably places huge forces on our body and we have evolved a posture and a way of moving to counteract the negative effects of the force of gravity acting on our bodies in motion.
Maximum efficiency is necessary to avoid wear and tear on our joints, and the way we do it is unique to our species. We have to train like humans. This sounds obvious right? So why don't we do it?
To run and walk efficiently we need a gait cycle that promotes elastic movement to reduce effort and energy consumption. and to minimise impact on our joints. To do this the bottom half of our body works mainly in the sagittal plane (forwards and backwards), while our upper thoracic region of our upper body works in the transverse plane, i.e. it rotates. We are upper body slingers, and this slingy upper body connects with our lower body to optimise our movement efficiency. When we want to produce any real force for throwing, punching, or kicking you'll notice we tend to do this from one side rotating our upper bodies and pivoting from our hips and ankles.
Another critical thing to note about humans is that we have evolved to move and produce force primarily horizontally. Sure, we have to pick things up vertically from time to time, but we run horizontally, we throw horizontally, we punch horizontally, etc.
If you watch almost any sport you see the same patterns; we throw or bowl a ball horizontally, we kick a ball, hit a ball with a racket, sprint after a ball mainly forwards, not up. Yet when I watch people weight training in a gym 99% of people are lifting vertically expecting this to improve their performance bowling a ball, swinging a racket, or moving more powerfully or with greater agility. However, mostly people do it to look good, but I'm sure they don't believe the possibility that it may make them less prepared for a range of human movements.
Don't get me wrong here, I am not knocking traditional training for the average person that much. I think being active is much better than being inactive. Traditional weight training is at least that and people are much better-off for doing it, but things can be done much, much better. If you are a professional sportsperson, though, training done the wrong way will hinder your performance and even get you injured, and it may be better to avoid the gym altogether and just play your sport if you are going to train the wrong way.
Things are slowly changing and I am seeing improvements in physical training, but if we are going to run faster, move with more agility, bowl a ball faster, throw further, or strike a ball more powerfully and not set ourselves up for injury at the same time, we are going to have to train more often using horizontal force vectors. If we want to move better without getting hurt we are going to have to train our gait cycle. Apart from sprinters, and other running athletes does anyone do this?
We have to move how we evolved to move because nature is rarely an all-rounder, we like other species fill a niche. If we get good at one thing, something else usually suffers; if our body adapts to lifting heavy objects vertically, it will likely not move, push, pull, or throw lighter objects well horizontally. If we don't run and walk often, our body will compensate and adjust to a more sedentary lifestyle and then when we actually move, these compensations will make us move inefficiently and dysfunctionally. If we move with less efficiency, we create imbalances which over the course of our lives place stresses on different parts of our body. These stresses build-up and then eventually three things happen; bang, a very painful acute injury, chronic pain which magnifies with age, or restricted movement (which will likely lead to chronic pain or acute injury).
Posture is the key. To run, walk, and throw with optimum efficiency we need a strong, stable base. Modern life makes this base extremely difficult to maintain, and the natural connections all over our body begin to get compromised. We start by learning how to stand again, then we learn how to walk again, then we learn how to run again; we must learn to move all over again. We think we know how to do it, but we don't and almost everyone pays a high price for it.
To me, we need to radically change our perception of the gym. Our time in the gym is the chance to drop our egos and improve the way we move, to train according to our evolution and to live a more physically capable, pain-free life.