What is an evolutionarily correct, or evo-friendly approach to fitness?
For most people, recognising that fitness as we know it today is merely a construct of the last 50 years requires a giant leap of imagination.
You mean they didn't have elliptical machines in my grandmother's day? Surely they had some kind of Bodypump class though? And hot power yoga?
The 2.5 million years of evolutionary history since we genetically split from primates have created just 1-2% in proprietary human DNA; the last 50 years are a mere blip in that process. Fitness as we know it is therefore an inherently modern invention, a luxury of bestowed upon us by civilization; our genes are still geared towards being fit for the task of survival.
That meant regular, daily movement in the form of hunting, gathering and fishing combined with the need for water and self-preservation. It wasn’t an optional lifestyle choice, it was life itself.
Here's how we interpret 21st century fitness in that light:
Function - Knocking out linear reps and sets of isolated movements in front of a mirror just doesn't cut it. Survival of the fittest meant the strongest, quickest, most cunning and agile survived; physical aesthetics were a mere side-effect. The relative security and comfort of 21st century life has prompted an aesthetic approach to training. It's time to re-write the script.
Purpose - Movements with a purpose - be it lifting, carrying, throwing, jumping, crawling, running, swimming, climbing, striking or defending - have a tangible, real world objective. There are no shapes to be made, no poses or sequences. There is no right or wrong way to perform any movement, only more or less efficient methods.
Practice - Repetition develops the accuracy, power, strength, endurance and other capacities required to perform a skilled movement. We have to develop the requisite neurological pathways first, then evolution rewards us for the effort. You throw harder, run faster, think quicker under pressure? You win the prize.
Play - In this light, play is evolution's in-built mechanism for encouraging practice during periods of downtime, play-fighting being an obvious way for young adults to familiarise themselves with combat for example. Only through play can we truly master a skill, it's the difference between training on a punch bag and sparring with an opponent. It's practice in the real world without the risk of failure.
Biophilia - We evolved in nature, living in constant daily contact with the elements so look for opportunities to reconnect with nature, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, take your shoes off and go train outside.
Fight & Flight - Train for both fight and flight. Know what your top speed feels like today so you can use it tomorrow by including a short, sharp sprint session in your training in each week. Learn some basic self-defence skills to avoid punches, kicks and chokes, then master a handful of attacks or 'special moves' that you can call upon when you need them.