Whether you’ve just started this paleo thing or are a paleo eating pro, you’ve probably wondered at one point or another what kind of exercise is considered “paleo”.
As of now it seems that Crossfit and paleo go hand in hand. Head in to any Crossfit affiliate, and you’ll most likely find that the nutrition principles they recommend are similar to those you would follow on a paleo nutrition plan. Even Crossfit’s founder, Greg Glassman, describes the paleo diet in this quote found on the Crossfit website:
World Class Fitness in 100 Words:
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports. ~Greg Glassman
First and foremost, what is Crossfit?
The Crossfit main site describes its theory of fitness as follows.
“…CrossFit is an evidence-based fitness program. Meaningful statements about safety, efficacy and efficiency — the three most important and interdependent facets of any fitness program — can be supported only by measurable, observable, and repeatable facts, (i.e., data). The CrossFit methodology depends on full disclosure of methods, results and criticisms, and we’ve employed the Internet as our primary means to support these values. Our charter is open source, making co-developers out of participating coaches, athletes and trainers through a spontaneous and collaborative online community. CrossFit is empirically driven, clinically tested and community developed.
We offer the world’s most useful definition of fitness: increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Capacity is the ability to do real work, which is measurable using the basic terms of physics (force, distance and time). Life is unpredictable (much more so than sport) so real world fitness must be broad and not specialized, both in terms of duration and type of effort (time and modal domains).
The magic is in the movements. All of CrossFit’s workouts are based on functional movements. These are the core movements of life, found everywhere, and built naturally into our DNA. They move the largest loads the longest distances so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time (intensity).
By employing a constantly-varied approach to training, these functional movements at maximum intensity (relative to the physical and psychological tolerances of the participant), lead to dramatic gains in fitness. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work/time. The more work you do in less time, the more intense the effort…”
The idea behind Crossfit is to keep things broad, general, inclusive, and to not specialize in any one area of fitness. It aims to create well rounded individuals who are not necessarily “the best” in any given area of fitness but who are instead very proficient in a multitude of areas, including:
- Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
Crossfit and paleo. Best friends forever?
It’s true that Crossfit as a fitness program and paleo as a nutrition plan have a lot of similarities.
- Both take on a minimalist approach: The most bang for you buck, I like to say. Crossfit uses a limited number of exercises and pieces of equipment that are considered the most effective for your body to produce strength, fat loss, agility, coordination, and endurance, while the paleo diet uses a simplified approach to nutrition by including only those foods that provide your health with the most bang for your buck.
- Both ask you to do what your body was designed to do: Crossfit likes to think of itself as the fitness program you can do anywhere. Whether you go to an affiliate, work out at home, or head to a park, the movements you are asked to do are functional ones which simulate those you would perform in the real world. Dead-lifts, squats, overhead presses, and body weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups make up the majority of the exercises you will perform. Throw in the occasional long run or sprint intervals, and there you have it. Similarly, the paleo diet asks that you eat the foods your body was designed to eat by removing man made concoctions like breads and junk foods, and by focusing more on animal proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Both have a small (but rapidly growing) loyal following: Both Crossfit and the paleo diet have very loyal and supportive communities that follow them. Go in to any Crossfit box, and you are greeted with open arms, and encouraged to always do your best and test your limits. And if you don’t show up, someone will always ask where you are. Paleo is the same as it has a very passionate base of followers who are not afraid to share their experiences and success stories since going paleo. You’ll find that paleo eaters are more than excited to share a favorite recipe, or to offer up advice on how to stay paleo in specific situations, and what to expect when transitioning to a paleo diet. Both approaches often consider their approach to health and wellness the most effective route, and are not afraid to share it with you.
- Both have their haters: Google Crossfit or the paleo diet, and you’ll see that the internet is not short of trolls ready to voice their opinions about why both should be considered “bad” for you. But you can’t beat results, and as more and more success stories about body transformations, improved performance, and resolved health concerns are shared, it is becoming more and more difficult to argue against the two.
- Both can be humbling: Crossfit challenges you to push through your personal fitness limitations, and the paleo diet can ask the same of you (at least for the first few weeks).
- Both consider themselves a way of life: Ask any Crossfitter and they’ll let you know that Crossfit isn’t a fitness plan – it’s a way of life. Ask a fan of paleo, and they’ll tell you that paleo isn’t some other quick fix fad diet but a lifestyle.
- Both get you to do something rather than nothing: Crossfit provides a unique community aspect to it in which someone relatively new to exercise can easily learn the basic fundamentals of weight training, cardiovascular endurance, and general health and wellness. The paleo diet’s simple approach provides easy to follow guidelines that simplify nutrition to its basic fundamentals.
- Both promote challenges and competition: Crossfit emphasizes friendly competition with other members, trying to finish workouts for time, or for as many rounds as possible. The paleo diet is king when it comes to the “30-Day Challenge”, pushing those interested to test their willpower and commitment by encouraging them to practice perfect paleo habits for a minimum of 30 days.
But is Crossfit the perfect paleo exercise routine?
When you think about caveman exercise you probably don’t think about a bearded Neanderthal swinging a kettle bell, dropping bumper plates, or rowing on a concept 2 rowing machine. Although Crossfit does try to emphasize workouts that can be done just about anywhere with minimal equipment, it does still use equipment to accomplish its goals.
Exercise for a caveman most likely didn’t involve a workout of the day (WOD), time constraints, or required poundages to lift. There also probably wasn’t much thought given to body composition or aesthetics. For cavemen and women, health primarily revolved around survival – having the ability to walk long distances as they traveled from location to location, running fast to catch prey, lift heavy boulders, carry foods, and be agile enough to climb, jump, and balance over rough and unique terrain.
So if you’re looking for caveman health and fitness what you may want to do is incorporate more movement and activity into your daily life. There weren’t cars back then to help cave people get around. There were no televisions to watch. Work wasn’t conducted at a desk on your bum all day. The cave person was constantly moving around, and was significantly more active than we are today. Here are some ideas for becoming more active:
- Get outside more, and benefit from the positive effects of vitamin D
- Walk or bike to the grocery store, or to run other errands
- Park further away from work, so that you have to walk a bit further
- Take stretch breaks, or walk the stairs at the office every so often
- Take the stairs over the elevator or escalator
- Wrestle with your kids
Other ways to be more “paleo-fit”
Planning more movement into your day might just be the key to finding the perfect fitness routine to compliment your paleo eating style. One way this is being done is through an exercise program known as Movnat. Its founder, Erwin La Corre, believes that it’s everyone’s universal and biological birthright to be strong, healthy, happy, and free.
This belief can be seen in the core principles of Movnat:
- PRACTICAL: Yes, it is actually useful. If a movement isn’t helpful in everyday life, we are not very interested in it. From carrying the groceries to fleeing from danger, our movements are based on need.
- ADAPTABLE: Movement depends on context. This is essential. All of our movement aptitudes are based on interaction with specific and ever changing environments and situations. Learning to adapt is what MovNat is all about.
- EFFICIENT: We practice efficiency in all things. The movement aptitudes practiced are performed skillfully, i.e., with efficient technique, resulting in greater performance, higher energy conservation and safety.
- VITAL: The movements help keep us safe. They are useful in times of emergency.
- INSTINCTUAL: Movement is instinctual. Technique is not. While nobody starts from scratch, we learn technique so we can turn instinct into ability.
- COOPERATIVE: We are naturally social creatures. We teach in a group environment based on support. Our movement principles can help a group accomplish what no individual is capable of. Practice can be done alone or with others – but the intent is social.
- ENVIRONMENTAL: The movement aptitudes are regularly practiced outdoors in order to maximize health benefits and increase well-being and connection with nature.
- EVOLUTIONARY: The way we move has not changed. Our health is tied to moving as we, the human species, always has..
- UNSPECIALIZED: The movement aptitudes are practiced in order to acquire and maintain a near equalized, well-rounded skill set and conditioning level.
- UNIVERSAL: Movement belongs to every human being regardless of origin, gender or age.
MovNat breaks down daily movement into three specific skill sets:
- Combative: Striking and grappling
- Manipulative: Lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching
- Locomotive: Walking, running, balancing, jumping, crawling, climbing, and swimming
If that isn’t caveman fitness, I don’t know what is.
So give it to me straight. What’s best?
If you’re looking for the best fitness program to fit your paleo lifestyle it may just be a combination of the two we’ve mentioned above. Although cave people worked mostly with what what they had to stay fit, using equipment or a structured program doesn’t make you any less paleo.
The most important aspect of becoming paleo-fit might just be your willingness to add more movement into your daily life, and to create more opportunities to be active whether that is through Crossfit, MovNat, playing sports, trying kyaking, taking a salsa class, or heading to an indoor trampoline park to jump around.
Crossfit, MovNat, running, bodybuilding, chasing your dog around the block… Whatever it takes to get you to be more active … Just do something.
Photo Credit: Anthony Topper
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