Recently, an article in The Times by Peta Bee explored the latest fitness craze to hit the UK, evolutionary exercise. The poor journalist was subjected to a very public evolutionary training session in a London park under the supervision of Colin Holding, which involved squatting like a primate to stretch the spine, running (or crawling) on all fours, climbing and hanging from branches and lifting and carrying logs and stones.
I know what you’re thinking; that all sounds VERY embarrassing. However, as we all know, in these modern times we barely use our body to its full capacity, spending long hours at our desks behind a computer. Even at the gym, as Bee’s article explores, we exercise “mindlessly”, getting into repetitive habits and not challenging our bodies in new ways.
Having felt like a hamster on a wheel in my local gym before, the statement by Erwan Le Corre (founder of the American “Move Naturally” sessions) that we are “zoo humans” struck a chord. Humans crave interaction with nature, a desire Bee names as “biophillia”, and much like the forlorn apes and gorillas we see in cramped zoo cages, a lack of outdoor interaction can lead to mental health issues such as depression.
Prehistoric workouts tap into little used muscles through natural movements such as climbing, crawling and jumping, all things we tend to associate with childhood. Whilst watching “Origins of Us” on BBC 2 last night, I found it fascinating and awe inspiring just how brilliant the human body is. As Dr Alice Roberts tracked the human body’s evolution from apes, to walking upright, to long distance endurance runners, to tool users, she highlighted how our bodies still retain many ape like qualities – being able to rotate our arms 180 degrees for example, comes from tree climbing. We are literally designed for this kind of outdoor workout.
However, as Bee found out, we are constrained by a fear that the tree-climbing child does not have, disbelieving the strength and agility of our own bodies. Yes, falling might hurt, and I’m not denying that the ungraceful sight of a grown woman flying face first onto the local cricket pitch isn’t slightly embarrassing, but you only have to look at the impressive robustness of Free Runners (another form of more acrobatic outdoor exercise, not for the faint hearted!) to see the resilience of the human body.
Despite the potential for some serious awkwardness when my boss happens to stroll past and sees me swinging wildly from a tree branch, and even the possibility of me being sectioned when I am spotted dragging my knuckles and charging like a gorilla next to the children’s play ground, the idea of evolutionary fitness appeals to me. The health benefits, both mental and physical, the liberating release from the sterility of the gym and from what some may consider ‘normal’ behaviour (at least you can say you’re not boring!) makes a prehistoric workout a brilliant, fun, free way to exercise.
So, this weekend you may well see me dangling from an oak tree in my local park, grinning like a maniac. I seriously hope you’ll join me!