This is a longer article. It’s going to take a good ten minutes of focused attention. Come on – you can do it!!!! Because this is a vital message.
Everything you need to know about health and fitness happened before 1920. Everything since then is stupid.
I have spent the last few years learning. Deep learning. Most of 2018 I stopped putting out any new content and focused solely on being a student. And it was glorious.
It was also disheartening, scary, thought provoking, eye-opening, and interesting. I wouldn’t say my philosophies or techniques changed. I think I have always known the right path to human health, as I believe that all humans instinctively know deep in our genetic code.
I have spent a lot of time in the modern world of health and fitness, I have learned all the ‘new’ techniques, studied every diet and nutritional strategy, and sometimes been woo’ed by the idea that modern knowledge and technology has somehow created a superior way to care for our health.
This is not true, however.
Everything we need for our health and fitness was being practiced from about 1920 and earlier.
[Side note: modern medical technology is amazing. This is not what I am talking about. If you have been in a horrific accident, developed cancer, have a genetic disease, lost limbs, or a suffer a variety of other ailments that have killed humans in the past, like plagues, bacterial infections, and pandemics, then relying on modern medicine is an amazing aspect of the modern world.
But modern medicine is horrific at prevention and constantly either ignores fitness and nutrition or gets lulled into peddling garbage as doctors are no longer trained in anything other than treatment. I have great respect for aspects of modern medicine, however, this does not mean that it is perfect or that it is missing some huge and very vital components of health. ]
Lol, I do not know how to make this post less ‘boring’ and to get everyone interested enough in the topic to soldier on to the end! Because this is probably the most important information I have ever presented to the public.
This is how I train, how I coach, and how I instruct my team. Everything I am talking about is the culmination of two decades of intense study and learning in the world of human health and fitness. It isn’t going to be flashy or glamorous but it is going to be important.
Nothing is Better Than the Old Ways
Yeah, I said it. I fully believe that everything you need for your health and fitness was around before, let’s arbitrarily say, 1920. Nothing. Nothing that has been developed since that time has improved the health and fitness of the human body.
- Our understanding of the physical sciences has dramatically improved. This has led to the development of a lot of terribly shitty fitness. Body-part splits, selective training, separation of energy systems, and a host of other issues. We have become so enamored with the increasing detailed knowledge base that training and nutrition has become cumbersome and overly specialized. We forgot that the human body works as an integrated unit.
- We have really cool looking equipment made out of insanely advanced materials. Cool. We don’t need any of it. It’s all unnecessary. Does that mean that all of the new fangled equipment should be thrown in the garbage? Well, I would argue yes….however, I believe some of it can find a place in your training if you really cannot let go.
- Our food systems have been completely decimated and bastardized since the advent of mass production and refrigeration. This is beyond the scope of this article but there is A LOT of very good information out there if you dig in a little.
There. Band-aid ripped off.
Oh but what about how much better athletes are today? Modern athletes would crush athletes from the early 20th century!!! True!
ARE YOU A FUCKING ELITE ATHLETE? No? Then what the fuck is your point? I am not writing about training elite athletes and this is an entirely separate article I could write – STOP TRAINING LIKE AN ELITE ATHLETE UNLESS YOU ARE ONE. We have put elite athletic training up on some pedestal like it is the epitome of health and fitness. It isn’t. Athletes are not healthy. They are impressive but they aren’t healthy. They push their bodies far past the point of good health. They also dedicate their entire life to training. They have hours of practice, training, recovery, and fitness daily. They have entire teams of coaches, trainers, physiotherapists, doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors, psychologists, and athletic therapists supporting them. Because they need it. To handle the beating they put their bodies through.
You are not an elite athlete and you shouldn’t train like an elite athlete.
What do I mean by nothing is better than the old way then? That is literally the entire point of this article.
We need to regress fitness and nutrition to a very different time.
- Training wasn’t for decreasing fat and getting jacked biceps.
There was a time when the purpose of physical training was merely to make the body strong and resilient. When was this? From about the early 20th century and going back roughly 4000 years…
There were exercise programs and there were exercise tools. But they were very, very different than the disaster I see today. And for most of human history our lives themselves kept us strong and mobile with the need to grow, raise, and prepare food, look after our homes, and care for our families. Our lives were very physical.
Fitness equipment was first and foremost the body itself. Climbing, jumping, sprinting, and obstacles made up the majority of training. Yes, there was training equipment and we are starting to bring back some of these classic methods such as the mace, stones, and Indian clubs. But note something about these tools: they only existed for two reasons, 1) as weapons, or 2) as tests of strength to assess someone’s ability to handle weapons.
Training was designed to improve strength, resilience, balance, and movement. The goal was always to develop a stronger human capable of doing a variety of things. To be able to handle life.
The outcome goal was to be fitter and stronger, period.
And the training program was not really designed. When formal training programs were instituted it was typically simply a block of time dedicated to working on the body. It was varied, it was intense, and it was doing whatever was available at the moment.
There were no 10% monthly improvement goals, no rest days built in, or recovery weeks. The purpose of training was TO DO REGULAR TRAINING.
Training was for the sake of training. To keep the body ready to handle whatever it needed to handle.
- It wasn’t about more weight and it shouldn’t be now
There is a limit to how much weight you will ever lift. At some point you will hit your max ever and for the rest of your days it will be a constant downhill slide. How’s that for motivation??!! So why are we so fixated on always, always looking for more?
The same goes for all you ‘cardio’ junkies. There is only so fast you can go on a bike, so fast you can run on a treadmill, so long you can ruin yourself on an elliptical trainer. At some point you can’t or won’t go longer or faster. Then what? A life looking back at what you USED to be able to day.
I have the discussion frequently with people; it shouldn’t be about how much you can lift, it should be about how much do you need to lift.
What are your goals? What are the activities you do in your life on a regular basis? Do you NEED to be able to deadlift 300lbs? No? Then why put yourself at risk of injury trying to get to 300lbs? If you want to be able to pick up a cooler of beer to take to the cottage what you need is to be able to pick up about 40lbs, at a weird awkward angle, carry it beside you and then lift it into the car at yet a more weird and more awkward angle. Barbell deadlifts do not prepare you for that.
‘But coach they make the muscles strong, so then you can do those things!’ Do they? Do they really? There is a big difference between a strong muscle and strong muscle that can actually DO stuff. How many people have I seen over two decades who can deadlift 400lbs and then torque their back to shit picking a case of water bottles out of the car?
One for sure. Me. Lol.
Training historically was never about how much you could lift. It was about what you could do and how long you could do it for. 1RM might be great at a powerlifting meet today but when you had to swing weapons for an hour in a battle or spend half a day chasing prey, or spend a whole day gathering plants or fishing, a good combination of strength and endurance was far more important.
And to all the fitness people out there, AND ESPECIALLY to all the trainers and coaches out there…listen up. And listen hard.
YOU get off on how much you can lift, on the thrill of picking up a bigger dumbbell, on adding another plate to the bar. You talk about it with all your friends, post it on Insta, and add it to your CV like it’s important for some reason.
Are you listening hard?
You. Are. A. Freak. YOU are the abnormality. Not your clients. Not the people sitting on the couch. It’s you. It’s you who is different. Because the VAST MAJORITY of people Do. Not. Give. A. Fuck. about how much they can lift. Oh I know, ‘Mary Sue was so stoked last week when she grabbed that bigger dumbbell!’ Ok. Check with her again in 3 years if that is still her guiding force.
Oh. And most of your clients are abnormalities too. They are the people who are actually doing something for their fitness. A small minority of the population. And know why most of them won’t be training in 3 years? Because they don’t give a fuck about how much weight they can lift.
It doesn’t matter how much you can lift. It doesn’t matter how much endurance you have. It matters that you have the strength and endurance to be healthy and to do the things you like to do.
- Machines Didn’t (Shouldn’t) Exist
Machines came about during the first world war. A man by the Name of Alexander Mackenzie became interested in helping the men wounded and maimed in the first world war live better lives. The birth of physiotherapy followed.
For my purpose here we will simply need to understand that he began to create machines to figure out how to help these men get stronger because they could no longer do proper fitness training.
Somehow we have come to a place where machines are considered normal for exercise. It is the expectation that a gym be filled with torturous looking constructs of steel with an array of cables running through pulleys that require months just to understand. Why? Why are we there?
I often am presented the argument that machines are more effective and that they are safer. No. And No.
More effective? More effective at what? Yes they can isolate a specific muscle and strength just that one place in that one specific range.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THAT? It’s weird. It literally makes no sense. Oh, and IT ISN’T HOW THE BODY WORKS. Our body is an interconnected system that balances and supports itself in a beautiful symphony of movement. Exercise machines completely destroy all of this.
Safer? How are they possibly safer? I think they are the opposite of safe. They fuck up your basic movement ability leaving you are way higher risk for issues in your everyday life. You know, like when you carry groceries, or your kids, or have to lift that pesky cooler of beer into the car…
Life doesn’t happen in controlled predictable ways moving through set ranges of motion. Training it that way leads to far more harm than it does good. Exercise machines are stupid.
And this included the exercise bikes, ellipticals, treadmills, and whatever other new contraption your local gym has installed to keep you interested. They are all stupid. They are all stupid. They are all stupid. Am I being clear enough?
Want to have some fun? Grab a couple of machine junkies, either cardio or weight machines, and get them to push a heavy sled, toss some battle ropes, sprint up a hill, or jump onto a box 50 times. Just see how hard that is for them. Watch them suffer.
Trust me, it’s fun!!!!
Because those machines are NOT getting them fitter, they are masking how unfit they really are. Or letting them hide behind poor movement and injury. If you can’t jump on a box or push a sled or carry a heavy kettlebell across the gym floor but you can elliptical then you are hiding. You have to get yourself to a point that you can do those things or your movement will degrade to the point you won’t be able to do anything.
- No one separated ‘cardio’ and ‘strength
I am not going to spend much time on this. Why? I have ranted on about it enough in my career and frankly the whole idea of doing this is so fucking stupid that I am totally in shock that it is even debated anymore, or that it is still a thing.
Your cardiovascular system and your muscular system do not work independently of each other. That is literally basic physiology. Like, that’s basic biology most high school students could explain to you. Muscles need oxygen when they work, therefore, the heart and lungs must work to get oxygen to the muscles.
There is your reason.
Now, all of you researchers out there, stop being idiots. Stop basing your research on either strength training or ‘cardio’ training. Enough is enough. The body works as a unit, let’s start studying it as a unit.
- No one went for a jog or took up running
Why? Because it’s stupid. Lol. But it is. Walking and running are activities with a purpose – to get us places, to get away from something that was going to eat us, or to catch something we wanted to eat. If we didn’t have to do one of those things then you minimized these activities.
I am not going to dive into the history of the running movement. Look it up if you like. I can’t spoon feed you everything.
Our bodies are designed to run and to sprint when we need them to. And they are fucking fantastic at it. But they were not designed to run, and run, and run, and run, and run. Nor were they designed to ONLY run.
We ran sometimes (see above reasons for running) but then we also lifted things, threw things, built things, gathered things, moved things. And stuff. We did all of those things with stuff as well.
Not today though. Today ‘runners’ are about as annoying as vegans. They are a self-righteous group of people who don’t actually understand what it is they are doing. Do you know the stats? 80% of runners have pain or injury at any given time. What? But no one see’s an issue here? You shouldn’t be this injured or in pain.
Running is a limited range of motion activity that decreases markers of cardiovascular health, wreaks havoc on numerous body systems, and completely throws off proper movement patterns.
CAN you run? Sure. I think everyone should do some running, especially sprinting! However, it should be a small percentage of your overall movement and training. You know, like what it was designed to be.
We were NOT meant to run hundred of kilometers a week. We just weren’t.
- Nutrition was easy
Before the 1920’s nutrition was easy. Everything was local, naturally raised, pasture fed, non-processed, seasonal and fermented. Restaurants barely existed, food manufacturing was in it’s infancy, and people ate well. (Let’s ignore the issues with poverty and access for this article please). Literally, you couldn’t eat poorly.
Cakes and cookies etc. existed but they were rare and expensive. So you had things like that as a treat on very special occasions. There were no hydrogenated oils. No chemical stabilizers.
You had to cut and prepare all of your food. You had to know how to cook. You prepared food as a family and as a community.
You ate once a day, maybe twice on average. This would have been a pre-1900 and really pre-industrial revolution which is where we begin to see the advent of breakfast and scheduled eating. Before that we ate like all other animals on earth: when food was available and when we had time. Typically, lunch was a large meal. There were no scheduled snacks and breakfast pretty much didn’t exist. Look it up, this is real history. Now we call it intermittent fasting but it is really just the way we evolved to live.
Fast food, deep fryers, and packaged food didn’t exist.
Food was seasonal. In off seasons (like winter in Canada) we relied on fermentation to have food supply. This kept us stocked up on good bacteria and our micro biomes healthy and happy.
Done. There it is. Everything you need to do to eat healthy. Eat like we did before the 20th century.
- Sacrifice, hardship, and pain
I think this is the most important thing we need to consider.
Our modern culture is fixated on ease and on taking away any kind of hardship. We create products and systems to minimize pain and discomfort. Everything with health and fitness is designed to be easy, quick, simple, painless.
This is not normal.
Pain is real. It sends signals we need. When you learn to play the guitar it hurts. But your fingers build up callouses. The same as doing pullups. At first it hurts. Your poor little modern baby hands will hate it. But you keep going and you will build callouses. And then it won’t hurt as much.
Hardship is real. Historically people trained because life was training. Life was hard. Everything was physical. You didn’t get to go to every party. Vacations? What the hell are those? Is that when you are off to war for a couple of years in a foreign land? Which is also why you were training with those heavy maces, consequently. You had to work the farm, build a barn, fix your house, care for your animals, grow your food.
Sacrifice was part of life. It just existed. It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel like feeding the livestock that day. It didn’t matter if you wanted to do something else. No one cared. It was life. You didn’t get to do what you want whenever you wanted to. Sometimes FOREVER. For your whole fucking life.
We are built to deal with these things. This is what makes us strong and resilient. And while you may think this is a strange thing to add to this article, I am telling you that this is the most important part.
Life itself was training before the early twentieth century and early, to the dawn of humanity. Literally just staying alive and feeding ourselves required an enormous amount of physical labour. There are lessons we must take from this to live a healthier life now.
- Do physical activity every single day
- Fitness should be based on whole body training
- Fitness should be ancient tools or just your bodyweight
- Mix it up with different activites: run, sprint, climb trees, swim, swing a mace, carry heavy things all over, throw stuff, roll around on the ground, act like a kid, hang upside down.
- Deal with the pain and discomfort, it makes you stronger
- It is a challenge. It isn’t easy. But you have to do it. You have to schedule it. You have to suck it up. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. Do it. Or you are an asshole.
- Eat once or twice a day
- Eat less red meat, more poultry and seafood
- Eat veggies and fruits and whole grains
- Eat eggs
- Eat fermented food everyday
- Always be learning new skills
That is the roadmap for you to be healthy, strong and fit for the rest of your life.
And that, my friends, should be the goal.