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Old 02-20-2009, 11:42 AM   #1
Garrett Smith
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Default A Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer by Loren Cordain

This was an awesome article from The Paleo Diet e-newsletter, I thought I'd share it with you folks here...
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Ten thousand years ago sounds like a long time, but in terms of how long the human genus has existed (2.5 million years), 10,000 years is a blink of the eye on an evolutionary time scale. The lifestyle of today's hunter-gatherers still holds invaluable clues to the exercise and dietary patterns that are built into our genes. The idea that cross training has value could have been figured out much earlier had we taken notice of clues from hunter-gatherers.

Few modern people have ever experienced what it is like to "run with the hunt". One notable exception is Dr. Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State, who has spent 30 years living with and studying the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay and the Hiwi foragers of Southwestern Venezuela. His description below represents a rare glimpse into the activity that would have been required of us all, were it not for the Agricultural Revolution.

"The Ache hunted every day of the year if it didn't rain...GPS data I collected ... suggests that about 10 km per day is probably closer to their average distance covered during search. They might cover another 1-2 km per day in very rapid pursuit. Sometimes pursuits can be extremely strenuous and last more than an hour. Ache hunters often take an easy day after any particularly difficult day, and rainfall forces them to take a day or two a week with only an hour or two of exercise. Basically they do moderate days most of the time, and sometimes really hard days usually followed by a very easy day. The difficulty of the terrain is really what killed me (ducking under low branches and vines about once every 20 seconds all day long, and climbing over fallen trees, moving through tangled thorns etc.) I was often drenched in sweat within an hour of leaving camp, and usually didn't return for 7-9 hours wi th not more than 30 minutes rest during the day."

"The Hiwi on the other hand only hunted about 2-3 days a week and often told me they wouldn't go out on a particular day because they were 'tired'. They would stay home and work on tools, etc. Their travel was not as strenuous as among the Ache (they often canoed to the hunt site), and their pursuits were usually shorter. But the Hiwi sometimes did amazing long distance walks that would have really hurt the Ache. They would walk to visit another village maybe 80-100 km away and then stay for only an hour or two before returning. This often included walking all night long as well as during the day. When I hunted with Machiguenga, Yora, Yanomamo Indians in the 1980s, my focal man days were much, much easier than with the Ache. And virtually all these groups take an easy day after a particularly difficult one."

"While hunter gatherers are generally in good physical condition if they haven't yet been exposed to modern diseases and diets that come soon after permanent outside contact, I would not want to exaggerate their abilities. They are what you would expect if you took a genetic cross section of humans and put them in lifetime physical training at moderate to hard levels. Most hunting is search time not pursuit, thus a good deal of aerobic long distance travel is often involved (over rough terrain and carrying loads if the hunt is successful). I used to train for marathons as a grad student and could run at a 6:00 per mile pace for 10 miles, but the Ache would run me into the ground following peccary tracks through dense bush for a couple of hours. I did the 100 yd in 10.2 in high school (I was a fast pass catcher on my football team), and some Ache men can sprint as fast as me."

"But hunter-gatherers do not generally compare to world class athletes, who are probably genetically very gifted and then undergo even more rigorous and specialized training than any forager. So the bottom lines is foragers are often in good shape and they look it. They sprint, jog, climb, carry, jump, etc all day long but are not specialists and do not compare to Olympic athletes in modern societies."


Dr. Hill tells us part of the story, but not everything. Today, women are just as likely as men to be found at the gym lifting weights, or running or riding their bikes. In stark contrast, hunter-gatherer women almost never participated in hunting large animals. Does this mean that women did no hard aerobic work? Absolutely not! Women routinely gathered food every two or three days. The fruits of their labors just didn't include plant foods, but also small animals such as tortoises, small reptiles, shellfish, insects, bird eggs and small mammals. They spent many hours walking to sources of food, water and wood. Sometimes they would help carrying butchered game back to camp. Their foraging often involved strenuous digging, climbing, and then hauling heavy loads back to camp while carrying infants and young children. Other common activities, some physically taxing, included tool making, shelter construction, childcare, butchering, food preparation, and visiting. Dan ces were a major recreation for hunter-gatherers, and could take place several nights a week and often last for hours. So, the overall activity of women, like men, was cyclic with days of intense physical exertion (both aerobic and resistive) alternated with days of rest and light activity.


What hunter-gatherers had to do in their day-to-day activities is turning out to be good for modern day athletes. When the famous track coach Bill Bowerman advocated the easy/hard concept back in the 60's, it was thought to be both brilliant and revolutionary. Using his system of easy/hard, athletes recovered more easily from hard workouts, and their chances of getting injured were reduced. Ironically, coach Bowerman's revolutionary training strategy was as old as humanity itself.


Similarly, weight training combined with swimming was a stunning innovation at Doc Counsilman's world famous swim program in the 1960's. Now, it is a rare world class endurance coach who doesn't advocate cross training to improve performance, increase strength, and reduce injury incidence.

For humans living before the Agricultural Revolution, energy input (food) and energy expenditure (exercise) were directly linked. If Stone Age people wanted to eat, they had to hunt, gather, forage or fish. In the modern world, we have totally obliterated the evolutionary link between exercise and food. When we eat more energy than we expend, we gain weight and our health suffers. Two thirds of all Americans are either overweight or obese. Forty million American have type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
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Old 02-20-2009, 03:26 PM   #2
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Great article...

Pretty cool to see some of the concepts of "periodization" within these people who don't train for anything but daily life.
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Old 02-20-2009, 04:43 PM   #3
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I kind of like the idea...

I had a hard day yesterday...I'll take today off. Duh, right?
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Old 03-02-2009, 02:00 PM   #4
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very interesting read. i also read a while back that some of these tribes would only eat once or twice a day.
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Old 03-02-2009, 02:39 PM   #5
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I didn't read anything about vomiting. Did I miss it?
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Old 03-02-2009, 02:56 PM   #6
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Is there a link to this Garrett?
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Old 03-02-2009, 02:58 PM   #7
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Kevin, it's in the newsletter.

http://www.thepaleodiet.com/newsletter/
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Old 03-02-2009, 03:13 PM   #8
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thanks.. subscribed
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Old 03-02-2009, 03:16 PM   #9
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When I went through survival training we had to walk one time through 7km of the worst cut brush I had ever seen in my entire life (and a lot of walking with packs on the whole time). I lost 13 pounds in 4 days. It goes without saying, the hunter-gatherers had a built in training system.
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Old 03-25-2009, 12:50 AM   #10
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Fascinating article thanks for putting that up. Fit with allot of things I had been thinkin about lately as far as taking an evolutionary approach to fitness.

The hard day/light day training system makes a lot of sense to me, it's something I have played around with a lot and found to work well for me.

Aside from the athleticism of these people the things that struck me were how difficult simply moving through their environment is, and how large of a portion of their fitness demands and exercise came from doing just that. I think when many people talk about how our ancestors had to walk, run and jump and climb they forget how difficult the terrain they were moving through was. Running on flat land all the time, training climbing with nothing more then pull ups or muscle ups. To me this is not a fully developed approach to evolutionary fitness. This is why I think so many people are finding themselves attracted to parkour and finding tremendous athletic benefits in that training.

I think a locomotive practice like parkour is a very logical base for broad general fitness. The picture I get from that essay as well as the other research I have done on hunter forager activity patterns indicates to me that while the demands on lifting, carrying, throwing, and defending skills were likely intense they were not nearly as omnipresent as the need to get from here to there over complex terrain.

I think it makes sense to train the way the lived to focus on locomotive skills first, both by finding more and more complex movement problems and by working on stamina and speed over simpler movement problems. Basically, the type of training you see in parkour but with more emphasis on stamina and speed as well. In crossfit they have a pyramid of fitness with nutrition on the bottom followed by met-con and then gymnastics. I think from an evolutionary perspective the latter two categories are both really part of the broader category of locomotor ability and to me the traditional systems of metabolic or monostructural training, and artistic gymnastics are missing something because they are not rooted in that basic evolutionary understanding. I think for optimum human fitness it is important to be fast or enduring not just on flat ground but over complex terrain, and to show motor control, dexterity and co-ordination not just on a simple apparatus divorced from any natural function but on increasingly complex terrain grounded by the basic fundamental aim of being able to get from here to there as effectively as possible.
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