The Primal Challenge
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
– Robert A. Heinlein
So, what is this primal challenge of which I speak?
You can find the specific details over at Mark’s Daily Apple – the website of Mark Sisson, Primal Blueprint author and guru of all things Grok. Or just take a peek below to get the m o d e r n p r i m i t i v e condensed version.
Long and short, Mark advocates a lifestyle that takes its cue from our ice age (and pre-ice age) ancestors and applies evolutionary science to modern day life. The Primal Challenge then is just that – a challenge to live by the steps listed below for 30 days and see what it does to the way you look and the way you feel.
Mark isn’t the first to espouse a primitive approach to modern life, but he has managed to present the information and the science in a way that easy to grasp and even easier to apply.
Being as I am already convinced of primal living, I have taken the challenge out beyond the 30 day mark and plan to continue living as a modern primitive indefinitely.
Outlining the Primal Challenge
Eat Lots of Animals & Plants – Meat, Fish, Fowl, Eggs, Dairy, Nuts, Fungus, Legumes, Greens, Vegetables, and Fruit. Whole natural foods from a whole natural world. It is what our ancestors thrived and survived on and it is the fuel our bodies adapted to over millions of year of evolution.
For me – as a diabetic – this means a hard core focus on proteins and fats supplemented primarily by greens, seasonal vegetables, and the occasional serving of nuts and fruit. I tend to limit my intake of dairy and legumes and I avoid grain almost entirely (limiting my intake to the occasional serving of rice).
Move around a lot at a slow pace – This is how we evolved. Whether we were gathering herbs and vegetables, stalking animals, or traveling to a new location, our ancestors were forced to adopt the pace of the slowest members of their tribe.
But run really fast every once in awhile – Every once in awhile an all out effort was required, maybe it was running down a beast in the hunt, or perhaps running from a beast that was hunting us, sometimes a judicious burst of speed was required.
For me this translates into walking 30-60 minutes 5 days a week and adding a short series of sprints in one day a week.
Lift heavy things – Most of our ancestors didn’t spend huge amounts of time on strenuous physical activity, but sometimes things had to be lifted and hauled. The carcasses had to come back from the hunt. That boulder needed to be heaved off the path. The winter shelter needed to be fortified with mammoth tusks and logs. It didn’t have to be done all the time, but when it had to be done it had to be done, quickly and with maximum effort.
For me this means working out roughly twice a week (with three days between workouts to recover). My workouts are mostly bodyweight, but I also supplement with a kettlebell and a sandbag (and occasionally with cinderblocks, sledgehammers, tires, and logs). The idea being that the gym isn’t always available, but the ground is.
Get plenty of sunlight – Our ancestors lived in the sunlight. In fact for millions of years there was no avoiding it. Sure you had the cave or the lodge to go back to at night, but most of the year all the work to be done was outside. And our ancestors thrived under the open sky, their bodies developing a use for that warmth and even the radiation.
Particularly in winter time this one will be a toughie more days than it won’t, but it is one of the things our bodies are wired for for optimal health and really the only way to obtain it is to go outside and expose some skin.
And no – unfortunately, standing shirtless in front of the window won’t cut it, because while glass is no barrier to harmful UVA rays, it does a bang up job filtering out the Vitamin D encouraging UVB rays.
On the upside, exposing forearms, hands, and face for 15 – 30 minutes is plenty of time in the colder months.
For me, this one is mostly about remaining aware of the need and meeting it when I can. Since I’m already out walking 5 days a week, that’s easier than it might otherwise seem.
In the modern world, however, we have a lot more distractions than our ancestors did. TV, Computer, Shopping, Restaurants – there’s plenty to do.
For me in particular, I work in the retail world with hours that can change from day to day, and my wife works a 9-5, so often times late at night is the only time we have available to spend together, so I regularly sleep in in the mornings I don’t have to go in early (just as my wife naps on her van pool for the better part of an hour each way to and from work).
Avoid trauma – It is believed that ancient man had a lifespan about half as long as the one we currently enjoy. It is also believed that this isn’t because he was any less healthy than we are (there is much evidence pointing to the fact that he was actually much healthier than modern humans have become), but that in critical emergencies, he didn’t have the resources that we enjoy. To us a broken leg means a trip to the hospital. To him it might mean being left behind to die.
Avoid poisonous things – Unlike our ancestors, we aren’t likely to die from a random berry we decided to try out. However, also unlike our ancestors, we regularly consume slow poisons every single day. Our air is thick with toxins, and sometimes our water, too. These are hard to avoid. Likewise, our staple foods (bread, pasta, and other grain-based staples) are made from product that is naturally harmful to the human digestive process.
For me this means a few things. I am very careful to use proper form when I work out. I don’t do isolation exercises – I prefer to engage my whole body. And if I can’t keep form with the weight I am using I reduce the weight or do an alternative version of the exercise if I’m using bodyweight. I am also very careful of what I eat. As I said, I’m a diabetic, so sugar and many processed foods are out from the get go. Likewise, I mostly do not consume grain. I don’t eat bread or pasta, and keep my consumption of rice to a bare minimum.
But our modern world is more about multitasking, and both parents working, long commutes, and childcare.
We just don’t stop and enjoy ourselves much anymore.
In this one I am fortunate in that I have 3 kids and a puppy – all of whom have boundless energy and want to spend time with me. I am doubly fortunate in that I have recently divested myself of my absurd commute and now work right down the street from my house, leaving me with a small mountain of extra time in which to engage with them.
Unfortunately, it is also probably more responsible than any other single factor for me choosing to adopt a sedentary lifestyle in the first place.
I love to think. I love to create. Unfortunately, that has led me to love my desk and to love to sit. So for me, this one is about remembering that you don’t have to apply pressure to the backside to engage the brain. I can think and create on my feet just as easily as I can sitting down.