FITNESS: Fitness Lessons from Our Ancestors

In the previous article in this series, “FITNESS: What Does It Mean to Be Fit?” my advice was to fitness train with the goal of optimizing health. People who train that way know the physical “beach body” improvements will follow. This article discusses fitness from an evolutionary perspective. I will explain why mimicking movement patterns of our ancestors leads to functional fitness and wellness.


The movement patterns of our ancestors

The movement patterns of our paleolithic ancestors set in stone how the bodies of modern-day humans function physiologically and biomechanically. Their world, 10,000 years or earlier ago, was a veritable jungle gym of fitness opportunities. Paleo peoples did not have to do aerobics or get gym memberships. Their hearts, lungs, and muscles were strong and dynamic from the rigors of living and surviving in a challenging environment. To live and age optimally, we should simulate their physical lifestyles.


Sickness is the vengeance of nature for the violation of her laws. ~Charles Simmons


The consequences of being sedentary

Hard labor is the exception rather than the norm here in the 21st century. Skyrocketing rates of obesity, chronic disease, and poor physical conditioning are a direct result of our transition to a sedentary society. To maintain proper function of the human body, physical activity because of work, lifestyle habits, or planned exercise is critical. It conditions the mind and the body and helps to prevent the accumulation of excess body fat. Because the activity of our ancestors was rigorous, routine, and necessary, it was also functional. Performing functional movements is the key to safe, beneficial physical activity, whether as a part of planned exercise or recreation.


What is functional training?

Functional training mimics normal human movement patterns. This improves your body’s ability to work efficiently as one unit. It is adding intensity with additional resistance and repetition to a squat or lifting a weight off the floor (dead lift). When you work out this way, you are training multiple muscle groups at the same time. Your body becomes stronger, which helps it function better as a whole. This is functional training.



The cure of the part should not be attempted without the cure of the whole. ~Plato


What equipment is necessary?

Free weights can be used for many functional movements. But free weights cease to be functional when individual muscles are trained in isolation. The goal is to train a muscle as part of integrated movement within a larger system of movements. An example is working the biceps while performing pulling movements used to engage the back, such as a row or a pull-up. Ropes, kettlebells, sleds, and medicine balls are other pieces of equipment that you can use to design a functional program.

When using functional movements through full ranges of motion, you’ll maintain strength and flexibility, which are extremely important to preserve as we age. It’s also possible to perform this type of training wherever you go. You can adapt nearly any activity to use functional/high-intensity characteristics. When skillfully used, functional training will put you in the best shape and health possible.

The next article will feature a sample functional fitness routine featuring traditional and non-traditional fitness equipment.


Appendix I

35 Chronic Conditions Positively Affected by Exercise and Physical Activity

Accelerated biological aging/premature death, low cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max), sarcopenia, metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, hypertension, stroke, congestive heart failure, endothelial dysfunction, arterial dyslipidemia, hemostasis, deep vein thrombosis, cognitive dysfunction, depression and anxiety, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, balance, bone fracture/falls, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, polycystic ovary syndrome, erectile dysfunction, pain, diverticulitis, constipation, and gallbladder diseases [1].


Wayne Coolidge, Jr., M.Ed., CHES is an author, speaker, and innovative Health Promotion Scholar-Practitioner. He owns Wayne Coolidge Health Promotion, a consulting firm specializing in healthy aging, nutrition, nutritional supplementation, fat loss, fitness, and disease prevention. His expertise is designing lifestyle-optimization strategies leading to positive genetic expression, controlled cellular aging, health, and wellness. He has accumulated more than 31,000 hours of one-on-one training and personal consultation experience over a 37-year career. Wayne’s web site You can email him at



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