The "Paleo Fitness Plan" that Saved My Joints!
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
“Imagine never doubting yourself physically. Always being up for activities as experiences present themselves. Waking up everyday without any worries about nagging pains or limitations. Instead, you feel anticipation for the possibility of fun and exploration in the day ahead.” - GMB Fitness
Survival of the FITest
I've been on an ancestral-type lifestyle program for about five years now and have reaped many benefits which include- higher energy, decreased joint pain, increased mobility and better overall health. How/why did I make the transition from traditional thinking? First of all, I was all-in, "hook line and sinker" with the paradigm "eat-less/move more" for optimum health. I was definitely moving more, often exercising intensely 6 days a week with CrossFit-type workouts. I was lifting heavy and pushing myself hard. Interestingly, I didn't feel great. In fact, I felt terrible! I was always tired, my joints ached and I was plagued with vague bouts nerve pain. This wasn't supposed to happen! I am a medical professional and have been counseling my patients to do the very same things I was doing even though I was feeling horrible. The 'ah-ha' moment came when I turned forty and realized if I felt this way now, how bad would I fell at fifty, sixty, seventy, and so on? I was simply doing it all wrong.
Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Our bodies are magnificent machines which work like little organic all-terrain vehicles specialized to navigate the variable terrains we encounter here on Earth. The mechanisms of evolution have fine tuned our cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, and even our digestive systems from the slow-and-steady pace of nomadic migrations to the stressful sprints of big game hunts. We adapted a body composition and metabolic processes to adjust for periods of plentiful bounty followed by periods of famine. This was our way of life for millennia after millennia until we figured out ways to increase the efficiency of movement by reducing workload.
Our bones, once strengthened against the punishment of long treks, and our skin, once thickened and calloused for grip, have been dangerously softened. Our posture once tall and outstretched to spy predators and prey is now slumped as we sit at desks tapping away at keyboards. The fundamental issue being we've lost touch with one of our body's most basic human functions: movement.
Moving Forward by Looking Back
Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA and creator of Nutritious Movement, elegantly describes the modern limitations imposed on our body's natural abilities as "casting," similar to the medical casts we apply to
broken limbs. A cast purposefully limits the mobility of a broken bone in order to reduce mechanical stresses to allow the bone to heal properly. Bowman applies this principle to everything in our lives which limit natural movements. Take, for example, an athletic shoe which binds the natural contours of our feet, reducing inefficient movements and isolating single muscle groups. This ignores the process of adaptation. Our feet are designed to take a beating. The outcome of constant cushioning is weakness and deconditioning. Bowman suggests the idea of casting can be applied to almost every area in our lives. Casts weaken historically strong muscles resulting in dysfunction and leading to abnormal wear and tear setting us up for injury and chronic pain.
This Gets Personal
In the winter of 2018, I decided to set a goal to deadlift 400 pounds before my odometer clicked past 39 years, 11 months and 31 days. Some may say that this goal was foolishly fueled by the prototypical mid-life-crises and those individuals would probably be right. Despite a decade passing since my “twenty-something” perception of invincibility, I decided to set this deadlifting goal to become the strongest I had ever been. Unfortunately, no matter how much will and dedication I applied to this task, my body remained insubordinate through chronic aches, pains, multiple injuries. Somewhere between the numbness in my fingertips and the rational part of my brain, reality set in and I chose to readdress my fitness goals while I still had the ability to move my limbs.
I researched bodyweight strength and flexibility oriented programs to try and loosen up my rusty old spine and protect it for future endeavors. I avoided most programs which were too similar to others I had completed in the past. I had a lot of fun with CrossFit programs and they work well in their ability to pound you into shape but if my body was still injury prone, what would be my motivation to continue with these? Aesthetics? Therein lies an important distinction everyone must address when considering a workout program. Am I doing this to look good or am I doing this to feel good? I had never taken time to consider feeling better as a fitness goal. My motivations were always aimed towards lifting heavier, going farther and getting faster. What if I changed that mindset to moving better, feeling better and increasing my flexibility?
Always with a Smile
Enter the guys from GMB Fitness. I discovered their website after seeing a lot of chatter about them on twitter. They talked about mindfulness, listening to your body and exploring movements through various workflows.
Their website showcased videos and images of athletes bounding around on all fours like monkeys, jumping like frogs and balancing in contorted poses sometimes on one hand, one leg, or upside down and most importantly always with a smile. It was the first paragraph on the website caught my attention the most:
“Lately, the word “fitness” has been perverted to mean shaming yourself into doing things you hate to impress people you don’t like with a body that looks good but is too beat-up and tired to do anything fun.”
Hey, that sounds familiar! Why had I chosen the 400 pound deadlift as a goal? I wanted to prove that I wasn't getting old. But to who? The fact is, I am getting older and that's okay. Humility teaches us that most people don't care how you look and could care even less about how much weight you can lift. The creators of GMB Fitness, Andy Fosset, Ryan Hurst and Jarlo Ilano, developed their approach to fitness by embracing this very concept. Their backgrounds in martial arts, gymnastics and physical therapy allows for a program which combines medically appropriate movement, athletic flexibility and functional strength at the pace and intensity of the user. Their approach is simple: relearn the ways our bodies were meant to move and celebrate your improvements. So, for 12 months, I put down my barbell and found myself focusing on bear crawls, monkey walks and frog jumps. My first attempt at bear walking for 5 minutes resulted in my collapse to the floor in only 45 seconds! I could snatch a 32 kg kettlebell overhead but couldn’t walk on all fours for a minute! Eventually, the movements became smoother, easier and almost felt cleaner. I would reach a level of relaxation and mindfulness that carried beyond my workouts and I learned to measure goals by performance and flexibility. I've returned to a modified injury free weight training program (thank you Body by Science). Yet, I never really stray far from the GMB basics as I don't want to stiffen up. I plan on incorporating these lessons throughout my life and hope to stay limber, strong and pain free till I'm old and gray (well, older and grayer).
If you want to learn more about GMB Fitness, Ryan Hurst appeared on The Wait What If Podcast to discuss the essentials of human movement and further talk about the GMB philosophy. Visit GMB Fitness at www.gmb.io