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The truth of exercise is that the same stuff that worked 10'000 years ago still works. There isn't really a need for innovation in the world of fitness, but people like variety, or the promise of shortcuts, or the scene attached to a style of fitness, etc. (There is gradual improvement in technique and programming, but this isn't the kind of fitness fad the article is about.)

If you think we knew all there is to know about maximizing the performance of the human body 10,000 years ago, why do we keep running a faster mile, jumping a longer jump, lifting a heavier weight, etc.?

The truth is that there is an incredible amount of hard science which is actively expanding our knowledge of how to best train the human body and push the limits of performance, endurance, and strength.

While it is obviously true that scientific advances at the “high end” are showing quantifiable results, it’s harder to ascertain whether the everyman/woman is benefitting, because of so many confounding factors in culture, lifestyle and such. Otherwise we would all be walking around like Greek gods/goddesses with our newfound knowledge.

It was that long ago that weight lifting was shunned by athletes because “bulking up” was thought to lower performance.

Pretty much everything in a modern gym was designed to allow more efficient or lower impact training of any particular body part or system.

If what you’re saying is that we haven’t found a magic pill to bypass the physics of metabolism and muscle growth, certainly this is true. But there’s a lot more out there than just trying to find fancy new packaging, marketing, or gimmicks to sell to people.

why do we keep running a faster mile, jumping a longer jump, lifting a heavier weight, etc.?

Even if there were no improvements at all we would expect this for no other reason than the statistics of an increasing population of athletes and our effort to pick out only the far right tail of the distribution.

Having said that, nutrition is just better now, for almost everyone, compared to the ancient Greeks. So you would also expect more athletes to come out of today's society than you would back then.


the innovation is in pharmaceuticals.

I'm not arguing that there isn't new knowledge to be gained, but rather there is no magic pill and the fundamentals: progressive overload, rest, balance, etc. (see my other comments in this thread) haven't changed. I believe these fundamentals are the most important. I believe that we have certainly made advances at the margins but they are orders of magnitude less important, unless one is competing at the highest levels.

Basically I'm saying you can get all the exercise you need for general health given a landscape with varied terrain and some imagination; or a barbell, weights, and cage (which will cost <$1000 and last for 20 years); or with other basic tools like gymnastics rings. We don't need fitness fads---but people like them for various reasons. And that's fine.

Hmm. Cycling didn't exist then, and I think that counts as a useful addition to exercise. In particular, the ability to have serious cardiovascular workouts with reduced impact is huge (swimming obviously existed, but only where you had a useful body of water).

Agreed, cycling is useful, but it's not essential for fitness. The point I was trying to get across is that no program, or class, or sport has the secret to fitness. It's the same it's always been: balance movements so you don't get joint issues, progressive overload so you get better at a sustainable pace, be consistent, eat good food, and get enough rest.

It's sort of hard to imagine an exercise scheme that produces much better fitness than what people did historically.

The 'Algernon Argument' says simple smart drugs won't work, because we already evolved brains optimized for using the substances available to us efficiently. In the same vein, it'd be bizarre if we developed bodies that work ok for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but respond fantastically well to using a Bowflex for 15 minutes a day.

So if modernity is going to give us exercise benefits, it's probably going to be from changing our options or preferences around the stuff that's always worked. (And we know this is true for other animals; domesticated horses can do any one task better than a wild horse, but they lose on adaptability and resilience.) Good childhood nutrition and disease avoidance make us fitter, readily available protein probably helps too. Knee braces might help avoid cumulative damage over our longer lifespans. Since most of us don't want to exercise 5+ hours each day, things like cycling and swimming might be more efficient exercise than walking. And of course professional athletes simply pursue different goals, with consequently different tactics.

But if something comes around claiming to be better for our general health than spending a lot of time doing varied, progressive exercises, it's time to be suspicious.

I cycle all over the place, but you can't get well rounded fitness from it. It's good for your heart, but does little to promote bone density or develop the stability muscles in your legs.

You could say the same about (most) software development, except on a shorter timescale. We chase a lot of fads and occasionally get genuine improvements.

What worked 10,000 years ago? Not being snarky, I'd like to know.

Our bodies are still largely the same. Our skeletons still articulate the same way, muscles still attach in the same places, and our bodies still respond in the same way to what we eat. (There have been some minor changes but nothing that is that significant.) If you were to run and jump, pick up heavy things, throw stuff, swing from trees, go for long walks, and generally do all the things a child---or a hunter-gatherer---does when outdoors you would be very fit (in a general sense; excelling at a specific sport requires specific training).

Balanced exercise, progressive overload, consistency, a good diet, and enough rest are by far the most important factors in fitness. That's been the case for 10,000 years at least. Access to a barbell and bumper plates, or a bike, or protein powder makes at least an order of magnitude less difference.

Walking a lot, fasting (usually unintentionally), occasional higher-intensity work. No easy access to sugar.

Thinking about it, only time people would have easy access to carbs is during the period of natural ripening of fruit, so late summer/early fall.

Perhaps harvesting and storing honey in limited quantities as well?

tubers have lots of carbs though

Many of the activities we do today for recreation are surrogates for things that were a means of survival for our ancestors.

George's Hebert, a French naval officer who introduced to the world the modern military obstacle course was inspired by fitness of indigenous tribes he had met in Africa.

"Their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature."

Hebert's Grandson, David Belle, founded Parkour.

Pyramid sets. Archaeological evidence supports this, cf. Egypt.

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