Cultivate Strength as Part of Paleo Fitness
Many valuable attributes of Paleo fitness exist, from agility and balance to anaerobic/aerobic capacity, flexibility, and mobility, but before anything else, you ought to cultivate strength.
Know what strength really is
A haughty and somewhat respectable lifter once said that true strength is a 500-pound dead lift, a 400-pound squat, and a 300-pound bench press. On the other end of the spectrum, poet Judith Viorst says that strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands.
Finally, one definition in particular seems both beautiful and correct and is stated simply as this: Strength is the ability to overcome resistance.
Resistance comes in many forms — mental, physical, internal, external — it’s any force in opposition of what you’re trying to do. And the only way to gain strength is to work against resistance.
For example, the push-up provides resistance of your own body weight. But by working against this resistance, you develop upper body strength.
Get stronger to fix just about everything
There’s a general theory that being strong fixes just about everything. Here are just a few benefits of primal strength training:
Decreased fat mass
Improved glucose tolerance (decreased risk of diabetes)
Improved heart health
Improved sleep quality
Increased lean body mass
Reduced risk of injury
Stronger bones (decreased risk of osteoporosis)
General bodily weakness inhibits everything, whereas the stronger you are (the more force you can produce), the easier everything else becomes. In other words, as you increase your strength capacity, you increase all capacities, including but not limited to the following:
Muscular endurance — the ability to exert force over a prolonged period of time
Cardiovascular endurance — the ability to sustain strenuous cardiovascular efforts for a prolonged period of time
Power — how much force you can produce in a given amount of time
Coordination — how well everything in your body plays together
So strength is the foundation on which everything else is built, and it’s generally useless to train anything else without training strength first.
Consider this: Will the firefighter who trains for strength or the firefighter who trains for endurance be able to perform his tasks with greater efficiency?
The answer is the one who trains for strength because if the one who trains for endurance has no strength base — that is, if he’s unable to lift the equipment or unable to drag an unresponsive person — then his general endurance is unusable. His endurance training has been for not.
Endurance is only possible to the extent that you’re stronger than the task at hand, meaning that lifting and carrying a 150-pound body will be an easy act of endurance for the person who can lift 300 pounds but an impossible task for the person who can lift only 75 pounds.
To say it another way, the person who can lift 300 pounds even once will have no trouble lifting 100 pounds many times, but the person who can lift 100 pounds many times may not be able to lift 300 pounds even once. To understand this is to know that increasing strength increases endurance but not the other way around.
Endurance is simply a byproduct of strength. If you want to improve your endurance, get stronger!
Develop strength as a skill
The cave man was strong because strength was requisite for survival. But today, this whole business of strength often presents a dilemma. People think that strength is an attribute of the genetically gifted and that if they picked the wrong parents, they’re out of luck.
Strength isn’t hereditary; it’s a skill, in the same vein that skiing, typing, or learning a new language are all skills. A skill is a habit of operation, something you acquire through observation and experience. You learn the rules, and then you operate according to the rules until you form a habit. In other words, you learn by doing.
So if you lack strength, it’s not because you chose the wrong parents but because you chose the wrong habits. Therefore, if you’re weak, you either aren’t practicing effective habits or you’re practicing ineffective habits.
Skills range in complexity. For example, learning a new language or how to play the piano are complex skills that take years to develop (at least to a level of significant proficiency). Strength, however, is a simple skill — one that anyone at any age can acquire rapidly.
So just as a pianist acquires the skill of musicianship through diligent practice, you acquire strength in the same way. But instead of running scales, you lift weights.
Furthermore, skills also range in necessity. Strength is essential, and there’s no excuse for not cultivating this skill. For strength — true strength — you need to follow only two simple rules:
Lift heavy some of the time. If you want to get strong — really strong, that is — then you have to push your limits every so often. Not every day, but every couple of days you want to lift heavy and push yourself.
Realize there’s more to fitness than strength
Lifting heavy is all very well and primal. And torn sinew, from time to time, just feels good. Strength, however, can be a little addicting. And as you probably know, too much of any one good thing can quickly turn it bad.
Although you should train strength first, you don’t want to do so exclusively or excessively. Strength is the capacity that lifts all other capacities, but it doesn’t necessarily fill them. As your strength increases, so does the potential for endurance, flexibility, conditioning, and so on.
Prioritize strength, but don’t neglect everything else. Many strong athletes get trampled because they failed to give heed to their heart, and many strong lifters get injured because they paid no mind to the quality of their movement. Chasing strength and strength alone is a foolish and downright dangerous crusade.