Friday, 9 January 2009

Here Be Dragons

Early cartographers would adorn their maps with the phrase 'Here Be Dragons' whenever the boundaries of the known world was reached. I feel that some paleo-types may be of a similarly fearful nature.

I follow the paleo model of nutrition and fitness, I am wary of straying too far from this model as it has served me well for several years now, but I am also aware of what Skrabanek calls the 'utopian romanticism' practiced by 'Greens' - a movement under which I believe we could file many if not most individuals who follow a primal pattern of fitness.

In Healthism, Skrabanek notes that "A return to nature is a recurrent dream of those who cannot cope with the complexities of life...who wish to regress to an infantile stage and to bury their faces between the welcoming breasts of Mother Nature. Some may romp naked in the woods...while those more philosophically minded conjure up utopian vistas of the holistic harmony of Man and Universe."

This is an apt and sobering reminder for those who follow a paleo model - that they maintain an evidence-base for their paleo-oriented beliefs. I want to make sure that my exercise and nutritional patterns are at worst non-detrimental to my health and so continually try to record, measure and adjust my current model as appropriate.

I have long been a fan of bodyweight exercises and see more and more potential in fundamental gymnastic exercises. Gymnasts train with basic movements and holds that can involve contractions throughout the whole body. Planches, Body Levers, Muscle Ups and HSPUs are simply fantastic kit-free exercises. Add a sprint on to the end and you have a complete workout right there!

Although I cannot see a paleo driver to planch or to perform an HSPU there is no reason to avoid them, such is their potential for strength development.

I am determined to put a bit more effort in to my gymnastics this year. I still see room for Kill Carrying and Medicine Ball Throws (and I could never be without sprinting), I still want 'paleo baseline strength', but we can clearly gain from movements that would be curious to anyone in a loincloth!


Chris said...

Very good points.

There is a romanticism about paleo sometimes but personally I am glad of the many of the benefits of modern technology and modern life.

Asclepius said...

Hi Chris.

I published your second comment but that has disappeared! This is the second time one of your comments seems to have gone in to the ether. Not sure why!

The whole gymnastics thing started for me because I found weights mono-dimensional, largely boring and non-functional. In contrast, the ability to control one's body and master its 'position' seemed way more productive and gymanstics is the optimum example of this.

My initial research several years ago turned up dragonsdoor ( and beast skills.

There is an excellent paper on dragonsdoor by Chris Sommer on the planche and body lever:


Coach Sommer now has his own website ( and has a range of books dedicated to gymnastics and gymnastic conditioning coming out. The first one 'Builidng the Gymnastic Body' was published just before Christmas and is excellent (check out Yang Wei's physique on the cover and on the website homepage). Better still, you can get accompanying DVDs illustrating all the exercises.

More than that, his website features 'Workout of the Day' routines that are regularly put up about four times a week. Basically you follow these programs as and when they appear - and there are always easier/harder variations of any single exercise so you can tailor the workout to your abilities. He publishes footage of most exercises on YouTube (all for free).

This is essentially like having your own personal coach and like I said, the WOTD and additional footage is available all for free.

I bought his book and DVDs to try to repay him and show my appreciation. They guy really is one of life's good guys! He is very generous.

I don't follow these workouts exactly as I have to balance climbing training, marital arts and paleo workouts in the mix. But, the basic program is well worth pursuing.

One further comment - I have also got Paul Zaichik's kicking series ( which, focussing as it does on the lower body, goes well with the gymnastic stuff above!

Asclepius said...

Chris - just checked out your site. Thanks for the kind words!

I see you are aware of 'Building the Gymnastic Body' - it really is exceptional in terms of the range of exercises and the variations available to adjust difficulty.

On reflection - I wonder if most bodyweight exercises are actually 'pre-paleo'? Our body weight is the earliest weight we train with and that might explain why we adapt so well to it.

Chris said...

Hi there

I cam across Sommer when his article was first on Dragon Door a couple of years ago. I've have to invest in the book.

I'll check his WODs out too.

my training tends to be lots of walking, krav maga once a week, a big hill at the weekend, daily mobility and a couple of other sessions usually of a crossfit style metcon circuit.

All the best

John said...


I think the problem with "unnatural" exercise is its potential to cause muscle imbalances, joint and posture problems, which are all interrelated.
But if they're done intelligently it shouldn't be a problem.

I started rock climbing recently, it blurs the line between a paleo exercise and gymnastics I think.

You can see that when people train too many one arm chins they may get elbow tendonitis. Is the exercise wrong? Is the movement wrong? No I think the training is wrong if this happens.

If your exercise is in a large part driven by spontaneity and you listen to your sensations, as opposed to a regime which you HAVE to complete, I think these things are less likely to happen. If you drill through them like a machine without responding to feedback you are going to have problems.

I wonder if the body has a mechanism for managing muscle balances. I know if e.g. one arm exercises the other also improves even if it does nothing, but to a lesser extent. If so, I guess it would break down at extremes of exercise, as with diet.

Asclepius said...

Chris - sounds a lot like my training profile!

John - I reckon climbing has an obvious paleo root. I agree with your points. There are many examples of isolation and non functional training leading to imbalance and injury. Slavishly following a plan without regard for 'instinct' is another no-no that seems to particularly affect gym rats and runners at my gym. Whther they are injured or not, if their schedule tells them to run/lift, they run/lift!.

I am well in to climbing myself and intend to post more detailed examples of my climbing training. Hopefully you will find this interesting and useful to your own training.

Asclepius said...

John - I was going to add that several legends of rock climbing have a gymnastic background including John Dunne, Johnny Dawes and American boulderer extraordinaire John Gill.

Gill has gone on to set some incredible feats of strength using bodyweight alone including a one armed lever!

All three are well worth a 'Google'.

John said...

Yes I have heard of all of them before, in fact I own a copy of Stone Monkey. I wasn't aware dawes had a background in gymnastics, though it doesn't suprise me.

Asclepius said...

John - yeah apparenntly so. I do recall seeing a photo of him in a book called 'Climbing Fit' (IIRC), and he was displaying a 'tree frog' kind of move that exhibited incredible pelvic flexibility - so even if not a gymnast, he certainly seemed to have gymnastic qualities.

.....and then we could talk about his balance and timing....! ;)