No Such Thing as Paleolithic Exercise

paleo exercise

Contrary to popular opinion in the paleosphere, there is no such thing as “exercising like our ancestors”.

This is a bold statement, so allow me to be perfectly clear: the very concept of Paleolithic exercise, absolutely, completely, 100% does not exist, never has existed, and at no future point in time can exist.

It’s not improbable, and I am not presenting an opinion. It is impossible, and what I am presenting is a fact.

What is Exercise?

For the purposes of this blog post, exercise is a term that has been subject to extreme word inflation. It is a word that has been used so promiscuously by the general population in recent history, that it has completely ceased to retain a meaning of actual value in day to day use.

Through over-usage, mis-usage, and vague “kinda/sorta” usage, it has been debased into oblivion; a meaningless, undefinable, glob of nothing.

When used in daily conversation the term literally means nothing more than “any random physical activity I wish to be associated with the string of letters known as exercise“.

From lifting a tire, to dragging a car … to taking a particularly big shit, any random physical activity can now be openly classified as exercise — and not a whisper is said to the contrary.

Why Paleo Exercise Does Not Exist

The popular paleo diet, at it’s very best, and in the exclusive application of diet, seeks to adhere an individual human being to his or her individual paleolithic metabolism, first and foremost.

Secondary consideration (if any) is given to mimicking dietary selection (literal food choices), and related behavior of ancient man.

I will be the first to say I fully support, as described above, the paleo diet. In the realm of nutrition, nothing else even remotely makes sense.

However, when this process is applied to exercise, disastrous results occur. These results occur because there is a enormous disconnect for the context in which this process is being applied.

In terms easily understandable to the lay reader:

  • 1=1
  • Nutrition = Nutrition
  • Exercise = Exercise
  • Nutrition=/=Exercise

The two are worlds apart, and have very little to do with each other.

Diet : Ruled by Biology

When you adhere to your Paleolithic metabolism, what you are adhering to is strictly your biology. The correct dietary choices are found in this adherence. This aspect of your existence stems from the fact that you are a living organism, and not a rock.

While correct dietary choices require certain components to be discovered in our age, like thinking,  and are less and less an automatic process* taking place in a given geographical region(s), the actual source of the correct choices still lie in the boundaries set by your biology that evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years.

Access to additional food choices, existing in nature or man made, does not change** your Paleolithic metabolism, which exists independent of your psychology, available knowledge, food choices, critical thinking skills, and so on.

*This assertion excludes instantaneously poisonous substances, e.g. rotting maggot infested flesh.

** With the exception of damaging it, and fundamentally altering it in some way, which is outside the scope of this blog post.

Exercise : An Act of Volition

Exercise is entirely an act of volition, made possible because man is a being of volitional consciousness. His automatic “instincts”, if any exist at all in the common sense of the term, are utterly insufficient to even sustain his life on earth, never mind, improve his conditions — recognized or unrecognized, a core goal of every exercise “program” ever created.

He is unique among all beings on earth in that he must think, and he must actively choose on a day to day basis, or face death.

Which is precisely where paleo exercise falls off a giant cliff.

Ancient man, at no point in human history, performed a physical activity for the sake of performing a physical activity.

He NEVER “exercised” on PURPOSE. He performed various, highly random, physical activities, with varying degrees of exercise effect for a wide variety of purposes.

  • eating
  • running
  • walking
  • chasing
  • hiking
  • swimming
  • hunting
  • gathering
  • moving large objects
  • fighting
  • recreation
  • competition
  • sex
  • climbing

and so on.

Never, at any point, did he move a boulder, or fill in the blank, to move a boulder, or to __________.

He never performed high intensity interval training, for the sake of performing his “weekly sprint routine”.

In the quest for proper, reality based exercise, this logic — to purposefully, and [intentionally mimic] the variety of [random physical activities] ancient man performed throughout his evolution —  held by virtually every faction in the world that has anything to do with “paleo exercise”, is absolutely ludicrous, complete and utter nonsense.

It does not make sense, in any way, to any degree, and in any fashion you wish to justify it. For the purpose of a completely volitional activity like exercise, it is wrong, independent of your opinions.

Easy mistake to make? Evidently, because thousands and thousands of people make this mistake after successfully applying the same principle, in a context it fits, like diet.

What Governs Exercise

I’ve established that mimicking ancient man’s incidental, accidental, and highly random activities is folly for the purpose of a volitional act like exercise.

But what then, governs exercise?

Physics? Biology? Anatomy? Bio-mechanics? Psychology? Popular figures on TV and in best selling “fitness” programs?

With the exception of “popular media figures”, all of the above … and one more thing, above all others.


Thinking. The process of thought. Using your mind.

Exercise is entirely an act that must be initiated. It is an act of pure induction. Unlike nutrition, you cannot deduct any number of movements from an exercise equation and come to anything even remotely right.

Because there is nothing there to begin with.

An exercise regime deduced to it’s evolutionary end point is blank. Completely, utterly, totally, blank.

The slate is clean and it must be filled with choices your mind makes. You cannot cheat the system, guesstimate what ancient man walked around doing 20,000 years ago, and perform that as a rational program or movement intended to be exercise, that is fundamentally safe over the course of a lifetime, and of an adequate exercise effect to meaningfully improve the conditions of your life.

With a full respect for the reality of your paleolithic structure, biology, anatomy, bio-mechanical and physical consequences, and even psychology, you must create the right movements, patterns, performance speeds, and all related variables, in any rational exercise program.

Anything else is not exercise. It is a physical activity being performed for another purpose (recreation, competition, leisure, procreation, etc), or, you’re just confused (see: entire post).


  • Exercise is a term that has been subject to extreme word inflation.
  • “Paleo exercise” literally does not, and cannot exist.
  • Nutrition =/= Exercise
  • Applying a principle that works wonders in nutrition, is out of context when applied to exercise.
  • Applying a principle outside of a context in which it works has disastrous consequences.
    • (Think diesel fuel in a gasoline powered car).
  • Diet is ruled primarily by biology.
  • Exercise is an act of pure volition .
  • A physical movement with an exercise effect is not necessarily exercise, regardless of potency.
  • Exercise is governed by above all, reason.
  • There are no “exercise movements” to fall back on via evolution.
    • There are bio-mechanics that resulted from evolution, but bio-mechanics are not going to move your limbs for you.
  • The evolutionary template for exercise is literally: blank.
  • Paleo Exercise is essentially a myth. Like bigfoot.
  • All major and minor “paleo exercise” programs fall prey to the errors listed above.

Complicating things further, because physical movement is an act of volition, the potential combination of movement patterns is virtually infinite, especially when exercise is so muddled with other physical activities like recreation and competitive sports.

Hence we get things like this.

stupid squat

While the efforts of most exercise enthusiasts in the paleosphere are noble, they are so far off the mark most of what is promoted is probably much worse than the conventional exercise wisdom that they rail so heavily against.

They aren’t just feeding into the mind suck of the “fitness world” at large, they are amplifying the errors.

Further Reading

Thoughts on the Paleo/Evolutionary Eating and Exercise Trends

The First Definition of Exercise

Congruent Exercise

About Anthony Dream Johnson

CEO, founder, and architect of The 21 Convention, Anthony Dream Johnson is the leading force behind the world's first and only "panorama event for life on earth". He has been featured on WGN Chicago, and in the NY Times #1 best seller The Four Hour Work Week.    His stated purpose for the work he does is "the actualization of the ideal man", a purpose that has led him to found and host The 21 Convention across 3 continents and for 6 years in a row. Anthony blogs vigorously at and

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4 Responses to No Such Thing as Paleolithic Exercise

  1. Cromulent May 31, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Wow. I’ve never seen that photo before. The spotter has to be guilty of some sort of crime.

  2. Rachel January 16, 2013 at 4:49 am #

    So what exercise is recommended to accompany clean eating/Paleo diet!??!

    • Anthony Dream Johnson January 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      Do a search on Amazon for “Body by Science”, or a search on Youtube for “Doug McGuff”.


  1. Eating is Not a Choice | The Dream Lounge - May 4, 2012

    […] people don’t seem to be grasping the post, as well as the fact of reality, that there is no such thing as paleo exercise. So I will simplify this even […]

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