Saturday, January 31, 2009

Train Like the Animals?

One of the most commonly used ways to sell Bodyweight-based exercises is selling it as exercises that the animals do to get strong. It dates back, at least, to Charles Atlas. According to the legend, Atlas watched animals tense their muscles powerfully at zoos as the inspiration for his strength training methods. It must have worked pretty well since Dynamic Tension is probably the best selling mail-order bodybuilding course ever.

The truth probably is more along the lines that Fredrick Tilney came up with much of the course and Charles Roman came up with the story for good ad copy. Still, it doesn't stop many, many others from using the reasoning that their BW-based exercise is more natural because it mimicks movements that animals use to get strong. I usually recognize marketing hype when I see it. Still, I recently read one such web site who yet again claimed to develop strength using animal-like exercises. It got me thinking that maybe this has ad copy has some truth to it.

One thing that I know for a fact that most other primates do on a nearly constant basis is climb things. Indeed, if you want to build some brutal upper body strength, there is nothing better to do than exercises like rope climbing, rock climbing, pull-ups, chin-ups, and monkey bars. They are advanced exercises but I dare anyone to find exercises that will build such latent (and *GASP* functional) strength as primate-like movements. I've repeated it before and I'll say it again, strong people do pull-ups. Strong animals do too.

Another that recently came to my attention is the notion that jogging may be a bad exercise because it might be unnatural. Animals either run at full speed or they walk. They don't typically move at a pace that is in between the two. If you look at the way that your muscles are constructed of fast and slow twitch fibers, there is some good grounds for believing this. Plus, look at people who jog. Often times, they are physically unimpressive and incapable of doing much else than jogging. I've never really enjoyed jogging. I do like to walk and I love sprint-based exercises. I don't feel like my body is missing out on anything. In fact, I tried jogging before work for a couple of weeks and it left me feeling weaker the rest of the day. So, I think that there is some sound thinking to this.

Still, there are a number of things that make this whole concept of doing animal exercises to get animal strength is hype. For one thing, it's just strange to think that animals do something that seems to be a distinctively human behavior like exercise. Plus, animals are mechanically, chemically, and genetically different from us, often times very differently. Some of these animals are built much, much bigger than us. It's not a stretch to believe that they are stronger based on the size difference, not what kind of movement that they're doing.

Then again, one thing that I've learned in life is that you can learned things from the most unlikely sources. Humans have learned many things from watching animals in the past. While it might be good ad copy, I don't think that we can discount the possiblity that we can get powerful from following animal's lead. I can't speak for anyone else but I've gotten stronger by following their examples.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Size difference is not always such a big deal.
Look at chimpanzees, they are the closest animal to us genetically, infact they are classified as a member of the family Hominidae along with the other great apes.
Males usually weigh from 75–155 lb and get up to 4 feet tall, and females usually weigh around 57–110 lb and get up to 3 and a half feet tall.
They have done a study according to the website http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2/can-a-90-lb-chimp-clobber-a-full-grown-man at the bronx zoo in 1924 a 165 lb male chimp pulled with 847 lbs of pressure with one hand on a dynamometer.
Even more shocking a female chimp weighing 135 lbs pulled with one hand 1,260 pounds of force!
Even though I think they haven't done any studys on it, I highly suspect an orangutang would be much stronger then a chimp, due to it's brachiation method of transport. As for a gorilla there is no contest to it's amazing strength even though most male gorillas weight alot more then human males.

Basil said...

"it's just strange to think that animals do something that seems to be a distinctively human behavior like exercise. Plus, animals are mechanically, chemically, and genetically different from us, often times very differently. Some of these animals are built much, much bigger than us. It's not a stretch to believe that they are stronger based on the size difference, not what kind of movement that they're doing."

This is obviously true. Chimpanzees, while their muscle mass is no more than ours, have superior strength because their tendons connect such that their muscles have greater mechanical leverage (what they gain in strength they lose in some sort of ROM, though...). Sloths' forearms are built such that they can hang from their toes/claws without trying. Their feet are just hook-shaped. Baby sloths unable to pull themselves off the ground can hang.

However, you skipped the big point here. Animals don't exercise; they actually NEED their musculature. Through exercise one is essentially convincing their body that it needs to be built to withstand rigors that, outside of workouts, it really doesn't experience. Animals, OTOH, probably run for their lives at least daily. They don't practice climbing like monkeys... they just climb like monkeys.

Perhaps maintaining a lifestyle of walking/trekking/climbing/etc. as much as possible is training like an animal.

Anonymous said...

I know when i ride i get a good workout. my horse does way more of the work thsn i do but i am still using muscles that help when i do other things....actually, since my right arm might be fractured, riding is going to be a big part in building up my muscle again.

-Emily