Early Human Wild Movements

Good morning, League of Wildness!

Last week I enjoyed a visit to Washington, DC and spent ample time at the many museums. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum – Human Origins display was my favorite stop (no surprise there!) and I wanted to share a few images and my thoughts about them that align with our wild values.

While the historical artifacts were fascinating, what caught my eye were three statues that depicted ancient humans performing various activities and how foundational the movements within those activities have been to our development. They continue to be important today but they have largely been lost in the sea of comforts we now live within. At wild gym, we’re looking to keep them alive. 

Foraging for food has been a part of our history forever. I enjoy it myself, as I have talked about before. I mostly forage things like small fruits and mushrooms. Prior to seeing this figure, that was the image of foragers I maintained – picking fruits and nuts and filling baskets. But you can see in this ancient human, he is having to put some significant effort into pulling a larger plant up by the roots. If this were me pulling potatoes out of the garden, I would be bent over and later complaining of a sore back. You can see how low to the ground he is and the angle his body is at while he pulls on the root. You can see how he grips the ground with his toes, and uses the weight of his body, the strength of his legs, and upper back to do the majority of the work. It isn’t simply a pulling motion, which is one of the moves we consider a foundation of strength workouts today. He is using his body as a leverage for more pulling power. It has led me to consider how I might make some adjustments to my workout movements.🤔 

I think the best nugget of info from this early human forager is that even if a movement isn’t causing pain, we likely experience a lot of movement inefficiency. When you go through your day, consider whether you have the opportunity to change up how you do a movement. Can you change how you weed the garden to be more efficient with your body and reduce the risk of a sore back later? For those who use ropes in their workouts, could you use them in a lower stance like this? What other opportunities are there to adjust the way we use a pulling motion?

This figure is a woman carrying a small ungulate that she hunted. In recent months, we have frequently discussed the importance of carrying weight while walking. Some folks like Wildman Dan are still carrying life-sustaining foods in this same way. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the type of work that truly breeds a sense of accomplishment at being able to sustain your own life and that of your family. Many of us have succumbed to buying meat in neat packages at the store, but we can find other ways to carry weight every day. And we need to.

Spring is a prime opportunity to carry heavy stuff! Carry your garden supplies to the car, and then to the garden rather than using a wheelbarrow or wagon. Dirt, fertilizer, landscaping materials, even bags of ice for a neighborhood BBQ – it all offers the opportunity to use your body in an evolutionary way. 

Rucking is an amazing option to carry weight and it’s ridiculously easy to do it anywhere at any time. The same goes for carrying. Is there a grocery store close enough to your house where you can ruck or carry your food home? Or perhaps you can get a ruck in while walking to pick up your kids at school, or dropping books off at the library.

Carrying weight is a human activity. It gave us a huge advantage in our evolutionary history and it still offers huge benefits now. 

This last image shows two important factors: the full squat and human connection. This early human is squatting by a fire and offering something to others who would have been sitting nearby.

In our modern world, we consider the squat a vital exercise movement. It engages many of our major muscle groups along with stabilizer muscles, and also requires a degree of mobility throughout our hips, lower backs, knees, ankles, and feet. The ironic thing, to me, is that we consider this an exercise when throughout most of human history, the full squat was a resting position. It did not take any more effort for early humans to perform this move for long periods than it takes for us to sit in a chair – it was that natural to them. It should still be natural for us today and if I had to pick a single movement that everyone should work on daily, it would be squatting. 

Ideally, we could squat with our butts to our heels with our feet flat on the ground and eat a whole meal that way without discomfort. There are many tutorials online for how to work up to a full squat if you can’t do one now. Katy Bowman has some great mobility movements here and here that can help you work on the issues that most commonly disrupt our ability to squat. 

As I have worked through knee and SI joint issues over the years, I have found the pocket monkii invaluable for helping me to develop my squat form. It allowed me to maintain my balance while working on my ankle mobility, which was greatly impacted from just a few weeks of a poor walking gait due to a knee injury. Holding the pocket monkii while you practice a deeper squat helps you to move slowly and pay close attention to every moving part to ensure proper engagement and alignment.

You can practice a proper partial squat every time you sit down. Often, we get in the habit of supporting our body weight with our arms as we twist into and out of seated positions, or we just fall onto our chairs. It is actually much less stress on the body to properly use your glutes, and core muscles to perform the squat motions. Our heavily seated lifestyles cause a lot of glute deactivation so we aren’t using them nearly as much as we need to be. Properly using our glute muscles protects our lower back. Instead of flopping onto a chair, use a controlled squat motion to lower yourself onto it. 

Squaoffee and Squatea are great options to practice squatting as well! See if you can’t take your favorite morning beverage outside into the sun and get in some squat time while you enjoy your first sips. 

Lastly, while we may have varying degrees of social preferences, humans are social animals. To be isolated and alone too frequently is detrimental to our health. Gathering with others to share warmth, food, and stories is as vital as eating healthy food and moving our bodies. Find ways to connect to others that are meaningful to you. If you can do it around a fire, even better. When I was growing up, we used to have neighborhood fish fries when someone had a good day on the lake catching walleye. We still gather for good food with family, but it’s more commonly bought at the store and cooked on a propane grill for efficiency. But there is just something special and primal about the tradition of gathering around a fire to cook, eat, and share ideas. It’s something I’d like to make more time for in my life. Nothing is more satisfying that procuring food that is later cooked over a fire. 

Instead of indoor family night activities, considering gathering around a fire once in a while. If your area doesn’t allow backyard fire pits, there are stoves that can be a good option, like Solo Stove. This also gets us outside at night which is something few of us do anymore. Fire is a wild element that was vital to human development and it's awesome to gather around one with family and friends.

While I saw many interesting things at the museum, the simplicity of these three figures was paramount. They show clearly the importance of basic, foundational movements and how they contributed to our evolution. These actions connect our past to our present and if we do not preserve them, our future health as humans looks endangered. 

One last note, while we were in DC, we put on an average of 25,000 steps a day. My feet felt the compounding steps! But I ended each day feeling like I accomplished something that was valuable to my body that I want to sustain. I have been thinking since about the best way to increase my walking. I take a lot of breaks throughout the day to play fetch with our dog, do chores and errands, get groceries and other things to get my steps in. But there is definitely something to be said for larger chunks of time spent on our feet. In our League of Wildness outdoor challenge FB group, several people have tackled the “12 Hour Walk” which just might be my next Misogi. 

Have a wild weekend, wild kin! 


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