Getting fit? It’s as easy as falling off a log …
First appeared in Saturday Telegraph ‘Weekend’ section.
This January, I’m rejecting all quick-fix, ascetic options and going wild with my New Year’s resolution. No, that doesn’t mean I’m aiming for cheetah-like running speeds, nor even preparing to kill my prey before munching it – I’m simply making a continued committment to being more self-sufficient; to listening to my body and responding to its instinctual needs for natural movement and unprocessed food.
Visible abdominals? Yes I’m still hoping they’ll be a by-product. But in these days of drastic detoxes and fasting retreats, the more simple and potentially enjoyable lifestyle changes can be remarkably tough to execute. That’s why I gave myself the early Christmas present of a 9-day Wild Fitness Kick Start course out in the East African archipelago of Zanzibar.
I arrive at the idyllic Michamvi Sunset resort feeling excited and a little nervous: just what does wild fitness actually mean? Is doing a naked raindance a requirement? And how on earth does one keep up a wild lifestyle when one returns to urban life?
As usual I’ve let my imagination wander too far. The course doesn’t involve dancing (though freedom of expression is encouraged) but is rather based around the primal human movement patterns like running, crawling, climbing, jumping, lifting, swimming and fighting. Wild Fitness founder, Tara Wood, established the company in 2001 believing that human beings have an instinctual affinity for the great outdoors. Engaging with nature and eating natural food is healing she insists: when we spend too much time indoors, remaining static and eating rubbish, we get sick and miserable.
Fourteen years on, that belief still sounds eminently sensible – perhaps even a little obvious. So why is it so hard to live by it? Much of contemporary life encourages us to sit, stress and consume too much in the wrong ways. But here, under the tutelage of our Wild Fitness coaches, Peruvian-born surfer, free diver and general movement maestro, Augusto, and Kenyan ex-national sprinter and Thai kickboxing instructor, Josh, we’ll experience a different way of being that’ll hopefully alter our perception of movement, nutrition and lifestyle forever.
We start with a few basic mobility tests. The first is a caveman squat, a primary move we’ll need to practice every day. But this basic squat-and-hold (the one your toddler does in their sleep) proves tricky for even the fittest among our group as desk jobs and excessive endurance training betray us. Our calves are too taut – our ankles flare out and heels come off the ground. Our hips are so tight that we can’t keep a straight back. Next up are some bodyweight ‘animal’ movements, a crab and bear crawl followed by some frog-jumps. We are all fairly inept though we giggle our way through it.
One early morning sprint session called ‘Lactic Lift Off’ despite being just seven minutes long, is brutal and shall never be forgotten. Same goes for the searingly-hot 7km walk-jog-sprint we do along the coast later that week, though in both cases the tropical scenery, endorphins and post-workout passion fruit curtails our complaints.
But soon the difficulty level increases. On day two we are taught about ‘the value of intensity’ – that short, very sharp workouts are far preferable those that are longer and more relaxed. Sessions also include plenty of log lifting and burpee challenges, an open water swim – ‘The Mangrove Challenge’ – and a ‘Jungle Circuit’ in humidity that would make anybody sweat buckets, even before they began lugging sandbags around. One early morning sprint session called ‘Lactic Lift Off’ despite being just seven minutes long, is brutal and shall never be forgotten. Same goes for the searingly-hot 7km walk-jog-sprint we do along the coast later that week, though in both cases the tropical scenery, endorphins and post-workout passion fruit curtails our complaints.
We are told to rest as hard, if not harder, than we train, so there’s plenty of downtime too, as well as workshops and lectures where we’re advised about nutrition and lifestyle. Some advice is fairly straightforward (just don’t eat processed food, full stop) and some more indeterminate (learn to listen to your body and really tune in to its needs).
One lecture on ‘Wild Mindset’ makes a particular impact. We are told to foster our innate curiosity. “Run to see what’s around the corner and climb to discover what view awaits you at the top,” says Coach Augusto, reminding us that all animals or birds move either for purpose, pleasure or survival. Modern lifestyle has taken away the need to search for these in our movement, yet they are still hardwired into our subconscious. The result? We still seek them but in different ways like shopping, boozing and television.
We have our ups and downs of course. For me, day five is rough. Fatigue starts to set in. It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about anything at all. “Make it stop,” I think, but this afternoon’s kickboxing session won’t wait. The body is resilient, we learn: feed it nutrient-dense natural produce and let it sleep enough and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those niggles and bruises heel. It’s true – I watch as other members of the group – our tribe – transform too. An oil specialist, a lawyer, a banker and a freelance writer… each of us finds energy reserves and skills we haven’t used since childhood. To my surprise by day six the lethargy has past – it turns out I’m quick to bounce back from workouts when dining on fresh fish, local meat and plenty of vegetables, rather than mainlining sugar or caffeine.
Do I keep up my good habits upon returning to the UK winter? Yes and no. It’s not sustainable to train at high intensity, twice a day, all the time, and hard to avoid all processed food if you’re travelling, living in urban centres and socialising. So there are blips and breakthroughs in equal number: I go back, as I must, to pollution, work and public transport but toss out all artificial produce from my store cupboards; I feel the onslaught of stress hormones, better reserved for life-threatening situations, when my computer crashes, but, lo and behold, a sprint session in the rain calms me right down. Increased energy here and the twinkle of an abdominal muscle there… Going wild isn’t nearly as difficult as I’d feared but the results are steady and profound.
WANT TO RE-WILD YOURSELF?
• Find a purpose to attach to your movement. Whether you want to learn a new skill, such as to run with good form or swim underwater for two minutes, or to master a specific move (in my case, the handstand) because it inspires you, having a reason that goes beyond getting a six pack will help you achieve it.
• Go into the red zone of training intensity 1-2 times a week MAX and just for 8-20 minutes. Our ancestors needed to sprint, occasionally; to hunt or flee, and that’s the type of fat-burning exercise that suits most bodies without causing long-term fatigue.
• Move more. Take the stairs. Go for a walk. Or do some animal style movement such as a bear crawl or frog jumps.
• Take your shoes off inside your home and strengthen those little muscles in your feet. It’ll help everything work better up the chain.
– By Lucy Fry