Podcast #691: What You Can (Really) Learn About Exercise from Your Human Ancestors

We all know how indisputably good exercise is for you. Yet a lot of folks still find it a struggle to engage in much physical activity. To understand the reason that this conflict and tension exists and how to overcome it, it helps to understand the lives of our human ancestors. Though, not the way the popular culture understands them, but the way someone who’s actually studied them understands them.

My guest is such an expert guide. His name is Daniel Lieberman, and he’s a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology and the author of Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding. Today on the show, Daniel shares what we can really learn from our ancestors as to our modern relationship with exercise, while debunking some of the popular myths about our hunter-gatherer history. We begin by talking about how very recent, and actually quite weird, the whole concept of exercise is. We then discuss the fact that our ancestors were not the natural super athletes we typically imagine, what their state of physicality was really like, and how understanding their lifestyle can help us understand the competing interests going on in our own minds and bodies that can leave us feeling ambivalent about getting up and moving around. We then discuss if, as it’s been said, “sitting is the new smoking,” and the less and more healthy ways to sit. Daniel unpacks whether we’re evolved for running, how our ancestors’ strength compares to our own, and whether or not exercise helps us lose weight. We end our conversation with how this background on the past can help us in the present, by showing us the two factors that are critical in helping us moderns make exercise a habit.

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The Case for Not Listening to Music When You Work Out

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to music while working out. 

When I lifted weights with my football team back in high school, Metallica and DMX usually blared over the crappy PA system in our dank weight room.

When the iPod came on the market while I was in college, I created a workout playlist consisting of an eclectic mix of indie rock and Rage Against the Machine. 

When I got my garage gym, I put a Sonos speaker in it so I could crank up the tunes while I lifted weights. Over the years, my workout playlist changed. I had a Rage Against the Machine phase early on in my garage gym years. When I got tired of that, I went through an ‘80s hairband phase and a Taylor Swift phase. I passed through a period heavy on the Bleachers. There was even a time when all I listened to were the soundtracks of 1980s cop shows. 

While the soundtrack of my regular training sessions changed, I always blasted The Killers when I was going for a PR. Specifically, “All These Things I’ve Done.” I don’t know how many PRs I’ve hit while Brandon Flowers was chanting “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” in the background. 

Music and exercise were inseparable for me. 

That is, until this past year. I can’t remember the last time I had music playing in the background while I exercised. 

And, strangely enough, I’m digging the silence. Here’s why you might hit the off button on your audio player too.

The Case for Working Out Without Music (or Podcasts)

When you see people working out, 95% of the time, they’ve got headphones on. And the near universality of listening to music during exercise isn’t too hard to understand. 


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The Gas Station Ready Workout

Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Adam benShea of Jailhouse Strong. Their motto is being “gas station ready” — which is to say, if you’re filling up on gas at three in the morning, and some wild-eyed degenerate accosts you, demanding your money/ride/lady, are you prepared to handle the situation? This workout will help get you there.

At home or a hotel and looking for a workout?

This is an excellent interval session for when you’re short on time, but you want a good bang for your buck. It could be done as a workout on its own, or as a way to finish a pig iron session. Unlike MMA and boxing intervals, this interval circuit prepares you for the type of altercation you would find yourself in after a night of tomcatting at your local beer peeler bar. That is, violent and quick.

The movement of the sprawl (basically a burpee, without the pushup or jump, where you let your hips fall to the ground, while arching your back upward) is included because of the way in which it mimics the process of defending a takedown (a common feature of any no-rules fight). The sprawl also helps you get used to fluctuating between moving on your feet and on the ground (an often overlooked aspect of a real knock-down, drag-out fight). For those who have not trained this movement, in real unarmed combat they will be doubled over and out of gas. To make the workout more difficult, a standard burpee can be substituted for a sprawl.

The Circuit

Day 1

Complete the circuit as many times as possible inside of 20 seconds, then rest 20 seconds. Complete 5 times. 

Day 2

Complete the circuit as many times as possible inside of 30 seconds, then…

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The Steve McQueen Workout

When I was a kid, an old guy told me only the strong survive. That’s somethin’ you gotta believe, man. —Steve McQueen

Part of what made Steve McQueen so compelling, both as a private individual and as a movie star, was his kinetic, almost feral quality. He both developed and discharged this animalistic, coiled-up, ready-for-action energy by regularly working out.

As biographer Marshall Terrill notes in Steve McQueen: In His Own Words, the King of Cool religiously exercised for two hours every day for almost his entire adult life.

Just as it’s interesting to take a peek at the books famous men kept in their personal libraries, it’s interesting to take a look at the personal workout routines of famous men as well. Not so much to garner specific suggestions for one’s own exercise regimen, but for the sake of general inspiration and the desire to learn more about a particular individual’s life.

So I recently called Marshall up to see if in writing his numerous biographies of Steve McQueen, he had come across details about what the actor did for his workouts. Here’s what Marshall shared with me.

Why Steve McQueen Exercised So Religiously

Based on his decades-long exploration of McQueen’s life, Marshall thinks McQueen likely started exercising regularly in the 1950s, when he was a young actor in New York City. McQueen understood his body was a tool for his profession — that he wasn’t just selling his ability to act, but also an image. He recognized that an audience wanted to see a fit, good-looking guy when they took in a flick. As he mused, “If they see John Milquetoast up there on the screen, John Public says, ‘goodbye.’”

As Marshall noted: “That interpretation basically means if you have a flabby body or if you…

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Podcast #415: Forging Mental Strength Through Physical Strength

Editor’s Note: This is a re-broadcast. This episode originally aired in June 2018. 

When you start a fitness program, you tend to spend most of your time thinking about the physical part — what movements you’re going to do, how much weight you’re going to lift, or how far you’re going to run. But my guest today argues we ignore the mental aspect of our training at our peril. His name is Bobby Maximus. He’s a world-renowned trainer known for his brutal circuit workouts and the author of the new book Maximus Body.

Today on the show Bobby and I dig into the psychology of fitness. We begin by discussing what holds people back from getting started or going further with their goals and how sticking little green dots all over your house can help you surmount those barriers. He then shares why it’s important to manage expectations when beginning a training program and why there are no shortcuts to any goal. We then shift gears and get into Bobby’s training philosophy. He shares how to train to be “ready for everything,” why you need to do strength training before your endurance work, and why recovery is so important in reaching your fitness goals. 

We end our conversation with some examples of the “Sunday Sermons” Bobby shares on his website and a discussion of why perspective is important whenever you’re going through a hard time in life. 

If you’re reading this in an email, click the title of the post to be brought to the show page.

Show Highlights

  • How Bobby went from being bullied to the upper echelon of kickboxing and ultimate fighting 
  • The biggest mindset shifts that people need to make to prioritize fitness
  • Why we tend to set the bar…

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How Long Does It Take to Put on Muscle?

You’ve started a serious weightlifting program

You’ve increased your protein consumption.

Now, how long before you start looking jacked?

While the primary goal of weightlifting should be overall health, for many dudes, one of the aims of strength training is to get swole. It’s understandable. Big muscles make you look and feel manly. Nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel a little more virile. 

The problem is, guys often have inflated expectations of how quickly they can pack on muscle mass. Consequently, when they don’t start getting the results they wanted, in the timetable they had imagined, they give up on their strength training program.

It’s therefore important to set reasonable expectations when embarking on a fitness regimen. To help you do that, below we outline how long it’s likely to take to get stronger and put on muscle. 

You’ll Get Stronger From Lifting Weights After a Few Workouts

After starting a weightlifting program, you’ll likely notice that you’re getting stronger, before you notice that you’re getting bigger.

In the beginning of a weightlifting program, any strength gains you see are primarily being driven by improvement in neuromuscular processes and not an increase in muscle mass. When you start to lift heavy weights, your brain learns to recruit more muscle fibers during a lift, allowing you to contract more muscle and enabling you to produce more force. 

This force-enabling improvement in your mind-body connection begins immediately after your first strength training workout. And according to a study out of Japan, you’ll likely see the biggest strength gains from improved neuromuscular activation occur within two months of starting a consistent workout routine. 

Even though neuromuscular improvement will help you get stronger right away, you won’t notice a big difference in your physique right away. In order to…

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You May Be Strong . . . But Are You Tough?

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in October 2013.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Khaled Allen.

As a little boy, I was scrawny, weak, and prone to illness (much like a certain former president). For a long time, I thought I was just doomed to be pathetic, until my dad took me canoeing. In the mucky, hot, poorly maintained trails and portages of the Boundary Waters in the north woods of Minnesota, I learned that I could be tough, scrappy, and indomitable. I took a brutal pleasure in carrying the heaviest pack I could over long and steep portages, willing my toothpick legs to take one step, then another, then another, until I saw the blue expanse of the next lake peeking through the trees. That was all I had to work with: a willingness to push myself harder than anyone else, to charge headlong into the roughest terrain, and to ignore cold, rain, heat, bugs, and my own internal discomfort.

With the popularity of high-intensity workout programs, military-inspired training, and brutal adventure races, mental toughness is in the spotlight. The gold standard of a hardcore athlete is how much pain they can tolerate. But what about simple, plain old ruggedness? What does it mean to be physically tough, as well as mentally tough? Is it enough to simply be strong, or is there something more to it?

Strong But Weak

I will always remember the day I dropped in on a CrossFit class and went out for the warm-up jog with no shoes on. One of the other guys there, massively strong and…

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Podcast #704: How to Keep Your Edge as You Get Older

It’s a common life trajectory for men: graduate college, get married, get a 9 to 5 job, have some kids, settle down in the suburbs. And somewhere along that way, they start to get a little soft and stagnant. They let themselves go, becoming less active, and more sedentary. They have more material possessions but fewer hobbies and interests. They lose their edge.

My guest has spent his life battling against this loss. In his more than five decades on earth, he’s served in the French navy, trained soldiers in close quarter combat, skydiving, long-range weapon shooting, first aid, and explosives, set a deep water scuba diving record, and studied multiple martial arts, and he currently owns a gym, teaches as a MovNat Master Instructor, and coaches men over forty in how to live better, stronger, and more vibrant lives. His name is Vic Verdier and today on the show he shares his advice on how a man can stay fit and engaged with life as he gets older. We first discuss Vic’s background before getting into why it’s important for men to seek physical achievement and become physical polymaths, and the role strength training, cardio, and working on your balance plays in that pursuit. Vic then shares his advice on keeping the pounds down and your testosterone up as you age, and why he thinks training in combatives is important on both a practical and psychological level. We talk about the importance of maintaining a connection to nature and keeping your possessions minimal, before ending our conversation with why it’s important to stay comfortable with being uncomfortable, and how men can continue to seek adventure and exploration, even when they live in the suburbs. 

If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.


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How to Build a Home Gym on the Cheap

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in April 2019.

Let me replay you the typical situation you find yourself in every time you go to your commercial gym. You wake up or get home from the office, change into your workout clothes, pack all of the stuff you need (supplements, shoes, protein shaker, etc.) into your gym bag and head out the door. You jump into your car, and, like many living in a crowded urban environment, hit traffic a couple minutes into your commute. You sit, waiting for cars to dissipate so you can accomplish the grand goal you’ve set for yourself of working out. 30 minutes, 4 near collisions, and 2 mental breakdowns later, you arrive at your destination. You warm up while waiting for the guy doing bicep curls in the one and only squat rack in the 20,000 sq. ft. facility studded with endless lines of treadmills and ellipticals. You finally sneak into the rack, perform your squats while fending off that one guy who gives you form advice while proselytizing the benefits of yoga over weightlifting. Finally, you’re done with your session (two hours later) and drive 30 minutes home to eat.

Does that sound familiar?

Now, let me share with you what a typical training session looks like for me and thousands of others who have freed ourselves from the gym membership rat race.

I throw on some shorts — sweatpants and hoodie if it’s cold; no shirt if it’s warm — and head out into my garage. I walk over to my stereo system and put on some soft tunes to get me…

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Corkball: The Mutant Baseball Game That’s a St. Louis Tradition

The batter tightens his grip around the bat and stares down the pitcher with a flinty look.

The pitcher winds up and hurls the ball with all his might.



As the golf-ball-sized ball lands in the catcher’s mitt, the struck-out batter dejectedly walks away from the plate, leaving his broomstick-width bat behind.

Wait, what? Why are the ball and bat so slimmed down?

What might have initially sounded like a game of baseball isn’t America’s pastime at all. Rather, it’s a regional speciality that originated in the taverns, factories, and schoolyards of the early 20th century.

Welcome to corkball: a mutant baseball game hailing from the streets of St. Louis, that you just might want to import to your own neighborhood. 

The Origins of Corkball

In the 1840s, Irish and German immigrants came pouring into St. Louis. Many of the latter brought beer recipes from Deutschland and opened breweries that mass-produced German lagers for the country’s growing population. While brewing companies like Anheuser-Busch were innovating beer-making with pasteurization and refrigeration, the employees at these breweries were making innovations to American baseball and created a version of the game that allowed them to play with a limited number of players, in a limited space, without the usual regulation equipment. 

Legend has it that corkball got its start in an east St. Louis tavern sometime around 1900. Some bored, slightly drunk dude popped the cork bung off a beer barrel and wrapped some tape around it. He then tossed it to a drinking buddy who tried to hit it with a broomstick. 


Corkball was born. 

The most significant difference between corkball and baseball was that corkball had no runners, so there were no bases. Because there were no bases or runners, men didn’t need…

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