Book Review: Paleo Fitness by Darryl Edwards


Do it like your great, great [.......] great, great grandpappy did it.

 As Socrates is famed for saying: ‘the best way to screw up a person’s squat is to put a barbell on their back’.

I may be paraphrasing that, but the truth is that many people find exercise and fitness confusing.  Gyms and training equipment are for a great number of people barriers to training, as opposed to tools for training. If you’re trying to improve people’s health using the normal gym based advice this is a big problem.

Paleo Fitness claims to offer a solution here.

‘Paleo’ in the health/fitness world is shorthand for using the framework of evolution as a basis for health advice, it’s most usually connected with food. For example, in a ‘paleo diet’ grains legumes and dairy are minimised with the rationale being that we did not evolve eating these things, so we’re probably less adapted to these and more adapted to the other stuff i.e. the foods we did eat through most of our time here.

Now, the ‘paleo’ argument has problems and valid counter arguments. Personally I am on the fence – diet prescription should be driven by the needs of the individual you’re working with – but when it boils down to it the point is this: health and fitness is REALLY complicated, and if you can come up with a better starting point/tool/framework to look at these complex issues with than evolutionthen please let me know.

… back to the book.

The author Darryl Edwards is a trainer, coach and lecturer of health and fitness from London who argues that the same paleo ideas hold for activity and movement, and that the most benefit can be gained from seeing your movement through the lens of evolution.Move how you’re designed to move. This approach is very similar to the MovNat type philosophy, though Darryl, as far as I can see, has had more of a practical and urban slant on his work from the start. For my part in terms of basic fitness and function it’s hard to find huge faults with these ‘paleo fitness’ arguments. The way we move has developed … evolved, over millions of years as our bodies changed. The hardware: the composition and placement of muscle, tendons, ligaments cartilage and bone evolved and with it so did the software that runs it: the movement patterns wired into the nervous system.

What this all means, and what is conveyed in the book,  is that you have a set of ways you’re designed to move (push, pull, squat, bend, carry, etc.) and these are the fundamentals that make up the basis of all your useful movements. They are the tools you’re designed to use, so use them. My experience as an S&C guy shows me that indeed these are the movements that are the best choices for getting stronger, fitter and leaner, that’s not the whole story of course with pre and rehab movements etc., but in short: the (very) old stuff works.

So why write a book about them?

The problem is the fitness industry. To make any money you have to stand out and ‘bring something new to the market’. Enter the bullshit, the frippery, the ab-o-sizers and the shaky-weights. You see the old ways work, but they don’t sell. The cynic says of course that tagging something ‘paleo’ is a way of riding a wave of popularity to sell product. Maybe yes, but if tagging something useful ‘paleo’ gets it into the spotlight then that’s all good

… again though I’m side-tracking myself.

Paleo Fitness is a more holistic (my word, not his) look at fitness bringing together more than just the moving around bit. The exercise descriptions are great, there’s large, clear, clean photos (a criticism here is that there could have been one or two more pictures here and there, but this is of the publisher, not the author). There’s some really new fresh types of training and drills, and brings them all together with step by step plans detailing how to progress along the path. Topics covered include the basic movement patterns, balance and coordination drills, strength development, mobility, conditioning and so on.

In addition to this there’s FAQ’s on many health topics (sleep etc.), a nutrition primer detailing the basics like proteins, types of fat and so on, an all-important diet myth-busting section and a two week meal plan as well as recipes.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

I think Darryl has done a great job here. Paleo Fitness has a lot to offer, and to a wide audience as well. It is framework that a sick, overweight person could use, but is also has advice, skills and drills that many elite athletes I’ve met would benefit greatly from.  It doesn’t suffer from the narrow, specialist view that technical training manuals can, but it’s also more useful to an advanced trainee or athlete than a ‘general fitness’ book would be. It’s also clear and simple, it ticks a lot of boxes.

Reviewing something you always feel obliged to find faults and if I was to add some more possible negatives one would be that at 176 pages the book is too short. Many of the more peripheral issues, like why you can still get fat on a low fat diet for example, were dealt with well, but I would have liked to see a little more detail. That’s me though, and note that again this is not a real criticism, 800 page fitness books don’t sell, consequently they don’t get made.

Another issue would be that by using the ‘paleo’ tag, you’re painting yourself into a corner, and I know it’s a label that is going to turn some people off, people who would benefit from a little reprogramming of their exercise and movements. I know that paleo is Darryl’s thing, I just feel given the variety and quality of the exercise content there’s a very wide audience that would benefit, and I just hope that people critical of paleo take a look at this book to.

Read more about the author at his site here

You can buy the book here

P.S. It’s not all fasting, I’ll be adding the odd post about things that I think can and will make a difference to you health and performance including reviews of books and other health & fitness products

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