Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Barefoot running and primal lifestyle

When you hear the word boot camp, most of us imagine ex Army types in fatigues commanding us to hit the ground and give them fifty. But a Primal Lifestyle Boot Camp is something entirely different.
Forget shouting, sweating fitness 'recruits', Primal Lifestyle is all about learning how our physiology from Primitive times struggles with the demands we put on it today. Understand this and you can transform your health, fitness and bio mechanics.
While this all sounds fine on paper, as I drove into the field of a former diary farm in the Surrey countryside to pitch a tent with the rest of my primal campees I had no idea what to expect.
We'd been told to bring no food, just a tent, sleeping gear and a pair of Vibram FiveFinger shoes for a workshop on barefoot running.
My fellow campees were from all walks of life, including a mum of three and lawyer from York and an IT consultant from the Czech Republic, as well as the founder of a snowboarding clothing range from Kent.
Usually going to a fitness boot camp means you worry about being the most unfit person on the camp. But if anything I was unusual in being one of the fittest as many of those taking part had found their path to living a primal lifestyle as a way of overcoming stress, and in one case, a near fatal accident that had left someone in a coma.
WE spent the night getting acquainted around a camp fire where we enjoyed a delicious meal of organic salmon and salad greens. Somehow it tasted all the more tasty when we were told it was to be our last meal until around noon the next day.
According to the founder of Primal Lifestyle Matt Wallender, this is not some cunning ploy designed to help weight loss.
' The primary hormone that controls your sleep wake cycle is cortisol which peaks at around 8am and remains high until noon when the body starts to wind down for the day,' he explains. 'So to eat breakfast when your cortisol is high is in opposition to what your body is telling you to do which is to go out and hunt. The perfect time of the day to eat is late morning or lunch time.'
Hmm, that may well be but as I retired to my tent in the coolness of a May evening I wondered if I should have bought a few secret snacks.
The next morning there were a few grumbles from some who had found their non-Primal sleeping bags inadequate for the cold night. Then after herbal tea went hunting.
This involved walking through the countryside and sprinting as soon as any one saw an animal. Lord knows what passing walkers must have thought as a tribe of thirty-somethings raced over the fields. Although that was nothing on what we had to do next. Be hunted.
As well as serving to replicate how primal man would have lived this also had the affect of supercharging my sensory perception.
As soon as I set off in the woods I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck lift and I felt like I could hear anything within a five mile radius.
I made it back to camp the first time without being caught by my human predators although some were not so lucky. One of our crew returned with scratches and grazes where he had taken it all a bit too seriously and literally dived through brambles.
We set off a second time to be hunted by new 'human' predators but this time I got completely lost. Forget being killed by a predator, I possibly wouldn't have lasted five minutes in primitive times due to having no sense of direction.
By the time we made it back to camp all of us were starving but all we were given were a packet of nuts and seeds. Although to be fair these weren't any ordinary nuts and seeds.
These had been soaked in salt soltion and then dried. This apparently enables the fibres in the nuts to be broken down, helping to release the all important protein.
Learning about nutrition is not something you would normally associate with a boot camp but here everything is looked at holistically.
Don't sleep properly and it will affect your hormone balance which will affect your health. Even the position you sleep in can have profound influences on musco-skeletal health, which can impact on respiration, digestion and nervous system function.
 'I recommend people sleep with out a pillow, using their arms like indigenous groups and primates,' explains Matt. 'This helps to maintain good neck and shoulder function.
'Although those who have been chained to a desk for many years may require a pillow due to joint stiffness.'
I ignored this advice and used a pillow as we were sleeping in a tent but it was amazing how restful it was to rise with sunrise and go to bed when we felt tired. Most interesting of all how easy it was to go without food following the primal lifestyle. Whilst I felt hungry the following morning on waking, the feeling past as soon as we got moving.
On the last day we had a workshop with Barefoot Ted, an renowned US athlete who runs ultra distance marathons completely barefoot.
The theory behind going barefoot, or at least wearing minimalist foot wear like Vibram FiveFingers is that the body should be able to react instinctively with its surroundings. In shoes, your foot can not feel the floor and therefore your body takes shocks and rolls in a way that it wouldn't normally do. According to the barefoot debate, this results in atrophy of the muscles and ligaments rather than allowing the body to move and react as it would have done in primal times.
As we jogged across the asphalt drive of the diary farm and I stepped on a small hard piece of grit I wished I was wearing my old cushioned trainers. Yet the debate made sense.
'The nerves that receive information from the soles of the feet link directly into the part of the spine that account for 98% of low back pain,' says Matt.  'If your feet can feel what you're walking on they can tell the back how to react.
In addition, these same nerves feed the hip rotator muscles that control the stability of the hip, knee and foot.  Block that information with a big slab of polyurethane in cushioned trainers, and now your have highly compromised sensory awareness.'
Primal we may have been for that weekend but I couldn't help but wonder how realistic it would be to retain the principles of primal lifestyle.
But the effects of the camp have lasted long after the wood smoke was finally washed from my hair. I may not have switched to a nuts only at noon diet, but I am rising with the sun and persevering with my Vibram FiveFingers. They feel good, at least in the summer and they certainly make people smile.
The next Primal Lifestyle Boot Camp starts September 10th-12th and costs £220, or £175 if booked a month in advance. To find out more about the camp or Vibram Five Fingers visit www.primallifestyle.com

No comments: