Fit As An Animal
Getting in shape by looking to our origins
He is a strong, aerodynamically built rock-climber, hiker and martial artist who studied human biology and anthropology at Stanford University. Somewhere along the line, he decided going backward was the best way to move forward. Way backward, like to the Stone Age.
He's convinced that current fitness regimens ignore our origins and evolution. Forencich, 47, calls his philosophy "Go Animal," and has built it around three guiding principles: getting primal, practical and playful. He set up a Web site called www.goanimal.com and has written a readable, self-published book titled, "Play as if Your Life Depends on It."
Forencich notes that a biologist thinks of "fitness" in terms of an organism's relationship with its environment and asks what, if any, functional physiological purpose there is to pumping weights. He also believes we should be mindful of the fact that we didn't evolve on flat pavement.
His mindset sent him climbing mountains and venturing into Africa, where he explored ancestral environments and spent time observing and interacting with tribes in Botswana. When he showed me videotaped "Go Animal" workouts on a sleek laptop, he was wearing an Indiana Jones hat, sturdy hiking boots and a day backpack.
He used to run a "Go Animal" gym on Bainbridge Island, but it wasn't the right place or time for the workout style, so he sold the building. In fact, while his ideas have piqued interest, they haven't caught fire yet by any means. So he preaches the message through his book and Web site.
His workout games seem to accentuate the core, rear-end and hamstrings.
"The bucket brigade" is a game between two players. Each starts with three balls in his or her circle. The object is to empty your circle by picking up the balls one by one and putting each in your opponent's circle. The problem is, your opponent is simultaneously doing the same thing. It usually finishes when someone gives up.
"The king of the circle" is a leverage game in which opponents, keeping hands behind their backs, try to nudge the other person out of a circle.
Another drill involves tiptoeing as precisely as possible on a series of wobbly boards lined in a row. Sometimes, Forencich employs little hurdles with the wobble boards to accentuate the up-and-down motion and the real-life action of crossing a stream by jumping from log to rock to snag to bank.
So-called functional fitness is gaining favor, but Forencich is far out on the evolutionary tree. Take his trail-running ideas. First you scout the trail, note topography and obstacles like rocks, mud, creek crossings. Then you alternate between walking, jogging, running and resting, depending on your fitness. Heading down is a skill event. He urges you to be conservative. Some trainers say don't do it at all. It's a test of agility, putting a premium on precise footwork. It challenges "sensory and motor-control circuits" in your ankles, knees and hips.
Whether you're headed uphill or down, Forencich urges you to relax and pay attention to your surroundings. He even encourages you to take a break, enjoy vistas and glimpses of wild animals.
"If you stop to explore a side canyon or find a beautiful creek, you will lose nothing and perhaps gain a great deal."
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer.
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