Why the word “paleo” gets made fun of…

June 27, 2012 — 8 Comments

The ideas behind Paleo diet and fitness come from good natured intentions of helping people to become healthier, fitter, and experience more vitality. Sometimes the usage of the word Paleo sells ideas and products, and sometimes it drives people away.  For instance, many mainstream S&C people and diet people immediately dismiss “paleo” because they see it as silly, and will often times say things like “if you want to be a caveman why don’t you get rid of your cell phone and hunt your own food?” Which, of course, is a stupid ass thing to say-because Paleo dieters AREN’T trying to recreate living in the past….except when they are.  For example: This article saying that “backsquatting isn’t paleo” is one of those things that cheapens the entire idea of Paleo through misplaced analysis.  To this article I reply with “Who gives a shit?”  Here is a good quote from Erwan Le Corre in response to the article:

Erwan Le Corre “It makes me smile. The question, at least from a MovNat perspective, not a “Paleo” perspective, is not to debate the evolutionary nature, or naturalness of the movements of physical actions/efforts produced, but their effectiveness in term of practical performance. While Matt Metzgar, based on a naive observation, debates of the former, I train the latter. While he discusses the theory, at MovNat we train the practical. If we were to train only the movements we can see kids do, then many MovNat techniques would not be practiced, and a lot of the physical competence we’re looking for would be missing. So weighed squats not “Paleo”? Like coffee and wine? Big deal.”

Squats are good for you, and sure, you don’t see babies seeking out squat racks, but I don’t see them cooking their own food yet either.  If the Paleo crowd continues to dismiss good ideas/products just because they are modern, then the Paleo crowd will sound as obtuse, dismissive, and idiotic as the mainstream folk who dismiss ideas for having the term “paleo” attached.  Using an ancestral basis as a starting point to form ideas and try things can be useful, but does not and shouldn’t determine how we act.  Cavemen didn’t foam roll either, but I know I’m gonna keep rolling.

When teaching squats to groups I often discuss that starting a weighted squat from the bottom position more accurately emulates real life situations, such as squatting down unloaded and grabbing furniture, a child, or other things you can’t quite deadlift. I (admittedly) bring that up because many people in the Paleo and functional movement crowd really appreciate that idea (yes, I pander to the crowd!).  And switching up your squat loading can yield good results, so..

What might it look like and what are the benefits of training your squat from the bottom position? I asked my buddy Erik Blekeberg of squatmore.org and Head S&C coach at Army Navy Academy in Carlsbad, CA and here are his answers.

Erik: The zercher squat is the perfect example of a bottoms up squat. You deadlift the bar, set it on your thighs, hook your arms underneath it (now in the bottom squat position) and then stand. The zercher has the benefit of increased core activation and posterior chain loading. It is one of the perfect examples of a grind lift. Working with high school boys I often see them rely on their speed and the elasticity of their young muscles. When they miss a lift (squat, deadlift etc) they will squirm, wiggle and go limp fast. This gets corrected when we teach to grind. In the squat we teach it by doing pause squats or bottoms up. We start the bar in the bottom position and teach you to tighten and drive up.

Clifton: One of my favorite options is heavy punching bags or sandbags which are placed on a picnic bench/table where you squat down and pull the bag onto a shoulder or in tight to a bear hug then stand up with it.  Now, before you trade out your back squats for nothing but bottom up squats please understand that you’ll be missing out on some specific benefits, again, Erik provides some excellent answers.
Erik: Bottom position squats are a useful tool for teaching and training but, when looking at physical development, both for life and athletics we need to look at the benefits of loading the eccentric portion of the movements. The benefits of eccentrics have shown injury reducing (1) as well as performance enhancing (2) effects. Seeing as how sport and life consist of both a concentric and eccentric phase, one would be hard pressed to say training one is somehow superior to the other. Same with top and bottom squats. Use both when appropriate because balance and well roundedness are often the goal…oh yah and to get stronger.

In summary: don’t be a Paleo knucklehead. That is a term I just made up for a dogmatic Paleo groupie who doesn’t use all the resources he/she has available (technology, improvements in science and understanding of physiology) to make intelligent decisions and instead bases everything on an idea/ideal which doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. On the other side, don’t be an anti-Paleo dickhead…that’s a term for someone who dismisses ideas just for having a title attached to it, which means you’ll miss out on potentially good stuff just for being obtuse.

And lastly: Squatting is #BA and #PAF, so go squat something.

This jubilant fellow squatted that stone…but did so from bottom up!


1. Eccentric exercises; why do they work, what are the problems and how can we improve them?
Rees JD, Wolman RL, Wilson A.
Br J Sports Med. 2009 Apr;43(4):242-6. Epub 2008 Nov 3. Review.

2. Using Additional Eccentric Loads to Increase Concentric Performance in the Bench Throw

Sheppard, Jeremy M; Young, Kieran
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 24(10):2853-2856, October 2010.

8 responses to Why the word “paleo” gets made fun of…


    Is Almond Crusted cheeseless pizza paleo? LOL good post Clif.

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