Survival of the Fittest

Drew Baye performing trap bar deadlifts“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.”

– Mark Rippetoe

The phrase “survival of the fittest” refers to the process of natural selection – the members of a species best suited to survival in their environment are more likely to live long enough to reproduce and pass along their genes, with each successive generation becoming better suited – more fit – to survive in that environment. Having already been born, there is little we can do to improve our fitness in the genetic/evolutionary sense. That is mostly decided for us at the moment of conception. However, we can and should do everything we can to improve every aspect of our fitness in the physical sense.

In most parts of the world natural selection no longer operates the way it does in the wild due to agricultural and medical advancements and cultural and societal changes. These changes have lowered the genetic bar for survival significantly – have almost gotten rid of the bar altogether. Advancements in labor saving devices and easy access to calorie dense food have compounded this by minimizing the physical effort required for daily survival to practically nothing, resulting in a society that is mostly weak, slow and fat. Most people alive now in developed countries would be incapable of handling the physical demands of the day to day lives of our ancestors, and would have no hope of surviving in such an environment. There would, however, be far fewer hungry bears and lions.

While this may seem irrelevant today with cars and public transportation, a convenience store on every corner, escalators and elevators everywhere, and the lack of large predators in urban and residential areas, all it takes is one emergency where one’s survival or the survival of another depends on their strength or stamina to learn a very hard lesson about how important fitness is.

Could you move a very heavy object off of yourself or someone else trapped under it?

Could you hang on to and pull yourself or someone else up over something fallen off of?

Could you pick up and carry an injured or unconscious person to safety?

Could you run fast enough, climb high enough, and move with enough quickness and agility to evade  some other potential danger?

Can you run or climb at all?

With the exception of athletes and people in physically demanding professions most people don’t give much thought to the need for a high level of strength and stamina. They assume they don’t need it because their day to day lives don’t require it. If they think about exercise at all they are probably more concerned with reducing their waistline or staving off having to go up another pant or dress size than improving their physical capabilities. Few people give much consideration to being physically prepared to successfully cope with anything that isn’t part of their daily routine.

When asked why he always carried a gun, Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones once said,

“A pistol is like a tourniquet. You don’t need one very often, but when you do need one you need it very badly, and very quickly.”

The same can be said of a high level of physical fitness. If your lifestyle and profession does not involve some degree of regular, hard physical challenge you may not need a high level of fitness very often, but if an emergency situation should ever arise where your life or someone else’s depends on it, it’s going to be too late to start thinking about working out. In this respect, developing a high level of physical capability is much like carrying a handgun – it is much better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

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