Getting fit the Stone Age way

The Primal Fitness course is a month-long, five-times-a-week commitment that combines simple but challenging exercises with a Paleo diet plan.

People participate in a Primal Fitness class. Courtesy Haddins
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While there was always a strong chance of meeting an untimely end in the jaws of a sabre-toothed tiger, your typical caveman was probably exceedingly fit.

Without the temptations of junk food or sugary treats, plus the continual exercise needed to pursue their next meal, it's now believed that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were generally far healthier than modern humans.

In fact, some health experts contend that a way to curb many of the rampant diseases of our era would be to adopt a lifestyle more akin to that of Stone Age man.

So, they argue, we should follow a Paleo diet, where you avoid eating any food unavailable before mankind adopted agriculture-based lifestyles, about 10,000 years ago. So dairy products, cereals and sugar are off the menu, leaving meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts as preferred options.

They also say we should alter our exercise routines and try to simulate the kind of movements that a caveman would have undertaken in his daily struggle to survive.

Now these theories have made their way to the UAE in the form of the Primal Fitness classes at Zayed Sports City.

Rather than fashioning flint spears or wearing animal hides, the month-long, five-times-a week course is more of a back-to-basics exercise programme. The classes consist of repeated press-ups and burpees, mixed with lifting, carrying and dragging heavy weights. For example, one particularly brutal session I attended involved shoulder lifting an incredibly cumbersome lorry tyre - supposedly representing a buffalo we'd freshly slaughtered - on a gruelling three-kilometre trudge around the nearby sports stadium.

We were also presented with a Paleo meal plan with an emphasis on grilled meats that we are advised to stick to.

The concept was devised by Michael Haddin, the owner and founder of the Haddins Fitness gym, who's a man with a particular zeal for fitness that's coupled with a disdain for some traditional gym equipment.

"I've never believed in these single-muscle, fixed-weight machines," the 33-year-old Australian says. "If you isolate a muscle and move it through one single movement, it just isn't practical for everyday life."

Haddin adds: "If you're picking up a heavy object or using your own body weight, you're engaging a lot more muscles, so you instantly increase the calories you're burning. It's common sense, really."

Due to this theory, and the Paleo diet plan being all the rage at the moment, he devised the Primal Fitness training programme.

Another motivator was his desire to differentiate from the ethos of the so-called military boot camps that have become so prevalent across the UAE.

"I'm just not into this whole military, screaming approach. I would never go for this because I want to make exercise fun," he reveals. "I don't think boot camps train you any harder or more effectively than what we do. It's a just a different approach in that we let people do our exercises at a slower pace if they need to.

"People outside doing exercise is a good thing so, generally, boot camps are a positive thing. We just try a slightly different way."

So instead of Sergeant Major-style barking out of orders, we're given an amiable explanation of what the next set of exercises will be, before being left to get on with it at our own pace.

That said, it's tough going. I'm almost obsessive about exercising at least three times a week, yet found myself on the verge of keeling over by the end of most sessions.

Almost as arduous a task was trying to adhere to a rice and bread-free diet, leaving me feeling drained for the first few days without my daily dose of starch. However, your body does hastily adapt to gaining its carbs from meat and vegetables.

And, as the course progressed, I could tangibly feel my fitness levels improving and my somewhat paunchy midriff beginning to melt away.

"Some people said [completing the course] had changed their lives," says Haddin. "Everyone who has stuck with it saw great results. If they didn't lose weight it was because they were building muscle, but they definitely lost body fat."

And all without a single fur loin cloth or flint axe to be seen.

The next round of the Primal Fitness classes will start on September 16 at Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi. Call 02 403 4233 or visit for more information.


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