Why Humans are the Swiss Army Knives of Movement



Movement is something that all living things do on a regular basis. Travel, in particular, is something all animals strive to be efficient at. What I mean by travel is simply starting at one point and ending up at another. No matter if it’s 1 mile or 100 miles, we want our travel to be as fast and efficient as possible.


In order to travel from point A to point B, we also have to expend energy. Depending on the speed at which we’re moving and the distance we have to travel, our energy expenditure will vary. The energy that is used up during travel can be thought of as Cost of Transport, the amount of energy it costs a body to move. In their book, Go Wild, John Ratey and Richard Manning explain this concept wonderfully.


Within this Cost of Transport, every species on the planet has a transport set point. A sweet spot. Imagine, if you will, a graph with speed on one axis and energy expended during motion on the other axis. For most species, this graph would show a “U” shaped curve, where the bottom of the “U” would be the “sweet spot”. This is where the animal is most efficient, where they are able to cover the most distance with the least energy. A car, for example, may be most fuel efficient at 55MPH, allowing you to travel the longest distance at this speed.


Homo Sapiens, humans, match this rule as well. Although, oddly enough, we only fit the “U” shaped curve when walking. Our efficient walking speed is about 6 feet per second. Running, however, does not allow us a cost effective speed. Our running curve would simply be a flat line. And this goes for any form of running. Whether you’re running uphill or downhill or backwards or sideways. All of these forms of running require different muscle groups and yet have no efficient speed at which to cover the greatest amount of distance for the homo sapiens species.


However, if, instead, you take the species and break it down into individuals, you have a different story. Homo sapiens as individuals have a cost of transport “sweet spot” for anything and everything. Some may be efficient at running long distance or short distance. Others may be efficient at tumbling and others efficient at climbing. Others, still, may be efficient at throwing a baseball while others are efficient at chopping wood.


There is no consistency for efficiency in movement across the human race. Our efficiencies are based on experience and conditioning. This cannot be said for any other species on the planet. You may say that some animals are “born to leap” or “born to gallop” or “born to run”. Are humans born to run? Sure. They’re also born to climb, crawl, roll, push, pull, throw, carry, chop, swing…you get the picture.


This is why training all of the basic human movements is important: push, pull, hinge, squat, carry and everything else. Throwing in some sprinting and climbing and swinging and throwing isn’t a bad idea either. This is unless you want to do something specific. For instance, if you want to lift heavy weights, then lift heavy weights most of the time, and do everything else periodically. If you want to be a runner, then run most of the time, and do everything else periodically. Note: these last two sentences DO NOT apply to anyone under the age of 18. If you fit the age range you should do everything, all the time, any time.


You want to be able to move when you’re 70, 80, 90 years old? These are the things you need to do. Be consistent with the basic human movements and do everything else variably. Movement = life afterall.



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Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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