Paleo Principals: A Blast from the Past

"It's so easy a caveman can do it"

"It's so easy a caveman can do it"


By: Cassie Vanderwall, MS RD LDN CPT

Cavemen are making a comeback on more than Geico commercials. People are drawn to the simplistic dietary and active lifestyles of these Paleolithic characters.  The paleo, or caveman, diet is more than food choices but is an encompassing lifestyle choice to return to the “default” setting by embracing our instincts to hunt, gather and move.  Many people believe that by following the optimal foraging theory they will maximize their net energy intake over time, as well as, avoid the onset of modern chronic diseases, such as: diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

The paleo diet is based on a few principals, including “in” and “out” foods and eating when you are hungry, which includes periods of fasting, grazing and feasting.

In and Out foods:

  • Most plant foods are in, and variety is emphasized.
  • Vegetables are in, especially root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips are in, but potatoes are out. 
  • Fruit is in, with a focus on berries.
  • Oils from fruits and tree nuts are in.
  • Herbs and spices are in; salt is out.
  • Some “cavemen” followers encourage animal products, including: meat, birds, fish and eggs.  Others discourage “foreign proteins” and promote plant-based protein such as nuts.
  • Water is in; all other beverages with the exception of wild fermented fruit (a.k.a. wine) are out.

Paleo workouts are in, too.  This type of exercise encourages short bouts of high intensity movement, as well as, lower intensity physical activity throughout the day.  I like how these work-outs are based outside of the gym, so that people do not need anything to be fit.  All of the lifts encourage natural movements such as pushing (push-up), pressing (squat or lunge), and pulling (pull-up).  From my research, I found that some workouts can last from 1 minute to 30 minutes and the weight-based goals focus on lifting 1 to 5 tons, which is achieved by doing several reps of a weight until it amounts to 1 to 5 tons.  For example, I could do 100 repetitions of a 20lbs weight to amount to 2,000lbs (1 ton).

Check out the work-out below that I have constructed using these paleo-principals.  Please note that if you are just starting to exercise for the first time, or the first time in awhile seek approval from your physician.  Also, start slow and monitor your heart rate during physical activity.

As a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, I see these guidelines as a red flag for a fad, or false advertising, diet because it restricts some foods for life, rather than encouraging people to learn how to modify their consumption of all foods.  I also do not encourage my patients to fast throughout the day, but rather emphasize following a schedule. I do like that it encourages regular physical activity, such as walking throughout the day.  Overall, I admire this lifestyle’s attempt to achieve a healthier lifestyle and prevent chronic disease, and give props to those committed to these primal principals.

Paleo-principal Aerobic Workout:

Aerobic warm-Up (5-10 minutes): Walk or bike for 5 to 10 minutes at a low speed and intensity.

Aerobic work-out (20-30 minutes): Perform a series of ten 1-minute sprints with 1 to 2 minutes of “rest” between each sprint.  Rest by walking or jogging at a warm-up pace. A sprint qualifies as:

  • Beginner: Walking briskly (4.0 mph or faster)
  • Intermediate: Jogging at 5-7mph
  • Advanced: Sprinting at 8mph or faster

Aerobic cool-down (5-10 minutes): Walk or bike for 5 to 10 minutes at a low speed and intensity.

Paleo-principal Aerobic Workout: 2+ Ton goal by performing 3 sets of 4 different exercises with 10-15 repetitions each (3 sets, 4 exercises, 12-15 reps each)

Suggested exercises include:

Walking lunges or Squats, while holding barbell, dumb-bell, slosh pipe, etc. over head

Lateral lunges or Wide-leg Squats with weight

Single-leg or double-leg bride-ups


Pull-ups, if you have a pull-up bar available

Over-head press using barbell, dumbbells, slosh pipe, etc.

Over-head toss using imaginary ball, exercise ball, medicine ball, etc.

Lunge and twist using imaginary ball, exercise ball, medicine ball, a rock, etc.

Tricep dips with straight or bent knees

Meet the Author

Stephanie Hofhenke

Stephanie Hofhenke

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