Classifying Exercises The Caveman Way

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Articles

There was once a game in which you could take the part of an orc, and run around, doing orc things like drinking, pillaging, and otherwise making a nuisance of yourself. All the other players did likewise, and I got the impression that whoever had chewed on the most knucklebones by the end of the alloted time had won.

I tried hard to find out what the game was called, but I couldn’t find it. I heard of it back in, let’s say 2000 or 2001, and it’s probably long since gone out of print. I never had the fortune of playing the game, but I somehow had at least some of the rules, and I found them hilarious. Bear with me, here, and I’ll eventually get to the pumping iron bit.

So, in many games, electronic and otherwise, you determine your character’s strengths and weaknesses with a set of scores. Anyone who’s played a game like Diablo, or World of Warcraft or the like can attest to this. The methdology has been in place since the paper based roleplaying games of my youth, like Dungeons and Dragons. I know of these things, yes. I don’t like to talk about it, but I may, in fact, be a huge geek. Huge. We will speak of it no more.

Traditionally, aptitudes like Strength and Dexterity are used to express a character’s advantages and shortfalls. That’s where this game where you played orcs comes in. Rather than traditional ability numbers, this game had something a little more, er, primal, in mind.

For the orcs in this game, they had four statistics. Meat, twitch, bone, and mojo. Meat was how big and strong they were. Twitch was how quick they were, in order to get out of the way of falling bolders or the townsfolk’s pitchfork. Bone was how tough and enduring they were, their ability to gut it out when things got difficult. Mojo was their ability to influence others and/or do weird magic.

I’ve been mulling over this method of classification for a long time, and I think it does a great job of quickly, crudely stating the benefits of an exercise, a workout program, and so on. Meat, Twitch, Bone, and Mojo. It could work. Let me ‘splainhow.


Traditional weight training progams are all about Meat. Getting bigger, getting stronger. No one ventures under the squat bar or starts doing heavy deadlifts to look pretty in the mirror or get “toned.” They get under there to get frickin’ big, and hella strong. Your basic lifts like squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press, and rows…the staple of any program that purports to pack on the beef…all concern themselves with moving as much weight as possible. These are grinding movements, where you get to a point in any tough set that your reps become grim battles, the weight slowing down to a crawl. That’s what makes you strong. That’s what a Meat exercise is all about. Powerlifting is only concerned about Meat. Nothing else matters.

Does Meat have a transferrable benefit to things outside the weightroom? Sure. Being bigger and stronger is a benefit in a variety of ways. In daily life, you’re working at a lower percentage of your maximum effort, so things feel easier. In sports, being big and strong generally improves your performance. This is especially true of the popular sports in this country, like football and basketball, where physical might is a requirement. You don’t necessarily need to be yoked to play billiards or play badminton. It could actually be a detriment (you could bust up a wicket!)


Olympic weightlifters, while required to be strong, need to be exceedingly quick and flexible. They have to have explosive, sudden, coordinated bursts of energy. Twitch training gives you this. Sprinters have to have it, as do jumpers. The elusive boxer who ducks in, delivers a barrage of punches, then darts back unscathed–this is another example of Twitch. A pitcher delivering a fastball, and the batter swinging at the same ball–these two are both using Twitch. If it were just about size, you’d be seeing the 800 pound squatter waddling around the bases after a triple to deep left center. That isn’t the case. It’s about mechanics, about using a sudden jolt of biochemical energy to move at lightning speed.

How do you train for this sort of thing? Well, the Olympic lifts are certainly one way, as are plyometric jumps, but any exercise where our prime aim is to accelerate ourselves or a weight as suddenly as possible is training Twitch. The Westside Barbell method takes this into consideration with their dynamic effort principle, in which lifters alter an exercise that would normally be a Meat lift to train their fast twitch muscle fiber. It’s all about creating the highest moment of power, and this generally occurs when you’re at between fifty and sixty percent of your maximum weight. It’s heavy enough that you can’t possibly reach the limitation of your ability to accelerate the weight (your body will only move so fast, regardless of how little resistance there is), but light enough that you can train your muscles to fire suddenly and effectively. Anyow, that’s Twitch. In many cases, we do too little training of this kind, and end up with a lot of power that we find difficult to apply in an efficient manner. By the way, a lot of strongman stunts are twitch-related, where it’s all about firing the neurons as hard as possible, not just “muscling it.”


Yeah. If one were personifying Bone, you’d talk out endurance athletes. The guys riding the Tour de France. The guys staggering over the line after a triathalon. Cross country skiiers. Soccer players. Doing something really difficult, and doing it for a long time. That’s not all Bone is about, though. There’s cardivascular endurance, and there’s also muscular endurance. This is sometimes also talked about as “work capacity.”

Of all the attributes, Bone is the one that can have the broadest set of outward signals and possible metrics. The runner who can finish a marathon has it in one way, but the guy who can lay brick all day also has it, even if he never cared to run down to the corner. You can have all the Meat you want, but Bone is hard-earned, and has a lot of facets.

When I was seventeen, I was, by all accounts, a stud. I could squat 500, I could deadlift damn near 600, I could run a sub-six minute mile, and my 40 time was around 4.8. I stayed at the gym four hours at a time sometimes. This was before anyone in high school had a cell phone. I’m not bragging, here, just setting up a story.

I got an odd job for a week in which school was out. Don’t remember the occassion. Probably Spring Break, and we weren’t rich, so I didn’t fly to Rocky Point and get stoned all week. The job was moving cinderblocks. Blocks weigh 30 pounds a piece. No big deal. I could do that in my sleep. 30 pounds. Get out of here.

Yeah, for the first hour or so, that’s the way it went. Pick ’em up and walk with ’em. Way around this guy’s house, stepping over the trench, winding through the forest of rebar that would support the wall when it got laid in.

Working with me was a guy who was clearly, manifestly hung over, who had no muscle to speak of, and who didn’t look to be a really healthy individual, when seen up close.

I was macho, and I worked all day, and I didn’t say a word about how much it was starting to hurt. Big time, deep aching. Moving block is not easy, not as an all-day job. It takes Bone. Work strength, not gym strength. It has nothing to do with sets and reps.

I did the job all week, just as my hungover comrade did. My hands and arms were sore for two weeks after that. So much for being a stud, huh?

Creating muscular and cardiovascular endurance has been the topic of a ton of material. High intensity interval training, like P90X, kettlebell long cycles, all the various traditional “cardio” stuff, even the caveman stuff I do can have some positive impact. Bone, though, is not universal. Even the toughest, fittest hombre around can’t walk into the playground where someone’s adapted to an activity and do him one better. Bone is where pride always goes before the fall. It’s not that being cardivascularly efficient and muscularly enduring doesn’t have major upsides, but remember that it’s all about your body getting used to doing something. The more difficult and unpleasant an activity you’re used to, the harder it is for circumstances to be beyond you.


Will it make me pretty? Will I look great on the dance floor? Will my prospective romantic conquests go all weak and misty at the very sight of me? If you’ve got Mojo, yeah, probably. Bodybuilders, personal trainers, and movie stars are all paid for their Mojo. Muscular shape and definition, a tiny, washboard waist, and all the grooming essentials that current trends dictate are the building blocks of Mojo.

None of us would kick Mojo out of bed. We’d all like to have some of that. Looking like Brad Pitt from “Troy” or, let’s see, Jessica Biel from “Summer Catch” would be pretty okay for a lot of us. Ideally, we fans of the performance angle of fitness would like to see the good looks and shapely bodies come as a natural outgrowth of effective training. Olympic sprinters don’t get any points for being shredded, it just happens that they get that way as a result of training to be as fast as humanly possible.

A variety of the lifts you’ll see people doing at the gym, as well as a variety of training programs people will cobble together for themselves are created out of a desire for Mojo. Mojo exercises can be found in any bodybuilding magazine you pick up. If the training method is more concerned with looking hot than doing anything performance-related, it’s Mojo. The big mistake that a lot of uninformed people make, however, is that they put Mojo first. We don’t become golden gods simply by biceps curls and triceps kickbacks. For many of us, we just don’t become golden gods at all. Because we’re just not that pretty, and our bodies strenuously object to the notion.

There comes a time in a young lady’s life when she realizes that, at five-ten, she’s not going to be a ballerina. For boys, if they are what is kindly termed “husky” and understand about special sizes before they’re twelve, the chances of them being the star quarterback or the big scorer in soccer are not very high. We are not all destined for great Mojo, and if we do get some, it’ll be the results of training for other purposes that gets us there. Like finding our one true love, it’ll happen if it’s meant to happen, and it’ll happen easiest when we’re not worrying about it.

And So…

What’s all this horse hockey add up to? Well, when you’re reviewing your workout scheme, see if you’re doing some stuff for all the sorts of conditioning.

Meat? That’s probably a given.

Mojo…well, those crunches and arm curls can stay.

What about Bone? It’s easy to skimp on that one, because it hurts, especially at first. Whether it’s traditional cardio like running or jumping rope, or if you’re swinging kettlebells, or if you like to swing a splitting axe for an hour every Sunday, you owe yourself a chance to build up your endurance.

Twitch is another one that can go wanting. Make sure that you’re, at least in some way, challenging your brain and body to actually USE that beef you’re packing on. Do a few sprints or agility drills. Throw something heavy. Do some power cleans. Ask yourself to be coordinated. Ask your body to accelerate. It’s good for you.

And that’s the caveman way of classifying exercises. Hope you like it. If you happen to know more about the game I’m describing early on in the article, drop me a comment.

Happy Lifting!

  1. Mike says:

    Now that’s quite a write up! It seems like a good logical breakdown of the various training styles. I’ve noticed that people do tend to gravitate into more or less the four catigories you have laid out. A lot seems to depend on the inherent physical style of the person. People attracted to running marithons don’t tend to lift heavy weight with their arms, and guys who lift heavy weight rarely run marithons.

    I’ve also seen, as you pointed out, that people who routinely do hard physical work develop a sort of toughness (bone) that a regular gym rat can’t match.

  2. Mike, thanks.

    I think what you say about people finding their comfort level with exercising is certainly true. We tend to play to our strengths, and I am no different. I don’t really feel any enthusiasm for long distance running. It just doesn’t seem fun, and it doesn’t appear to be what my body’s built for.

    It’s surprising what kind of work strength you might encounter in people who just do hard jobs all day, as you say. The body adapts. Sadly, it also adapts to sitting on the couch and eating pork rinds.

    Thanks for coming by.

    • Mike says:

      Yes, couch potato, the previously unmentioned fifth training style, is by far the most popular approach.

      • As we’re going with one word, simple declaratives, we’ll call that “Blob.” It is usually left out, since it just takes away from all the other attributes.

  3. Bobby-T says:

    LMAO. Really enjoyable dialogue here. Meat, Twitch, Bone and Mojo – Quite descriptive, not to mention “Blob”. I would have to say that my exercise regimen might best be described as “Mobility”, as that is what I endeavor to maintain, but I must say that I have tried them all as my ability allowed.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Bob,

      Mobility is good! I’ve found with advancing age that I need to be active if I want to stay active – otherwise it seems like stuff freezes up. Bodies in motion tend to remain in motion (Newton). If it was not for friction we wouldn’t need to work so damn hard at it. So I guess I’d say, anything that gets you up and puting one foot ahead of the next is probably good for ya.

      I hope you’re doing well and I enjoy seeing your comments here on Patrick’s cool web site.

  4. Bobby-T says:

    Hi Mike! Good to hear from you. It sure does seem that the classifications of exercise change as one ages. I’m heading for S.L.C. by way of Boise tomorrow morning. I’ll be taking my bows with me so that I can do some shooting with Pat. Maybe we’ll even get some of it on film and Pat can post it up here. He really does have a great website. Hope all is well with you. Take care, Bob.

    • Mike says:

      Drive safe. I’m looking forward to seeing a video of you guys doing some archery. From what I gather, you have quite a bow collection.

  5. And…it’s become a discussion forum here in the comments area. Cool.

  6. Bobby-T says:

    Yeah! Let’s meet over at Pat’s Place and chat for a while!

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