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“But It’s Not What Nature Intended!”

Knees, ankles, and heels

I am going to lay all my cards on the table here, and talk about one of the weakest forms of argumentation that shows up now and again when we discuss various health and fitness habits.

“Do X, because that’s what nature intended!”

This argument will pop up when discussing footwear for lifting, proper food to eat, etc. “We were designed by nature to do X, therefore we should continue to do it.”  “X is better because it is more natural.”

Obviously the first problem you run across with this argument is the definition of natural. Webster defines natural as:

a : being in accordance with or determined by nature
b : having or constituting a classification based on features existing in nature 

There are a few problems with this definition. First off, one could take it to mean that natural implies that anything made by man is unnatural. Second is that since man is part of nature, and since he makes objects out of materials present in “nature”, nearly anything can be considered “natural”.

Nature can also be considered a bitch
  Some individuals may say that things like lifting shoes, straps, protein powder, etc. are bad because they are unnatural. Instead, they say, we should do dynamic movements using just our bodies, since it is more natural.

Well I have a question for you: Can you define natural? Like Rob Schmidt said, humans aren’t built with very many defenses against the elements, but one thing we do have is an intellect that allows us to adapt. That is our superior skill: Adaptability. Agent Smith had it right: humans are comparable to a virus, and much like a virus, we are able to adapt to different environments and scenarios. We may not have been born with shoes on our feet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wear them.  Shoes are awesome: They keep my feet from walking in dog shit, glass, and hypodermic needles around the city. Wearing toe shoes is no more natural than wearing a conventional shoe when looking at it from a philosophical standpoint.

I find it funny that individuals write that X is unnatural, typed from their cell phone which is connected to the internet that allows them to communicate instantly with someone else half a world away. How “natural” is that? You cannot chastise something as being unnatural when at the same time doing a laundry list of other unnatural things, such as: living in a house, wearing pants, going to a grocery store, living in a city, talking on a cell phone, drinking from the faucet, using a camera, and flying in an airplane.

Guess what? We didn’t stop living in caves because we were forced to. Living in a cave sucks and if a better option came along, you better believe that humans would take it, because that’s what we do. You could even go so far as to call controlling fire “unnatural”, along with possessing the knowledge to read and write. 

My point here is to highlight the fact that most people don’t even have a clear definition  of what “natural” is, let alone what qualifies and disqualifies as natural. People far smarter than you or I have tried and continue to try and explain what exactly natural is, and it will take you down a philosophical road you probably don’t want to be on.  Leave the natural argument on the shelf and find a better way to engage in conversation.

We all love squats, but lets be honest, the “natural” aspect of a squat ends after the air squat. Overhead squats, cleans, low bar squats are movements that are present in sports and should be treated as such. Use appropriate equipment for your sport, don’t be afraid to supplement as necessary in order to reach your goals. “Natural “is relative to the person saying it, and for me, I will utilize any and all tools I can to reach my goals, because I am an adaptable human who uses tools.

Will you join me, or are you going to continue living in your cave?


34 thoughts on ““But It’s Not What Nature Intended!”

  1. great post! This has always irritated me… it makes no sense to argue based on how “natural” something is.

    hypodermic needles?! that must be one nasty city!

  2. use of the word “natural” is usually not very well thought out, it is true… but I think the underlying intent is “what about this xyz-unnatural change that is being suggested, makes it better than leaving things as they are?”. For instance, we all can squat perfectly well in bare feet, so what exactly about special shoes is even better? If the goal is not total poundage, then why not stick with bare feet? I think thats the question about what is “natural”.

  3. And by “we all” I mean people who ask that question, not everyone. There are many people who need the heel lift on order to squat at all.

  4. If your goal is not total or increased poundage, then why are you squatting? Once technique is there, the way to test improvement is to increase poundage.

  5. This also applies to the use of steroids.

  6. I have been saying things like this for a while.. another good one is “chemicals”

    “This product is better because is all natural without chemicals.”

    Water is a goddamn chemical!

  7. loves oral steroids

  8. reps, depth/form, just “getting high”… all reasons to squat.

    Though you love squats, you are not a squat coach, you are an olympic weight lifting coach. Squats lead to ability to perform, or improvement in performance, in other types of lifts. They are an accessory, not a goal in that case. But for someone who is not specifically using squats to train for other lifts?

  9. Please tell me where one would find a squat coach.

  10. Thats my point, there is no such thing. Individuals may convince themselves that if they can squat more weight, they are more sucessful as people. In real life, suqatting is not that important in and of itself. it is what it leads to that matters.

    So yeah if you are squatting because you are going to transfer those skills into competitive lifting (olympic, power, whatever), the “unnatural” aspect of lifting accessories makes perfect sense. But if a lifter is not trying gain a competitive edge, and “natural” is the best word they can come up with, who cares?

  11. I’m fully against nature myself. Let the war begin. Antibiotics, Pain meds, Shoes, Safety Squat Bars, Protein Powder, Cell Phones, Chewing Gum, Diet Cream Soda… These are my weapons

  12. Eating meat is not natural. Humans are natural vegetarians. I know because vegans keep telling me that.

  13. Does going natural include not using the tampon bar?

  14. Always bare back…

  15. I love natural argument for paleo diet, i love screwing with my buddies who are crossfitters and paleo this and paleo that and bacon bacon bacon crossfit etc etc

  16. “First off, one could take it to mean that natural implies that anything made by man is unnatural. Second is that since man is part of nature, and since he makes objects out of materials present in “nature”, nearly anything can be considered “natural”.”

    Nicely said Brandon. I’ve been saying this exact same thing to people for years.

    Like you said today, “natural vs. unnatural” is simply not a useful or meaningful paradigm for evaluating things. It’s obviously not a good proxy for good and bad, because we can easily think of examples of natural things that are bad for us and unnatural things that are good.

    So what does it tell us? Nothing! We should just skip that discussion and go straight to talking about whether or not things help us achieve our goals, because that’s all that matters!

  17. Did anyone notice the bar placement on Arnolds neck in the pic at the top? Looks F*cking painful…

  18. My argument for that paleo crap has been ‘is it natural that I want to punch you in face?’ No bacon my ass!

  19. Lift and let lift, I say. If you get high from big #s, rad. If you get stoked on low weight, perfect form, good job son. If you have the $ for top end gear and you want to use it, sweet. Me? I’ve got gnarly knees and that’ll always limit my weight. But I like squats, and I haven’t hit breaking point yet. Do what makes you feel awesome, people

  20. I put $5 in the tip jar today at golden corral.

  21. “”squats are an accessory” “in real life, squatting is not that important” haha…who is this person.

  22. water is a combination of elements, but im sure wikipedia has it right…

  23. We must be careful what sense of the word “nature” we are referring to: it is in the nature of the wolf to eat meat; therefore, it good for the wolf to eat meat. Likewise, the nature of man is ‘rational animal’; therefore, it is good for man to use the intellectual faculties. (note: the technical philosophical term ‘rational animal’ only refers those things that are animal that have the potency to exhibit all intellectual faculties and the ability to to exercise free-will; this definition excludes exceptional cases of mental illness, mental defect, or incapacitation).
    Sometimes when the naturalistic fallacy is invoked, it incurs the fallacy of equivocation, and sometimes, an equivocation of ‘nature’ results in the naturalistic fallacy.

  24. I find it amusing when I’m eating something, or picking up some supplement bars, and someone tells me “Don’t eat THAT, it’s full of garbage. You should eat X-Y-Z instead, it’s all natural”. I like to tell them “So are hemlock and dog $#!t, but I don’t have interest in eating those either”. It’s good to be a “large land mammal. ;^)

  25. @Anon:

    “Individuals may convince themselves that if they can squat more weight, they are more sucessful as people.”

    Alternatively, individuals may want to squat more just for the challenge of doing so. In real life, squatting more weight may lead to nothing more than exactly that … feeling more successful. There’s nothing wrong with doing squats for squats sake.

  26. I think there is a need to eat healthy and I try to stay away from GMO foods as best as I can. There is a lot of research against GMO foods that is making a lot of sense. Obviously that is not always 100% possible for me to eat GMO free foods all the time. I also think as Powerlifters, Olympic Lifters, and Crossfitters we all agree machines and isolation movements are not as beneficial as compound movements. I think a big reason for that is that is not how are body is designed to be functioned. I do agree on the majority of the article. People use natural as if it is entirely the way to go. Supplements are their to help us but we must be smart consumers and do research as to what will benefit us the most for our own goals.

  27. water is definitely a chemical. everything is a chemical. just like everything is a toxin.

  28. Which came first the chicken or the egg? The egg silly, 13 of them for breakfast. This is LBEB after all. This is same argument that usually goes with religion. And as with religion, the argument will never end. I do dig the article though. I just try not to get too man made synthetic. I squat better in shoes, though the carry over would probably be more ‘ natural’ for real world application without.

  29. I agree the “Natural” argument has a lot of relativity attached to it. I am a barefoot runner and try to exercise barefoot as much as I can, and I’ve never stepped on glass or needles. I wouldn’t do that in shoes either. I’m a nature dude and yoga practictioner as well. But, I only do Olympic lifting in Pendlay’s with straps and with competition bumpers. I like to be in nature, but it also makes me appreciate a soft bed and roof over my head. “Natural” is not a good argument for what we do; there is an appropriate time for everything.

  30. anyone want to lay down under me while I squat on top of them? males only.

  31. That’s why I kill my meat with my bare hands…NATURAL

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