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A Case For Functional Movement Training: Prehistoric Women Are Stronger Than University Rowers

A study from the University of Cambridge published in the Journal Science Advances, showed that prehistoric women were stronger than the school’s female rowing crew today.


Here’s a Time article on the study:


To determine this, researchers analyzed the bones of European women who lived around 7,000 years ago—during the Neolithic time—and compared them to those of the women’s rowing crew at the school today. It was the first study of its kind.


Bone is a living tissue and responds to the rigours of physical activity, just like muscle, researchers explained.  Which is why they were able to make the comparisons and draw the conclusions they did.


The conclusions:


  1. Neolithic women’s upper arms were found to be much stronger than those of the rowing team today—11 to 16% stronger, and 30% stronger than the average female student at Cambridge.


  1. Neolithic women had similar leg bone strength to the modern day female rowers at the school, most of whom are in their early 20s AND training twice a day logging an average of 120 km in the boat each week, I should add.

The researchers believe such physical strength was likely gained from prehistoric women’s daily functions—demanding physical tasks such as tilling the soil, grinding grain for hours a day to make flour, fetching food and water, processing milk and meat and various kinds of textile work.


Interestingly, by the Bronze Age—considered to be between 3,200-600 BC in Europe—women’s bones were much weaker, especially their leg bones—most likely due to a change in the demands of their daily lives, researchers suspect.


If nothing else, this study can be seen as a case for functional movement training—i.e. mimicking real life movements in the gym—not to mention the importance of variety in a fitness program.


I knew we were onto something with our training program!


While the sport of rowing obviously builds strength, the entire sport is based around doing the same movement over and over again, and arguably not all that translatable to life. Albeit anecdotal, I once put an Olympic Gold medal rower through our first day physical testing and he was only capable of doing 3 pull-ups!    Farming, on the other hand, places a wide variety of demands on the body and is possibly more translatable to life?


Just some food for thought.


What do you think about all this?