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Humanities Honors Program

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Weights of the World: An Examination of the Evolutionary Histories of the Atlas Stone and Gada, and the Philosophy of Resistance Training

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In an age when everyday life demands less and less of the human body, it often feels as if we are growing further divorced from our nature as moving creatures. As the gym becomes the only sphere of life in which real physical exertion is experienced, our understanding and performance of exercise grows all the more distant—we get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, using machines that isolate the muscles and limit the body’s movement. Our blood, sweat, and labor are transformed into numbers, cold steel, and increments of time. In this thesis I call upon the wisdom of both ancient and nascent strength communities to offer a perspective on exercise that is more human but does not lose sight of the importance of empirical data and quantitative values. In doing so, I give a brief account of the evolutionary histories of two not-so-typical exercise implements—the Atlas Stone and gada—as well as the myths and peoples to which they are tethered by history, legend, and science. Following my examination of the implements, I outline a three-phase exercise routine that synthesizes exercises performed using them with contemporary training principles and methodologies. Thus, in drawing upon the wisdom of the Indian wrestling and European stone lifting communities, I propose the need to cultivate a fitness culture that marries ancient techniques and attitudes with empirical findings and innovative technologies to produce trainees that are smarter, fitter, and greater in number.

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