Throwing: Another Essential Movement?

Human evolution is usually described as a sequence of momentous changes or developments to our species. You’ve got the move from knuckle walking and tree dwelling to perpetual bipedalism that occurred a few million years back as perhaps the biggest step toward homo sapiens and away from the lower primates. There’s the big brain, too, as well as the tool making. Language acquisition, art, spirituality, and, yes, agriculture are other major milestones in our journey. These developments punctuated and defined our evolution, and they’ve come to define what it means to be human. What other animals walk upright all day long, manipulate and craft complex machinery, employ an over ten thousand-word verbal vocabulary, and shape the natural world around them?

Well, it’s probably time to augment our evolutionary CVs with yet another bullet point: the development of our unique shoulder joints.

As a recent NPR story highlighted, the human shoulder joint took awhile to arrive on the scene. Our earliest tree-dwelling ancestors had similar shoulders to modern apes, whose shoulder joints angle upwards, allowing effortless hanging from branches. Once we descended and began walking upright, the joint began descending, too, and growing more horizontal. The collarbone lengthened to allow our arms to hang freely and manipulate objects (build tools, perchance) in front of us. Using our shoulder joints, we could move our arms in nearly any direction, even behind our backs. This freedom to whip our arms around through a full range of motion gave us the ability to throw objects with astounding accuracy and lethal velocity. Even our flickable wrists (think a basketball shot) and powerful hips and glutes (not just good for running, after all) augmented our throwing abilities.

Pound for pound, the Paleolithic human was no physical match for the big game he was pursuing or the predators with whom he was competing, but the ability to throw finely-crafted projectile objects, like spears, javelins, or darts, gave him a serious edge. Throwing turned our lithe, lean, relatively physically unimpressive ancestors into productive hunters. This wasn’t the poop flinging chimpanzee spazzing out in a cage; this was a long-range killer taking fauna out at fifty yards, or, to use a more contemporary example, the big league pitcher throwing a perfect game.

I think it’s pretty clear how important throwing was to human evolution. It allowed us to really focus on the acquisition of live prey, rather than rely on small animals and left over carcasses. It kept us at a distance and away from close contact with physically imposing animals, where the odds were not in our favor. It gave us more access to larger amounts of energy intensive meat, allowing our stomachs to shrink to make way for bigger brains. But the question remains: how do we incorporate throwing into fitness? It’s clearly an essential movement, perhaps even a uniquely human one.

You can expect to see throwing show up in future WOWs (along with all the other ancillary movements, like crawling, leaping, dragging, etc), in several forms:

  • Underhand throws (like a kettlebell swing)
  • Overhead (soccer-style) throws
  • Ground slams
  • Chest throws (basketball style)
  • Vertical throws (like a medicine ball)
  • Shot puts
  • Accuracy tests
  • Distance tests

Just remember that throwing isn’t just about the arms and the shoulders. Much of the power is generated through the hips (like throwing a punch, sorta) and the flicking of the wrist helps with accuracy.  As such, proper throwing shouldn’t just get you a sore rotator cuff. It should work your core, your posterior chain, and your upper body. And heavier objects require more muscle involvement, obviously. Don’t throw a twenty-pound rock like a baseball (or a javelin).

Throwing definitely has a place in fitness. I think of fitness as one’s ability to interact with and traverse the environment – climbing obstacles, moving obstacles, lifting obstacles, dragging objects, throwing objects (at other objects). It’s not just raw strength or speed; it’s also agility, balance, and throwing accuracy. You may not have to pin a hare at 30 yards for dinner anymore, but it’s important to use what evolution gave you. Don’t let grandfather Grok down, now. Show him you can throw half as well as he could.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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52 thoughts on “Throwing: Another Essential Movement?”

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  1. I think a great addition to my fitness has been ultimate frisbee. Now, its not exactly “throwing” as in a baseball style throw, but you have to think timing, distance, speed, and how it CURVES through the air to hit your moving target (receiver/cutter). Also, making the catch requires all of the same things, but you gotta jump for the disc! Hand-eye coordination, strength, speed…fun times.

    1. I have a friend from West Africa who used to have to guard fruit trees from baboons. He said he used a sling with stones like King David in the Bible, but the baboons served stones back at him like an underhand badminton shot.
      He said when the mob of baboons started picking up stones he got the heck out of the orchard.

  2. The Atlatl video is awesome. I am going deer hunting for the first time this November and while shooting a deer would be cool… killing it this style would be extraordinary.

    I can’t wait for future WOW’s – especially ones that have the throwing movement thrown in. I really enjoyed the WOW this week.

    Thanks for another awesome article Mark!

  3. “Even our flickable wrists (think a basketball shot)…augmented our throwing abilities.”

    I tend to think “ping pong” when I think about flickable wrists. Something about anticipating the small, white ball quickly approaching my side of the table, and figuring out in millisecond timing how to position, angle, and move my paddle to return the ball with proper spin really gets my juices pumping.

  4. “It gave us more access to larger amounts of energy intensive meat, allowing our stomachs to shrink to make way for bigger brains.”

    Could you explain this a littl bit more please?

    1. If you have access to meat and fat you can eat far less mass to gain an equivalent level of calories from vegetation. Therefore, simultaneously, your stomach can be smaller and the massive amounts of calories used by our big brains can be satisfied. Make sense?

      1. This in part explains why as an ex-vegetarian I’m finding I eat a lot less volume! And feel full quicker and for longer.

        Alas not all of our species use such a large vocabulary!

        I’m enjoying swimming fly (butterfly) at the moment which is awesome for shoulder mobility and I guess the throwing action too, I should find me a javelin, I have a long garden (back yard!) :-).

  5. Being a former college shotputter, discus thrower, and hammer thrower, I can tell you that throwing heavy objects requires good coordination and body control. Lower body strength, hip strength, and core strength provide the necessary power. The coordination and balance are the methods of communicating that power from the source (legs, hips, etc) through the upper body to whatever it is that your throwing. We did all sorts of training in college, overhead kettles, side kettles, throwing off of balance beams, etc. I am looking forward to the throwing WOW’s.

    1. Ditto! I for one would love to pick up a shot, discus or javelin again, and see what I can do. Throwing is not one of those sports that you continue after college–hopefully this will change! I’d like to see a lot more amateur athletics for adults in the US, and MUCH more variety. I guess I can do my part by digging that discus out of the garage right now…

    2. I as well was a college thrower. It fits in perfectly with a Primal lifestyle. I would love to get back into it. Lifting AND throwing heavy things.

      It is common knowledge that throwing in the track and field sense is done by arms and shoulders, but its all technique, and speed/power which comes from your legs, hips, and core.

  6. I think it’ll be funny to see some people on here throw for distance or accuracy. I think most Primal enthusiasts have adapted eating and exercise regimens well, but are really far behind on skills. Just my two cents.

    1. Of course we’re behind on our skills at hunting with a javelin or a rock. It’s not like it comes up every day. The only way you wouldn’t be, is if you chose to do that as a hobby. Is it “funny” if someone doesn’t know how to put a car together, or is it only funny when people can’t do things that you have spent your free time doing?

      1. Sure it’s funny. I’ve never thrown anything other than a baseball, so I’d bet somebody could get a pretty good laugh at my first attempts at an alatl or a javelin – like when I try to throw anything with my left arm, I look like a complete buffoon.

        It’s okay to laugh.

        1. I am pretty unskilled at throwing any ball. So I wouldn’t mind working on my skill set to throw things. lol I’m usually told I throw like a girl. Sorry, to offend any females. Honestly, I probably throw worse than anyone here. Although, I seem to be a nature at throwing punches.

  7. I throw alot of tennis balls and toys for my dog, but that’s probably not the greatest workout 🙂

    I also noticed recently, while digging up potatoes from my garden (planted before eating primally) that digging is a *really* good workout. I bet it was also a much-used skill in Grok-times. Will stick to growing sweet potatoes from now on…

  8. I’ve recently become interested in Primal Living and this particular blog post ties into another interest, ancient/medieval warfare.

    There is a growing selection of very high quality reproduction weapons from these eras and Arms & Armor in Minnesota crafts a couple of javelins that are very reasonably priced. Their website is

    I am in no way affiliated with Arms & Armor but I do like to steer potential customers to top quality companies like them as it’s a very niche market.

    I can think of few things more fun than buying an archery target and setting it up for javelin practice in the backyard. For those with even more room you can try an atlatl type set-up for even more range.

    For me, getting two or three of their javelins would be satisfying two of my interests.

  9. You can make a “spear” out of a wooden pole with some chalked padding fabric wrapped over the end. That way you can do target practice and the chalk shows you where you’re hitting. Closet rod makes a nice heavy spear, but any wood dowel stock should work. More fun than shotput, I think.

    1. LOL…better than throwing your arm out, which I used to do until I had reconstructive surgery.

      Dislocated shoulder hurts like heck!

  10. Great article…except for the comparison of hitting a target at 50 yards with a spear to pitching a perfect game. I’d say an outfielder nailing a guy at the plate on a sac fly would be more accurate. And if you want to use a perfect game, you’d have to change the other side to hitting 27 fauna at 50 yards.

    Sorry, that’s the ball player in me.

  11. Thanks for this post. I’ve been mulling over the importance of throwing from an evolutionary perspective and its relative lack of emphasis in most modern peoples’ workouts. The only good alternatives (other than the real thing, of course) that I could previously think of were sports that involved throwing, wall ball, and clap push ups.

  12. I am going to go throw some steaks in my cart at Piggly Wiggly but that is about as primal as I will get for today.

    Does this count?

  13. You keep coming up with the greatest additions for my workout regimen. Since I started following you in April 2010, I’ve lost 55 pounds. I’m now a lean and mean 160 pounds at 56 years old, and I’ve never felt better. Just like the sledge hammer routine, which I now use on my HIIT day, I’ll have to incorporate some throwing into my workouts. Any idea where I can get a spear?

    1. Wow! Congratulations! I’ve been following PB lifestyle since about the same time, 25 years younger than you, with a similar starting weight, but I haven’t as much weight loss. 🙁 I’ve lost about 20 lbs (maybe 25 – haven’t weighed in since last month) & seen some recompositioning, which makes me very grateful. Unfortunately, I think my fat loss has stalled a bit, because I’m not noticing much change in clothes or mirror the last month. Have you done any calorie counting or found any tips you want to share?

      Or anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

      1. No. I hate counting calories. I do follow the Primal Blueprint Plan, including intermittent fasting. My first fast was a water fast for five days. I only did that once, then I went to fasts for 24 – 36 hours once per week. Now, I only fast by skipping a meal here and there. I work out hard, but I keep it short and intense. I include many things from Mark’s plan, including sprinting, lifting heavy things and HIIT.

  14. Perhaps the reason throwing is involved in so many of today’s sports is due to the fact that it speaks to us on a very primal level. There is something hugely satisfying and just plain fun about throwing something!

  15. Guess it’s a good thing I’ve always been a football guy. Hurray for having good throwing arms!

  16. I’ve got some atlatls and their 6 foot darts laying around that I built for the kids for Christmas a few years ago. Also some homemade flatbows with 50 lb pull.

    An interesting blog today.

  17. I have an authentic weight/length spicula (I’m a re-enactor – later roman period) and in the few week’s I’ve had it I’ve gone from really girlie throws to 30′ with reasonable accuracy. Give it another season and I should easily double that. So throwing like a girl isn’t fixed!

  18. what about tennis? is that primal? serve as a throwing action, lots of short scampering around the court, coordination…?

    1. Looks good, doesn’t it, with all those short all-out sprints? Also, the top tennis players tend to look like the kind of athlete you’d want to resemble – that has to be a good sign.

  19. “I’m usually told I throw like a girl. Sorry, to offend any females.”

    No offense. Just keep trying until you can throw like a WOMAN. Then you’ll be impressive. 😉

  20. @ Grey Fox : I, too, hit a slow down in my weight loss. I went to and logged in my food and was shocked by how my fruit consumption was adding more carbs than I wanted or needed.

  21. Do you think these pre-historic hunters / throwers developed shoulder injuries similar to today’s throwing athletes?

    Why or why not?

    1. I doubt it. When you hunt, you aren’t throwing for volume, and, presuming it’s a group outing, the throwing load is spread across multiple individuals. What do pitchers typically throw in a game – 150 pitches?

      1. About 100 pitches these days (mainly to reduce risk of injuries).

        So does this make baseball the most primal sport? Throwing, swinging a club, and all the running is sprinting.

  22. I just started throwing the Shot & Discus again. Haven’t done it since High School and I wore my heart rate monitor and got a great workout between my throws and walking to pick them up.

  23. So glad you included this to your list of primal/functional movements! For Paleolithic man, throwing was not just used for hunting, but for play and warfare as well. In addition, to throwing objects to kill prey/enemies or for some long forgotten sport, our ancestors also had to be very proficient in hand-to-hand combat. So, I would include “throwing” a punch as part of this category. Maybe consider adding a punching bag to your Primal Fitness routine?

  24. Throwing a punch, throwing another human, throwing a ball, the mechanics are the same. Power is derived from pushing against the ground, up through the hips and out the extremities.

  25. I have always loved throwing things and I agree that baseball is very primal. A 9 inning game under the hot sun every Sunday is a great workout, especially to the 40 and 50 somethings in my league.

  26. I just started throwing Boomerangs for fun and health benefits. It takes a bit of skill and if you make it a point of pride never to let the rang touch the ground then you end u sprinting 5-10 metres to catch them if you do a bad throw and jogging back to your throwing point. It also exercises the brain as you have to work out trajectories and wind angles etc. It would be of the same intensity level that Grok’s son would have had throwing rocks at animals and trying to chase down the injured ones.

  27. You guys haven’t heard the Aquatic Ape Theory.
    We got out of the trees into the water.
    We had to get upright to breathe.
    We lost our hair (and changed our shoulder joint) so we could swim.
    We put on fat so we could float.
    The mothers with a big birth canal to pass a fat baby could also pass a baby with a big head holding a big brain.
    We needed a big brain to survive and here we are.

    1. Graham – Isnt that a highly debated theory? There are certainly many things being explained by the Aquatic Ape Theory, but hasnt it been shown to be quite woeful at explaining other evolutionary records/observations?

      I unfortunately am on a work machine hence wouldnt be able to give links right now, maybe in a few hours!


    2. hi I loved that book too and I think the evidence is very compelling, go give it a try !