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Research Collaboration between Shane Benzie and George Brill - University of Cambridge

Research into Human Locomotor Evolution and Performance.

George and I first met in 2017 at a Marathon des Sables expo in London just before he headed out to Southeast Asia in search of the Batek tribe—our ideas and approach toward performance research clicked immediately. Since then we’ve been working on a number of ideas and projects across both athletes and indigenous groups.

The combination of our very different research backgrounds has allowed us to approach fieldwork with a unique set of perspectives and methodologies: our research projects are always an open-ended adventure…

As part of a PhD in Biological Anthropology, George's research is centred around the human evolutionary capacity for locomotion—running, climbing, swimming and freediving. His interest lies in how these locomotor disciplines have allowed our species to become adept at exploiting almost every environment on earth, and the unique ways in which indigenous societies and elite athletes have harnessed these evolutionary abilities to reach levels of proficiency far and above those necessary to meet the requirements of our hunter-gatherer past.

How is it that competitive freedivers can dive to 130m on a single breath, when traditional spearfishing never required dives of more than 40m; or why are we capable of running over 100 miles continuously, when the average persistence hunt lasted less than a marathon?

These questions have led us to explore the locomotor disciplines across a wide variety of environments: from jungles to ocean to mountain. We have each spent months living with tribes and indigenous peoples, and been privileged to train and work alongside elite ultrarunners, climbers and world-record freedivers in a variety of contexts.

In December 2019, we collaborated on a research project in Malaysia, focussing on movement perception and fluidity of the rainforest Batek tribe with whom George had been investigating human tree-climbing proficiency. That particular research expedition concluded with a midnight raid on our camp by a herd of wild elephants (bit that's another story…)

Coloured by similar unwelcome wildlife encounters, tropical disease and shamanic healing ceremonies, and supplemented by our own training and (often thoroughly uncomfortable) self-experimentation, our work has led us to believe that by integrating the diverse knowledge and perspectives of indigenous cultures, elite athletic performance, and academic research, we may uncover unique insights into human performance.

Locomotion is a fundamental aspect of our human biological and psychosocial identity: individually, culturally and as a species. Our collaboration will focus on the biological and anthropological nature of our capacity for diverse and extreme locomotor proficiency, exploring the physical, psychological and cultural adaptations in the transition from basal evolutionary aptitude to elite locomotor performance.

Utilising a cross-disciplinary approach of human evolutionary biology, sports science, psychology and anthropology our research explores the interplay between our biological adaptation and our unique psycho-cultural condition.

Is it that our human psychology and sociocultural contexts—flow state, pain-dismissal, movement perception and the like—is the root of the remarkable in extreme locomotor performance?

Follow George at www.georgebrill.co.uk

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