How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.

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Fitness, Podcast

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

I just finished reading what I consider to be one of the best books of 2015: Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.

In the book, best-selling author Christopher McDougall, today's podcast guest and a guy who you may recognize as the same author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen travels to the Mediterranean, where he discovers that the secrets of ancient Greek heroes are still alive and well in the razor-sharp mountains on the island of Crete – ready to be unleashed in the muscles and minds of casual athletes and aspiring heroes everywhere.

In the story, Chris recreates an amazing true tale of a band of Resistance fighters in World War II who plotted the daring abduction of a German general from the heart of the Nazi occupation. He  makes his way to the island to experience firsthand the extreme physical challenges the Resistance fighters and their local allies faced, and on Crete, the birthplace of the classical Greek heroism that spawned the likes of amazing physical specimens such as Herakles and Odysseus, McDougall discovers the tools of the heroes, including skills such as natural movement, extraordinary endurance, and efficient nutrition, skills that are still practiced in far-flung pockets throughout the world today.

If you want to be a modern-day athlete who can hone ancient skills to be ready for anything, then this podcast episode is for you. Prepare to get inspired to leave the gym and take your fitness routine to nature—to climb, swim, skip, throw, and jump their way to your own heroic feats.

So who is Christopher McDougall ?

Trained as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, Chris covered wars in Rwanda and Angola before writing the international bestseller, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. His fascination with the limits of human potential also led him to create the Outside magazine web series, “Art of the Hero”, and then most recently, the book Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.

During this audio interview with Chris, you'll discover:

-How Chris combines a life of immersive journalism and juggling family life with a study of extreme sports…

-Why the tiny island of Crete was such an important part of World War II, and how the Cretans developed such amazing athleticism…

-How to manipulate your body's own fascia to generate huge amounts of force, to run faster and to master natural movement…

-The only form of hand-to-hand combat that you should learn if you really want to learn to fight as efficiently as possible…

-Why Chris studied Parkour to prepare for his trip to Crete…

-How the mighty Cretan runners ran dozens and dozens of miles on virtually no calories, and how you can learn to do it too…

Why it's a myth that running a marathon killed the first person that did it…

-And much more!

Resources from this episode:

Wing Chun

My podcast with Barry Murray on becoming fat-adapted

Chris Mcdougall's Amazon author page

Do you have questions, comments or feedback for me or Chris? Leave your thoughts below and one of us with reply.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

15 thoughts on “How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.

  1. nekraliuga says:

    Wow, this guy is quite off base regarding martial arts. Aikido is just like Wing Chun except they emphasize going to the ground? The only reason a Wing Chun practitioner isn't taking out everyone in the UFC is that it would make bad television? Makes me question all of his narratives about fitness and movement.

  2. vegpedlr says:

    Great interview
    Just finished the book and enjoyed it. Though just as with the last, I wonder how much embellishment there was to make a better story. He also has a habit of overstating his opinions as fact when they are still hotly debated. Anyway, those curious about wing chun may want to check out some recent Chinese movies dramatizing the life of Ip Man (also sp Yip) who was Bruce Lee's teacher.

    A couple things from the book didn't make sense:

    How does the low HR Maffetone style training jibe with parkiour and Erwan style training? They seem opposed.

    I liked Ben's question about yoga, as it was the same one I had while reading.

    I did not see any evidence in the book that the Cretans followed the dietary part of "fat adaptation." My understanding of the Cretan diet was that it was plant based and starch based, centered on rusk, or rock hard bread, cooked wheat as bulgur, legumes, and wild greens. If the occupying Germans followed their usual protocol, animal foods would end up on German army tables. The book's dietary discussion centered on Noakes and Maffetone, neither of who were on Crete. So unless they filled their camelbaks with EVOO?

  3. Miles C says:

    “How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.”


    Bottom line, again, great pod for us average folks

    Thank you

  4. Stan says:

    Oh man, another great podcast sir! Had me giddy with references to wing chun, aikido, gracie jiu jitsu, pankration, parkour, and triathlon…pretty sure if you just added a college football clip you would have hit pretty much everything. Just picked up his new book and am excited to dive into it. Looking forward to the next time he comes on the podcast!

    1. Glad you liked it Stan!

  5. Naheka says:

    Hey Ben,

    I enjoyed the podcast. Of particular interest was the Wing Chun.

    I have taken Wing Chun in the past along with Tai Chi. By no means am I a "Master" but I have enjoyed taking or researching the martial arts for most of my life.

    With Wing Chun, I may slightly disagree with Mr. McDougall regarding "fascia" being the main source of power though it is likely to play a part.

    Wing Chun, along with Tai Chi to some extent, focus on minimizing using muscular tension to generate power or even to initiate movement. As we all now, muscular tension has a fairly quick half-life when one is exerting full strength and therefore, in a fight for one's life, the last thing you want is to be exhausted to the point where you can no longer defend yourself against someone similarly trained.

    Wing Chun, Tai Chi and most Chinese martial arts focuses on angles, proper body structure to generate power and sensitivity (as it pertains to sticky hands (wing chun) or pushing hands (tai chi)).

    Some great sources of information (note: I am not affiliated) are Robert Chu at and there is also a great film at Empty Mind Films ( which will help illustrate the "art" of this Martial Art.

    Also, any search for "Yip Man" will provide great results on Wing Chun lineage.

    Hope this helps you and your listeners.

  6. slederman says:

    Hey Ben,

    I enjoyed the podcast. Thank you. I'm curious about the subject of fat adaptation and sub-aerobic exercise. I'm aware that recently Maffetone has been promoting a low carb diet to go with low heartrate cardio. Can people become fat adapted without the low-carb piece? I believe you're fat adapted and I believe you don't do a low-carb diet. I understand that all bodies are different but I'm wondering if intermittent fasting and doing low heartrate cardio in a fasted state might be enough for many of us to become fat adapted without cutting the carbs way low. I dance several nights a week and acetone breath and keto body odor aren't options for me, even during the adaptation period. I suppose I could do keto on non-dance days.

    Your thoughts?


    1. Sol says:


      I’m curious if you have any thoughts on my comment? Thanks.

    2. I do indeed follow what would be considered in nutritional science to be a low carb diet, albeit not a ketogenic diet per se. My diet ranges from 10-30% carbs depending on the day's amount of physical activity, and is cycling ketogenic with nightly carb refeeds. I never, even during an intense 12 month period of non-cyclic ketogenesis with ketone levels exceed 7mmol ever experienced acetone breath or keto body odor because I was MOBILIZING and BURNING the ketones, which is key. And I have yet to see anyone achieve fat adaptation without carb restriction.

      1. slederman says:

        Ben, this is fascinating. Thank you. Do you have Phil Maffetone's brand new book "The Endurance Handbook"? If not then I'd be happy to buy you a kindle or paper copy of the book in appreciation of what you do.

        1. Phil's a friend of mine but can't say I've read that yet. Happy to check it out though. Just email [email protected] with that offer and they'll give you instructions. Thanks Sol.

  7. Ian Tseng says:

    Ben, I was wondering when you would find out about Wing Chun. It seems right up your alley. Many masters will tell you not to work out though, so you don’t get too stiff, so to say. I think its possible to change your workouts and diet to turn into a neuromuscular Wing Chun machine. I’d love to see what you could do with it. Just be aware it takes 6 months to a year to even get a feel for it.

    1. I'm definitely planning on researching Wing Chun more!

    2. Jim says:

      Hey Ben,

      Check out the Ip Man films.

      Fun narratives and ?historical? fiction on Wing Chun. Not sure how close the narrative follows the actual history.

  8. Brian_Beaven says:

    Hey Ben thanks for having Christopher McDougall on your podcast. I heard you mention his book, "Natural Born Heroes" on your podcast a couple of weeks ago and I downloaded the Kindle version and started reading it. I was reluctant at first to buy the book because I wasn't sure what it was all about and I read some of the reviews on Amazon that made me skeptical. I'm really glad I bought the book it is so interesting. It is part history book, myth buster, training guide, and moral compass. I haven't been able to put the book down. Thanks again Ben and thank you Christopher McDougall for writing the book and being on the podcast.

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