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Since the origins of Homo sapiens 300,000 years ago, the quest to optimize human performance has shaped historical development. A macrohistorical perspective reveals that for 290,000 years the necessities of survival pushed hunter-forager cultures toward mass improvement of endurance capabilities and weapons skills. The agricultural revolution that began about 10,000 years ago changed those dynamics, focusing on enhancement for elite warriors while simultaneously diminishing the necessity of mass optimization. The multiple revolutions of modernity that began 500 years ago reanimated mass optimization while paradoxically removing physical enhancement from the realm of necessity through the increasing power of human-made motors rather than human locomotion. Microhistorical perspectives reveal that beyond the general patterns that shaped human cultures across time and place, the historical particularities vastly complicated optimization strategies. Employing macro- and microhistorical perspectives can enhance scientific understandings of optimal performance.
The author is with the Dept. of Kinesiology, College of Health and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.