I know I’ve hinted here and there about working out the Primal way on the blog, but I’ve never actually explained what it is. So! Here we go: the Primal do’s & don’ts of the workout world.
- GET MOVING! Put your shoes on, get off the couch and out the door. Walk around the block. Play soccer with the kids. Shovel the driveway. Pull the weeds. Mow the lawn. DO SOMETHING. It’s the first and most important aspect of the physical side of Primal living (in my opinion anyway–Mark may have other thoughts).
- Lift heavy things. This is the cornerstone of Primal workouts. It stems from the belief that back in the cavemen days a caveman (or cavewoman) would do short, high-intensity “workouts” every so often throughout a week. Lifting a dead mammoth definitely sounds intense to me! In today’s more civil times, we’d replace the mammoth lifting with body weight workouts. Squats without adding weights. Push-ups (from your knees if it’s all you can support). Pull-ups (this can be fudged with a lat machine at a gym, but props to you if you go outside and use a tree limb or have a pull up bar in your house!). Planks, regular & both sides (you can also start this from your knees if you have a hard time doing the full position). Do as many of each kind as you can, one type at time, back to back. Once you’ve done a set of all 4, rest for no more than 5 minutes. Repeat. The point is to do these exercises as fast as you can, giving 150% each time. Complete a “lift heavy things” workout about 2 or 3 times a week. [Please see my disclaimer at the bottom].
- Sprinting. Cavemen didn’t have cars to drive away in when they were in danger of being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. They had to rely on the own two feet and the power in their legs. Because this didn’t happen too often (I would hope not anyway), sprinting was only part of the caveman’s life on occasion. So, sprinting should be incorporated into your workout regimens about once a week, at most. The “easiest” way to do this is using the Tabata method mentioned below in number 5. However, you can skip timing how long you sprint and just sprint as long as you can before dialing it back a notch to rest. After an adequate rest break (however long it takes you to get control of your breathing), start sprinting again until you need a break. Continue doing the intervals of sprinting with short breaks in between until you feel you’re running on empty. This could be 2 minutes or it could be 20–do whatever feels right to you. [Please see my disclaimer at the bottom].
- Walking. Oh how simple of an act it is, but how often it is overlooked. Walking was the only method for getting around back in caveman days. Yet, in today’s times we’ve abandoned our roots for convenience’s sake. Walking is the last piece to a complete Primal workout regimen You should aim to walk 3-5 hours total within a seven day period. This can be done all at once on a weekend (trails! sightseeing!), or in little pieces throughout the week (30 minutes a night). When the weather’s nicer I love taking walks after dinner with the boy. It’s a nice way to disconnect from the world for a while and recharge yourself after a long day at work.
- Timing. If you have a hard time keeping count when lifting heavy things, or just don’t want to count at all, or are finally adding some sprinting to your workout routines, use a Tabata timer! What the flip is that? Well, Tabata is a workout you can complete in 4 minutes: doing the activity for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds, and repeating this cycle until the 4 minutes is up. During those 20 seconds you have to be giving your absolute all–balls to walls, crazy intense (but not risking injury). There are these really cool apps on smartphones that count down for you (hence a Tabata timer), telling you when to start and stop. If you don’t have a smartphone a simple stop watch would work too. Or just watch the second hand a wall clock, but I guess that would being considered “counting” too.
- Variety. Just like our food choices, our work outs should be routinely varied. What does that mean, you ask? It means do the same activities but not on consecutive days. Really, it’s whenever the heck you feel like it! Walk on Monday. Lift heavy things on Tuesday. Sprint on Wednesday. Walk on Thursday. Play basketball on Friday. Play frisbee on Saturday. Walk around the mall Sunday. Do something different every day than what you did the day before. Have fun with it!
- Be patient. Everyone starts somewhere. The fact that you are making a conscious effort to TRY is all anyone can ask.
- Don’t: Chronic cardio. I know, I know. I just trained for a half marathon and I’m going to be training for even crazier races later this year. I know I sound like a hypocrite But there’s a differentiation I’d like to make before you get all high and mighty on me (yeesh, calm down people). Chronic cardio simply means: don’t run EVERY DAY without RESTING. And don’t do crazy amounts of distances all at one time either. 3 miles, 3 times a week? Sure–love it! 4 miles, 4 times a week? You go, girl (or guy). 4 miles, 6 times a week? No; too much. 5 miles, 3 times a week? Yep, sounds like a plan. You get the idea, right? Limit how much consistent cardio you’re doing to 3 or 4 times a week (if you really have to, or want to do that much cardio in a week). Allow your body adequate rest time in between each session too. Primal discourages training for long distance running (i.e. half marathons or marathons), but does give a good guide on how to do if you are going to do it anyway. You can read it here. It helped me get a base for my half, and I’ll be using this as part of my training for Spartan and Ragnar this year too.
- Don’t: be discouraged. The first workout may kick your ass sideways. You may be frustrated beyond belief because you could only do one push-up and 10 squats. Guess what? That’s awesome! You did it! You tried. That’s all it takes–trying. Next time, you’ll be able to do 2 push-ups and 12 squats. You will see improvements if you stick with it. I promise.
- Don’t: stress. If you miss a workout day or if you miss a week, don’t stress it. Worrying about what you’re “not” doing, or what you “should” be doing, is having a more damaging affect on your body than not doing the thing you’re worrying about! And if you’re stressing the fact that you’re stressing in addition to not doing the things you “should” be doing (like I do a lot of the time), TAKE A BREAK! Have a glass of wine (beer, juice–pick your poison), grab up a book, and go sit on the couch (or in a hot bath). Take a mental vacation. Do yoga. Get a good night’s sleep. Hell, have sex. Do something to relieve all the tension in your body. Finding an outlet for decompressing is a key part of a Primal, and a healthy in general, lifestyle. Workouts are great de-stressors, but if you’re like me sometimes you need to de-stress away from workouts. Find a healthy coping mechanism and use it!
We aren’t born being able to do amazing feats of physical fitness. We have to teach our bodies, and build them up. Take each workout as it comes, do the best you can each day, and move on with it. It’s always going to be a work-in-progress. You will never be “done” with your body. It’s constantly going to be changing and needing work/maintenance. Accepting the incompleteness will set you free.
***[My disclaimer]:The above workouts are my personal, completely unprofessional, unofficially trained opinion. It is a reflection of what I have learned elsewhere. I am not speaking on Mark Sisson’s behalf. I encourage everyone to do whatever feels right. Do as much or as little as you can of each activity, for as long as you can (or want). I encourage wholeheartedly that you push yourself and give it your all, but not to the point where you could do real damage. Don’t hurt yourself, and don’t risk injury. We are only given one body; don’t abuse the privilege. The point is to become HEALTHY. I will note there’s a difference between being hurt, and hurting. Some pain is normal; strain, stiffness, and soreness are the normal results of a hard workout. But if this pain doesn’t subside after a day or two (or gets worse as the days go on), you need to seek medical attention and take a prolonged set of rest days. Always consult a professional or your physician before starting any serious workout/training plan.