While you don’t need stuff to live a successful Primal lifestyle (well, besides bacon), we humans belong to a gadget-fetishizing brand of ape that has had great success over the years crafting and using various tools to make life easier. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted seven high-tech tools that were designed to improve Primal living; today, I’m focusing on the low-tech stuff. These tools aren’t quite as flashy, and they’re not quite as sexy, but they are just as useful. They are tools in the classic sense – physical objects that enable or enhance our ability to manipulate the environment to our advantage. So, while the high-tech tools offered helpful information and guidance about recipes, calorie counts, and toxin levels to improve our knowledge base, these low-tech tools offer direct, hands-on experience.
Enough blabbering. On to the tools!
(Make Your Own) Bulgarian Training Bag
A Bulgarian training bag is, basically, half an inner tube filled with sand with the ends twisted into handles to contain the sand. It’s highly versatile, able to be used kind of like a mace, a sandbag, and a kettlebell all rolled into one. The bag is very good for wrestlers and grapplers (and anyone else) interested in developing rotational strength; in fact, a Bulgarian wrestling coach invented the Bulgarian training bag to improve the training of U.S. wrestlers, inspired by the feats of strength involving goats and sheep slung across the shoulders of Bulgarian shepherd/strongmen from his childhood. They’re quite easy to make, which is what I suggest you do. I never said everything on the list could be purchased. Actually, Bulgarian training bags are available for purchase, but at rather high rates. I think it’s more satisfying – and more affordable – to simply make your own. Here’s a good guide to doing so.
Once you’ve got bag in hand, check this link for forty Bulgarian bag exercise ideas. Any training implement inspired by a crazy Bulgarian shepherd swinging a lamb around by its legs gets the Primal stamp of approval.
If you’re serious about progressing as you exercise, you need a training log. While I’ll admit that I don’t keep one myself anymore, when I was really serious about training – either endurance or strength – I maintained a training log to track my progress, and I maintain that without the logs I would have had a more difficult time making real progress. See, training logs aren’t just about noting what you’ve done; they’re about tracking what you’ve done right, what you’ve done wrong, how you felt on a particularly good training day, how you felt on a bad training day, and they’re about using this data to enable steady progression. Even if you’re doing a wide range of fractal movements and exercises, keep a log. Randomization isn’t mindlessness.
Hemingway stood to write and used Moleskine notebooks. I trust his judgment.
After I messed up my rotator cuff on the bench press, I discovered a deep love for the dip. More conducive to shoulder health (in my experience, at least) than the bench press, the dip offers excellent stimulus to both the shoulder girdle, tricep, and chest – and if it gets too easy, you can easily add more weight with the help of a dip belt. Using dip belts satisfied my desire to lift heavy things with my chest and triceps without subjecting my rotator cuff to pain and suffering. The dip is a truly functional movement (think getting up and over a barrier or fence, climbing up into a tree) and being able to add even more weight than just that of your bodily mass will help you function even more effectively.
You could use a rope, chains, or even a well-constructed dog leash looped around your waist and attached to heavy objects, but it’s far easier (and not much more expensive) to get a dedicated dip belt. Here’s one and here’s another that should both suit you well.
We’ve all been in this situation: you discover a fantastic deal on grass-fed steaks (half off!), buy two dozen pounds worth in styrofoam containers covered by plastic wrap, get home, gorge, and store the rest in the freezer. A week later, you pull a couple steaks out to thaw and find they’re caked in snow and freezer-burnt beyond recognition. You still eat ‘em, because, well, it’s meat, but you rue your hastiness and lament the sad state of the remaining steaks. If only you had taken your time to carefully wrap each steak in freezer paper followed by a layer of foil, nestled each slab carefully in a freezer bag, and used a straw to suck the air out of said bag (a la Alton Brown), you’d be the proud owner of a cache of well-preserved steaks. Most people have foil and big ziploc freezer bags, but they don’t generally have freezer paper on hand. Go out and get some. Keep it on hand for those serendipitous moments at the meat counter.
No, not for actually playing lacrosse (although there’s nothing wrong with the sport, it’s just not my intent here), but for a more painful, more intensive self myofascial-releasing alternative to the trusty foam roller. Kelly Starrett of CrossFit San Francisco and MobilityWOD fame refers to the lacrosse ball as, simply and succinctly, painball. And yes, it brings the pain, but only to the most deserving among us: those tight, knotted bundles of muscle fiber and fascia that people accumulate from bad posture, muscle imbalances, excessive sitting, and improper movement patterns. These knots harm us. They reduce performance. They promote bad form and joint degeneration. They need to be eradicated, and while using these little balls of fire on our bodies really can cause immense physical pain, this is a good thing because it means that we’re taking care of those nasty knots.
You might hate small, dense LDL particles, but don’t let your ire extend toward small, dense lacrosse balls, too. They’re cheap, far cheaper than an hour of massage, so buy three (one for rolling, two for taping together) and check out Kelly’s MobilityWOD for ideas on how to effectively use them.
Field Guide to Wild Edibles
While most Primal folks initially think of furry, feathery, or scaly critters when they hear the words “wild edibles,” our ancestors nibbled on and downright coveted thousands of varieties of wild vegetation throughout our history. Some species may have given way to civilization, deforestation, and monoculture farming, but wild vegetation that can go in your mouth still exists out there – you just have to know what to look for. That is, don’t stumble around blindly with a massive bowl gathering random leaves, twigs, and berries for a Big Ass Salad. For one, salad bowls are too bulky for hikes and, secondly, you might eat something poisonous, non-nutritive, or disgusting (nothing worse than a single errant ingredient ruining a delicious salad). Instead, listen to the experts on wild edibles.
Better yet, pick up a good field guide to wild edibles. Read it, internalize it, and carry it with you on outings to the wild.
Square Foot Gardening Setup
Maybe you don’t want to rely on the great outdoors for your edible vegetation, but nor can you count on the local grocery stores for a decent piece of fruit or vegetable. Maybe there’s no good farmers’ market within a hundred miles, or perhaps you simply want to be the master of your domain. If that’s true, and you’ve got limited time and/or space, think about investing in a square foot gardening setup. Mel, as in Mel Bartholemew, has come up with a tried and true standardized method for growing vegetables anywhere and everywhere. People swear by square foot gardening – city kids with a few square feet of space on the roof, homesteaders with open yards but square foot gardens, beginners who’d rather not devote the time necessary to develop a green thumb, advanced gardeners who just want to take it easy. You can use the initial enclosure set up and put your own potting soil together, or you can get the whole shebang from Mel (he’s developed an optimal recipe for soil and has a book devoted to the practice of square foot gardening). He has few detractors, as anyone will, but mostly endorsements (there are even a few fans in the MDA forums). Square foot gardening seems to be ideal for total beginners eager to put in the work necessary for growing their own edible vegetation, so if that’s you, consider it.
Check the book out and read some reviews to see if it’s right for you.
Tools aren’t required to live a good, fulfilling Primal life, but they can certainly help. The preceding was a list of some sensible tools to help optimize your lifestyle. Some are monetarily inexpensive but require commitment or a DIY attitude, while others are pricier, but I think they’re all worth a look.
What are your low-tech Primal tools? Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know in the comments!