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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 22, 2009

Sprint for Your Life: A Primal Workout

By Mark Sisson
86 Comments

For the modern Grok, sprinting is generally an elective endeavor. His animals come pre-slaughtered, his honey comes bee-free, and the once-constant threats of predator or rival clan usually fail to materialize nowadays. He doesn’t “have” to run. If he runs fast, it’s probably because he chooses to do so – for sport, for fitness, or perhaps to catch a bus. But especially in matters of developing one’s physical potential (and, I suppose, when pursuing public transportation), speed still matters. Your sprints should be actual sprints, if you want to get the most out of them; you should be running at or around your maximum speed. But can we really squeeze out every single ounce of power without the threat of instant death or starvation licking at our heels? Is the modern sprint truly a sprint without the mortal urgency? Heck, even Usain Bolt seemed to let up on the intensity in his record-breaking 100m run, and he had a few billion eyes on him, not to mention the weight of a nation’s expectations bearing down on him. Can a mere mortal expect to give it his or her all?

I’d say so, yes. We can manufacture urgency. That’s what sets us apart from the other animals, after all – our ability to imagine and self-motivate. With few exceptions, animal behavior corresponds to physical stimuli. The cheetah sprints all out in pursuit of the wildebeest because some raw instinctual urge compels him: hunger. Man, however, has to rationalize it. We still operate on instinct when the situation necessitates it, but in situations where instinct has no place (like, say, when gearing up for a set of hill sprints), you call on will. You make the conscious decision to run up that hill, and whether or not you run up that hill as fast you can depends on your force of will.

Or your imagination. Remember the “Bringing Home the Bacon” workout video that won the contest? It got me thinking about putting together a conceptual sprint workout that gets you in the mindset of Grok in full-on (instinctual) sprint mode. Why did Grok sprint? Which situations called for rapid bursts of speed? If we narrow that down, I think we could come up with a great workout that gets us a little closer to Grok – physically and mentally.

We often imagine Grok sprinting after (or as) game, but I bet a lot of his displays of speed came in friendly (but heated) competition with companions. In fact, sport has been around probably as long as modern humans have lived. Cave art from 30,000 years ago depicts ritual archery, Native Hawaiians were the first surfers, the Mayans and the Aztecs played ball games, and Native Americans engaged in foot races, wrestling, and a lacrosse-esque sport. It’s obvious that we have a natural inclination to compete with one another in displays of strength, foot speed, and agility, and I doubt Grok was any different.

With that in mind, I think a little competition might be the perfect motivating tool for a Primal sprint workout. For optimum results, you’ll need at least one other person (or an especially vivid imagination, but the padded white walls may get in the way). You could just do something as simple as a foot race – line up, pick a destination (no more than 100 meters away), and go! – or you could make things more elaborate. Now, there’s something beautiful about simplicity, and five or six full out foot races between you and a couple pals is a great workout. The competition will force you to actually sprint, and you’ll find it’s hard to let up or give up when you’ve got a friend or two there for support (or ridicule).

I think we could make it even more interesting, though, with a bit of role-playing.

Here’s how it works:

For what I have in mind, you’ll need a sandbag weighing 70-100 pounds. Scale the weight down or up depending on your strength. You’ll also need a partner for this. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce an unfamiliar friend to the Primal mode of working out. You’ll have a partner to motivate you, and you’ll be showing someone that fitness doesn’t have to be boring and miserable.

Leave the sandbag on the ground and walk away. Choose a starting point about 50-100 meters away from the sandbag. The distance isn’t exact; it’s just a guide. You can go longer or shorter depending on your speed and fitness levels.

Race your partner to the sandbag. As you get closer, you’ll notice something strange. The sandbag is no longer a sandbag – it’s a thick, juicy, mammoth leg! That’s dinner for a week, and this other guy’s trying to take it from you. If you care about your tribe, you’ll get to it first.

Did you make it? Good, you deserve it. Grab the leg, heave it up to your shoulders, and make a run for it. Try to make it back to the starting point. The other guy has to catch his breath, of course, so he’ll be resting (for ten seconds), but after that he’ll be right on your tail. That huge piece of meat will be weighing you down, so you better sprint with everything you’ve got left.

Inevitably, the other guy will catch up. When he does, there’s a brief struggle (for realism’s sake, you can actually turn this interlude into a wrestling match; your partner has to wrest the sandbag from your grasp), and the leg exchanges hands. (Take 30-45 seconds of collective rest here) Now he’s off with the leg (with a ten second head start), and you take off after him to repeat the process. That’s your damn dinner, and you aren’t giving up that easily!

Keep this up as long as you can. Eventually, the distances traveled will become shorter and shorter, and the sprinting will turn into shuffling – that’s when you know you’ve had enough. The mammoth leg will, disappointingly, also turn back into a mere sandbag, and your friend will cease to be your mortal enemy. You, on the other hand, will be closer to Grok than ever.

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47 Comments on "Sprint for Your Life: A Primal Workout"

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JamieBelle
JamieBelle
7 years 2 months ago

Sigh. I can’t run. I know Grok didn’t have a bicycle, but that’s how I sprint.

Ashley
Ashley
4 years 9 months ago

There’s a huge difference between running and sprinting!

I’ve completed four half marathons and for me the difference between jogging/running and actually sprinting like a murderer (or sabertooth tiger) is chasing me is that sprinting actually hurts my hips. For that 8-10 seconds, I use my entire body to thrust myself through the air like I am actually in danger of losing my life to an animal nipping at my ankles.

shawnpetriw
7 years 2 months ago

I’ve taken up playing ultimate frisbee once a week – great fun, great competition, and as much opportunity to sprint as one would like.

Looking like a hero chasing down that “impossible-to-get” disc is great motivation!

Andy Meacock
Andy Meacock
7 years 2 months ago
Sounds crazy but whenever I want to hit my fastest sprints I take a football/soccer ball to the park, kick it as far as I can and then sprint. I imagine that there’s someone just trailing me trying to get to the ball first!. This actually really works for me when I have to sprint on my own. I like the idea of using a sandbag. A buddy and me sometimes do hill sprints that are about 100-150 metres in length. We take a couple of 20kg plates and at the 100 metres mark (we are already knackered by this… Read more »
Hannah
Hannah
7 years 2 months ago

I do this too! Kick a soccerball across the yard and sprint after it…however, I try to get to it before the ball stops rolling otherwise I have to kick it again. (:

Talita
3 years 11 months ago

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Welshcaveman
Welshcaveman
7 years 2 months ago
This workout looks fun – I don’t have a training partner but when I get one, it’s on! JamieBelle, are you on a real bike or a stationary? If you’re on a real-life bike and you have a training partner, you could still do it (without the wrestling or the sandbag) and have whoever won the first race to a designated point,can go ahead with a 10 second head start but having to go into a harder gear (to simulate carrying dinner home)? Follow the same basic idea and before you know it you’re legs would be jelly! If you’re… Read more »
Alec
Alec
7 years 2 months ago

The 2009 Crossfit games had a sandbag hill sprint as one of the events. Many of the athletes described it as the most brutal event of the weekend:

http://games2009.crossfit.com/thegames/sandbag-sprint-speal-v-khalipa.html

Marc Feel Good Eating
7 years 2 months ago

What a wonderful post!!
Creative, cool, useful and an ass kicking workout.
Thank you Mark.

Marc

Aims
Aims
7 years 2 months ago

I LOVE this workout! My only hesitation for going all out is a repaired ACL that I have visions of snapping again. Otherwise, the visualization techniques are right up my gully. Great post!

ruben
5 years 3 months ago

You will no problem, give your hamstrings a good chance to get really strong, after a few months your ACL will not be compromised by very strong quads or quad dominance and your sprinting will be fast and flawless. Keep up the good work rehabing!

Ogg the Caveman
7 years 2 months ago
Great game! The sprint method I’ve used with great success for over a year has been this: 1 medium dog (in my case, a three-year-old boxer) 1 tennis ball 1 big grassy area – I throw the ball. – Immediately race the dog to get the ball first. – If the dog gets to it first (often the case), chase after her to steal the ball away. She’ll naturally run zig-zag patterns to evade you. Good for developing agility. – If I get the ball first, then I run like hell back to homebase, before she could kill me. Do… Read more »
Deanna
Deanna
7 years 2 months ago

That’s brilliant! Fun, and good for both of you. That makes me want a dog.

CastleGrok
7 years 2 months ago

Definitely! Dogs love to play fight too! As you probably know with a boxer 😉

Take turns punching and chasing each other. Do it in sand and everyones tongue is dragging on the ground in just a few minutes.

Jac
Jac
7 years 2 months ago

I race with my 9 yer old boxer all the time. She still beats me. Every. Single. Time. I think it is her favorite sport of all. We race to the trash cans. Loser has to take them to the curb. If I ever win, I’ll have to get her a weight pull harness.

Mike
Mike
6 years 7 months ago

I had a variation on this. I would throw the ball one way for our Springer and then run like hell in the opposite direction until the he caught me up again. Unfortunately he’ slowed down a lot now. However your version might still work. Looking forward to giving it a go.

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
7 years 2 months ago

My Tuesday sprint companion didn’t show up at the gym today, so I had to sprint solo. I most definitely can NOT run as fast when I don’t have any competition!

I was looking for a new volunteer, but those folks on the treadmills and ellipticals wouldn’t leave their damned infernal machines!

Aaron Blaisdell
7 years 2 months ago

This is an excellent and creative idea. Unfortunately, my mind might be too imaginative as I would imagine that I’d turn to my competitor and say “hey, there’s enough for us to share. Let’s split this leg now and form a coalition to wrest the kills from other guys out there. We’ll be unbeatable as 2 against 1!” Let the Game Theory scenarios spin!

JUPITER BOONE
JUPITER BOONE
7 years 2 months ago

me want meat back…now

Eric
Eric
7 years 2 months ago

I’ve been having a blast with sprint workouts lately….I race my dogs! I’ve got two weimaraners that love to run. It’s great motivation trying to beat them to the finish line. I like to try catching them off-guard and take off sprinting while they are sniffing around. They inevitably catch me before the finish and usually even look back to taunt me as they run by smiling with their tongues hanging out!

Great exercise and fun for all of us!

epistemocrat
7 years 2 months ago

We live by fiction. Infusing ‘Grok’ into your workout mindset through this type of role-playing will help you push/stretch your physiological headroom (‘raise the roof’ on the most you can do) in ways that otherwise would not be possible. Mythology is powerful when harnessed the right ecological way.

Jessica
7 years 2 months ago

Sounds great, but in my case the mammoth leg would be a pair of Manolo Blahniks 😉

-Jess

Ogg the Caveman
7 years 2 months ago

You and my wife are cut from the same fabric.

Ryan Denner
7 years 2 months ago

“It’s obvious that we have a natural inclination to compete with one another in displays of strength, foot speed, and agility”

You forget to mention “to get chics” 🙂

penstalker
7 years 2 months ago

This post is funny! Now off to look for that workout buddy. 🙂

Michael
Michael
7 years 2 months ago
How about playing a simple game of tag? The one who’s “it” is essentially hunting all the others. Or “reverse tag,” where “it” is the prey and has to avoid all the others. You could do this with any number of players from two on up. The combination of sprints, slow intervals, and resting seem to me to make for a real Grok-friendly workout. I imagine that varied terrain with a combination of features (open terrain, woods, etc.) would be best. And having to run in other than a straight line is surely more in line with what Grok would… Read more »
Mikeythehealthycaveman
7 years 2 months ago

Nothing like pure adrenaline to push you past the 100% point. This weekend I did a cyclocross race ( http://cxmagazine.com/ ), basically a mad bike race with obstacles. You have to get off the bike to leap over logs, or if you’re awesome bunny-hop. I’m no biker, just an avid Crossfitter, but this race had me pushing like a madman to get to the finish line. It was tons of fun, and anyone can do it. My point is, nothing like a short, fun race to get you going.

mike
7 years 2 months ago

get a group of people togher and play a game of tag

Carter
Carter
7 years 2 months ago

I would be ALL OVER THIS Workout!! Sounds right up my Alley!! The wrestling and all! Unfortunately, the only person I can think of who would do this with me is in Canada. I’m in Florida, so – it’s quite a problem. . Any takers in St. Augustine?

Vic Magary - GymJunkies
7 years 2 months ago

Great post! Sprints & sprint carries awesome!

Primalchild
Primalchild
7 years 2 months ago

I think this is the single greatest workout I can possibly imagine.

Annimal
Annimal
7 years 2 months ago

Sounds awesome! I’ve been watching some birds of prey by the ocean, and their most impressive aerobatics are when one will grab a fish and another will try to steal it. Like a dogfight. Or like when you play sports with a sibling… never wanted to win so bad…

reamz
reamz
7 years 2 months ago

awesome workout. i looove sprinting, i tend to do it on my own though cuz no-one else will sprint with me 🙁

i’m starting university soon and plan on joining the parkour and free running club 😛

hopefully will get a chance to sprint!

Indiscreet
Indiscreet
7 years 2 months ago

I enjoy sprinting too but sprained my ankle pretty badly during my last sprint workout. I was sprinting up a trail, then jogging slowly to the bottom to repeat. I trod on a stick and turned my ankle over on the way down. Hope it gets better soon.

timpatch
timpatch
7 years 2 months ago

sounds a lot like “kill the carrier”

Steve
Steve
7 years 2 months ago
Dear Mark, My primal workout was going fine for the first few steps of my sprint. I lunged forward, feet pounding the earth, with my eyes fixed intently upon a nice juicy mammoth leg. I noticed in my peripheral vision my competitor about to pass me. Unfortunately my primal instinct to get to the food first at any cost, rather than making me run yet faster, persuaded me instead that the most effective course of action would be to pounce upon my rival (lifelong friend) and give him a good beating before proceeding to chase the mammoth at a more… Read more »
TruckerGirl
7 years 1 month ago

Has anyone tried organizing a Primal Living club or meet-up in their area? Would be neat to get together for group sprint days, or trail hikes, or recipe swapping.

Rebecca
Rebecca
7 years 1 month ago

I finally started sprinting last night while at the dog park with my dogs. I am amazed at how great it felt and was very surprised to feel soreness in my abs this morning. 🙂

Aaron Curl
6 years 10 months ago

I run with my brother every sunday….guess who is going to be my new sprint partner. He is a “serious runner”….I’ll have to convince him it will help him do a marathon in some way. He is all about long distance running.

Maura
Maura
6 years 7 months ago

I am too heavy to put a lot of weight on my knees and ankles. Of course, I hope to lose weight by going Primal! But in the meanwhile how can I do sprints?

Jack
Jack
6 years 6 months ago

Personally I do my “sprints” by chasing my dog.

Tommy
Tommy
6 years 6 months ago

Hi I’m a new grok, or so I thought until I realised that I had been training primal with my 75kg(165lb)ripped wrecking machine dogue de bordeaux”a hooch”. We do sprints about twice a week then play wrestle after the sprint. We do these at the beach on the east coast of Scotland then swim for recovery in the very cold North sea.

Josh Schoenly
Josh Schoenly
4 years 9 months ago
I’m loving the Primal Blueprint Fitness. I’ve been doing primal primary movements for a while but without your hierarchy which I love because they are totally pushing me to another level. Now here’s my problem, I recently tore my knee playing basketball and I’m not planning to have it repaired until near Thanksgiving for many different reasons. I’m walking well and taking stairs well and can even run straight ahead. However I can’t sprint and not sure I’ll be able to until I get it fixed. Any ideas of other things I might do to get similar results of a… Read more »
Matt
4 years 7 months ago

This post makes me want to sprint. Sprinting is so great, especially when you want to simply exhaust yourself (endorphins kicking in are awesome). Long-distance running from time to time is also okay for me. I don’t agree with all principles of the Primal approach, but I definitely agree with sprinting and other “primal” activities.

Lillian
Lillian
4 years 6 months ago
I know this is an old post, but I just had to chime in… sprinting totally makes sense. I’ve always hated jogging, when they made us jog in high school I just hated it! It made me feel tired and like I had to drag myself around. Instead, I loved sprinting! It was so much more enjoyable for me… I felt free, I loved feeling powerful and fast… It sure left me out of breath, but it didn’t leave me tired (there’s a difference)… I felt vital, instead, I guess you can call it the “good” kind of tired. Sadly,… Read more »
frd
frd
3 years 10 months ago

Double-unders or triple-unders with a jump rope are really close to the intensity of sprinting, but are somewhat more convenient; you don’t have to go get to an open stretch and can even do them inside.

Pat
Pat
3 years 7 days ago

Did my first “bike and ride” this Sunday.

Teams of 2 , 1 mountain bike., lots of mud and lots of overly kean triathletes using this as some kind of training session.

You take turns in running – very fast- then having a “rest ” on the bike.
Keep it up for 1 – 2 hours, depending on how fast you were, for a 16K course.

It reminded me of this work out.

In hindsight I guess I liked it.

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