Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Sep

Sprint for Your Life: A Primal Workout

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.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

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

    JamieBelle wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • 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.

      Ashley wrote on March 1st, 2012
  2. 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!

    shawnpetriw wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  3. 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 point!) we pick the weight up and struggle to the top.

    We normally do this about 3-4 times, no longer than 15 mins as very high intensity. Just an awesome workout.

    Andy Meacock wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • 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. (:

      Hannah wrote on September 24th, 2009
      • Аноним пишет:Мне нравится слово прошивать,если телефон через америку куплен,это очень сложно,скачать бесплатную программу itunes а потом просто подключить через usb и всё)

        Talita wrote on December 7th, 2012
  4. 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 on a stationary bike you could do another version which works out the same sort of energy system… pick a lowish resistance, go nuts for thirty seconds (making a mental note of the approx RPM you are doing), then ease right off for another 30 seconds, making a one minute block.
    For the next 1 minute block, increase resistance by 10% or so and match the previous rounds RPM for as long as you can. If you hit 30 seconds, great… slow down for 30 seconds and repeat. If you miss 30 seconds, just slow down for the rest of that minute block.. THEN repeat (ie; if you managed 20 seconds, slow down for 40). Up the resistance again and again until you can’t keep the RPM target for more than 10 seconds and then you’re done. Just waddle away on your now-wobbly legs.

    If you’re on a real bike, but have no training partner… I’m out of ideas!

    Welshcaveman wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  5. 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:

    Alec wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  6. What a wonderful post!!
    Creative, cool, useful and an ass kicking workout.
    Thank you Mark.


    Marc Feel Good Eating wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  7. 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!

    Aims wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • 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!

      ruben wrote on August 31st, 2011
  8. 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 this about once a week. Repeat. There’s a lot of fight-or-flight adrenaline. The heart may appear to come through the ribcage. But it’s good.

    Ogg the Caveman wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • That’s brilliant! Fun, and good for both of you. That makes me want a dog.

      Deanna wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • 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.

      CastleGrok wrote on September 22nd, 2009
    • 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.

      Jac wrote on September 23rd, 2009
    • 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.

      Mike wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  9. 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!

    dragonmamma wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  10. 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!

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  11. me want meat back…now

    JUPITER BOONE wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  12. 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!

    Eric wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  13. 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.

    epistemocrat wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  14. Sounds great, but in my case the mammoth leg would be a pair of Manolo Blahniks 😉


    Jessica wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  15. “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” :)

    Ryan Denner wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  16. This post is funny! Now off to look for that workout buddy. :)

    penstalker wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  17. 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 have been doing.

    OK, Mark – you’re it! :)

    Michael wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  18. Nothing like pure adrenaline to push you past the 100% point. This weekend I did a cyclocross race ( ), 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.

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  19. get a group of people togher and play a game of tag

    mike wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  20. 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?

    Carter wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  21. Great post! Sprints & sprint carries awesome!

    Vic Magary - GymJunkies wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  22. I think this is the single greatest workout I can possibly imagine.

    Primalchild wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  23. 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…

    Annimal wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  24. 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!

    reamz wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  25. 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.

    Indiscreet wrote on September 24th, 2009
  26. sounds a lot like “kill the carrier”

    timpatch wrote on September 24th, 2009
  27. 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 leisurely pace!
    Ahhh! – Primal living – you just can’t beat it! 😉
    Thanks for a great post Mark!

    Steve wrote on September 27th, 2009
  28. 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.

    TruckerGirl wrote on October 14th, 2009
  29. 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. :)

    Rebecca wrote on October 29th, 2009
  30. 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.

    Aaron Curl wrote on January 26th, 2010
  31. 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?

    Maura wrote on April 13th, 2010
  32. Personally I do my “sprints” by chasing my dog.

    Jack wrote on May 17th, 2010
  33. 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.

    Tommy wrote on May 18th, 2010

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!