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Sprint for Your Life: A Primal Workout

Posted By Mark Sisson On September 22, 2009 @ 10:04 am In Fitness,Health,Primal Health,Sprint | 77 Comments

For the modern Grok [7], 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 [8]” 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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