Law #4: Lift Heavy Things
Begin each workout listed in this section with a five-minute warm-up of low intensity cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, stationary cycling or other cardio machine at 55-75% of maximum heart rate) followed by light stretching. Conclude each workout with a five minute cool down identical to the warm-up. Be certain that you have medical clearance before attempting any strenuous workout, including those described in the Primal Blueprint.
This workout is fun, different, very challenging and can be done anywhere. It’s inspired by my old friend Rip Esselstyn – former professional triathlete, world record holding masters swimmer, Austin, Texas Firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet (www.engine2.org). All you need is a bench or chair for a few of the resistance exercises. The following descriptions may be a bit laborious. Please check MarksDailyApple.com for regularly updated videos of workouts like this and many others.
Back Slide Arches (arms, abs, back, legs) – Sit on the ground with legs extended straight in front of you, upper body perpendicular to the ground, arms at your side and slightly behind your butt. Lift your legs and butt off the ground with your arms, arching your back in the same motion by pressing into the ground with your feet (toes pointed) and dipping your head backwards. Hold the arch position for one count and then return your upper body to perpendicular position. While suspending your legs in the air with your arms, thrust your straight legs backwards as far as possible and land on your butt. Return hands to position behind butt and commence another arch sequence. As you thrust your body between your arms, notice that you travel a few feet backwards with each rep. It’s best to do this exercise across a long room or outdoors on a field or beach, setting a goal of traveling twenty or forty yards as you number of reps.
Spiderman Crawl Pushups (abs, pecs, biceps) – After you have traveled down the line with your Back Slide Arches, you will make your way back to your starting point with Spiderman Crawl Pushups. After your final arch, stand up and bend forward, arms hanging at your feet (you are facing backwards the way you came). Crawl forward with your hands (feet stay put) until your reach the pike position for a pushup. Commence a Spiderman pushup by driving your right knee forward to touch your right elbow and returning leg quickly to pike position. Then, drive left knee forward to touch left elbow and return quickly to pike position. Keeping hands on the ground, walk forward with your feet until they reach your hands, then walk with hands to return to pike position. Notice that you are traveling down a line back to your starting point for the arches!
I like to complete a ladder of Spiderman pushups starting with ten (a complete right knee-left knee sequence counts as one), then doing nine, eight, seven…down to one, then back up to ten. On a field or beach this represents twenty to forty yards of travel. Advanced exercisers can strive to perform the move as fast as possible, so it looks like you are practically running in place.
Chair Squats (quads): Stand feet shoulder width apart in front of chair or bench. Sit quickly by lowering butt, trying to keep knees centered over the balls of your feet. After barely touching the seat, stand quickly. Pump your arms for momentum and commence a set of 25-75 chair squats, going as fast as possible, until failure. When you get the hang of it and establish a nice rhythm, challenge yourself to go faster and faster!
Mini Chair Dips (pecs, lats, triceps, quads): Stand feet shoulder width apart in front of chair or bench. Reach straight arms backwards and grasp the bench with both hands still shoulder width apart. Dip down, bending elbows and dropping butt into sitting position. Dip until elbows are at 90-degree angle – butt will be below the level of the bench. Perform dips as fast as possible, completing 25-75 reps until failure.
Chair Jumps (cardio, legs, core): Standing slightly to the right of the chair or bench, step up and over with left leg onto center of chair or bench. Then quickly step up onto chair with right leg, while at the same time moving left leg off and over to the left side of chair. Then step right leg off chair, joining left leg to stand on opposite side of starting point. Commence return trip by stepping up quickly with right leg onto center of chair, following with left leg while removing right leg and returning to original starting position, followed by left leg returning to original starting position. The exercise should be performed as fast as possible so legs are shuffling on and off the chair and are only together for a split second at any position before one leg commences the next move in sequence. Perform 25-75 reps until failure, going as fast as possible. Pump your arms to assist your effort and keep your eyes on the chair to ensure balance.
Scissors: Lie on your back and extend your legs six inches off the ground, taking care to press your lower back into the ground for support and to fully engage the abdominals. Hold position for twenty seconds, then commence twenty “scissors”, spreading your legs wide and back together. Hold starting position for twenty seconds, then rest. After thirty seconds rest, assume starting position for twenty seconds, then raise both legs skyward until they are perpendicular to the ground, then slowly return to starting position. Complete twenty repetitions from skyward to starting position. After your last rep, then return to starting position, hold for twenty seconds, then rest. Note that this is an advanced exercise and carries a risk of back strain. If you feel any strain whatsoever in your lower back, cease your efforts and rest. As your abs fatigue, the strain will be transferred to your lower back, making it essential to press your lower back into the ground at all times during the scissors. It may help to raise your head off the ground a bit to help achieve a strong connection between the lower back and the ground.
Lunge-Burpees: Stand feet shoulder width apart. Squat down and place your hands on the ground right in front of your toes. Leaving your hands there, quickly jump your legs backwards into the plank pushup position. Complete a pushup, then jump legs out spread eagle style and complete another pushup. Then jump legs back together and complete another pushup. Then jump legs up to your hands. Then jump straight up in the air as high as you can. Then perform a lunge by extending right leg forward and bending until thigh is parallel to the ground. Then extend left leg forward into lunge position and return. Then touch toes and jump into pushup plank position to commence another series.
Quick Bodyweight Routine
If you are pressed for time, 7 to 15 minutes of bodyweight resistance exercises can produce an outstanding workout. If you don’t have a proper overhead bar for pull-ups, improvise using railings, stairwells, door frames, park playgrounds, tree branches – anything that can support your weight. To experienced gym goers, this routine of the most basic movements might seem a little bland. However, if all you ever do is squats, lunges, pull-ups, pushups and planks you can still become as rock solid as the guys and gals in the Bow Flex commercials. Retired football legend, Heisman Trophy winner, and Olympic bobsledder Herschel Walker (who was once traded by the Dallas Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings for – counting eventual draft picks – a total of 19 other players!), reportedly never touched weights, instead relying on simple exercises like pushups (with his wife riding on his back – captured by a memorable Sports Illustrated photo) and 2,000 sit ups per day to develop his massive – and extremely functional – physique.
For a unique challenge, set an ambitious numerical goal for each exercise and don’t move to the next exercise until you complete all of them. If it’s 100 squats, you might have to rest at 40, again at 60 and again at 85 to reach the goal. When you get to a goal like 50 pullups, it might require 5, 10 or even more “sets” to get the reps done. Talk about a real ass kicker! I did a blog post about how I became nauseous from the extreme effort of a workout consisting only of squats, pull-ups and pushups…on an empty stomach.
The following quick bodyweight routine is particularly applicable to those who frequently use the “time and place” excuse not to exercise. I can relate a busy schedule vaporizing that desired 80-minute round trip excursion to the gym. Give yourself 10 minutes and a little floor space in your hotel room, or sneak away from T-ball practice and hit it hard with the available apparatus at the school playground. Having a slow day in your cube at the office? Move the swivel chair aside and hit the deck (just do it towards the end of the day when the sweat factor won’t compromise any remaining appointments on the docket!).
Squats as previously described
Lunges as previously described
Pullups (back, lats, pecs, biceps): Grasp bar (or tree branch) at shoulder width with overhanded grip. Raise chin above branch (or bar) and return to slightly past 90-degree elbows (advanced exercisers may want to extend arms fully). You can alternate sets with an underhand grip; this is technically called a chin-up. It’s also an excellent exercise with a slightly different muscle load. Chin-ups are considered to be a little easier so choose this option if you struggle with this exercise.
Pushups (lats, pecs, triceps): Assume pushup plank position (arms extended below you, body straight). Lower your chest to the ground and return to plank position, repeating until failure. Advanced exercisers can push body into the air after each rep, clap hands and land back in plank position for next rep.
Ab Planks: Hold pushup plank position with either extended arms or resting your elbows on the ground. Maintain position until failure. Then, lean on one hand and rotate upper body into sideways plank position (straight line from your head to toe) to stimulate oblique abs. Hold position until failure. Return to pushup plank position, hold until failure, then lean on other hand and rotate upper body into sideways plank position facing the other direction. Hold position until failure. Rest one minute then repeat exercise, this time extending opposite arm over your head when holding the sideways plank positions.
It’s understandable that you might feel more comfortable in a controlled indoor exercise environment than you would chucking a medicine ball down a field (especially if the soccer practice kids are pointing and giggling). While I encourage you to experiment with more primal activities, going through the basics in the gym can also produce an outstanding workout. Every gym has the equipment necessary to complete this workout. The rest is up to you. An experienced lifter can do three sets for each exercise, while a novice can begin with just a single set of each exercise, working up to two per workout after a few sessions, and eventually to three.
Start on any machine (or free weight) described below with a weight that you can perform eight to ten reps before temporarily exhausting the muscle as described in detail in Chapter 6. If you are doing more than one set, increase the weight five or ten pounds on each successive set, resting only 15-20 seconds between sets. It’s expected that you will reach fewer reps on successive sets with higher weights. After you’ve finished one, two or three sets (depending on your plan for the day and experience), rest thirty to forty seconds before moving on to the next exercise, always maintaining a high intensity level and high degree of difficulty throughout your session. Be sure to maintain safe technique and rhythm. Stabilize your spine and maintain a balanced center for all workouts, resisting the urge to sway or jerk for momentum in order to get that last rep.
Squats (quads, buttocks, calves): They say core is king but squats are perhaps the most fundamental, functional and primal exercise of them all. Sprinting speed, climbing strength, stability, and core strength are all impacted by this one movement, which probably generates more Human Growth Hormone than any other single exercise when done properly. Grok squatted for just about every occasion – eating, resting, eliminating, lifting, foraging and hiding out during hunting. When you can develop excellent lower extremity strength and balance, you minimize the risk of injury, particularly to your back and neck. These are the areas that typically get tweaked when you fail to engage your leg muscles for lifting or fail to stabilize your body adequately for sports and other complex movements.
You can benefit from doing squats without using any weight at all. Review the “Chair Squats” description in the Fireman workout for a high speed variation of the typical tightly controlled repetitions. As you become stronger and accustomed to the proper technique, use your imagination to add more weight: drape a log across your shoulders, a duffle bag full of clothes or even a small child on your back – just like Grok.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart in natural comfortable position, not necessarily pointing straight ahead. Cross arms over chest and lower your butt slowly as if sitting in a chair. Try to maintain a straight spine (it will travel from 90 degrees to a 45 degree angle), but resist the urge to lean forward. Use your quads to absorb the load both sitting and standing. Go down in a smooth and steady movement until your knees are at about a 90 degree angle and then return to a standing position without locking your knees, particularly if you have weight on the barbell. Do as many repetitions in a set as you can while still confident you can return to a standing position (failure sucks on this exercise in particular!).
Forward and Reverse Lunges (quads): Close behind squats in importance for virtually every physical activity are lunges. Stand feet together with dumbbells in each hand, arms at your sides. Lunge forward with right leg and lower until your thigh is parallel to the ground, knee bent at about a ninety-degree angle. Return leg to starting position, repeat. Then lunge forward with your left leg and complete a similar repetition. Then, step backward with right leg until left (forward) thigh is parallel to ground. Return right leg to start and repeat. Then complete two reverse lunges with left leg.
Bench Press on Ball (pecs and arms, along with legs for stabilizing): Be sure to ask someone to “spot” you on this one. Sit on ball with legs spread slightly and extended onto ground for balance. Grab barbell and lean backwards into bench press position. Ensure that your wrists are in line with your elbows. Extend arms to lift bar. Slowly return bar to a level where elbows are bent 90 degrees. The bar will be just above your chest and your hands will be just wider than shoulders on the bar. As you improve, you can move the arms farther apart to work the muscles on a different plane.
Lat Pulldown (lats and back): Hold lat bar with hands about eight inches apart. Kneel or sit on bench with arms extended overhead. Pull bar straight down until even with upper chest. Slowly release to extended arms position. As you improve in this exercise you will be able to perform wide grip pull-ups, an even more effective and explosive lat/back/biceps movement.
Shoulder Press (deltoids): Sit on bench with dumbbells in each hand. Raise dumbbells to shoulder height. Elbows face out, thumbs face in. Stabilize spine with abdominal muscles. Raise dumbbells overhead. Slowly release to shoulder position. Proficiency in this exercise will give you the strength to try to move into some very advanced exercises like handstand push-ups (at first against a wall, and later unsupported).
Shoulder Shrugs (traps), progressing to “Travelin’ Shoulder Shrugs”: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and dumbbells in each hand at your side. Or use a barbell with arms extended at your side. Elbows face out, palms face down. Shrug shoulders, taking care to keep neck relaxed and focus the exercise resistance on the traps. This exercise will provide a degree of strength that you can eventually apply to compound movements like carrying a couple barbell plates walking around the gym or around a running track – seriously!
Adapting what can arguably be considered a non-primal “isolation” exercise (and one that’s not very popular due to the “I carry too much tension up there already” factor) by moving while your muscles are under stress converts it into one of the most functional – and primal – exercises under the sun. Ever tried to carry your suitcases from baggage claim, load them on the shuttle, unload them and drag them to your trunk after a long trip? If you don’t seize up on the spot, you’ll get hit hard when you wake up the next morning!
Of course, your leg-press/squats will get you ready for this “traveling shoulder shrugs” workout too. If you have the very common tendency to carry stress in your trapezius, use extreme caution on this exercise by choosing light weights and moderate set difficulty. By doing so, you will gradually improving the strength, range of motion and blood circulation of these muscles and alleviate the tendency for them to absorb all of your tension.
Dumbbell Row (mid back): Stand with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent and supple. Hold dumbbell in each hand and bend forward at the waist with spine and head at about a 45-degree angle. Straighten and extend arms down, pointing elbows out and thumbs in. Commence exercise by raising elbows straight up in the air so that your back muscles pinch together.
Bicep Curls: Sit on bench with upper body straight. Grab dumbbells or resistance cords in each hand and rest them on thighs. Commence exercise by curling dumbbells up to your shoulder, then releasing slowly back to thigh. Keep spine stabilized throughout exercise.
Back Crunches: Lie face down on the ground with arms clasped together and resting on your lower back. Arch carefully by lifting your chest and legs off the ground. Hold position of maximum arch for a count of one, then return slowly to starting point. Stretch back muscles after completion by assuming a “prayer” pose – kneel, bend forward pressing chest into thighs and extend arms fully along the ground.
Woodchopper Abs (with resistance cords): Stand feet shoulder width apart, bend knees about 45 degrees and maintain straight spine. Grasp resistance cords in both hands and position hands directly in front of knee that is nearest to resistance point. Swing arms across body and upwards towards opposite shoulder, then return to opposite knee. Take care to isolate the resistance on your abs, letting your arms go along for the ride instead of engaging them to move the cords. Repeat until failure, then turn in the other direction to commence exercise starting with hands in front of other knee nearest the resistance point.