Bodyweight Exercises and Injury Prevention

Despite our recent spate of posts extolling the many and varied benefits of heavy resistance training, I’ve actually been moving away from the weight room for a couple reasons. Foremost is my desire to stay active and as injury-free as possible. While I still wholeheartedly endorse and believe in lifting hard and lifting heavy, at my age I’m starting to realize that the potential for injury – at least for me, personally – is too great to risk spending three days lifting heavy things on a weekly basis. At this point in my life, my motivation is simply different. I’m not really interested in pushing myself to the limit, let alone past the limit (realistically, those days are behind me); I’m instead focusing on maintaining my current performance. It’s almost a Buddhist thing where I’m content with my strength and my body (and have been for a long time now), rather than dissatisfied and constantly striving for more. I also Grok (or “own”) the notion that my diet dictates 80% of my body composition, so I really don’t have to work so hard to maintain muscle mass, strength, power, body fat etc. I’ve touched on this in the past, but a recent email from reader Griffin made me realize a substantial post was in order.

A sample of my basic routine of the last few months goes something like this (you may notice I’m following a version of the basic Primal Workout Plan:


Mondays, I typically Lift Heavy Things, with the “Heavy Things” usually being my own body weight. I still manage to get a complete workout, though; I’m not just doing pushups and air squats. I may not load up the barbells much anymore (unless I want to make sure I still got it – which I do!), but I’ll sometimes contrive to add resistance and make my workouts actual weighted workouts. Okay, so here’s a recent Monday, when I focused on making explosive movements.

Plyometric explosive pushups, five sets of fifteen – Adding a little weight to your back (with a backpack or sandbag) if you want, do a standard pushup and throw yourself up off the floor on the way up as high as you can.

Pull-ups, five sets of fifteen – Mixing your grip up as you go along, perform a basic pull-up; or, perform a not-so-basic pull-up, like a weighted pull-up (in which case I’ll drop down to five reps depending on the weight) or an explosive pull-up, where I throw myself up as high as possible (usually chest height). You can even turn the pull-up into a row by keeping your body as close to parallel to the floor as you can manage.

Jump squats, five sets – Sometimes I add weight, sometimes not; depends on how I feel (which I only know when I get to the gym). Obviously, I do fewer reps if I’ve loaded with a vest or am holding dumbbells.

Kettlebell swings, five sets of fifteen seconds –I want to be sure I explode and use my hips to generate the power and swing the bell directly overhead.

So you’ve got the essential groups engaged: the press, the pull, the squat, and the hips. Nothing too heavy, but the jumping and the explosiveness make for a lot of intensity, and I can add weight if I want to (if Monday’s sprint was especially rough, I’ll usually keep it strictly body weight). I’ll don’t eat before or right after Tuesday’s explosive workouts.


Sprinting. Lately, I’ve been doing my sprints on a stationary bike rather than running. I kinda tweaked my hip a couple weeks back (see, there’s that injury thing), so I use a bike “workaround” until the hip resolves. I’m doing a brief warm-up and then going full tilt at top rpms and top resistance for 40 seconds, with a two minute rest between each sprint until I’ve done five or six. Then a brief cool down. Not that it matters (because we don’t count calories) but the total work done in the 25 minutes I’m on the bike is more than if I’d done it steadily as chronic cardio.


Rest or play. Sometimes rest means going on a hike or for a stand-up paddle, but I always make sure I enjoy these days. Play means play.


HIIT. High intensity interval training. I love and dread these days, because I know I’m going to be done in around fifteen or twenty minutes, but I also know I’m going to stagger away with my butt thoroughly kicked. Anyway, HIIT can take many different forms. You could run Tabata sprints, do burpees till you fall over, or do an assortment of high speed pushups. Anything that gets your body moving and your muscles working at full speed/capacity will get the job done. In the past, I’ve really loved the classic “as many sets of five pull-ups, ten pushups, and fifteen air squats in fifteen minutes” routine, and that’s still great HIIT, but the past few weeks I’ve been messing around with various Tabata intervals. Today, for example, I plan on doing three sets of Tabata exercises (20 seconds full speed, 10 seconds rest, four minutes in total): squats, pushups, pull-ups. A total of twelve minutes long, and I’m already sucking wind in anticipation.

Last week I experimented with a new one: 150 reverse rows (VIDEO), 150 pushups and 150 unweighted squats for time. I did as many reverse rows as possible until I couldn’t do another, then rolled over and banged off as many pushups as possible, then stood up and did speed squats and then repeated the process until I had hit all my numbers. I guess the toughest part was keeping track of where I was on each exercise, but it was a bear.


Rest, play, or move slowly. I’m usually ready for a break from pushing, so these are more often than not pure rest days.


This is my long, slow, easy aerobic day. I usually go for a 90-minute hike in the hills. I do it wearing minimalist shoes, typically my FiveFingers or my FeelMax Pankas. If not that, I might paddle or go for a mountain bike ride.


I look forward to Sunday with the most anticipation. My gang (can I say that living in LA? Oh well) gets together for a 90-minute pick-up game of Ultimate. It’s the most fun I have all week and certainly calls into play all that strength, speed, agility and endurance I have been building all week. As I have said often, one of my personal goals is to make my Primal movement as play-oriented as possible.

Is it For You?

I’m fine with bodyweight training because I’m fine with my current physical makeup. If I wanted to pack on muscle or make strength gains, I would probably get under a heavy bar. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend bodyweight routines for everyone, but if you’re getting up there in the years and you’ve had injury issues, try them out. I’m still able to put up some decent weight when I try – not my all time 1 rep maximums, of course, but good enough. I can still do a ton of pull-ups in a row, I can still run sprints fast, and I have the confidence to face any situation – sport, physical obstacle – that might befall me. Need a tree climbed, a stranded cat rescued? Not a problem.

And really? Bodyweight training is more sustainable for more people. I know we get a lot of elite athlete and young adult readers (with their amazing ability to recover from heavy workouts – ah, I remember those days!), along with some CrossFit devotees, but they’ve already found their way. The above routine and my other suggestions for effective bodyweight exercises are realistic for anyone. Anyone could do at least a rough approximation of my workouts without risking injury, and most of my exercises can be performed in a hotel room or a park with a jungle gym. Also, I understand that women are often reluctant to hit the heavy weights. Though I fully endorse similar strength training plans for men and women, if you’re easing into a strength training program or just aren’t ready to jump into the squat rack just yet a bodyweight routine is a satisfactory alternative.

Bodyweight exercises are also sustainable because they reduce injuries. You can’t sustain steady exercise with missing cartilage or a chronically sprained ankle, can you? Of course, I’m not suggesting that weighted resistance training causes injuries; I’m merely suggesting that improperly performed weighted resistance training causes injuries. Bad form leads to injuries, as do people way in over their heads with too much weight. Bodyweight exercises, on the other hand, tend to be very forgiving of form (note, though, that good form promotes proper muscle activation, so it remains incredibly crucial regardless of the weight used) and involve relatively low weight, which takes care of both issues. That’s why I made the switch, at least: injuries were nagging me more and more frequently, and I realized that regularly lifting heavy weights at my age with my injury history (not to mention all those wear-and-tear years of running mile after mile) was just asking for trouble. I just couldn’t risk the punishment of injury. Downtime is my mortal enemy, and every minute of every day is precious to me. Honestly, I do sometimes miss the thrill of pushing, pulling, pressing, and squatting heavy weights, but not enough to compromise my quality of life.

The Primal Blueprint is about longevity, health, and vitality, but it’s also about lifelong functional fitness and power-to-weight ratios. Once you Grok that notion and internalize it, you realize that quality of life is everything – after all, what use is functional fitness if you’re injured half the time?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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93 thoughts on “Bodyweight Exercises and Injury Prevention”

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  1. i’m the most muscular, toned, and strong that i’ve ever been since starting intense forms of yoga, like vinyasa/power yoga. with moves like planks, side planks, and chaturangas, i consider it to be a form of “bodyweight exercise.” i don’t know if you agree with that statement, but it has started to transform my body!

    1. Same here. Wonderful muscle tone, strength increases, and as a bonus, increased flexibility (good for me as I have always had naturally too-tight joints) and no more menstrual cramps!

      We do Anusara yoga which is a tough work-out and involves a lot of self-supporting postures.

    2. i am 65 petite. can i do this type
      of yoga. do yogo teachers do this?

  2. The reason bodyweight exercise poses less injury risk is because few people know how to progress them to make them harder. With weights, it’s easy to just add more, and that’s what gets people in trouble.

    1. I think most people know how to progress bodyweight workouts to make them harder — add reps or intensity. The reason you have less injuries with bodyweight training it because you can’t progress faster than what your body allows you. When you max out doing pushups, you max out.

      With weightlifting, you can attempt to progress faster than what your muscles are prepared for and that is where injury occurs.

  3. Great posting on a great topic. As a 55 year old, I’m putting in a vote for many more postings addressing the general topic of “getting and keeping in shape while aging.”

    Here’s one to get you going. This posting deals wonderfully with *keeping* in shape in, shall we say, middle age. But how about *getting* in shape as a middle-age or older person? What if your focus isn’t on keeping what you got, because you ain’t got much? Yu need to develop some. Can it be done with bodyweight exercises? Best to use some light weights even if you are an oldie?

    Anyway, thanks for a great website and book. Getting a lot out of both.

    1. Ray I would say that Mark’s program listed above would work to get you in shape as well as keep you in shape. Work on increasing your reps (15 pull ups x 5 isn’t realistic for someone trying to get in shape) and adding intensity (a weighted vest) as you get stronger. The body is all about adaptation and you will make progress no matter where you are starting from as long as you eat right and give yourself enough rest between workouts.

        1. OTB I’ve been traveling and lurking when I get a chance. Also I’m training for a half marathon next month in San Antonio which takes up a lot of my time.

  4. Push ups and Pull ups have been the staple of my workouts for about 2 years now.

  5. Awesome post…as usual! I’ve been using a weighted vest with my workouts and love it. Even an additional 15 lbs will wear you out!

  6. A “proper” strength training routine will be safer than any other form of exersice regarding injury.

    Unfortunatly not very many people know what “proper” is.

    People forget that the purpose of strength training is not get get the heaviest weight from point A to point B.

    The point is to tax your body to a point that it needs to adapt to handle future stress.

    I see dudes at the gym straining and contorting their bodies just to get the weight from A to B.

    If you cannot lift with strict, slow form the, weight is to heavy. You are going to hurt yourself.

    If the weight is the same weight as last time and you are having trouble lifting then you are overtraining. You are going to hurt yourself.

    If you heave the weight up then ride the momentum to the finish position (some people call it “explode”) then you don’t know the proper form AND the weight is too heavy. You are going to hurt yourself.

    If you are in the weight room more than 20 minutes a week then your routine is not as effective as it could be. Chances are, you will end up hurting yourself.

    1. Ha! Not that I am trying to discredit the article or anything.

      I agree, the margin for error is much finer when lifting heavy objects.

      I just don’t want anybody getting scared out of the weight room. Haha.

      I am, however, willing to bet that Mark’s hip tweak was not in the weight room but on the Ultimate pitch! Haha!

      You will rarely take an elbow too the beak in the weight room. Haha!

    2. This really isn’t true at all. I’m not sure where you get your information but it isn’t at all correct.

      Please don’t post opinion that doesn’t meet sound strength training science.

      1. What is not correct?

        Nothing I posted contradicts science.

        If nobody posted opinion then this place would be very boring. Haha.

    3. I used to think the same thing. That as long as I used a “proper” training methodology that I wouldn’t face any of the negative effects of stupid training. I have been training in one form or another for just over 20 years. The majority of that time has been devoted to HIT with the use of perfect form and slow controlled reps. My average rep speed has always been 6 seconds, sometimes slower. I have never performed reps lower then 5 and that has always been used as my compound set in a pre-exhaustion superset. I generally never go longer than 8 weeks without a short lay-off and my weights generally have always increased over each cycle.

      I have never been seriously injured while using HIT but over the past 3 years I have started having issues with aches and pains in the shoulder, knees, and elbows. I have started to get muscle pulls and tendon inflammation more easily. The two most recent issues, golfer’s elbow and severe issues with my lower back made me take a look at what this type of “proper” training was doing to my body. I have started to wonder if all of those years of to-failure training have taken there toll on me. I decided to start using “intensity cycling” as McRobert suggests. No effect. I have used Superslow and I even tried Jreps/Matrix/Stage Reps which has the trainee using less-than-normal weights. My knee issues actually were aggravated by these partial rep protocols, even though I used perfect form and controlled reps.

      I couldn’t see myself giving up my HIT but couldn’t see myself getting better while doing it. After serious consideration I decided to try a bodyweight-only workout to see if it would help my body recover from the weights. It’s been about 8 weeks now and my joints feel stronger than ever and my overall condition is a lot better. I haven’t had any knee issues in weeks and my golfer’s elbow and low back are close to healed.

      I still may cycle through some HIT routines from time to time but have made a life-changing decision to use bodyweight exercises for at least 60-70% of my workouts. As I get older I have no need to get new PR’s in my bench or squat. In fact I have realized that such numbers are pointless in the real world unless I was a weightlifter or powerlifter, which I am not and don’t care to be. I have also realized that health is more important than the weight I can lift or building as much muscle mass as possible.

  7. Mark I’m 47 and have recently come to the same conclusion. I’ve worked hard and suffered injuries to get to where I am and I’m happy to maintain the results I’ve made.

    I’ve come to realize that having 1970s Arnold’s chest and arms isn’t what I really want. I want to look lean and fit and not be embarrassed to be seen with my shirt off. Bodyweight exercises are ideal for me because I can do them anywhere like my hotel room when I’m traveling.

    I bought some handles that fit over the top of the door and they allow me to do pull ups and chin ups against a closed door. They cost $20 and take up very little room in my suitcase. At home I have two pull up bars (one outside and one indoors).

    I have plateaued with my pull ups though and would love to learn some tips for breaking through that plateau and increasing my reps. I’ve tried doing ladders, negatives, and everything else I’ve read about, but can’t increase my numbers. My maximum single set amount is 19, but 15 X 5 doesn’t seem possible. I might be able to do a dozen in the first set and then my numbers start to drop.

    1. Have you tried rest?

      Don’t do them for 1 week then see if you can do 20?

      If not try not doing them for 2 weeks.

      Like you said the body is all about adaption. Adaption can take some time.

      It’s hard to get a house built if you keep tearing down the foundation.

      1. I did take a week off from strength training and only resumed just yesterday afternoon. I didn’t try a maximum pull up test, I just did a ladder (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,5) and then repeated the ladder about 30 minutes later (in reverse) but doing chin ups. I did feel stronger but not a whole lot. I’ll try a one set maximum test again tomorrow and see how it goes.

        All that said, I couldn’t do any pull ups when I started P90X nearly two years ago so I have made a lot of progress but it would be nice to be able to knock out 15 x 5! 🙂

        1. DaveFish … your accomplishments are impressive! Have you tried a weight vest & weighted pull-ups? That can be great plateau buster. I use the old standard 5×5 and either increase the weight by 5 lbs. a week, or keep the weight the same and increase the reps by 1. Do a six week cycle and you will see some impressive strength gains that will get you closer to the 15×5 goal.

        2. Thanks for the tip Ryland. I’ll give it a try. Of course part of my success was dropping 45 lbs! Much easier to do pull ups when you only have to lift 175 lbs vs. 220!

          (Sorry this reply isn’t in the right order. I think we’ve exceeded the nesting limit of responses).

  8. Have you ever considered performing exercises described in the book “body by science” The exercises are are lot more safer due to the slow motion of performing the exercises, while making it intense with heavy weights on machines. Seems like a good alternative for people who are concerned with injury due to age and working out. I’ve been personally testing it out for about 6 weeks now and have to say that my results have been surprisingly good. I’ve worked out with only 5 exercises for 10mins per week and seemed to have gained strength (i can lift more each week.. go figure). I’m still not convince whether to continue this or just use my previous intense workouts, as this form of exercise is just plain boring at times and i miss working out like crazy…

    1. Christian, I think I’ll do a post on BBS soon and how some of the science fits PB and some doesn’t (like the idea that extremely slow lifting builds explosive power).

      1. Great,… looking forward to it. I’ve been quite puzzled by that one myself,… and have been just experimenting on myself and my performance… seems like my jumping hasn’t decline, nor increased and the same for speed… but i’ll need to track this a bit longer to see any validity to this whole thing

  9. Great post, Mark. Although I understand the undertone of bodyweight exercise appropriateness for those getting up there in their years, I have to say that it is every bit as appropriate for those who are younger as well. In my twenties lifting heavy (olympic-style weightlifting, powerlifting etc.) was merely food for the ego and not necessarily prerequisite for a healthy and functional body. When I turned 30 I started replacing a lot of the heavy lifting with bodyweight exercises that include:

    – Games and informal physical activities
    – Plyometrics
    – Lifting my own body in various positions
    – Sprinting

    Although I still lift a barbell and a kettlebell now and then (although far less within the past several weeks), I am currently doing mostly stuff outside of the gym. I’m trying to reduce formal exercise, and spend more time with family, friends, and cooking good food in the kitchen. (Also, what I find ironic is that so many people spend so much time in a health club but NOT get anywhere, yet don’t spend enough time enjoying the preparation of wholesome food, the very activity that will get them somewhere much faster!)

    I’m now 40 years of age and I constantly carry around ~5% body fat, without even trying (I grew up a fat kid, btw). Like you, I attribute my bodyfat level to dietary intake. I’m lean, but also decently muscular from being active… not in possession of the big gymrat look (thank goodness!), but more of the model/athletic physique that I personally prefer.

    The best thing is this: I look better at 40 than I ever did in my life, and I feel far healthier than ever. Isn’t this the idea? LOOK GREAT, and FEEL GREAT!

    1. I still like my sledgehammer workouts and wrestling with the slosh tube but I don’t see a real need to do bench presses, bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, etc. when I get good results from push ups, pull ups, and chair dips. I’m not afraid to lift heavy things. I’m just not focusing on isolated muscle exercises anymore.

  10. Why is everyone here all of a sudden so down on “lifting Heavy Things”….or what many of us call bodybuilding? I am 59 and because of the weight room I still have the body and strength of a man half my age. And this clown chima_p writes that “if you are in the weight room more then 20 minutes a week then your routine is not as effective as it could be”. 20 minutes would not be enough for 1 workout, let alone for the whole week. Lifting Heavy Things is Primal Blueprint law # 4. Come on Mark, clean up this BS before some of your devotees actually start believing it. See you and Cari in the Gym..Love Gary

    1. Then call me Bozo ha!

      And I will call you Weider.

      Just ask Christian about the effectiveness of a less than 20 minute work out. Although I agree Superslow is boring.

      I get stronger every week I step into the gym.

      The key is training to failure. Once you have reached failure, what is purpose of doing 1 more set?

      It has worked in the past when I was in my early 20’s and I packed on 30lbs of muscle after every thing else failed (Volume Arnold style, split routines, Bill Pearl’s routine, Steve Reeve’s routine, etc.).

      It’s working now 12 years later. I am stronger now than when I was at 22 since I have more lean mass now than total mass at that time haha.

      I am getting stronger EVERY time I step in the gym. I have lost 20lbs of fat (not weight)since August while maintaining muscle on a calorie restricted diet.

      I would love to debate but I don’t think this is the right thread.

    2. Gary, I don’t think anyone is “down” on lifting heavy things, but that bodyweight exercise seems to be included as a personal preference. There are options for everyone, after all; Mark mentions clearly that if he still wanted to BUILD muscles, he’d get under the bar. But since he’s satisfied with his current physical conformation and function, there seems to be little reason for heavy barbells. I personally agree. Also, since you mentioned “bodybuilding,” then it’s a different perspective (though one deserving high respect), since you do need to lift heavy weight — as one of the two factors required for building muscle mass is increasing strength (the other being local metabolic fatigue). But there are many very outstanding bodybuilders whose bodybuilding program require no more than 20 minutes of lifting, so Chima_p is not far off the mark.

      One thing to keep in mind is that the message to the audience on MDA is in getting healthy, fit, and looking great — and not so much for bodybuilding as the primary goal. But I agree that to many, building muscle is a very important part of their effort, and thus MDA has offered articles on how to build muscles in the past.

      Lifting heavy weight is recommended, but its terms are not restricted to only heavy barbells and exercise machines.

      1. come on Chog, Chima did not say 20 minutes for a workout, he said 20 minutes FOR THE WHOLE WEEK! I guarantee that you will never find a muscular body on 20 minutes a week…20 minutes a day perhaps but NEVER on just 20 minutes a week…who are we kidding here!

        1. That’s patently false. Look at Doug McGuff or Vee Ferguson. 10 minutes a week. Time to rethink conventional wisdom.

        2. I’m all for questioning conventional wisdom, and I do believe in less is more to a large degree. I’m just not buying ten minutes a week in order to maximize results.

        3. It may only take 20 minutes but you are wobbling out of there barely able to change clothing after the workout.

          Also, why not only 20 min?

          Why more?

        4. Yeah, I wouldn’t have bought it either if I hadn’t tried it myself. You can never know until you try Bob.

        5. First, we have to DEFINE what the goal is. If it is general health, fitness, and good body composition, perhaps 20 minutes is adequate. This does not exclude being active for the rest of the week promote and retain functional health and fitness, and eating a wholesome (Paleo) diet that has a greater influence on body composition than does exercise.

  11. Add situps to that Tabata workout list you’ve got one I’m familiar with. At Crossfit Richardson here in the Dallas area, one of the “go to” workouts is tabata pullups, pushups, situps, squats. 16 minutes of pure fun!

    And if you want to experience what I consider one of the hardest tabata protocols, try tabata rowing on a Concept II rower! It’s killer because you can always do SOMETHING to move the rower. I can reach muscular fatigue in Tabata squats or pullups, but on the rower, it takes whatever pull you deliver so there’s never a “failure” in that sense.

    I’m trying to hit a total distance of 900M on 8 intervals of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest. I’m getting closer, but it’s brutal!

  12. I’m still interested in pushing myself to the limit, because I don’t know what my limits are! Heck, I didn’t start exercising till I was 44. At age 51, I haven’t “peaked” yet; I’m still steadily improving in strength, speed, agility and coordination.

    So, yes, I do hit the heavy weights at the gym. I’m just more conscious of doing things properly than the young whipper-snappers, because I know that my recovery period will be a lot longer if I injure myself.

  13. I just had a discussion with my chiropractor about bodyweight exercises, lifting heavy things, and injury. I told him I had been doing lots of pushups, (modified) pullups, squats, and lunges, and I had questions about injury prevention. His answer? STOP. Aside from the pushups, I shouldn’t be doing any of those things. Squats and lunges are too hard on aging knees (I’m 42), and the pullups aggravate my wrist tendonitis. I was very disappointed, because I had really gotten into my new exercise routine. I looked up a bunch of info on squats and found plenty, some from chiropractic sites, that supports squats. At my next appointment, I will go armed with information.

    1. Annika, short answer: do what you can that doesn’t hurt and don’t do what does hurt. You’ll be amazed at things you can do to improve strength without doing damage. That’s why I always have a “workaround” program for injuries.

    2. Annika,

      Maybe it’s time to change chiropractors instead of workouts!

      Just think how much more quickly those knees will age if you stop exercising them. Of course, you need to use common sense in your approach. Unless you have some sort of degenerative disorder, you should be able to make improvements through proper exercise.

      1. I think the world of my chiropractor, but he and I may have to agree to disagree on this one. After all I’ve read in the past few months, and how much stronger I feel after a routine of squats, lunges, modified pullups, & pushups, I’m not about to give them up without some really compelling reasons.

        1. Any chiropractor worth his weight will promote the proper use and application of strength training exercises. Chiropractics is good for putting things back in place but the muscles must then be conditioned to keep those things in place. To be honest I am shocked to hear of a chiropractor that is anti-exercise. The reality is that the body is designed to move. It’s designed for squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Any type of medical professional that says otherwise hasn’t done his/her homework.

    3. Annika,

      I’ve had two knee surgeries done (I’m 30) and one of the bigger things that PT had me do to get my knee into working condition again, was squats and lunges. Like Mark said, a good thing is to let pain be your guide, if it hurts, don’t push it.

    4. I started working out in January. Before I started, my knees hurt all the time. It would keep me up at night. I figured it was too many years of martial arts and “bad joints.” I started doing plyometrics once a week. At first I had to modify almost every move; even squats were hard – my knees would creak with every rep. After a few weeks, I was able to do most of the moves full out. The creaking stopped and so did the pain. Now I’m doing a high-intensity program with lots of leg work, jumping, and squats and have no knee problems. I’m assuming that my problem was with the stabilizer muscles. Whatever it was, it’s a relief that it’s gone!

  14. Thanks Mark! I was so excited about my pullup bar, but maybe that’s just too much stress for my poor wrist.

    1. People like chiros don’t necessarily know all there is to know about exercise. My physio told me I should do lots of Pilates and stay away from heavy stuff. That’s not going to happen. I’m not interested in “toning up” – I want to get as strong as humanly possible. I’m 42 as well, btw – I have been training well over 20 years now. It’s ingrained. I have a lot of old war wounds but as well as the heavy stuff, I make sure I do corrective exercise to address my weaknesses.

      Incidentally, have you tried a PowerBall for your wrists? They’re pretty good for RSI-type stuff.

  15. I think the amount of heavy lifting one is capable of doing, is a result of genetics. Mark’s early career consisted of long distance running. Perhaps his genetics do not allow him the ability to perform long term heavy lifting. And there is nothing wrong with that; it simply is….

    At fifty-five, I am still able to pack a moving truck with house full of furniture, for the most part by myself. I love the challenge, and since my genetics allow me to perform such a task, it is quite pleasurable to do so. I can also move an eight foot sofa over my head for a mile without rest. Of course, recovery does not come as quickly as during my twenties, but I am still able to do these tasks/feats. I should also point out that the only back problems I ever had was when practicing aikido, during my forties. Stopped aikido, and good-bye to lower back pain. Other folks though, thrive on aikido without back pain; usually (not always) smaller people who are able to take falls easier. Also, I never played football, even though coaches tried to recruit me because of my fast twitch sprinting abilities. The result of no FB and long distance running, is a life free of knee engeries.

    These comments remind me o how people react to sugar addiction, over at Free The Animal.Com in that everyone has their own method to deal with problems, the way they see best for them.


    1. Thanks for bringing that up, Will. I was really impressed with how readers jumped in to help with their own insights and experiences.

  16. This article has prompted me to make my first post here. I’m a 45 year old woman, 5′ tall and about 30 lbs overweight, with lower back issues. I’ve been reading for a few months and working at changing my eating habits, but I have yet to start working out. It just seemed so intimidating. I have no idea where to start. I also live in the country, at least an hour away from any gym. While the exercises in this post are beyond my abilities, it has helped me realize that I don’t have to “go big or stay home”.

    Do you have any suggestions on where or how I should start? Oh yeah, I also live in Canada, where we are starting to prepare for winter…

    1. Carrie if you aren’t sure where to start then I recommend a home workout DVD program like Tony Horton’s Ten Minute Trainer. You can find it at

      It requires very little equipment (I think the DVDs come with a resistance band) and you can start at your own pace just doing 10 minutes a day if you want, or stack the workouts to do up to 30 minutes a day. They are very easy to follow and you can see the exercises being done with proper form. Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with the people in the video. Take breaks when you need them and you will find yourself getting stronger with every workout.

      It does come with a nutrition plan but I recommend that you stick to the Primal eating plan as the TMT nutrition plan is the conventional wisdom, low calorie, low-fat plan that emphasizes “wholesome” grains.

      You don’t need very much space to do these workouts and all you need is a DVD player with a remote control so you can pause the video when you need to.

      After doing a program like Ten Minute Trainer for a couple of months you’ll be a lot more confident and ready to take on some other exercises.

      1. By the way, for the record, I had NOTHING to do with the P90 or BeachBody nutrition plans. Yes, I designed a few supplements for them a few years ago to fit their workout requirements and demographic (that’s my expertise), and I taught Tony H the value of intervals 20 years ago. Full stop.

        1. Mark, Tony speaks highly of you and your supplements at his fitness camps. In fact he’s the reason I learned about this site.

          You both are great examples of how fit “men of a certain age” can be. I prefer your approach because it seems an overall more rounded where exercise doesn’t have to be your top priority every single day.

          P90X helped me get fit but the Primal Blueprint keeps me fit. I thank you both for improving the quality of my life.

    2. Carrie,

      There are a lot very effective things you can do without a gym. In addition to information Mark has here on the site, here are a few other suggestions:

      This site posts a 20 minute, scaled daily workout using no weights at all:

      Here’s a link to a Crossfit site that has a bunch of travel workouts. In fact, quite a few of the Crossfit sites have them.

      Also do a web search for Turbulence Training. There are a lot of TT workouts on Youtube that you can follow.

      You can make tremendous progress using these and others before you need to think about using weights.

      Good luck!

  17. I really like body weight exercises with rings – the rings really work all the core muscles and stabilizers throughout the torso (and arms as well). I do dips and pushups with rings a couple times a week.

  18. Hell yeah! Bodyweight is where it’s at if you want to incorporate intervals with heavy lifting. Just throw on a vest and have at it!

  19. With regard to building “explodsive power” there is solid evidence that slow, high intensity training causes the brain to recuit the I, IIa and IIb fibers in orderly fashion. Fast, low intensity does not work IIb fibers. Type IIb fibers are responsible for power production. Type I fibers are capable of moving limbs at rapid speeds as long as force requirements are low. So it is not possible to lift a heavy weight rapidly, you can throw it, but this will not build strength or “power”, just injury.

    1. Really? Tell that to Olympic lifters doing the snatch and clean and jerk. Not possible to generate power at a rapid speed? Really?

      1. Find me an Olympic lifter that has zero injuries and that is not nearly crippled by the age of 60.

        Olympic lifters represent a small nearly freakish group of humans whose genetics (look at them, they are all the same body type) allow such feats of strength.

        Most humans who would train like that would hurt themselves very badly, very often.

        They can do it despite their training not because of it.

      2. Weightlifting as a sport should be called weightthrowing. These weights are hoisted vertically against gravity. The skill requied involves accelerating the mass in a manner that momentum allows the participant to jump under it. There is also a 100% chance of musculoskeletal damage for those who have competed a year or more. Controlled, submaximal repetitions actually lend strength to the body.

  20. Ah, thank you for the post, Mark (and for the “shout out”)!

    I have always been partial to bodyweight exercise. Though I’m now devoting a couple days a week to heavy lifting (I’m only 21), I still find something undeniably appealing about hoisting my own weight around, anywhere, anytime.

    Even though I’m young, it’s pretty easy to detect that bodyweight training is safer than lifting, and I’m glad you’re looking out for yourself. Great post! Thanks again.


    P.S. If you’re interested, these guys are great with bodyweight Circular Strength Training.

  21. Thanks for this article, Mark. It’ll take me a while to build up to these, but You’ve given me a great starting point for stuff I can do in the truck and in the parking lot. I also followed the links and found the Prison Workout post you did, and that one’s gonna be a great help, too.
    Heh, maybe if I start doing burpees in the parking lot I can shame some of these other drivers into getting into shape 🙂 (assuming I can find a clean spot to do them… Maybe I should invest in a yoga mat.)

  22. I was doing pull ups last January, exhausted myself, hung by one arm, and immediately had pain along the ulnar nerve. I’ve had ulnar neuropathy since, which has improved, but not resolved. So body weight exercises are not perfectly safe. I have recently been doing the Body by Science workout. I am 54, and avoiding further injuries is important to me. Sort of like financial investing; better to build on gains than to make up for losses.

  23. Thank you for this article, Mark. I have some as-yet unresolved back issues that I manage to deal with, and still Lift Heavy Things. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic personal trainer who makes sure that what I do doesn’t compromise my ability and cause injury. Still, on seeing my newly revealed body in the mirror this morning, I am so pleased to see that underneath my fast-disappearing blubber, I have a good set of muscles for a lady of almost 40! Doing some body resistance workouts is already part of my schedule, but I think I may incorporate more of these into my ever-changing routine. I knwo my PT will be more than happy to do this!

    You (G)rok!

  24. I was wondering if fast jump roping is a viable option for a “sprint day”. Where I live it’s hard to get out for a run without a little travel time, I don’t have a stationary bike, but I do have a jump rope? I like to do “double-unders” or singles as fast as long as I can. Am I doing enough on those days I can’t literally sprint?

  25. I have to wonder if bodyweight exercise will just introduce a different type of injury…. overuse, once you’re strong enough to get a lot of reps.

    For instance, I’m approaching my lifetime record (set back in my 20s) of 30 pull ups. I got 28 last week, and I’m 50 years old. I do one set most days, 24 if unweighted (not a max effort), or less if weighted. I do them weighted for two reasons. First, I don’t want to do 3 sets of 20 or something every day, because I don’t want an overuse injury. And second, sets of 20 of anything aren’t building strength, they’re building endurance.

    Once you start weighting a bodyweight exercise (weighted pullups, dips, pushups) you might as well just use a barbell.

    I think careful attention to form and proper ego management is all that’s needed to prevent injury in the weight room.

  26. Thanks for this article. I am going to be traveling a bit over the next few months and I seem to have a hard time getting my brain to wrap around bodyweight workouts in my hotel room. Hey, I’m a Taurus and am stubborn about sticking to my weights and treadmill routine.

  27. Mark:
    I met you in your office about a month ago as I am also a Malibu resident and surfer. Wow! I love your book – I know the principles of eating proteins and natural carbs but you articulate them in such a practical sensible manner- I always stay in shape and was travelling for about a month- been back now for a week and going tottally primal and loving it!! Also, I have been doing isometric workouts and again you explanation of how Grok lived ate and lived his life physically makes complete sense. Per our discussion Stand up paddling is the best and most beautiful way to work out… Thanks again and I hope to keep in touch- Dave

  28. Mark, Great bok and awesome site!! I will say though that at 56 I’m still moving some heavy kettlebells, resistance band training and “heavy dips, squats and chins with weights. Maybe you could consider just lightening up on your weights at the gym, but still move some prodigious weight occaisionally. As an ol’ timer with many years in the trenches, I hate to see another comrade giving up on the iron ……:) Dave

  29. I’m definitely more into building muscle without lifting weights… if only because I get so bored! I have started taking Jazz Dance Classes after a 15 year break, and am remembering how well they work EVERY muscle I have. A typical class starts with a 45 minute warm-up where you really work all of your muscles. Plies (dance squats), pushups, pike (downward dog) with leg lefts, etc. etc. Within 10 minutes I’m sweating like crazy. Then we do other dance exercises for the rest of the hour and twenty minute class. I always come out of there feeling great. Plus I’m having fun and focusing on doing the dance moves, not on “exercise”. My body is totally changing — much more so than it did when I was trying to do the gym thing. I know everyone has their own perfect niche, but thought I’d toss that one out as a possibility for those who want to change it up. I was in the best shape of my life and had crazy muscle tone when I was dancing 8 hours a week, and that was all i was doing. Of course, i was 20 then and I’m 41 now!

    I’m still trying to work in the sprints. I’m thinking I’m going to go with the jumprope because that’s what I have.

  30. I don’t ever go to the gym. I am 67 years old and have 4 horses that I ride and take care of. Believe me, I get to lift heavy things, sprint now and then (away from a kick etc), mend fences, clean pasture, and muck stalls. My heart gets to racing pretty fast when something spooks a horse big time on a trail ride.That also takes a fair amount of arm strength to manage the horse. So my advice to Carrie is to get a horse. Forget the gym.

  31. Great post, Mark! Can you offer any suggestions for modified body weight exercises for those of us who are rather heavy and just starting out? I know push ups from knees and I’ve seen the modified pull ups. Are there other things out there or is it a matter of doing fewer reps and working into the “standard” exercises over time?

    1. Clark, we are working on an eBook program that will offer modified bodyweight exercises and alternatives to start from scratch. Should be available in Dec or Jan. But for now, either choice works until you get up to speed: do modified versions of the prescribed exercise or just do fewer reps of the exact exercise. It’s all good.

  32. Overuse shouldn’t be a problem if one progresses naturally to one arm bodyweight exercices: can’t see many people banging out 30 one arm pull-ups, press-ups or handstands!

  33. *soapbox*

    i’ve been a hulahooping addict for a few months now and it’s the best exercise i’ve ever done. my favorite is a weighted 14′ diameter hoop (that i made myself). i still have my “mama belly” but i can actually see my abs again and i have crazy muscles in my arms that were never defined before, even when i used to play lacrosse in high school. it’s a fun activity for any skill level that doesn’t ever feel like “work”, despite the obvious burn, and i can enjoy it with my son (who is already way better than me at tricks). mostly i love that it energizes me at my core and that the tricks open new pathways in my brain.

  34. I also find I am starting to get injuries with heavy weight lifting. I have started working in more bodyweight exercises into my routine. I get just as good a workout just not the same kind of muscle building. It’s nice to see others workouts. Thanks for the great article.

  35. Good Post! I’ve been working in body weight training in addition to lifting at the gym, and I think it helps a lot with the functionality of the fitness. It was good to see what a week of your workouts look like.

  36. Here here on the body weight.

    Back in my early 30s, I went through a period where I was poor-money wise, so no gym for me, or alcohol, or fast food.

    I ran about 30 miles/week with 3 workouts devoted to sprint/intervals/hills.

    On my light run days I would do pullups from a tree limb and bar dips on my kitchen counter. I never added any weight and did many repetitions.

    I was able to run this way for 5 straight years without one single injury-not even a tweak of any kind, and I attribute it to the strong frame that the body weight workouts gave me.

    Years later I went through a minor meat head stage at the gym, but eventually gravitated back to being outside performing these exercises on my own schedule, in the sun and heat-love ’em.

  37. So glad to read this. I’m pushing 50 and have had major back surgery. I’ve been warned by my neurosurgeon to avoid any lifting that puts stress on the spine and, because of peripheral nerve damage, I also have some issues with my hamstrings and glutes. I’ve been following a Paleo way of eating for nearly a year now and have lost over 40 pounds. It’s time to kick things up a notch and this kind of work-out could be just the ticket.

  38. Its such as you learn my mind! You appear to grasp so much about this, like you wrote the e book in it or something. I believe that you can do with some percent to force the message house a little bit, but instead of that, that is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  39. Interesting post and also very impressive workout. I know a few athletic young guys and they can’t get anywhere near that many pullups. I was up to 3 sets of 6 with the “kung fu” pullups until I injured my finger playing football. For those that want to do body weight workouts, check out “Convict Conditioning”, great program for any age. Also checkout “The Science of the Six-Pack”, very tough workout for core work.