Though I’m a big proponent of Olympic lifts, and I use free weights on a regular basis, there’s something to be said for getting a great workout using just your surroundings, gravity, and maybe a pull-up bar. We can’t always get to a gym, and one-time fees can be pretty exorbitant – but we always want to be able to get a good workout in. When you’re stuck out of town on business, surrounded by fast food joints, stressed out of your mind and close to breaking, a great workout can really make the difference and save our sanity. We can’t always eat good Primal fare or even get plenty of sleep, but we can always blast our body with an intense, Primal workout using only our own body weight.
First, warm up with 15-30 seconds each of jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and lunges. This’ll get your blood flowing and your muscles prepared for the hell on earth to come (but hell in a good way!).
Step Ups (weighted – 12 per leg) (video for illustration purposes)
Find any surface capable of supporting your weight, like a bench, a chair, or a box. Stand in front of it and make like the name says: place the first foot on the bench and step up onto it, making sure to flex your knee and quadriceps. Bring your second foot up flat on the surface and step back down and repeat with the opposite leg. Increase the difficulty and intensity by carrying something heavy, like dumbbells, a small child, or a suitcase.
Wide Grip Push Ups (20 reps) (video)
Get in normal push up position. Now widen your grip. Do push ups as normal, but notice that the wide stance will target your chest more and enlist your triceps less while throwing in a bit of back work too. Again, if these are too easy for you, stack some sort of weighty object on your back.
Prisoner Squats (25 reps) (video)
The classic prisoner squat is performed with your hands behind your head (hence “prisoner”) using just your body weight. These are great for maintaining strength and learning proper squat form (butt pushed back and dropped, back straight, quads at least parallel to the floor at the bottom), but you can also add in some weight (suitcase, heavy books, whatever you can hold while maintaining form). Remember, go deep.
V-Ups (10 reps) (video)
Lie on your back (on the floor, or on a bench, anywhere really) with your arms outstretched above your head flat against the floor. Using your abs, bring both your arms and your legs toward each other, effectively forming a “V.” Be sure to keep your legs and arms straight, and to engage your abs throught the movement. Hold something heavy to make it harder. Pros can tuck a weight between their knees or ankles.
Shoulder Press Pushups (10 reps) (video)
Get in the push up position. Think of the classic push up as 180 degrees; push your butt up until you approach 90 degrees, almost forming an upside down “V.” The closer you get to a 90 degree angle, the more you’ll target your shoulders. This can be great training for a handstand pushup. An alternate version: put your legs up on a tall bed or a table and your palms on the ground, forming a 90 degree angle between the surface and the floor, almost like an overhead press.
Wall Squat (30 seconds) (video)
Get in the parallel squat position up against a wall. Hold it for 30 seconds.
Mixed Grip Pull-Ups (5 reps each grip) (video)
Hang from a bar with your right hand pronated (facing away from you body) and your left hand supinated (facing your body). Complete 5 reps then switch grips so that your right hand is now supinated and your left hand pronated. Complete 5 more.
Superman (up for 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds; 6 reps) (video)
Lie on your stomach, hands and legs outstretched (like you’re Superman flying through the air). Using your belly/hip area as the locus point, lift off the ground and bring your arms and legs up as high as you can. Hold it, hold it, hold it. Rest for a bit and repeat.
Repeat for three rounds.
Go as hard and as fast as you can. Try not to rest in between exercises, but give yourself a minute or two in between rounds. The goal is to compete against yourself for time. Record your times. Keep a log. Make sure you’re always working toward – or against – something, and your workouts will never get stale. If things are getting too easy, add weights or increase reps. If things are too hard, do as much as you can. If you have to rest three times before completing the pull-ups, do it. The important thing is that you get the reps in. With time and perseverance, your times will improve. And the endorphin rush will keep you coming back for more.
The beauty of a bodyweight workout is that it’s available anywhere at anytime, no equipment needed (except maybe a pull up bar – but you could always just find a low hanging branch or an exposed pipe or something). While they probably won’t pack on the muscle, you will get stronger, especially if you’re a newcomer to exercise. And if you’re a regular gym-goer, this bodyweight routine will maintain your strength, and the intensity of the circuit will improve your fitness. They’re infinitely adaptable, and the relatively low resistance means you can try new exercises out without worrying about injury.
This particular routine will get you results. Your legs will be screaming and your arms will be jelly, but it’ll be over relatively quickly and you will feel incredible after. Lifting heavy weights is great, and sprints are crucial, but there’s something about “destroying” your body with a series of intense bodyweight exercises in quick succession that feels truly raw and Primal.
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.