Facing the Primal Blueprint Fitness Challenges

Primal Blueprint Fitness PyramidFor this next introduction – or re-hashing, for some of you – of an essential Primal concept, I’ll be covering the three basic Primal laws of fitness (click the image to zoom in). This one can be the most difficult hurdle for some. If you’re carrying a personal history of weight gain, for example, you’re most likely somewhat inactive, too. Being overweight, you see, leads to inactivity. And yeah, being inactive can perpetuate the weight gain, but it usually starts with a bit of added weight and the sluggishness that comes along for the ride. Good times, right? They end this month.

As often as I make the case that “diet is 80% of the battle for body composition”, and as often as we take apart Conventional Wisdom for its misguided views on diet, exercise, and weight loss, exercise does matter. Sure, if you could make just one change to your lifestyle to effect positive health changes, diet would arguably be it – but we aren’t single-minded, simple creatures. We can chew gum and run sprints at the same time (actually I wouldn’t recommend that…). Getting healthy, losing weight, and, most importantly, maximizing your overall enjoyment of your precious time on this planet requires a multi-faceted approach to living – and working up a sweat and lifting heavy things a few days each week are part of that.  Luckily, CW did get it terribly, terribly wrong when it comes to the volume, frequency, and composition of your workouts. If you thought replacing your old boxed, processed food with butter, bacon, and fresh veggies was great (and incredibly easy!), you’ll love the Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenges for exercise.

As expected, the fitness challenges all revolve around my Primal Blueprint Fitness program, which in turn is based on the simplest, most effective modes of movement and activity. These are the types of movements that people have been making for millennia – the movements our physiologies are literally constructed to make. If you buy the idea, as I do, that people are best adapted to an evolutionary, ancestral eating plan, and that following that eating plan will lead to robust, sustainable health, the next logical step is to assume that following the ancestral movement plan – working out the way our bodies have evolved to work out – will lead to robust, sustainable physical fitness. Okay: so what comprises the ancestral movement plan?

Challenge #3: Move Frequently at a Slow Pace

Just move: It’s that simple. Just get out there and move. I challenge you to align your low-level aerobic activity with Primal Blueprint Fitness. If you don’t already have the free fitness program grab it now. Get 3-5 hours of walking, hiking, light cycling, swimming, etc., each week. Do it all at once or in batches. Use the logbook at the back of PBF and your forum journal to track your progress.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

We are highly efficient slow movers. We walk, we hike, we slowly stalked prey until they fall from exhaustion. We walked the Bering Strait. We made it to every hospitable corner of the world, using not much more than our own two feet. If you examine our bodily structure, it makes sense: largely hairless, for easy sweating and quick cooling; obligate bipedalism, for walking hands free and standing up tall to see our surroundings; large butt muscles, for supporting our upright stance. This month, I want you to put that heritage to work. Walk! Cycle! Hike! Heck, you can even do a light jog on a trail. Just don’t regularly and consistently maintain an elevated heart rate for too long; this is meant to be an easy, pleasurable endeavor, not Chronic Cardio. Take along a loved one and enjoy the company. Have a deep conversation. Take a business partner on a mobile meeting. Go alone and do some thinking. This is your time. It’s not about burning calories; it’s about moving.

So move!

Challenge #4: Lift Heavy Things

Lift your body: If you want to build lean muscle mass and stay strong into your golden years you have to lift heavy things. Align your weightlifting routine with Primal Blueprint Fitness and perform two bodyweight workouts each week. See chapter 3 of Primal Blueprint Fitness for all the details.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

It’s not all easy peasy, of course. PB Fitness is also about intensity. It’s about lifting heavy things over your head, putting those muscles to use, and sending your body the hormonal messages to repair bone, sinew, tendon, and muscle.

Of course, in this case, that heavy thing you’ll be lifting will be your own body. You could do the gym thing and get out the barbells and the machines, but I’m about streamlining this process for as many people as possible. I want you to be able to work out on the road or in your living room. And so I’m just asking you to follow the PBF plan for a month and complete two bodyweight workouts each week. It’s an easy concept to get, and it’s even easier to convince yourself to do two short workouts – but in practice, these things are tough, full-body affairs that force you to use your body as a holistic group of moving parts, all working together to complete a task. The Four Essential Primal movements (pushups, pullups, squats, planks) may be familiar to you, but I doubt you’ve ever faced them like this before.

You’ll be sweating, sore, and worn out, so prepare yourself. They’re short, but they’re rough. Download the PBF ebook if you haven’t already and get lifting!

Here are a few additional articles from the depths of the MDA archives on Lifting Heavy Things:

Challenge #5: Sprint Once in a While

Just move… very fast!: Too many people neglect to include sprinting in their workout routines. They’re the perfect Primal fitness hack that can be done in as little as 10 minutes. I challenge you to perform one sprint workout each week during this challenge.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

Everybody forgets sprinting. Some people say it’s too hard, while others say it’s too easy. The end result is that it gets left out of way too many routines, even though our big glutes are also good for generating lots of power and speed. The reality is, of course, that both camps are right: sprinting is both hard and easy – and that’s the whole point! When you run sprints, you are giving maximum, all-out effort. You are pushing your body to the limits, which, if you’ve heard me talk about simplifying fitness and avoiding overtraining, might sound like something I’d be against. I’m actually all for pushing the limits, as long as you do it intelligently. Pushing the limits for ten seconds is far different than pushing the limits for a three hour marathon.

In the right dose, maximum efforts are excellent for body composition, muscular health, and hormonal balance. Doing one sprint workout – whether it’s traditional running, cycling, swimming, or even Grok crawling – each week just happens to be the perfect dose.

Here are a few additional articles from the archives on Sprinting:

Challenge #7: Play

Get playful: If you’ve forgotten how to play, this challenge will jog your memory. Grok did it and it’s why I train. For the stress-reducing effects, to get you moving without even realizing you’re moving and for the sheer fun of it, I challenge you to participate in each of the four Workouts of the Week this month. Each WOW during the challenge will be decidedly playful. Be prepared to print out the rules, gather your friends and have a blast.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

While play doesn’t get a prime spot on the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid it is central to Primal Blueprint Fitness. Let me explain. I sprint, lift and move slowly in large part so that I am both able to do the things I enjoy (weekly Ultimate Frisbee outings, snowboarding in Aspen, playing sports with my kids) and do them without fear of injury. If PBF is the “what”, play is a big part of the “why”. Additionally, play is a built-in feature of PBF, with Workouts of the Week (WOWs) often incorporating playful routines that can be done with friends and in groups. (If you have your own idea for a group WOW game submit it here.) Check back each Monday for a new WOW.

And here is a little inspiration for Play:

I know what you might be thinking: “Ugh, who has time to take actual walks around these days? Or run sprints – who does that anymore? And strength training means getting an expensive gym membership and paying an overpriced personal trainer. I can’t do any of these things.”

Between work, kids, fixing dinner, and watching TV, finding three to five hours of uninterrupted temporal space in which to do not much at all, an hour to strength train, and ten to fifteen minutes to run really fast might sound tough. But c’mon – there’s always something to do. That will never, ever end. That’s life. There’s always someone to see, a movie to watch, an email to answer. Your health is worth more than that, though. All I’m asking is for a few hours out of your schedule each week and a small pint jar or two of sweat… is that too much? Now get out there, get Primal and don’t forget to play!

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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29 thoughts on “Facing the Primal Blueprint Fitness Challenges”

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  1. I not only find this quite doable, but it’s fun! Seriously, I’m really surprised how fun this is.

  2. Something that was a big surprise to me was that once I built the momentum by pushing through a week or two, I found it was something I was totally attracted to. I can feel the urge for a sprint session rise up and then I know its time for a trip to the pool, the park, or around the lake. If I feel tired, bored, or a lack of focus, I know I need to bust out a LHT workout.

    The low-level stuff is pretty easy to rack up, but 3-5 hours seems painfully short, as its only 9-20 miles of walking per week. That might be a lot for some people, but I have easily pushed to over 10 in a day, despite a desk job. Then again, maybe all that walking is what’s helped keep me from a host of the illnesses the people around me seem to have.

  3. Since starting the challenge, I feel like Sally O’Malley (except that I am 51) because I can kick and I can stretch and I can kick! I have been going on walks and I am doing the 5 essential moves (level 1). We even installed a pull-up bar this weekend.

    And today, for the first time in my life, I did sprints! And I did them barefooted on my own backyard on the grass. It was the one thing I was really dreading, but I can’t wait to do it again!!

  4. I got the “move slowly” and “lift heavy things” parts down on my daily commute. I switched from driving to taking the bus, which involves a walk to the stop and then a walk to work. AND I carry my son the whole time in a Moby wrap!

    Mothering is a primal career, so all the playing, baby-carrying, and rocking are excellent exercise.

    I highly recommend going carfree and babywearing as two excellent forms of exercise that don’t take up any time you wouldn’t be using already.

  5. My husband and I cut our cable back to basic for budget reasons, but also to free up some time. We LHT together in the evenings once teh kids are in bed. We take the kids to the park to kick a soccer ball around and sprint after it. On weekends we try to get in one family walk/hike. My husband parks far away from work and walks adn I try to get some walks in with the boys during the week. All this to say that as we have made it a priority, the movement side of PB has become very doable and very, very enjoyable. A wonderful plus is all the great memories we have made as a family. Thanks, Mark!

    1. Why stop at cutting the cable back to “basic”?

      Cancel cable and sell the TV. You’d be amazed how much more interesting life is without one in your life and you’ll free yourself from the marketing drone and brainwashing from advertisers.

      We did this 5 years ago and I haven’t missed the damn TV for a moment.

      1. I second that recommendation! My cable broke many years ago, I never had it repaired, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

        I can’t imagine how I would fit an hour of TV, let alone the many hours that seem to be average, into my day.

        (And I get a little kick out of the reaction I invariably get when someone asks something about a TV show and I respond “I don’t have a TV”. It is so uncommon, people don’t quite know how to take me.)

        Oh, and my kids turned out quite well, thank you, never having watched TV growing up.

        1. I don’t have cable, but I still like to keep up with culture–but between Netflix on Demand and DVDs, I can watch exactly what I want to when I want to…without having to wait, plan or get distracted by 500 channels with nothing on.

          I have a bike on a trainer, and it is easy to go for an hour or more if there is a movie to watch or a couple of episodes of Madmen to watch.

          While I am primal, I don’t want to cut myself off from all aspects of modern culture. I just want to control them!

  6. Mark-
    It was great to meet you at the GE health fair today. I look forward to running a primal challenge at CFN in the near future. I already have people asking when it will start.

  7. Mark,

    we need some ideas for folks who may have some temp/permanent injuries.
    knee and ankle injuries are common which keep people from sprinting – what can they do to substitute this part of PBF

    1. I’ve been ‘off’ running for a number of weeks due to a sore achilles, I just do my sprints in the pool or on my bike (on the trainer) it’s all about getting the heart rate up near max for short periods and that doesn’t have to be actually running.

      On the bike today I did 5 intervals and hit high 170s heart rate which is well into the 90s%, in the pool a 25 m sprint all out will do the same.

      Everything else you can do, lift heavy and move slowly with most ‘common’ injuries. Being injured is the nightmare scenario for athletes but PB has really helped that too!

      Perhaps I should submit a WoW to include a non run sprint plus Primal moves!

  8. I just joined a Badminton club and I’m going to play once a week for two hours. Can this be a valid substitute for sprinting?

  9. I have been doing the 5 primal essential movements ever since the Primal Blueprint Fitness e-book came out. It’s a “simple” workout that does not take a lot of time while working all of your muscles.

    That long with 1-2 sprint sessions and lots of walking with running (when I get my VFF back!) is all thats needed.

    Oh, and of course play!

  10. The primal movement that has definitely been lacking in my life is sprinting. I love hiking and walking, and I’ve always been good at lifting heavy things- call me a hedonist, but I like to do things I enjoy and/or am good at, and running (at any speed) has never been in either of those categories!

    Anyway- this morning I strapped on my big girl shoes (actually my new vibrams- love ’em!) and tried some sprints (flat and uphill). I’ll have to do it a few more times to get a real verdict, but sprints might actually fall into the category of things I like to do! Occasionally…

  11. Mark,

    Love the site.. How about another article regarding “Gaining weight & lean muscle”.. I really like the first article you posted on the matter “How to Gain Weight & Build Muscle”, but I guess I’m looking for a follow-up.. Many success stories related to going paleo show photos of the subject looking a little TOO THIN in my opinion.. Are they really healthier because they often look worse than they did when they were heavier.. I guess loosing weight is often confused with losing fat, but eating alot of calories & adding lean mass & looking more full, than depleted, is what I”m going for.. I’m one of the rare cases of being a hardgainer, so I have to keep calories high.. Tough to do on a Paleo diet.. Would like you touch again on gaining weight & building lean muscle..

    Thanks Mark.. Hope all is well in the Apple..

  12. I’ve been a student of Dr. James Chestnut for some time who teaches many of the same principles as you do…so when I found your site I was pretty excited. I ordered your book and look forward to reading it. Keep it coming!

  13. I used to train 12 hours at least per week with weights and cardio. I have cut down to around 6 to 8 quality hours with a few of those being light walks and stretching and my fitness is better then it has ever been. Quality not quantity was an extremely hard lesson for me to follow, that more is not always better.
    I was the biggest sceptic but now I am a believer.

    I like how Mark says train to play. That is the point in the end isn’t it.

  14. I find people focus too much on exercise, the new fitness gadget of the day, or revolutionary program etc… but fail to realize, as you point out in your article, that key to fat loss (not weight loss) is diet first.

    As one fellow girevik put it, “You cannot out-snatch a donut!”.

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  17. My story:
    Although I believe this pyramid to be a great basis for health that could help a lot of people, for me I had revert to almost the exact opposite of this pyramid. Strength training in the bottom, then topping it off with HIIT/interval/hill sprints instead of large amounts of long distance/low intensity cardio.

    You see, I always been a thin, long distance runner, basing all of my exercise on jogging and biking, loving and plowing through everything from the likes of Chris McDougall and Scott Jurek (great guys). I’m going to be honest with you – it made me a weak fat ass. All the low intensity cardio programmed my body to store energy in fat form, because that’s what my body went to in those long distance runs after going through my carbs, and it did absolutely jack sh*t for my strength, only losing muscle mass.

    I slowly started to understand how wrong I’d been exercising when trying out some Crossfit at a gym which opened up nearby. I had an almost complete lack of strength, especially in my upper body. Could not even bench my own body weight, could do tops 1-2 pull-ups. How do you all think Grok would’ve done without the strength do pull himself up over a ledge or carry an downed animal over his shoulders? Strength for me is the BASE of human health, with conditioning coming after that, conditioning with a lot of sprinting that is.

    The more I read about this the more I came to realize that, although I admire and respect the hell out of ultra runners, Tour de France’ers and the likes, the images of people doing this was, for me, was not the images of a healthy looking person. Just do the classic “long distance vs sprinter” Google image search and you’ll see what I’m talking about (yes I know these are extremes but there is something important in this too).

    There is a lot of research in this area too, feel free to Google around the subject, although the human body is an amazing thing that can do ultra distance running and the likes, it seems to me that this type of long-distance-heavy-low-intensity- exercising maybe is not a good base for your health.

    This is my story and I hope it helps someone, I now focus first and foremost on lifting weights which has made me a much stronger person, I then do some conditioning, like doing intervals in a beautiful forest nearby, running up and down hills or pushing the prowler. This has been much better for me and I believe this could help a lot of other people too.

    P.S. I am not saying the jogging is a bad way of staying healthy, I’m just saying that I should be a small part of a varied base of exercise.

    Stay strong, stay healthy!

    1. sounds to me like your approach is more primal than you realise!

      The base of the pyramid = moving frequently at a SLOW pace (a.k.a. walk a lot).
      Ultra runners and bikers in the tour the France don’t exactly move slowly, they do what we call “chronic cardio” around here. It’s frowned upon.

      Lifting heavy things is the second layer not because it is less important, but because it takes less time to do short, intense sessions (and to allow enough recovery time in between). As you say, it was important to Grok and it is important to us.

      keep on keeping on 🙂

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