Category: Lift Heavy Things
The craziest thing happened to me once on a hike. It was a decent one—about 8 miles roundtrip, with plenty of elevation gain. I went up just fine, even picking up random logs and rocks to carry along the way to add to the experience (and intensity). But on the descent, about a mile in, my left quad started cramping. I changed how I walked, I took rests, I walked more slowly, I tried placing more emphasis on my hips and glutes, but nothing worked. The cramp was overwhelming and getting worse by the minute.
So I took my shoes off. When I say shoes, I mean my Vibram Fivefingers. If you don’t know, these are ultra-minimalist footwear with individual slots for each toe. They allow your toes to spread and your feet to feel the ground and everything on it. They’re about as “barefoot” as you can get without actually being barefoot. And yet, when I took my shoes off and put bare foot to ground, the cramp subsided. Within a minute, it was gone, never to return. I flew down the mountain, feeling faster, fresher, and lighter than ever. The fact that I was already in Vibram Fivefingers, which approximate the biomechanics of the barefoot experience about as well as anything out there, suggests that there was something else going on. It suggests there is something very special about being barefoot.
I have long advocated going barefoot as much as possible. I’ve written post after post on the topic. The simple fact is that the stiff shoes with pronounced heels and thick soles that don’t let you feel anything underneath you we wear today are evolutionary aberrations. They are totally novel inputs that our bodies haven’t adapted to. Barefoot is how we’re born and, for tens of thousands, how we spent our days. You aren’t weird for going barefoot. Everyone else is weird—on an evolutionary timescale—for wearing thick shoes.
For my money, it’s also the best way to train. Barefoot workouts provide a host of benefits:
There’s a West LA gym called Sirens and Titans run by a very special coach named Jacques LeVore. This coach isn’t the only reason to attend the gym—its entire staff is incredible and impressive—but he is the main reason I decided to invest. He devised a form of strength training for endurance athletes called Maximum Sustained Power Training, or MSP Training. I included it in my Primal Endurance book from several years back as a great way for dedicated endurance athletes to not just incorporate strength training without impeding their endurance performance but to actively improve it.
MSP training is an effective way to train for anyone who wants to get stronger and generate more power for longer. If you want to play with your kids and keep up with them, bouncing on the trampoline and playing hide and seek and tag and tossing them up in the air, MSP can help you sustain your intensity. If you want to play pickup basketball or rec league sports, MSP will keep you going til the end. And yes, if you want to dominate the local 10k or run a marathon or complete a triathlon, you have to strength train, and maximum sustained power training is a great way to do it.
The Primal Blueprint is all about maximizing the efficiency of training to reduce the time spent working and increase the time spent playing. If I can figure out the minimum effective dose and get 80% of the benefits in 20% of the time, I’m all for that. It leaves me extra time to spend with my loved ones, play outdoors, go for hikes, or buckle down and get some work done. Especially if I don’t cut any corners or shortchange myself. This is why I love microworkouts, where instead of spending hours in the gym I just do movements and exercises throughout the day—have “exercise snacks”—and accrue a large training load without feeling like I spent all day in the gym.
But microworkouts aren’t the only path to make exercise more efficient, or at least feel that way. There’s also something called rest pause training, or myo rep training.
People fear the deadlift. For one, the word “deadlift” is ominous. Two, they’ve been told for years—often by medical experts—that deadlifts are terrible for your back. “Oh, you might look/feel good now, but just you wait. One day you’ll regret it. You’re setting yourself up for injury.”
But they’re wrong. The movement is a foundational human one. If you look at a kid picking something up off the ground, they hinge at the hips, maintain a flat back, and pick it up by extending the hips (bringing them forward). Now, there are certainly wrong ways to perform a deadlift—dangerous ways that can (some might say will) damage your back and put your future health and basic ability to function at risk. The back and all it contains, including but not limited to the spine, connects every other part of the body. Ruin your back, and you compromise your ability to move through the world.
So deadlift, but deadlift properly. Take the time to learn and practice proper deadlift form. Practice with light weights to lock in the mechanics before lifting heavy. And avoid the common deadlift mistakes we’re discussing today so you can safely and effectively integrate the deadlift into your training regimen.
The pull-up might be the best measure of overall strength and fitness. As a simple measure of strength, it’s unmatched; you’re actually lifting and moving through space and time an entire human body. It targets almost every muscle in the upper body, and more than you’d think in the lower body. If you want to build muscle or lose body or just get fitter and stronger, there’s no getting around doing a pull-up or two or ten. If I had to choose one upper body exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would be the pull-up.
Pulling your entire weight is hard, though. The vast majority of average people walking around in this world are unable to do a single unassisted, high-quality pull-up. And half of those who think they’re doing pull-ups are doing them completely wrong, setting them up not just for suboptimal results but life altering injuries.
Today, I’m going to tell you why your pull-ups aren’t working and how you can improve them.
Everyone needs to squat.
The squat is a foundational human movement pattern and resting position. Watch a young child study the ant trail on the ground, and they don’t bend over to gawk at it. They squat down and sit in that squat position comfortably for as long as it takes. Watch Hadza tribesmen cook and share meat around the fire. They aren’t sitting on camp chairs. They aren’t standing awkwardly. They’re sitting in a squat, comfortable as can be. Go to many Asian countries and you’ll see regular people, even elderly people, sitting in a full squat as they wait for the bus or visit with friends.
To squat is to be human. It is to explore and inhabit the full range of our body’s motion. It is to remain mobile, agile, and effectively young. If you can achieve and sit in a full squat at age 70, you’ll be in the 99th percentile and, hopefully, avoid most of aging’s physical ravages and functionality degenerations.
Squatting is also an incredible exercise that targets every muscle in the body, particularly when you do so with added weight. Glutes, hamstrings, quads. Core, lumbar, traps. For that reason, squatting is incredibly anabolic, meaning it provides a total-body hypertrophic stimulus. Anecdotally, people report growing muscle everywhere after picking up a regular squatting habit, even those muscles that aren’t directly involved.
But whether you’re squatting just to maintain the ability to move into that position or squatting to train, you need to do it with proper form.