The PrimalCon Primal Blueprint Fitness Challenge

The exciting grand finale of the fitness agenda at PrimalCon was the PBF Challenge at Oxnard Beach Park. Here participants conducted a timed high-intensity performance test consisting of a challenging, non-stop sequence of basic PBF body resistance exercises that work various large muscle groups to the brink of exhaustion. A protocol was given for Novice, Intermediate and Advanced levels, allowing participants to choose a challenge most appropriate for them. While the emphasis at PrimalCon was on welcoming all to a completely non-intimidating atmosphere (participants broke into sub-groups by self-reported fitness level for the Sprinting, Strength Training, and Play sessions), we did stage a friendly competition for each sex and fitness category at this particular event, and dispensed some cool Grok-logoed awards to the various winners at the closing brunch.

All you need for the PBF Challenge is a 20-40 meter strip of grass (or other soft ground) and a bench. Be sure that you are well-informed about proper technique for each of the popular exercises mentioned. If necessary, seek the support of a trained fitness professional to ensure your safety and monitor your technique. Before your begin, conduct a cardiovascular warm up of at least five minutes and also perform a few reps of several of the movements described at two-thirds of maximum effort.

Choose a convenient and reliable venue to allow for repeat tests on the exact same course. Use a tape measure or pace off an estimate of the recommended distance, but be sure (using landmarks, etc.) that your course is identical for successive tests. On that note, feel free to modify the suggested routine if you have any issues with injuries, venue limitations, or just have a more preferable or familiar sequence in mind. For example, if a pull up bar is nearby, you may choose to integrate that into your sequence. The essence of this test is to regularly measure your progress with a full body, maximum intensity, peak performance effort. Repeat the test every month or so to accurately track your fitness progress.

The reps for each of the following ten exercises are listed in order for Novice, Intermediate and Advanced. Pick one of these levels and stick with the according numbers at each exercise. If you struggle or need rest breaks in order to complete the suggested number of repetitions (like a certain PrimalCon staff member who helped design the challenge and got stuck on his second set of push ups for what seemed like an eternity), it’s best to scale down your effort to a lower category. This test is meant to be a series of continuous and explosive efforts. Try to use proper form instead of rushing through certain sequences to improve your time. Remember, you are competing against yourself and want to conduct an identical test each time. Note to PrimalCon attendees: Thanks to your excellent beta testing feedback, we have slightly modified the sequence you did at PrimalCon to challenge muscle groups in as balanced a manner as possible. The revisions are described at the end of the post.

Bring a stopwatch and a small index card to remind you of the order and number of reps for each exercise. Start your watch and commence the following sequence with no break in between exercises:

  1. Push Ups: 10, 20, or 30. Be sure your body is in a straight line plank position at all times. Lower your chest all the way to the ground for each rep.
  2. Bunny Hops: 20, 30, or 40 meters. Take off and land with both feet together. Strive for both height and length. Make sure you land in balance on the balls of your feet to prevent jarring your back. Swing your arms upon takeoff to create momentum.
  3. Lunge Walks (return to starting position, i.e. – 20, 30, or 40 meters): When you reach your landmark with the Bunny Hops, return to start/finish with Lunge Walks. Take slow, exaggerated steps where your rear knee lowers almost to the ground on each step. Your front knee must bend to form at least a 90-degree angle between upper and lower leg. Pump your arms on each step in an exaggerated manner to help maintain balance.
  4. Spidermans: 10, 20, or 30. Assume plank push up position. Keeping your arms locked, drive right knee forward to touch right elbow, then return leg quickly to plank position. Repeat with left knee to left elbow. Allow head to rock forward slightly to compress abdominals on each rep. Count a complete right/left leg cycle as one. Advanced users can dip down (effectively doing a push up) while driving leg forward.
  5. Bench Dips: 20, 40, or 60. Standing in front of bench, reach behind with straight arms and grasp front edge of bench. Dip down, bending elbows to 90 degrees, dropping your butt into a sitting position in front of, and below, the bench. Then, return to extended arms position. Relax your feet flat on the ground and let them go along for the ride, making sure that your arms apply all the force.
  6. Sprint & Grok Crawl (2): Take two round-trips out to and back from your landmark at 20, 30, or 40 meters – for a total of four lengths. Sprint one direction, then Grok crawl (aka Bear crawl) to return. Keeping your back straight with butt only slightly raised, proceed with only your hands and toes touching the ground. When you reach the start/finish line, sprint out again to your landmark and crawl back to the start/finish line.
  7. Push Ups: 10, 20, or 30. This set should feel just as easy as your first set….Just kidding!
  8. Bench squats: 20, 40, or 60. Standing in front of bench, sit down until butt barely touches the bench, then immediately stand up. Repeat movement and accumulate your total as fast as possible. Pump arms on each rep for momentum.
  9. Spidermans: 10, 20 or 30.
  10. Full Sprint: to landmark (20, 30 or 40 meters) and back to starting line.

Stop the watch and note your time after your sequence is complete. Log your results over time to notice patterns of regression or improvement that can be addressed with future PBF workouts and a healthy, sensible Primal exercise program.

PrimalCon attendees: We added #4 and #9 Spidermans to provide more emphasis on core. We removed Scissors from the second to last spot. The recommended Advanced challenge course of 40 meters is longer than the 30 meters presented at Oxnard, in order to provide further challenge to lower body.

Give the PrimalCon Primal Blueprint Fitness Challenge a try and post your times in the comment board!

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51 thoughts on “The PrimalCon Primal Blueprint Fitness Challenge”

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  1. I love it! Great thing both to aim for and assess by. Am adding this into my primal plan stat.

  2. Looks like great fun! Like the different levels and the bodyweight/movement blend is great. Participants look like they’re in great condition too.

    Kind of reminded me of Georges Hebert (an old French naval officer whose admiration of the physical ability of primitive peoples led to a unique “useful movement” fitness philosophy).

  3. Great thanks, but I wish there was a video demostration of each, tried to google but cant find all!

  4. can we see some pics of the bench dip and the spiderman? I’m not getting the images in my head…

      1. Mark,

        In your description you say “keep arms locked” for the Spiderman. So I assume you mean, what the man in the video calls a “Spiderman lunge.” Right?

        1. Almost. I wouldn’t go so far as to put your foot on the ground. Keep it off the ground through the entire movement.

  5. Sweet! I was hoping we would get some insights on the contests/fitness challenges at PrimalCon. I’m anxious to practice these exercises and roll with it for a new workout session.
    Any chance we’ll find out the winners in each category – or at least the times for those competitive folks in our community?

    1. Hey the winners were pretty impressive – advanced level males finished in around 6 minutes. But keep in mind the published sequence has been modified from what we did in Oxnard. Hence, we are all waiting for someone to post a top time for Novice, Intermediate and Advanced courses!

  6. Assuming that you didn’t want to include pull ups because of equipment requirements, but they should really be in here. You have pushing and sprinting but no pulling measures. Pull ups are probably also the most effective full body exercise every invented and a great measure of overall fitness right?

    1. Good comment Joe. No pullups because of logistics and also some folks can’t do many pullups, whereas most of the exercises in the sequence can be completed by all fitness levels. We figured a bench and 40m of grass would be easier to find than pullups. However, heed the quote from the beginning of the article and make your own course with pullups is a great idea!

      “On that note, feel free to modify the suggested routine if you have any issues with injuries, venue limitations, or just have a more preferable or familiar sequence in mind.”

  7. Oh, and shouldn’t squats be below parallel (or as low as you can go – hopefully butt to calves) so you can test your flexibility as well? Especially if these are unweighted “air” squats – not much likelihood of injury.

    1. The squats are suggested to use a bench so you can go down to a consistent level each time. In the photo, PrimalCon folks were doing squats without the bench because the course was a little crowded!

  8. NIck Tore this up at PrimalCon.

    Does anyone remember the fastest time?

    1. Nick may have had the fastest time but you managed a back handspring right at the finish line…much more impressive 🙂

    2. Hey Chris – Oh yes I remember it was 4.42 but I should have done it in 4.40 except my ego told me “Hey – you are 47 – why would you need to warm up, or stretch before you go balls out in the advanced group ” and as a punishment I pulled a hamstring on the last turn of the last sprint while leading and came in 4.45 🙁


  9. It was fun! Competing with 6 or so other people makes you step up your game.

  10. I didn’t time myself, but I did the novice version of this, and it was a killer. I am in pretty good shape already, and I got through it fine, but it is a good workout. I am sure the intermediate level would be very challenging considering it’s double the reps. I agree some pullups would be good in there, but this workout is nice since no equipment is required. You could do this anywhere you have a chair, box or bench to do the dips and squats. Go to a school yard and you can add in some pullups.

  11. HOOOOOLLLLY MOLLLLLLY, i cannot wait until i am healthy and strong enough to do something like this!!! such a goal to work towards, i need some weight on me first!

  12. Wow…this is going to be such a great challenge for me, I can’t wait to try it. Everyone looked great!

  13. all you need is a tree branch to throw in some pullups….gotta get that posterior challenge!!

  14. I am concerned about the inclusion of bench dips in this challenge.

    Aren’t bench dips always on lists of the worst exercises to do bc they place so much stress on the delicate muscles of the shoulder?

    What makes it even worse is that this is a timed event so people won’t be performing them carefully as they try and make their best time.

    Just something to consider.

  15. At primalcon I did it in 4:59 at intermediate level. I was glad to be done but looking forward to try it with the Spiderman.

  16. This will be a great challenge for my brother and I. My brother is very competitive which in turn will push me! Should be fun.

  17. The key is telling your body there won’t be any more famines. There are two primary ways of doing this:

    1. Eat real food. When you’re eating quality food and it’s assimilated efficiently, the body begins to receive what it needs to function at its best. This is one very important step in turning off the famine response. The presence of nutrient-dense food in the diet signals to the body that there is plenty of food available and there’s no need to pile on fat stores. Digestion is also an important part of this equation because you want to make sure the real food you eat is assimilated properly. Including raw and cultured foods in your diet on a regular basis can improve your digestive health and ensure you’re getting the most out of your food.

    2. Reduce stress. Another folly of modern society is the intense level of stress most of us are exposed to, often since very early childhood. Stress induces the famine response as much as dieting. After all, the body doesn’t distinguish between types of stresses; the same biochemical reactions occur whether you’re stressed by your work, a difficult marriage, lack of real food, poor sleep habits or any number of stressors. So it’s very important to address this and take the appropriate steps to reducing and managing the stress in your life. Read more about the stress connection to weight loss here and here and here.

    Without addressing these two components, a healthy body composition is virtually impossible to achieve. Plus, healthy food choices reduce stress, and reducing stress makes it easier to choose healthier food. So making one small change at a time really can add up, and the right choices will come more naturally over time. Granted, this involves patience and won’t produce results like “Lose 10 pounds in one week!” But it will set you on the path to lasting health.

  18. I just did this today!

    It was the most challenging, exhilarating and FUN FILLED workout I have ever done! Really!

    Oh, and EXTREMELY exhausting!

    I did the intermediate level in 10:13. I got a video of it and will post it on my blog and youtube later today (pending technical difficulties).

    I encourage everyone to at least try the beginner level! May I inspire you with my video 😉

  19. Just tried it yesterday. 9:41 at intermediate except I don’t think my distance was long enough. It still almost killed me. The second set of push-ups and squats were very hard. Anyone saying that the back didn’t get worked out is wrong. I think the crawling did it and my whole back is sore. Does anyone have a good way of measuring or guestimating the distance?

    1. You beat me! I did it in 10:13 at the intermediate level. It sounds like we are pretty equal when it comes to fitness!

      I created a video of me doing the challenge – the first part is posted on youtube. The rest will be up on Monday!

  20. Wow! This so similar to my regular Kung Fu workout. It’s amazing. Only we call the ‘Grok crawl’ the ‘tiger crawl’ 🙂
    I have just reached reps of 25 for pushups etc but have to reach reps of 50 before my next grading. Only problem is that my next physical grading lasts for 3 hours and includes a mini marathon (about 8km). I’m a bit worried that my health will not hold up for it.

  21. Hey guys. If you liked this type of workout, I suggest you try CrossFit.

  22. Love it! Tried it for the first time today and did the Intermediate level in 6:56.19. This is now on my schedule for a monthly evaluation! Learned that I need to add some dips to my workouts, that’s for sure!

    1. So true, Greg. As Jack Lalanne says, “the reason you can’t do all those things you used to do, is that you stopped doing them.”

  23. Has anyone been doing this consistently? I do this during the first week of every month. In about 10 minutes I will start the challenge for August!

  24. Superb post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Thanks!