Based on the feedback I get, people like the Primal Blueprint for its simplicity. All it takes is a reasonably strict adherence to the ten Primal laws for most people to enjoy improved body composition, increased strength and general fitness, better sleep, and reduced inflammatory markers. The dietary component in particular is easy, simply because it stresses the inclusion of good fats, ample protein, and quality carbohydrates – the very same foods that have been naturally selected to appeal to our taste buds – but some have trouble with Primal fitness.
At first glance, this shouldn’t be an issue. No more chronic cardio and no more hour-and-a-half long workouts on the machines at the gym? Great – sign me up! But for those of you coming from a highly-structured fitness background of classes and strict schedules (which is most people, especially newcomers to the Health Challenge with their wrists still smarting from the shackles of Conventional Wisdom), putting the free-flowing, spontaneous Primal fitness concepts into practice can take, well, some practice. It sounds fantastic in theory, but we’re left with that lingering question: what, then, to do (and when, and how, and how often)?
Today, I hope to answer those questions by outlining the basic weekly Primal workout plan. Consider it my attempt at realizing the intangible; structuring the amorphous; anticipating the spontaneous. Just as the “planned randomness” of scheduled intermittent fasting carries all the metabolic benefits of actual food scarcity without being technically random, this Primal Workout Plan tricks the body. It’s a workout “plan,” with a few staples (squats, sprints, lots of low level aerobic activity), but by and large the Primal workout schedule provides a framework for those who need it while offering a wide variety of movements, routines, and exercises to keep everything fresh.
Monday – Sprint Tuesday – Lift Heavy Things Wednesday – Move Slowly, Play or Rest Thursday – HIIT Friday – Move Slowly, Play or Rest Saturday – Lift Heavy Things Sunday – Move Slowly, Play or Rest
Sprinting is pretty self-explanatory: run really, really fast in short bursts of output. Barring previous injury, we’re all built to sprint – which is why it’s a staple of Primal fitness. It builds both anaerobic and aerobic capacity while promoting growth hormone secretion, fat mobilization, and maximum power development. Simply put, if you want to build lean mass and burn body fat, sprinting at least once a week is the way to achieve both. Want proof? Just compare the bodies of your average sprinter and your average marathon runner. Which would you rather resemble?
Sprinting isn’t just about running blindly. You could do that and see some results, sure, but it’s probably better to go into it with a few goals outlined. You could try my beach sprints (sand technically not required, but it helps with dampening the impact and increasing the resistance) or perhaps some hill sprints (when I had my knee problem, hill sprinting worked best because I wasn’t “falling” as far on each step, if that makes sense – plus it’s hard as hell!). You could even do uphill sprints on a bike, or wind sprints in a pool. For me, sprinting should be about maximum effort at all times, which is why I tend to shy away from Tabata sprints on my dedicated sprint days. Twenty seconds at a time with a mere ten seconds of rest just isn’t enough for most to maintain top effort; it’s a great option for HIIT metabolic conditioning, but if I’m trying to tap into my burst power energy pathway, Tabata is too limiting. If you can maintain top speed for twenty seconds at a time performed eight times over the span of four minutes, though, be my guest! Most will find somewhere in the seven to ten second range more suitable. Take as long as you need to recharge between sprints, of course, and run on grass, sand, or trail with concrete as a last resort. Shoeless is best, followed closely by Vibrams (Geez…I’m starting to sound like a spokesperson for Fivefingers!). Your session shouldn’t take much longer than ten minutes.
For a few more ideas on sprint training visit this page.
Lift Heavy Things
I went over a somewhat advanced strength and muscle building routine a few weeks ago, but three days a week isn’t necessary for the average PBer who’s just interested in building/maintaining a little lean mass while developing strength and fitness. Two days a week of intense, heavy lifting is plenty for overall fitness. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to be doing five different variations of the bicep curl or spending an hour on the leg machines. You’ll be going all out with the classic, compound movements. Barbells, bodyweight, and honest hard work.
In the future, I plan on expanding the scope of our workouts by introducing new movements each month, but for now we’ll focus on the old stalwarts: the back squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the overhead press. For experienced Groks, you should center your two weekly strength sessions around these basic barbell lifts. Tuesday might look like this:
Bent Over Rows
Dips (weighted, if possible)
Pull-ups/Chin-ups (weighted, if possible) Thrusters (VIDEO)
Now, those are just suggestions. Feel free to switch it up and try different exercises (but at least do squats), or play around with the reps and sets. When I hit the weights, I tend to aim for four to five sets of five to eight reps for each exercise.
Beginners unsure of correct barbell form or people without access to equipment might try something like this for Tuesday:
Air Squats (or just the bar to practice form)
Lunges (perhaps with dumbbells)
Pull-ups Inverted Row (VIDEO)
And for Saturday:
Obviously, for optimal strength development access to a barbell with weights is desirable, but – depending on your overall goals – completely unnecessary for basic strength training.
High intensity day should be extremely exhausting. This is the day you’re going to dread, but luckily it’s only once a week! Make it count. If you find yourself looking forward to it, you’re either a sick individual or you’re going way too easy on yourself. The key here is metabolic conditioning – subjecting yourself to a steady barrage of multi-joint, compound exercises performed rapidly and with little rest to build muscular and anaerobic endurance. HIIT (high intensity interval training) day could be anything from a simple workout of ten sets of five pull-ups, ten push-ups, and fifteen squats, to the aforementioned Tabata intervals (sprints, burpees, squats, pull-ups, etc). For the most part, HIIT day workouts can be performed with little to no equipment (as in the Endorphin Mainline, the Prison Workout, or the 15 Minute Workout), but you can also put together an extremely solid metabolic conditioning routine using equipment, like the sledgehammer, the mace, or the sandbag. Just do it hard, fast, and don’t let up for a second.
By the time you’re tired of (as opposed to “from”) those workouts, you should be able to come up with some interesting alternatives to keep you busy. Also, stay tuned for more updates from me – I plan on introducing new routines on a regular basis to avoid stagnation (nothing worse than getting bored with a workout).
To rest, play, or move slowly – that is the question. Since the PB is largely about listening to the body’s natural cues, you’re going to have to trust yourself to make the right decision. If you’re worn out, take it easy. Give those muscle fibers a chance to repair. If you have a bit of energy left, go for a hike and just Move Slowly. Enjoy nature without turning it into a workout for a change. If you have a ton of energy left, though, load up a heavy backpack and climb some trees and scale some cliffs and do some tree branch pull-ups on that hike.
You can also use these days to play – with your kids, with the dog, with your buddies, with random strangers in a public pick-up game. My personal favorite is Ultimate Frisbee, but any game, whether structured or spontaneous, will do. And hey, if your idea of a good time is even more exercise or more strength training, that works too. As long as you’re enjoying yourself and whatever you’re doing doesn’t feel like work, you’re officially playing.
These days are also great for sport-or-profession-specific training. Trying to make the varsity basketball team? Go shoot jumpers for an hour straight. Got a fireman’s test coming up? Do some extra HIIT and strength work (hey, maybe the sledgehammer would come in handy here).
Three days of rest might sound excessive, but you could actually need it. If you’ve been hitting the Lift Heavy days extra hard and pushing yourself on the Sprint and HIIT days, three days of rest might be perfect.
Or, not. You decide.
Well, I think that’s a decent start. This simple plan provides some specifics for those that need some direction and a good deal of flexibility to accommodate a variety of fitness levels. It’s subject to change and refinement, but all in all it’s a solid basis for anyone interested in a Primal workout plan. Most anyone, from the experienced hunter-gatherer to the hesitant newbie, should be able to use this guide to build strength, burn some fat, and get on the right track toward true Primal Fitness. Grok on!
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.