Setting Yourself Up to Win: A Body By Science Approach

It is with great pleasure that I bring you today’s guest post. As you may know, I’m big on identifying and implementing Primal lifestyle hacks that deliver max results with the least amount of pain, suffering, sacrifice and time as possible. So when someone comes along saying they have a research based approach to fitness that will get you amazing results in just 12 minutes a week I listen up. If you are not yet familiar with authors Doug McGuff and John Little‘s Body By Science read on to get a great overview, and check out the BBS website.

Before we get into it let me point out that I agree with Doug’s position that before you start throwing stones or dragging heavy rocks you should achieve a certain base of level of fitness. That’s why I developed the Primal Blueprint Fitness protocol that scales for all fitness levels, emphasizes injury prevention and prepares people for more natural, functional movement patterns. But, as they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Doug’s methodology is one such way – a way that I encourage you to test in your experiment of one.

Enter Doug McGuff…

When one is ?rst beginning to make the change to a Primal lifestyle, the dietary approach can seem a little intimidating, but the exercise portion can seem hopeless to those who are signi?cantly out-of-shape. Much of the exercise in the Primal approach is a functional activity-based approach. In essence, you are trying to recreate the types of movements and activities that our ancestors might have carried out. In the process of doing so, an exercise effect is achieved as a byproduct of the activity. This is how it occurred in our distant past, and it is what our bodies are evolved to do.

The problem when starting out is that the Primal approach to diet can be challenging because we have suffered metabolic damage that makes it challenging to revert to our genetic default state. There are addictions to overcome, and new metabolic trails to be blazed. This is the beauty of Mark?s 30 day challenges…they help you to navigate through the transition period.

While the dietary changes can be challenging, the challenge of exercise can be almost insurmountable for those just starting out. The one signi?cant problem with a functional approach to exercise, is that it assumes a given level of ?tness…a level that may not exist. Further, the activity is simply a re-enactment of what a human should be capable of with an exercise effect occurring as a by-product or side-effect. Also, functional movements (running, crawling, jumping, dragging heavy objects) all involve encountering signi?cant forces. Without an appropriate level of conditioning, these forces can produce injury, and sometimes the injury can be bad enough to permanently sideline any effort at achieving ?tness.

Do not get me wrong, these functional activities are an important part of a Primal lifestyle, but they should (in my opinion) be the joyful expression of a body fully capable, not an arti?cial mimicking of the past as a means of producing an exercise effect. So before trying to throw stones or drag heavy rocks, let us discuss how the beginner can start to establish a degree of ?tness that will actually make these activities what they are supposed to be: a joyful expression of a strong body.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 1: Decide How Much Time Per Week You Can Honestly Spend on Fitness

Be realistic. Most people shoot themselves down with too much enthusiasm. Don?t think in the realm of 6 our 8 hours, because you know this will not work out in the long-term. Remember, we are looking for a lifestyle change. If I could convince you that you could make major changes in your ?tness with just 2 total hours per week I suspect this would make you feel like this is doable. Once you have some hope, you are on your way. So 2 hours it is….120 minutes out of a whole week. Perfect!

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 2: Take Your Answer from Step 1 and Divide by 10

Yup. You heard right. Divide 120 minutes by 10 for a grand total of 12 minutes. That is all I?m going to give you to get into condition to become a functional human animal. Do not let yourself become skeptical. Do not say to yourself ?there is no way 12 minutes is enough?. Simply embrace the fact that there is NO WAY that you will be unable to carve 12 minutes out of your week.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 3: Be Willing to Be Shown a Way of Exercising That Is So Hard That 12 Minutes Is All You Can Stand

This is where the catch is. If you do this properly, 12 minutes will be all you can stand. The thought of extending this to 13 minutes will not cross your mind. In fact, within the ?rst 90 seconds you will start to think ?how much longer till this is over??.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 4: Do No Other Formal Exercise for the Rest of the Week

That?s right…no other planned exercise. But what if you get antsy and want to work out 2 times per week? Fine, but if you do, it needs to be two 6-minute sessions AND they need to be so hard that 6 minutes is all you can stand. In the initial weeks it is perfectly acceptable if you do nothing else. In fact this is encouraged…up to a point. After 4-12 weeks (depending on your starting level of conditioning) you will get the uncontrollable urge to do something active. When (and only when) this happens, you should cautiously go out and do something. It can be as physically demanding as you like, but it must NOT be formal exercise. This activity should be experienced as PLAY…even if others de?ne it as functional exercise. As you become better conditioned, the active genotype that is deep within your DNA will wake up and it will drive you to be more and more active. Once you are at this level, continue to do  your once a week workout with ever-increasing intensity, progressively improving your strength and metabolic condition. As you become ever more conditioned, then you will be well-protected as you learn the skills of a fully functional human.

How To: Getting Started

Your 12 minutes of exercise should be composed of 4 or 5 movements. These movements should be basic compound movements that require very little skill to perform. You should aim for low skill movements because all of your attention needs to be focused on effort and rapid fatigue not performing a complex movement that requires a lot of concentration. If you have access to a commercial gym, performing these movements on quality machines will allow you even more focus on effort as opposed to the movement. The best equipment available in commercial gyms would be from Med-X or Nautilus. Plate-loaded equipment such as Hammer Strength or Pendulum is also a good choice. Cybex and other common pieces can work as well, but are generally not as good as the ones listed above. The movements to perform are as follows:

  1. Pulldown: A palms up, slightly narrower than shoulder width grip is best. This can also be done as a chin up (weight assisted chin-ups are available at many gyms).
  2. Chest Press: Set up so starting point is hands just below nipple level and not too deep (hands even with the front plane of chest-shoulder and elbows at about 90 degrees).
  3. Compound Row: A pulling motion in the horizontal plane.
  4. Overhead Press: Use a palms facing each other grip as opposed to palms facing forward which externally rotates your upper arm and impinges the shoulder joint.
  5. Leg Press: Starting point should be leg and hip joint at about 90 degrees. An extremely deep starting position is not necessary.

Each of these exercises should be done until you cannot produce any further movement of the weight. You should perform them in a way that keeps the muscle under constant stress. Here are some tips: Start the movement very slowly. Take at least 3 seconds to crack the weight stack and 3 seconds to move the ?rst inch. After moving the ?rst inch, just try to keep the movement going along smoothly. Done properly the cadence from that point should take you 5-10 seconds to complete the lifting phase of the repetition. On a pulling movement, hold the contracted position for 2-3 seconds if it feels harder to do so, if it feels easier to hold, simply begin the lowering portion smoothly. On a pushing movement end the positive about 10-15 degrees before your limbs fully straighten. If you fully straighten your limbs the weight will be resting on a bone-on-bone tower and the muscles will unload and get a respite. When you reach the point of 15 degrees before your joints lock, smoothly reverse direction and lower the weight at about the same speed you lifted it or slightly faster. As you approach the end of the lowering phase…slow down. If the weight stack touches at the bottom of your movement, you should allow the weights to barely touch without completely setting them down. Once you barely touch, you should barely start the next repetition, allowing 3 seconds to cover the ?rst inch, then just try keeping the movement going. By about the third repetition you will be pushing as hard and as fast as you can, but you will only be able to go fast enough to move the weight through the positive in about 7-12 seconds. Once you fail or get stuck, do not heave or jerk in order to get another repetition, simply keep trying to produce movement (even though no movement occurs) for another 5 seconds or so. A properly selected resistance will allow between 4 and 8 repetitions. Once you have gone through this procedure on the ?rst exercise, move briskly to the next exercise. You should not rest any more than 30 seconds between the end of one movement and the start of the next. Ideally, once you become more metabolically conditioned, you will have about 5-10 seconds between movements. If you would like to see this workout on video, it can be seen at Look for the videos of the Big 5 workout. You can also check out the directory section which lists the personal training centers around the world that use the BBS approach. The most ideal way to experience this approach would be under professional instruction. Most facilities do not require a membership. Even a single workout would provide a great benchmark for you to shoot for when on your own.

If you cannot go to a commercial gym, you can get started with simple free-hand exercises that I will describe to you now.

  1. Chin up: This can be done with a chin-up bar that mounts in a door jam, on a sturdy tree branch or rafter board or playground equipment. If you are not strong enough to do chins, you can set the bar height so you can assist with your legs. If this will not work, simply do them negative only by jumping or climbing to the ?nished position and lowering yourself as slowly as possible.
  2. Pushups: If you are too weak to perform strict marine pushups, do them from your knees. If you are too weak to do them from your knees, then do only the lowering portion, lowering as slowly as possible. If you are strong enough to do classic pushups, do them with a few modi?cations. First is slow movement. Start the ?rst inch very gradually, taking 3 seconds to move the ?rst inch and then keep smooth movement going. Divide the movement in halves. Do the ?rst half (bottom position to elbows bent at 90 degrees) until complete fatigue. After you have exhausted the bottom half, do the top half until complete fatigue (elbows from 90 degrees to almost complete extension).
  3. Squat: Start ?rst by doing a static wall squat. Place your back against a wall and descend to a seated position where your hip joint and knee joint are both at 90 degrees. Hold this position for as long as possible. You are done when you start to slide down and cannot hold the 90 degree position any longer. Once you are worn out on the static, do a deep knee bend but with the movement divided in half. Do the ?rst half until fatigue (from hips and knees at 90 degrees/thighs parallel to ?oor, up to the halfway up point where knees are about 45 degrees). Once you can?t do the bottom half any more, then do the top half of the movement until you can?t go on. Remember to not straighten your legs completely, but to turn back around when your knees get to about 15 degrees.
  4. Static Lateral Raise: This movement is done using a door frame. Stand with your feet just outside the door frame and bend slightly forward at the waist. Place the backs of your open hands in the opening of the door frame with your elbows slightly bent. You should be positioned like you are going to a lateral raise with dumbbells. With your hands in the door frame, begin to slowly and smoothly press laterally against the frame. Gradually build up to a 50% effort and keep up a 50% effort for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, gradually ramp your effort up to 75% effort and continue for another 30 seconds. After this 30 seconds is up, gradually ramp your effort to 100% and continue for a ?nal 30 seconds. When you ?rst start you will think ?this is silly?. However, by the end you will realize that this is probably tougher than anything you could do on a weight machine.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 5: Rest, Recuperate and Repeat

Finally, realize that the exercise you have done does not directly produce any physical changes. Rather, it simply stimulates your body to produce an adaptation. For your body to produce the physical change you desire requires rest and time. Simply follow the Primal Blueprint in your diet and lifestyle and wait at least 5-7 days before you perform this workout again. Do not incorporate any other deliberate forms of exercise. Be as active as you like, but keep the intensity low. After 6-8 weeks you will start to develop the urge to become more physically active in ways that are more vigorous and challenging. This will tend to occur lock-step with your increasing strength. At about this time you will notice that you are now performing unexpected feats of strength. A common example is lifting a heavy bag of dog food or cat litter into a shopping cart with one hand and suddenly realizing ?hey…did I just do that??. Once these sort of things begin to happen your active genotype that is locked inside your skeletal muscle will ?wake up? and you will have the natural tendency to become very active. It is at this point that you can start to incorporate functional exercise and experience the joy of a body fully capable.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 6: Don’t Forget What Got You Here

Functional exercise by its very nature is of higher risk. The forces are higher and less controlled. The exercise that occurs is a byproduct of the activity rather than its direct goal. Despite these realities, it is very tempting to forget what got you here and simply transition to this form of exercise permanently. In my opinion this is the wrong thing to do. At this point you are actually strong and capable enough to bring about forces high enough to exceed your enhanced capabilities and get injured. No matter how good you think you are, it is always best to survive to play another day. The best way to do this is to continue a program that is focused on delivering high intensity and low force as a way of continually improving your condition. By continuing a BBS style condition program once every 7-10 days, you can be assured of maximal strength and conditioning so that you can play and partake in functional movement with the highest level of performance and least risk of injury.

Grab a Copy of Body By Science and Start Your Own BBS Self-Experiment Today!

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