Before we get into details about the two best exercises ever known to mankind to shed excess body fat (sprinting and jumping), I want to put in a little plug for the trending healthy living topic of gratitude. The concept is easy to pay lip service to, especially when you’re struggling and not in the best mood to feel it naturally. I’m recently recovered from a minor knee injury lasting six months that prevented me from doing my beloved sprinting and high jumping workouts. While athletics no longer dominates my life as it did when I was a pro triathlete, there was a lingering frustration deep down from being deprived of my favorite fitness endeavors, being unsure of the diagnosis of my injury, testing out the knee and experiencing setbacks, and being forced to be massively patient.
The beauty of microworkouts is that you can do them virtually anywhere with minimal time investment, and the cumulative training effect really adds up… if you remember to do them.
To be successful with microworkouts, or any form of exercise, consistency is key. Not rigidity—we’re not big fans of rigidly adhering to a strict exercise schedule here—but you need to put in the time and effort. Workouts that don’t happen don’t change you. Unlike going to the gym or taking a Crossfit class, which you might schedule into your busy calendar, microworkouts are meant to be sprinkled throughout your day. Unfortunately, that makes microworkouts all too easy to forget or push off, until you get to dinnertime and realize you’ve barely moved your body all day.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to get some systems in place to make microworkouts a built-in part of your day. This is a roundabout way of saying: you need to make microworkouts a habit.
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.
Aerobic workouts are gentle training sessions where the predominate form of energy being utilized is fat—mostly body fat. They’re easy, some would say “too easy,” but that’s the entire point. Aerobic workouts slowly build mitochondrial density and teach your body to burn fat. They’re essential, and they aren’t what I talk about when I talk about “chronic cardio,” which is the kind of unsustainable moderate-to-high intensity, high volume training that breaks you down and damages your health. Aerobic training is long, slow, easy, gentle, and most of all productive. If you want to be a fat-burning beast, if you want to become metabolically flexible, if you want your baseline capacity for aerobic activity, you have to do aerobic workouts.
But not everyone wants to do running, cycling, or swimming. So today I’m going to give you some different options for aerobic workouts.
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 plank feels like the simplest movement. Heck, it’s not even a movement, really: it’s holding a still position without movement. It expressly forbids movement. And yet it’s the simple exercises where things can really go wrong.
The plank is simple but not easy. When you’re in the plank position, every fiber of your being is resisting the pull of gravity. You must engage and tighten every inch of musculature in your body to resist collapse. To maintain coherence throughout the line your body forms. During a plank, you are quite literally holding the line against the most omnipresent force in the known universe.
At least in a push-up, you’re moving. You have something else to focus on. For a plank, a lot of the difficulty is mental. You’re just there in the same position, getting more and more tired with each passing moment. You have to sit with the pain.
Okay, so what’s the basic plank form?
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.
I remember back in the day, you’d see all the bodybuilders at the gym sipping on purple water from those clear shaker bottles. They were drinking water spiked with BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids, the idea being the BCAAs provide your body a steady drip of amino acids to maximize muscle hypertrophy and stay anabolic all day long. Heck, even I sipped the purple water when I was trying to gain mass. In more recent years, BCAAs have fallen out of favor, or at least become less “vital” a supplement for people interested in gaining muscle.
However, branched chain amino acids are still among the most crucial amino acids for human health, metabolism, immunity, and hypertrophy. Without adequate intake of the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine, we won’t be able to activate all the metabolic pathways we need to generate energy and utilize macronutrients. Our intestinal health suffers. Our immune system grows sluggish. And, most importantly, without BCAAs we won’t be able to trigger the mTOR pathway necessary for muscle building and repair.
That’s what everyone cares about when they talk about BCAA supplementation: muscle growth and recovery. That’s why the purple water was so common. So, what’s the deal? Do BCAAs work for muscle growth and recovery?