Workout Suggestion: Planned Spontaneity

Ideally, we should look forward to exercising. Dreading an integral part of a healthy lifestyle makes falling off the wagon more likely; if you like what you?re doing, you?re more likely to keep it up. The easiest way to achieve this is to incorporate the Primal concept of play into everyday life, whether it?s Ultimate Frisbee, playing with your kids, or going for a hike. Activities like these can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone who?s physically able, and they?re legitimately fun ? the perfect disguise for actual exercise. But what about the requisite weight lifting or intense aerobic activity prescribed by the Primal Blueprint? Excepting of course the gluttons for punishment (and there are many among us), it can be difficult to make those fun. Sure, they?re highly rewarding and we always feel better for having worked out, but they can be ? by definition ? fairly unpleasant.

Lucky for you, I happened across a great idea for a fun, enjoyable workout that doesn?t skimp on the intensity or results. The other day, while enjoying an evening stroll with my wife, I found myself dwelling on the fact that it had been a couple days since my last real workout (the book is nearing completion!). As much as skipping a workout or two (aka recovery days) is totally fine and completely normal, this time it was really getting to me (maybe it was the extra bottle of IPA I?d had with dinner the night before or something), so I grabbed a nearby low-hanging branch and did a set of fifteen pull-ups ? just something to get my heart pumping. My wife joined me, and it felt good being out there in the cool night air engaged in a spontaneous workout. We continued our walk but peppered it with random bouts of spontaneous exercise: boulder jumping, walking lunges, modified dips on two garbage cans a house had set out for pickup the next morning. We even dropped down for a few sets of push-ups.

Though I think we caught more than a few strange looks from the neighbors, it was an incredible workout experience. We were both pretty exhausted afterward, but in a good way. I was no longer beset by the nagging feeling of needing to workout, and I didn?t have to psyche myself up for a grueling workout before hand, since it was totally spontaneous. While the workout wasn?t exactly what Grok would have done (he didn’t consciously work out; his exercise came from necessity), the varied movements and wide range of targeted muscles were classic Grok.

I?d highly recommend that you guys try a similar workout. What follows is a general guideline, but you might even want to try coming up with your own variation.

Get a partner and pick an area with plenty of things to play, climb, and work out on. My neighborhood has plenty of trees and random obstacles, so it?s perfect for me. A wooded area would work well, as would an urban landscape full of fences, ledges, and poles. You can make any environment work ? you just may have to get a little more creative in some cases.

Start walking at a brisk pace so that your heart is pumping. Now spontaneously call out ?lunges!? or ?pull-ups!? or whatever exercise you want. If you decided on lunges, do lunges for 20 paces and then resume the walk. After some period of time (30 seconds, 2 minutes, anything as long as it isn?t too much time) call out the next exercise: ?squats!? Now do 20 quick body weight squats. Sound fun? It is. Just keep the pace going, keep it relatively spontaneous, and be supportive of each other, but also a little competitive (keep that motivation going).

Some other exercises you can do:

Step Ups (onto rocks, stairs, ledges, etc)
Box Jumps (also onto rocks, stairs, fallen trees or ledges)
Stairs (if you see a set of stairs, sprint up it!)
Leaping/Bounding (traverse the environment by jumping around ? either long or broad jump)
Skipping (not just for kids)
Push Ups (all you need is the ground)
Sprints (make it a race)
Pull Ups (on branches, ledges, poles, etc)
Running Backwards (same idea as sprints)
Dips (garbage cans work great, trust me!)
Whatever else you can think of.

No routine will ever be the same. You can surprise your reluctant partner by asking them out on a leisurely walk and then spring it on them. Anyone can do it, whatever your skill or fitness level. Don’t over think it. Just put on your shoes (or don?t) and head out.

Further Reading:

Bodyweight Workout

Prison Workout

Kettlebell Workout

Sandbag Workout

Slosh Tube Workout

Sprint Workout

15-Minute Workout

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.

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21 thoughts on “Workout Suggestion: Planned Spontaneity”

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  1. I occasionally do something similar while answering my emails after work. I usually have a dozen or so emails to answer, so I try to do 10 pushups between each email. Or some times I’ll do 5 burpees instead.

    Then there’s the TV game. try to make it all the way around the block during the commercial break of your favorite TV show. Works great if you’re watching something like “24,” really gets you in the Jack Bauer zone. Then do a couple push-ups every time Bauer breaks the law for justice or shouts, “Who are you working for?!” at someone tied to a chair.

  2. Ever since I was little my sister and i would race each other while running backwards. Its been a “tradition” we’ve continued and often break into it on our sister-walks. I’m definitely gonna start springing these other exercises on her now…

  3. I use benches a lot while I’m walking around town. Great for step-ups, push-ups, dips, stretching…. and taking a breather.

  4. Sounds like a lot of fun Mark! I periodically challenge my wife to sprints while we are out and about. Fun stuff.

    The SoG

  5. One of my credos, and my tag lines for many years has been, “The whole world is a gym if you know what you’re doing”. Yet I find myslef doing this less these days. This inspires me to go climb a jetty and do some beach sprints tonight — maybe box jumps onto a picnic table. Will decide when I get there, but definitely going to the beach. Thanks Mark!

  6. Great idea! I often will set aside time to do DDR with my family but during the summer when school is off, we always hike to our local park in the early morning hours and do laps around the baseball diamond. Kids have a ball doing so!

  7. It’s great that your wife joined you. My stubborn husband won’t budge to exercise, nor will he go for a health check-up. He hasn’t seen a doctor in 4 years.

    Any advice for that?

  8. Spot on Mark – this is something I have done occasionally and found just as rewarding as you describe. I have done it in the woods a couple of times and found lifting logs above my head particularly satisfying.

  9. What a wonderful post, and the comments are great, too! I am trying to get back into running again after a few injuries, but in the time I took off from running I found high intensity training and fell in love! I want to make running more of a fun activity rather than a major part of my fitness, and this is a great way to incorporate my new love of HIIT into running (besides running tabatas, of course!).

  10. Wonderful post!!!
    I try to always give my family/friends this exact advice in regards to working out..
    Find something physical you ENJOY doing or you won’t be doing it long.
    A girlfriend of mine takes a 5-6 mile walk every morning (she had tried everything from spinning to crossfit) She takes pictures on her walk. That’s what she enjoys, but now it’s attached to something physical. She’s lost significant weight eating primal and just plain walking.


  11. This is GREAT! I like the ideas for getting some exercise in during your favorite show. We’re CSI Miami junkies, so hmmm….. maybe 10 pushups every time Horatio puts on / whips off his sunglasses and delivers one of his famous one-liners….hmmmmm….. 🙂

  12. What wonderful ideas! I can’t wait to start surprising myself!

    I’m definitely one of those people who hates doing cardio, but I’ve found a way to “trick myself” into doing it. I volunteer at the local animal shelter, where many dogs don’t get enough exercise each day. So I make it my mission to get as many dogs as possible as much exercise as possible while I’m there–which usually means running (or at least jogging) with them. Since some of them aren’t great leash dogs yet, it gives me one more thing to focus on: teaching them to do something that will make them more adoptable.

  13. After an epic climbing trip last spring break that culminated with driving from Las Vegas home to Medford after being up all night due to howling, tent-inverting winds at Red Rocks, I pulled into my garage and ripped off 7 pull ups on my (swinging) rock rings. Usually I can do 7 or ladder up to 5 on a bar but 4 is my tops on the rock rings. I still haven’t repeated the 7. It was just exuberance, spontaneity. I love being that way, and I think some of us just ARE that way. For others, it just isn’t as natural or fun to do things that are, well, painful! Training the dogs at the animal shelter is such a neat way to provide oneself with purpose. I don’t seem to need a purpose. However, “standing still” exercises don’t usually motivate me. I don’t like weights or pull-ups especially. I like to be getting somewehre–up the cliff, across the pool, down the trail on my mtn bike. Exercises in one place just bore me. I’ll stretch, but it helps if someone is there to talk to or if I can hear music or watch someone climb while I stretch. I dislike TV and movies. I really do hate to sit! But I can sit and write for hours. Documentaries and climbing or biking movies are OK for up to 60 minutes. HOW CAN YOU WATCH SOMETHING WITH NO PLOT?Motivation is such a funny thing, so individual.

  14. oops, finger slipped and hit send. My kid says, how can you watch something with no plot? but hey, it’s what makes life interesting, that we are all so individual. I think it’s pretty intriguing that there are people from all walks of life going primal and keeping tabs on this blog.

  15. Mark,

    I’ve been advocating something similar for quite sometime. The simple idea of adding 100 reps to your day, no matter what. 100 reps , hard, easy, fast, slow. You can mix it up as you feel. Because we all get so little NEPA (Who came up with that term?!) we need to inject regular bouts of activity into the day.

    Doing 100 reps doesn’t need to impact on your other activities, it simply provides a baseline to work from and a great platform from which to develop a more intense practice.

    100 Reps certainly isn’t a new idea. It’s just a simple, effective, fun way to add spontaneous activity. Andthe truth is, even if you are pushed for time, you can still find space in your day for 100 Reps!

    You can read my thoughts here…

  16. It’s the best when you don’t even realize you’re exercising.

    I remember leading drills like this for my high school track and field team. It’s a great way to keep spirits high, bond as a team, and get a good general conditioning session. We had a one mile long hill that got steeper as you get closer to the top, marked with a blinking yellow light as the finish line. We called it the Clinton Street Hill, and this was our playground.

    Best regards,

    John Sifferman
    Fitness Professional

  17. My husband and I have done the same thing! It is fun. It’s always nice to change thinks up a bit, now and then. thanks Mark.

  18. P90X is Great Fun! It really challenges your body in many different ways.

  19. One of my favorite do almost anywhere exercises is doing tricep dips on a chair. I don’t think my boss appreciates it though.