WOW: Primal Poker

Using a deck of cards, assign one exercise to each suit:

Hearts are Pushups
Diamonds are Pullups
Clubs are Squats
Spades are Planks


Warmup: 30 second Grok Squat, a few squat jumps to get your blood flowing.

Today’s WOW comes from reader Steve Brown, who recently submitted his go-to workout, Primal Poker, and goes something like this: after assigning an exercise to each suit and shuffling the deck, flip the top card over. If you get a Nine of Hearts, do nine pushups. Flip the next card over and follow suit. Face cards are worth ten, Aces twelve. You might end up doing a bunch of pullups in a row, and that’s fine; just power through it. For spades/planks, multiply the value by four and do a plank for that many seconds. A Queen of Spades, then, means a 40 second plank. Do the entire deck for time. Oh, and Jokers are wild, so make them worth whatever you’d like. I suggest doing ten burpees for each Joker.

Thanks a ton, Steve. I really enjoyed this. As Steve pointed out in his email, it’s a fun one that you can always go back to and get something slightly, or massively, different. There’s also a bit of uncertainty and trepidation inherent in not knowing exactly how your impending workout is going to play out, and while that can be unnerving, it will ultimately help you perform with more urgency. I’ve always found pre-performance stomach butterflies to be helpful in wringing out extra effort.


  • Take sufficient breaks if you need them. Try to complete the sets as assigned by the cards drawn; don’t end up doing grind-it-out singles.


To increase the difficulty:

Add some weighted implements to your workout. Toss a sandbag over your shoulders for the squats and drape it over your back during pushups. Perform today’s WOW as stated, but feel free to build on the concept for future workouts. Maybe assign different movements to each suit, like kettlebell swings to spades, handstand pushups to hearts, weighted lunges to clubs, and burpees to diamonds. I would be wary of assigning super heavy lifting to the suits – don’t assign heavy deadlifts to spades, for example, or else you risk being tasked with hitting multiple consecutive sets of perhaps the most taxing exercise of all – or overly complex movements, where form can easily break down under duress and increase the risk of injury – like cleans. This is meant for metabolic conditioning, so keep things relatively simple.

To decrease the difficulty:

It’s a real challenge to get through an entire deck of cards performing high volume reps of Pullups, Pushups, Squats and Planks – especially with few breaks. If you really struggle with any of the Essential Movements substitute them for an easier variation on that Movement as described in Primal Blueprint Fitness. For example, you could do Chair-Assisted Pullups (1 leg), Knee Pushups, Bench Squats and Knee Planks to make each Essential Movement easier.

What are WOWs?

  • Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
  • In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWs replace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
  • Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.

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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31 thoughts on “WOW: Primal Poker”

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  1. I like this idea.. makes weekly exercises fun, random and challenging. I’ll try this tonight.

    If my overall goal (to start) is to lean/slim down a lot for my knees’ sake, and I put on bulk (not lean) muscle easily, are there any workout suggestions to keep me active AND lean?

    1. Long walks, surfing, kayaking, cycling to work, rock climbing are all pretty good for this. There are loads of others though.
      If you’re looking for specific workouts try a few sets of tabata protocol sprints once or twice a week before breakfast. Maybe even a few sets of kettlebells swings if you have. There literally are so many options. Maybe check a few other WOWs as well.

      Hope this helps.


    2. make sure to put an incline on the treadmill. It helps out a lot, from my experience.

      check out for some great tips

  2. This sounds excellent! And great fun to do with a partner. I guess you could always alternate as well so first, third, fifth cards over etc belong to one person and the alternates to the other if you need to make it a bit less of a challenge.

    Can’t wait to see what the gym staff say when I produce a pack of cards LOL!

    1. HAHAHA! instead of “strip poker”? PBF it! brings a whole new twist to poker night, eh?

    2. This is what I was thinking! My workout partner wouldnt do a whole deck, but alternating would be a blast.

  3. I second the partner aspect. I can even see getting into a quick game of poker, and raising or calling someone, and they need to do what is on the other’s cards. That would rock, and give a bit of spirit of cometition as well.

  4. Ross Enamait had a similar workout in his book I love doing: Burpees are red, pushups are black, work through the deck as quickly as possible. Absolutely brutal.

  5. i love this as an exercise routine. i’ve done it before…a lot harder than you might expect

  6. I have a trainer who regularly makes our class (kettlebells/TRX/functional fitness) do a card deck workout similar to this, though he changes up the exercises each time. To add a bit of a twist–twos are 2x the next card (e.g., if the next card is a 6, you do 12 reps) and threes require you to add 3 reps to the next card. Jokers are trainers choice (usually burpees). It’s always intense.

  7. Did this workout today in my room. Didnt have a pull up bar so I just sub’d in sit ups.

    Needless to say this exercise took some “king” size effort to pull off but it was great!

    Recommend it!

  8. I actually bought fitdeck – which is a deck of cards with a different exercises on each card. Targets different muscle groups, etc.

    They also have different decks to target different fitness levels, different activities (i.e. swimming), etc. Pretty fun stuff. 🙂

  9. This sounds like an exhilarating workout. You never know what you are going to be doing next which adds a lot of fun to it.

    I will be trying this tomorrow!

  10. Ha Ha Awesome! Never would have thought of it before.

    How about black jack?

  11. I love this workout, I did it last fall at my crossfit gym, they call it “Deck of Death”. Jokers weren’t wild though, they allowed you to skip a workout (ie, just did 10 pull-ups and you draw another 10 pull-ups, might want to skip to save some skin on your hands).

    Another variation is to do it in teams; 2-3 people per team, one member draws a card and does exercise, next member can only draw card when first person finishes their exercise. It’s a race to finish their deck first.

  12. Oh Randomness, why must you be such a cruel master?

    I did the Primal Poker workout this morning with the following variations:

    Hearts = Pushups – Double the face value of the card.
    Spades = Plank – 6 x the face value of the card.
    Clubs = Kettle bell – Double the face value of the card.
    Diamonds = Pull ups 1 x the face value of the card.

    I knew I was in trouble when I had gotten 25 cards in and hadn’t had a single club card turn up. Then I got seven club cards in a row (yes I thoroughly shuffled the deck before beginning). To add to the fun I got an ace (24 swings) followed by a King (20 swings).

    Other fun moments: An Ace of Diamonds (12 pull ups), followed by a 2 of Spades (12 seconds of plank) followed by the King of Diamonds (10 more pull ups).

    I’m tuckered out!

  13. Great workout. The wife and I did it last night. It was fun and because it was fun we enjoyed doing it as a couple. The boy is pretty jacked about it as well. I have a feeling this workout is going to make regular callbacks in our lives. Who’d a thunk it was a way to bring families together.
    Rule # 6 Play! – Grok on

  14. Omigawsh! I did this one last night and I was pretty impressed! I definitely played around with the difficulty, for example: sometimes my squats were weighted, sometimes they were jump squats. Best card game ever!

  15. I finally tried this workout and it’s fantastic. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s more grok like in that respect.

    It’s great for using different variations as well.

    Thanks for posting it.

  16. this sounds awesome!!! i will make it my weekend workout challenge 🙂

  17. This WOW is epic on new levels. Can’t wait to do it with my pack 😉

  18. There are two things I like to do with jokers. The first is use it as a break (30 sec for advance or 90 sec for beginner) or to make the workout harder when you hit a joker you do ALL the exercises (10 each for beginner or 20 each for advance)

  19. This is no BS. At first I scoffed at all the 2-5 rep sets I would be doing. But think about it, these comprise 14% of the total reps (96) for each exercise! That’s 96 pushups, 96 pullups, 96 squats, and 6.4 minutes of planks! I was gasping after about 25 cards. By the end I couldn’t even do a single chair-assisted pullup. Haha. Will definitely split it up with a partner next time.

  20. A buddy and are doing this tomorrow actually. My variation goes like this;
    *Spades- Pushups
    *Hearts- Burpees
    *Clubs- Situps
    *Diamonds- Pullups
    *Jokers- Row 1,000 meters(if you have access to a row machine, or sprint a lap on a track)

    If burpees wear you down too much, do jumping jacks with a 3 count instead.