Here we’ll take a closer look at how our ancestors used to train. Now why should we care about this? Simple because the 7 basic exercises that are part of the Primal exercise program mimic’s the movements we do on a daily basis, in all our activities.
Even though gym workouts are excellent for strengthening muscles, improving posture and enhancing stamina, we do not have to hit the gym daily in order to build a strong, toned and well proportioned body.
In fact, home and outdoor workouts can be just as effective in sculpting a lean physique, and this is what Primal Fitness aims to do: help you put on lean muscles, strengthen your body and get rid of fat through fun, entertaining and tough outdoor workouts.
What makes Primal Fitness different from the strength workouts you might be accustomed to?
Primal Fitness concentrates more on the importance of functional training, rather than isolation exercises.
Functional training uses those exercises that mimic movements we perform in our daily lives, therefore working more than two muscle groups at once. These exercises are more efficient in strengthening the body and burning calories, as they require better coordination, form and focus, and work more of your body areas at the same time.
The principle behind Primal Fitness is that in our daily activities, we use more complex movements than those performed at the gym, when exercising on machines. Most of our daily tasks require:
speed of reaction,
and involve not only the quads or biceps, but all the muscles in legs, back, abs and arms.
Now, I’ve mentioned that this form of training is based on 7 basic movements. Each of these movements focuses on a major group of muscles, while targeting the other body areas as well. Exercises can be performed with weights, for a tougher training session, or using your body weight only, as this is usually enough for people who just want to get in shape but without bulking up.
However, note that the idea promoted by Primal Fitness’ initiators is to train outdoor, replacing the gym exercises with movements like lifting logs or stones, climbing trees, running in the park, moving heavy objects from one place to another, trail sprinting and so on.
We then are able to say that there are two different approaches to Primal Fitness:
- On the one hand, you can do gym exercises based on the 7 basic movements. For this, you can either use cable machines to work more muscle groups at once, or use free weights or your body weight, while performing compound exercises.
- On the other hand, you can do your functional training session outdoor, lifting, pushing, pulling and throwing objects found naturally around you.
The first option sounds a bit more civilized and organized. However, there are lots of Primal fans who prefer option two, so if you’re among them, you can always find fun workout ideas on Mark Sisson’s blog; Mark is one of the most renowned promoters of the Primal movement, author of “Primal Blueprint Fitness” and adept of the Paleo lifestyle.
Here is a pic of both his food and exercise pyramids.
The 7 basic movements
A squat is a movement pattern where you plant both feet on the ground, then bend your legs to lower your body down while keeping your chest up and lower back straight. We use squats in our daily life such as squatting in and out of a chair. As we age, an inability to squat can very negatively affect our quality of life.
As an exercise, you can provide additional resistance to a squat from the front of your body (like holding a dumbbell, called a goblet squat), on your back with a barbell, from the sides holding dumbbells, or on the entire upper body by wearing a weighted vest. With each method of resistance, the lower back and abs must contract to keep the body upright as the body is lowered down. The most common reason why people have trouble squatting is because of tight hip flexors or tight calves.
A lunge is single leg exercise movement that requires one leg to step forward and bend while the other leg remains stationary. Throwing a spear, carrying water while stepping over a log, or in modern sports, lunging forward to catch a ball requires balance, strength, and flexibility. The lunge is a dynamic exercise because you can lunge in any direction with both legs forwards, backwards, and sideways. To add resistance, you can hold a medicine ball, dumbbells, barbells, or even a sandbag on one shoulder to help engage the core to a greater degree.
A pushing exercise requires pushing external weight away from your body, or your center of mass away from the ground, like in a push up. Pushing yourself off the ground to get up, or pushing a toolbox overhead to put it away in a cabinet, are both pushing movements used in our daily life.
There are two primary types of pushing movements (1) vertical push and (2) horizontal push. A vertical push is a DB shoulder press where you press a dumbbell vertically over your head. A horizontal push is pushing a weight away from your horizontally, like in a DB Chest Press as you lay back on a bench. A vertical press tends to emphasize your shoulder muscles while engaging the back of the arms (triceps) while a horizontal press emphasizes the chest, while engaging the shoulders and the back of the arms.
A pulling motion is the opposite of a pushing motion, in that you are pulling a weight towards your body, or pulling your center of mass toward an object, like in a pull up. From pulling down a branch to reaching for an apple, to starting that old boat motor, pulling is a movement we use our daily lives.
There are two primary pulling movements, a (1) vertical pull and (2) horizontal pull. An example of a vertical pull is a pull up, which is a classic exercise that develops strength in your back, shoulders, biceps, and even core. An example of a horizontal pulling motion is a single arm dumbbell row.
Bending is a movement pattern where you bend your torso by hinging your hips. A very common movement, we use it in our daily lives by picking up a baby off the ground to trying to lift that heavy suit case. Of all the movements listed, the bending movement may be most dangerous given that more than half of adults3 experience low back pain at some point in their lives.
Bearing the brunt of the weight on your hips, glutes, and legs is the key to lifting weight in a bent over position. This is done by keeping your low back in a neutral, to slightly arched position, as you bend over to lift an object off the ground. If you round your back, significant pressure can be put on your intervertabral disks, which may cause a disk herniation. In the BuiltLean Program, we have only a few exercises that require a bending movement pattern; we prefer to use it during the dynamic warm up phase of a workout as it is a high-risk exercise for most people.
Of all the exercises listed so far, they are completed in two planes of movement, either forward, or to the side (saggital and frontal planes). But there is a third plane of motion which makes exercise much more functional – the transverse plane, or twisting motion.
If you think about lunging down and reaching across your body, or throwing a ball, running, or even walking, most human movement has some element of a rotation involved. The problem, however, is that most exercises we do in the gym have no rotational component.
There are two primary types of twisting, or rotational movements: (1) rotational and (2) anti-rotational. Rotational movements are the basic twisting exercises, such as twisting to throw a ball. Anti-rotation are exercises where the rotational movement is prevented, like in a paloff press, or a single arm DB row.
Walking, jogging, or sprinting is called a gait, which requires pulling, lunging, and twisting motions to propel the body forward. Whether you are sprinting to catch the train, or walking in the park, gait is the most frequently used of all the movement patterns in our daily lives. I consider this last movement pattern as a catch all for dynamic human movement and combinations of movements. For example, jumping, cutting, crawling, and other movements and combinations of movements can be added to this category.
Well That’s all folks. hope you enjoyed this brief summary of the primary movements in the Primal-Paleo exercise program.