Continuing my review of the Primal Blueprint – my first blog post focused on the Nutrition Laws – we now get to talk about something I’ve been putting into practice for the better part of four decades: the “Exercise Laws” that make up Primal Laws 3 through 5.

But have I been practicing exercise the right way? Well…maybe not. Let’s act like King Julien in Madagascar and Move It, Move It to these “exercise laws”.

Primal Law #3: Move Frequently

Some of us are couch potato, electronic surfers…that is just the harsh reality. Then we have the weekend warriors and the folks that hit the gym 3-5 times per week for their diligent 1-2 hour workouts. But what are these warriors and workout poster children doing the other 14-16 waking hours each day?

Umm…doing their best couch potato electronic surfer imitation after perhaps rewarding themselves with some “much deserved carbs” after a hard workout.

We will get into the electronics and blue light discussion in the blog post on Lifestyle laws, but our bodies crave movement. And the movement doesn’t have to be pumping iron or slogging miles on a treadmill or trail (although I do love both in moderation). The key is to move daily; in fact, challenge yourself to move hourly. Take a flight of stairs vs the elevator, park further out in the parking lot and walk to the office or grocery store, do some air squats or wall pushups while on a conference call or on a break from the computer.

In this randomized cross-over study, participants did a 30-minute walk each day as well as a 10-minute walk after each meal. The results:

  • When participants walked after meals the level of blood glucose was 12% lower than in those who went for a single walk each day.
  • Blood glucose was 22% lower after the evening meal (when carbohydrate consumption was generally highest).

If nothing else, get to walking and squatting…at a leisurely pace a few times each day…and watch the attitude, bloodwork (especially fasting glucose and HbA1c), and waistlines improve.

Primal Law #4: Lift Heavy Things

I like lifting weights, and for the better part of 4 decades weight-lifting has been my “go to” for getting into shape. So I was doing Primal Law #4 “kinda right” by lifting heavy 3-4 times per week. My modified routines now focus more on functional strength, that incorporate multiple muscle groups, vs focusing on individual muscle groups. For example, the “primal essential movements” (PEMs) are pushups, pullups, squats, and planks. Each of these exercises will recruit multiple muscle groups, can be done in the span of a few minutes, and will provide a total body workout. I throw in some “lift heavy things” with heavier chest press, low rows, leg press, and deadlifts once per week. Deadlifts are outstanding because they truly work your legs, back, core, arms/shoulders, and even grip strength. And – did you know – lower grip strength has a high correlation with all cause mortality?

For the rest of the week, I typically focus on Law #3 and doing TRX exercises in a 10-20 minute window.

For our coach potato brethren, you can check the Primal Law #4 box with the PEMs described above (while saving money on gym memberships). However, the modern fitness enthusiast also has endless options for group fitness classes, bootcamps, HIIT (high intensity interval training) and spin classes, and crossfit WODs (workout of the day). The concerns with all of these options are the following:

  • They can lead to chronic exercise patterns that persistently break down the body without adequate recovery periods and rest days.
  • Most of these endurance-style classes focus on lower weights with higher reps, so the body is never put under a significant enough load to get an adaptive response of hormones (like testosterone and human growth hormone). If you want to review a detailed study, this one highlights the correlation of chronic endurance exercise with low testosterone.
  • They consistently put you into a Zone 4 heart rate training zone – they burn a lot of calories, but this anaerobic zone burns glucose (and glycogen in your liver and muscles) vs the fat you want to burn.
  • They sometimes permit bad body mechanics, unless you have an attentive instructor to correct these mechanics, that leads to injuries or unnecessary soreness.
  • Those hard workouts – where you primarily burned sugar rather than fat – imply you now have a green light to load up on post-workout carbs for recovery…which continues to reassure your body that it will always get a sugar replenishment and will never need to resort to burning fat.

Instead of chronic exercise, pick 1-2 times per week where you “Lift Heavy Things”…focusing on quality, lower repetitions of heavier weights that recruit multiple muscle groups and build lean muscle mass.

As a caveat in regard to overall health and wellness, lifting heavy things always gets me stronger and bigger, but it wasn’t until I switched to a Low Carbohydrate, High Fat (LCHF) nutrition plan that my body composition drastically improved. Remember…”6-packs are made in the kitchen”! If you want your version of ideal body composition, always start with the nutrition and lifestyle laws.

Primal Law #5: Sprint Once In a While

I didn’t become an active runner until my mid-40s, and I had not sprinted since high school! I experimented with a 3-run week consisting of track repeats, tempo run, and a long run – and all three runs are important if you want to increase endurance, VO2 Max, and the fat-burning rate in all aerobic zones. But the first to go was always the track repeats.

Enter Primal Law #5…and keep in mind that sprinting does not necessarily have to be running. You could do almost the same thing with cycling, swimming, or even jumping rope. However, running sprints does the best job in regard to impact and load-bearing to help strengthen muscles and connective tissues while increasing bone density. Any form of sprint will kick in the fight-or-flight response…or the “I am catching dinner or trying to keep from becoming dinner” dump of testosterone and human growth hormone that will prompt our body to get bigger, stronger, and faster. Sprinting also accelerates fat loss because it increases metabolic function 30 times higher than resting baseline (or Metabolic Equivalent of Task = MET). In contrast, walking is 2.0 – 3.3 MET/hr…and singles tennis is 7-12 MET/hr.

Here are some keys to a good sprint workout:

  • Keep the sprint in an 8-20 seconds range to use the right “fuel source” for a true sprint.
    • Anything less than 8 seconds will use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is a fuel that resides in the muscle cells themselves. It burns off quickly, but it can also replenish by the time it takes to walk back to the starting line. This is the fuel source you want to tune when you want that quick, explosive speed (great for sprinting…football, basketball, tennis, etc).
    • 8-20 seconds gets the body to burn lactate. Even though only up to 20 seconds, this range will train the body’s anaerobic lactic acid buffering system to produce quick times even in the half-mile and mile distances.
    • 20-30 seconds starts burning glucose and switches to a mixture of glucose and fat when you reach 2+ minutes.
  • Properly warm-up with active stretches (high knees, butt kicks, air squats, lunges) and wind sprints (running at about 85% effort to nail down your form and observe any compensations that could hinder your efforts or cause injury)
  • Only do the number of sprints that allow you to give 100% effort to reach the same distance…in close to the same amount of time…at close to the same perceived effort. If it starts to take longer to reach the same distance, or to require a greater perceived effort to reach that distance, it is time to shut it down for the day. Think 6-8 quality sprints…maybe as little as 4 if you just aren’t feeling 100% that day.

Another great benefit of a sprint workout – you can achieve incredible physical benefits in less than 30 minutes versus 1-2 hours of running that brings a higher risk of chronic training patterns and potential injury! Having said that, I do still enjoy a good tempo run and/or long easy run…so I can work on my lower aerobic zones…as often as I can get them. I live in sunny Colorado, and I love getting that natural Vitamin D while enjoying the beautiful views, trails, and occasional wildlife sightings!

In conclusion, I invite you to put these 3 Primal “Exercise Laws” to the test along with the Primal Nutrition Laws #1 and #2 – for anywhere from 21 to 60 days which is a small fraction of what we hope is a very long, healthy life – to see if you reap greater health benefits versus falling into chronic cardio or chronic exercise patterns.

If the 21 day duration sounds about right, then sign up for my free 21-Day Path to Primal program. You will get an email and accompanying video each day, for 21 days, that covers all ten of the Primal Laws. As always, I am happy to help you on your N=1 personal journey to health and wellness. For more personalized health coaching, or some personal training that incorporates health coaching, take a look at some of my other service offerings.