16 November 2014

Primal Living Part 5 - A typical week in exercise

Last week I provided  simple and accurate overview of what a typical week looks like for me in regards to food. In particular, the focus was on how and what I eat according to the Primal Lifestyle. As discussed at the very beginning, while nutrition is the vast majority (80%) of achieving and maintaining optimal health, there is still another 20% to account for - that portion being exercise. Now, 80:20 right away may seem counterintuitive in today's world. As important as living an active lifestyle is, modern advances in technology, leisure and work have lead to generations of increasingly sedentary lives. Once upon a time, people had to grow their own food, perform their own housework and entertain themselves. Today much of our routine involves tools, gadgets and media that automate or provide for us these actions, resulting in much less need to move.

274lb in 2007; 199lb by 2008; 185lb since 2009
In a roundabout way, perhaps this is why there is such an emphasis on time-consuming, unfun and strenuous physical activity. We spend so much time not moving that there may be some inherent guilt about how little physical activity we get and therefore convince ourselves that in order to offset this, we must subject ourselves to long and grueling workout sessions we don't enjoy. We all know these people, or may be one of them ourselves. We wake up an hour before we have to so we can drag ourselves to the gym or pound the pavement for 45 minutes we don't enjoy.

21 Day Challenge Infographic - for the whole graphic, click here
Before I go any further, if you do enjoy this. If you can wake up naturally before first light, instantly feel energised and exhilarated during your 7km run or 40 minute elliptical session, good on you. This article isn't for you. If you truly love exercise to the point where the more of it you can do the happier you are, that's amazing. There are many people however that don't. They may feel proud of themselves for having finished their workouts, but dread the time, energy and inconvenience of spending 4+ hours every week doing something they don't enjoy. Primal is for them. Primal establishes the most efficient ways to workout to achieve optimal long-term sustainable health with as little pain, effort and time possible. For more of a general background on how to excersise primally, you may want to go back to Primal Living Part 1, from  a few weeks back. This week's piece is mostly an example of what exercise looks like for me.

Move frequently at a low pace

The core of my exercise is to "move frequently at a slow pace". For me, this means walking. I walk as much and as often as is practical from a day to day basis. I live about 1km from my workplace, which results in a 15-20 minutes of walking each day. Being a highschool teacher does include a fair amount of walking as well. It's not the most active of professions (I'm not a HPE), but there is a fair bit of travelling from room to room, building to building and up and down stairs several times throughout the day. By the time work is finished, I usually get around 5,000 steps.

Yard work, parking further from the entry to a shop, taking the dog out, it all counts. 
Outside of work, I make sure to walk more throughout the evening. We have an above average sized yard so simply hand watering the plants, playing with the best dog in the world, or just doing light work can add up to a fair bit. Even staying on top of housework, such as washing, cleaning and tidying, serves as a productive way to increase activity. The key is to move. It doesn't matter that you're heartrate's not pumping, or you're not sweating (these things can help), but the most important thing is to move. Remember that one of the biggest obstacles of modern living is how automated the world has become. Once upon a time, there was just more work to do around the house and all of it required more physical activity. I've really come to appreciate the benefits of housework. hand-watering plants, trimming shrubs, mowing and raking are all incredible ways to improve your health if done regularly and frequently, and of course it's productive.

Once in a while, sprint

Once or twice a week I make sure to turn things up slightly. I do love running. I find it meditative and relaxing. A good 20-30 minute run every now and then really invigorates me. I am aware though, that I don't need to run anywhere beyond the point of enjoyment. In the past, running was my primary form of fitness. I did love it, but at increasing frequency, the enjoyment started to dwindle. Setting strict goals and benchmarks of 20, 40, 50kms a week started to tax on my time, not to mention my knees. The truth is, if I didn't genuinely enjoy running, I would stop and I wouldn't be sacrificing my health in any way. In fact, it would be easy to argue that unenjoyable, pain-pushing monotonous medium-intensity prolonged sessions of "Chronic Cardio" actually do more harm than good.

Running as fast as you can, and then walking to rest
What this means is that I limit my running to 3 times a week and usually just go once. I love a good 10km session. I get some of the best thinking I ever do during this hour and feel invigorated afterward. The truth, however is that I am finding it more stale and am now enjoying the variability in mixing it up. This week, I went on two trailruns involving some Hill climbs. Rather than road running, hilly trails include a strong mix of carefully and slowly walking down rocky paths and sprinting as fast as I could for 20 to 30 seconds whenever there was a relatively safe looking incline or set of stairs. Intervals making of various intensities is key. Even though Saturdays hike was over an hour, I only travelled 5kms which means a lot of it was walking. I definitely stopped to rest a few times as well with absolutely no guilt.

4km in 30 minutes is pretty slow, but the terrain offers all kinds of new and engaging challenges
It's taking a while for me to be OK with walking from time to time - being able to maintain a steady pace for as long as possible was always a goal of mine as a runner. However, running at faster speeds, often as fast as I can, with short rests in between has proven to be a challenge in its own right, perhaps moreso.

The view at the top is fantastic 
Lift heavy things

Two or three times a week I make sure I do something that involves lifting heavy things. Most of the time, these workouts involve bodyweight exercises. I hate weight lifting. It's purely a personal thing, but I just don't enjoy working with dumbells, barbells, kettles, heavy plates or big machines. I don't like keeping much equipment in the house (although I do own a few dumbells ranging from 5 to 10 kg), and I really don't like being in the gym. So for me, pushups, situps, squats, pullups and the dozens of variations of these exercises work best.

Pushups, squats, situps... and pullups sometimes. 
At the moment, I'm using the Runtastic suite of fitness apps for most of these workouts. two or three times a week, I go through a pushup, situp and squat workout. The apps are great. They basically organise pyramid style sets and use phone sensors to judge when you've completed the amount of reps. Each workout increases reps or sets each day. At the moment I'm approximately doing 60 pushups, situps and squats each session. It's the simplest of workouts but is definitely challenging.

Handwatering and raking leaves is a simple way increase activity. 
Also, I again try to incorporate housework into my LHT routines. Having a very old property with a lot of landscaping work needed helps, so I find myself digging, planting, levelling, and chopping a fair bit around our house. Try swinging a mattock 50 times to break up dry earth, moving cracked foundation around or chopping up branches and see how much your glutes, back, shoulders, heart and lungs feel it the next day.


Not enjoying exercise is one of the major obstacles people have with traditional workout plans. The fact that so many people in the gym, or running in the mornings need headphones - whether they are aware of it or not, they need to distract themselves from what they're doing because at the end of the day, they're not having fun. This is why play is such an important part of the Primal lifestyle. Find a game or a sport you enjoy. For me it's basketball once every couple of weeks if a game is available. For you it may be golf, swimming, hiking, soccer, softball or simply running around with your children or playing with your dog.

29 minutes of running and 22 minutes of walking doesn't sound nearly as fun as "Basketball" 
One hour of basketball, which includes the light shootarounds with my friends as we warm up and organise the game, covered about 4km of distance travelled, 5000 steps and involved all sorts of physical movements requiring balance, explosiveness, strength and agility. It doesn't have to be competitive, it just has to be something that forces you to run, jump, push, shoot, throw, catch or kick your way to a good time. Whether it's social, or a time to let off steam, there are plenty of ways to find active and fun ways to play - especially with kids, siblings or buddies around.

In sum

So, at the end of the week, my "workout plan" resembles something like:

1. Walking as much and as often as I can. The more the better.
2. Running as fast as I can a few times, maybe 6-10 times, for around 20 seconds each time, about twice a week. This week I did this during a 5km hike up a 300m hill, and again on a 4km trail run of slightly lower of an incline.
3. I had two pushup, squat and situp Runtastic sessions.
4. I played fullcourt basketball for almost an hour.

Not counting the walking, because that is integrated into every day life, the total time I spent explicitly exercising by running, hiking, and playing basketball was approximately 2.5 hours. This is far less than I would spend "training" back when I was concerned with completing half-marathons and thought running 30km a week was necessary for good health. I know plenty of people that spend an hour, to 90 minutes in the gym 4 or 5 times a week because they believe they have to in order to maintain their weight, shape, or stave off heart-disease. If you're a competitive athlete, or want to cross "finishing a marathon" off your bucketlist, that's different. I'm talking about exercising in the most efficient way possible to maintain optimal health and do so in as little time as possible. Having extra time is something pretty much everyone wishes were possible. If you're a sufferer of "chronic cardio", Primal exercise may be your answer.

Exercise doesn't have to be boring, time-consuming or painful 
Well, that just about covers my simple explanation of Primal Living. What began as a single piece explaining what the Primal Blueprint is and breaking down the grave misunderstandings of optimal health and the causes of increasing obesity, diabetes, heart-disease and deteriorating brain health over the last century, turned into 5 weeks of discussion and reflection.

I would love to continue writing about this, but the truth of the matter is I don't have the expertise required for any more depth. In a few weeks, I plan on enrolling in the Primal Blueprint Expert Certification Course, which through focused study will grant me with the knowledge and understanding needed to really implement, promote and educate on Ancestral Health, but that's looking into the future.

For now, just remember that everything we've been taught about modern western diet is rubbish. We don't need carbohydrates. Fats are important. There's nothig wrong with meat. Avoid sugar as much as possible. Eat as many fresh colourful vegetables as you can handle. Exercise doesn't need doesn't to be painful, boring or time-consuming. I've provided the basics from a very casual, testimonial perspective, but for any of the details or science behind Primal living, there are a tonne of resources at Marks Daily Apple. I also strongly recommend The Primal Blueprint by +Mark Sisson. Clearly, this book (Amazon, or Google Play, ) has changed my life and believe everyone would benefit from living according to its principles. 

Marks Daily Apple 
Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments, and please spread the word.
If you want to jump back to any of the earlier parts of this Primal Living Series, I've included the links below.