Friday, September 2, 2011

My Take on the Primal Blueprint

This is primarily a training blog. It started out solely for the purpose of me sharing my kettlebell workouts with the world and somehow morphed into a "hard core" strength training and Paleo eating site, probably because these are the areas of fitness and nutrition that interest and work for me.

I recently read The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson and I now use it as a kind of guideline for me live a more healthy life. Mark breaks The Primal Blueprint into 10 laws to help you live the way you were meant to, not as corporations and social constructs would have you live. He attacks conventional wisdom  ruthlessly, and why not? As more money is spent in the health, fitness and diet industries, people continue to get fatter and unhealthier. What people "know" isn't working. It's time for a change and personally I believe that Mark is fighting the good fight.

Primal Blueprint Law #1: Eat Lots of Plants and Animals.

Before agriculture, people didn't have a choice on this one, so our bodies are actually best adapted for these food sources. Eating plants and animals is an easy one for me. I love to eat meat, veggies, fruits, you name it. I have learned from experience that natural foods are more forgiving to my waistline than processed foods.

Meat makes me feel strong and plants make me feel healthy and energized. Most people who did the Atkins diet and ate only meat and cheese felt kind of sick and became constipated. I needed the veggies and I love a bit of fruit. It works for me and will probably do the same for you. Make plant and animal foods the staple of your diet.

Primal Blueprint Law #2: Avoid Poisonous Things.

In the past this would have meant venomous animals or poisonous foods. Today modern processed foods like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, or even grains fall under poisonous things. Times have changed and now the poisons we must be aware of are more insidious. They lurk under the guise of healthy foods in the super market. To be fit and healthy you have to learn to control your insulin through diet, and that means you can't eat the way TV ads want you to. Ditch the cereal and juice for and omelet and green tea. Bottom line, if you look at a food and can't figure out where it came from in nature, don't eat it.

Primal Blueprint Law #3: Move Frequently at a Slow Pace.

This one surprised me. I always thought walking and easy exercise was a total waste of time. I am one of those high intensity interval training guys who would rather sprint and puke than go for a jog. Well, I guess I was wrong. Mark explained that hunter gatherer's would spend a large portion of their day moving at a slow to brisk pace. Even hunting was done through hiking and tracking, only chasing down prey at the end if necessary. Sure, people had to run for their lives at times, but that was done at full speed and for a short period. People didn't go for jogs, it was metabolically expensive and pretty pointless.

All that hiking regulated their blood sugar, not that they really needed it, and built their fitness base. So getting more light exercise is a new initiative of mine. I am trying to make time to go for walks or easy rides more often without pressuring myself into "making it hard".  Don't be afraid to take it slow to get the benefits of cardio without the stressfull effects of long hard slogs. Mark recommends 2-5 hours a week of light to brisk cardio in the 55% of max heart rate zone. On the bright side, I have yet another reason not to go for a jog, cortisol baths.

Primal Blueprint Law #4: Lift Heavy Things.

Now you are talking my language. Mark explains that at times Paleo people, or Grok in his scenario, would have to lift heavy things whether it was moving rocks, carrying items or wrestling rivals in play. The fact is we know that lifting heavy things helps build and maintain muscle, improves tendon strength, and increases bone density. It also helps regulate your body fat, but only if you diet (insulin) is under control.

As a kettlebell enthusiast and strength athlete I love to lift heavy things. Lately I have been training with a crossfit/ strongman team, so lifting heavy things now includes stones, logs and all sorts of crazy objects. When it comes to health I don't think it matters much what you choose to do for strength training, just pick something you enjoy and have fun with it on a regular basis.

How is this for a fun, outdoor, primal workout?

 Primal Blueprint Law #5: Sprint Once in a While.

As I mentioned above, our Paleo ancestors had to run for their lives at times. Only the strong, and fast, survived back then to pass on their genetics. Although the average person today is fat and weak, deep inside, at the genetic level is an athlete waiting to burst out! Sprinting is something I keep promising myself to make more time for, as it will make any athlete leaner and faster.

I highly recommend including sprints in your routine, but start easy. If you go from the couch to the track and sprint full out you will be back in the hospital waiting room with a torn muscle in no time. Ease into it. Start with bike sprints or hill sprints at 80% and warm up thoroughly before hand. Sprints will make you lean and explosive but they are extremely demanding so work your way up to them over time.

Primal Blueprint Law #6: Get Adequate Sleep.

Before digital entertainment, people had their fun and then hit the hay. They had "relations" more often and caught more zzzz's than we do today. Sounds nice doesn't it? For me this is a tough one, I love to stay up and play video games or watch movies. Going to bed early takes discipline but it pays off. You will look better, feel better and find it easier to lose weight or improve athletically. Turn off the screen and go to bed!

Primal Blueprint Law #7: Play.

This one caught me by surprise. Apparently, hunter gatherer populations have more leisure time than we do! How is that for a kick in the nuts of the modern world. Our entire world is devoted to be being lazy and you are telling me we had it right the first time!

Anyways, hunter gatherers have more time and they use it positively. They play. That's right, even the adults. They wrestle, race, have games of skill like archery and throwing, and it is an important part of their lives. Play is fun, releases stress, is healthy, and a great social outlet. I have always played sports and always thought it was because I am so competitive but what I realized is that I just love the "bro time". I love to hang with guys and test myself against them. Play is fun and will improve your life so join that rec league team you keep talking about and get out there!

Primal Blueprint Law #8: Get Adequate Sunlight.

I love this one. For years I have been reading that training outside boots your testosterone and mood. I don't know about the testosterone but I can tell you that few things make me feel better than an outdoor workout. Sunlight was an integral part of our lives until the invention of the light bulb. Our bodies need it to produce Vitamin D. Get outside and catch some rays! Burning is bad, but a lack of sunlight isn't good either so go outside to do your exercise, play or just hang out.

Primal Blueprint Law #9: Avoid Stupid Mistakes.

A blown knee could be deadly for a hunter gatherer, especially one that lives near lions and tigers. Things have changed now and Mark theorizes that life has become so safe, no predators or deadly melee's, that people don't pay attention to anything anymore. For example, today we can survive pretty serious injuries but going through life on auto pilot has other consequences such as deadly car accidents or drownings. As a former teenage boy I can attest to the fact that stupid mistakes can cause injury and embarrassment. Now that I am older I know better than to put my body at serious risk for no good reason. I don't want to miss any workouts!

Primal Blueprint Law #10: Use Your Brain.

Use it or lose it. It blew me away to learn that the brains of Paleolithic people were larger than the brains of people today. We always picture stupid "cave men" but the stereotype is completely wrong. Hunter gatherer's don't get to veg out every night. They don't rot on welfare or work mindless jobs. They think, plan and act every day to feed their families and survive. Humans rose up through survival of the fittest, and it was our brains that gave us an edge against other animals.

With the agricultural revolution, selective pressure waned and everybody got to pass on their genes. Don't believe me, watch Jerry Springer. People don't have to be smart to get buy and procreate anymore, but they don't have to be stupid either. Using your brain will improve your cognitive abilities and delay the onset of mental disabilities related to aging.

Personally I enjoy strategy games, including athletic strategy, and reading to stimulate my noggin.  Everybody is different but my point is that your brain craves challenges so give it some!

That is all the Primal Blueprint laws Mark laid out in his book. I believe they are words to live by and I am trying my best. If you have read the book please post your thoughts below. If not, I'd love to hear from you too!

1 comment:

  1. Jason, Great info. #3 explains why I love to talk long one to two hour walks with my dog in the woods. He likes it too. He is primla and thinks we are hunting.

    I was in the best shape of my life when I was in the Infantry. Our training included long foot marchs of 5 to 25 miles with often very heavy loads in calorie deprived states followed by real food at the end of the training event.