What is the least you can do each week? What are the most functional exercises? What are the most basic activities you could or should perform? What exercise gives you most bang for your buck?
Such question often flow through my mind. Sometimes I go off route with my training. I devise all manner of routines and am guilty of trying to achieve too much at once.
I am seeing growing evidence of beneficial cross training effects - most recently my handstands have improved without practice. What I had been doing was a lot of kneeling to headstand leg raises which unexpectedly led to my suddenly finding that my handstands moved up a gear. Similarly a lay off from planches earlier this year led to some PBs when I went back to them.
To cut a long story short, I need variety and novelty. I want to be a generalist, but I deep down I want to be a generally good specialist! I keep in mind my paleo compass - so when I do get side-tracked by curling (rarely) or deadlifts (occasional), I can promptly get myself back on course.
To this end I have begun to distill my exercise list down to a handful that I perform at least once every week, and which I supplement with more specialist exercises. Here then are my choice of the most important, fundamental and beneficial exercises.
1) Paleo Exercises
Here is my choice of the four greatest and best and most excellent exercises!
This is THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL, FUNCTIONAL AND IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR TRAINING! It is never 'big beats the small', it is the 'quick that beat the slow'.
In my opinion you should (and indeed must), sprint at least four times a week (on separate days). This might comprise of one or two formal sprinting 'sessions'. For the remainder you might only perform a quick 10s sprint or sprint as part of a game of football or 'chase' with the kids. But make sure you open your after-burners and give it full-throttle with a degree of regularity.
Muscle Up (MU)
There are only a few times in my life where I have sat back and thought "Fuck me!". You know those moments when you just cannot believe what you are seeing. I was taking part in an assault course and there were a few gym rats there. The were big. Very big. Decorated even. The could lift some heavy weights - particularly in the bench press and squat. Could they get over 9ft wall unassisted? Nope. Could they perform several proper pull ups (palms out, from straight arm to 'neck above the bar')? Nope.
If you cannot lift your own body weight with a degree of comfort, it is too heavy or you are too weak (or a combination).The muscle up provides a way or rapidly propelling yourself upwards through trees. It has the advantage or comprising a pull and a push that works most of the muscles in the arms, shoulders and back. You get a gold medal for nailing the muscle up, but if you can only do a pull up and get stuck at the 'transition', close but no cigar!
I would say that one Muscle Up is the benchmark paleo strength test. I rarely do pull ups due to my climbing activities, but I always do muscle ups on a weekly basis. Chins (palms in) don't count for nothing!
I would add rope climbing to this category, as you can also work your pressing strength as long as you reach high up the rope as you climb. In fact you can also 'lock-off' with one arm between each grab. Full marks if you DON'T use your legs - and maintain them in an L-Sit position.
I am sure there are many of us that have read of the benefits of deadlifting. Lifting a heavy weight from the ground is a fundamental exercise that engages and trains a whole chain of muscles. From a paleo point of view, I can't help thinking that this exercise is a wee bit pointless. I really cannot think of an event where you would be called upon to do this. When was the last time you needed to lift a very heavy weight a few feet off the ground for a few seconds? Sure it targets a load of muscles and if you want a quick workout, it ticks the boxes, but it lacks functionality.
However, think of lifting a big weight and carrying it - I can come up with a few scenarios such as carrying a carcass back to camp, or moving to a new camp.
My favoured position is weight I can carry on my shoulder (I use a heavy duty punch bag). Option B is carrying my youngest around in a papoose but really, an asymmetric shoulder-load has a paleo edge over a Berghaus rucksack - no matter how heavy the rucksack. In fact with a shouldered load, you have to continually use your arms and torso to control the load thus targetting deep core muscles.
No only do Kill Carries target a chain of muscles but can also be adapted for added functionality. Thus you can accentuate speed (move faster) or endurance (go for longer), or add weight for test of strength.
I was going to suggest a 'Press Above Head from Floor' as my final exercise of choice, but in many ways, a well chosen object launched at speed will target much the same muscles - legs, core and shoulders. In addition, throwing has greater utility - think spear-work in an attempt to kill an animal or rock throwing as a form of defence.
My personal choice here is Medicine Ball Throws (MBT), which I perform one arm at a time. For variation I will either chose a heavier medicine ball and concentrate on control of the negative phase of the exercise (catching the ball one handed), or chose a lighter ball and emphasise explosive throwing on the positive phase of the exercise ( again, catching the ball one handed).
I will shoe-horn and One-Arm Snatch from the Floor in to this section as it does fit mechanically in to this section (ish), but MBT feel way more Paleo! Lifting a weight from the floor to an overhead position is the epitome of chain-strength throughout the body. Remember to keep your form with your back straight and driving with the legs.
2) Play Exercises
So having identified THE fundamental paleo exercises, I will now list further exercises which are drawn from the concept of play.
Next summer head down the park. In amongst the free-play you will see amongst the kids, when given an open space and only their imagination to play with and you will witness role-play, chasing games and more importantly cartwheels, handstands and back bridges (unless you are in an Australian school). Of these exercises handstands and backbridges really interest me as they offer rich functionality to our bodies.
Where do I start with these? They really work your shoulders. With practice you can hold them still and work your core. Or, walk around on your hands and feel the hit on the complete shoulder girdle. With time you should be able to perform a handstand press up (HSPU) which will give you an almost complete upper body workout.
Handstands and their associated variations epitomise philosophy and value of bodyweight exercising without any equipment (event he pull up needs a bar!). In two words, handstands are 'The Daddy'.
What I mean here is a Back Limber and a Front Limber. Limbers work your core and encourage spinal flexibility. I see so many kids doing these kinds of moves at my park last summer it really made me determined to re-master such a skill.
There are variations such as 'Kneel Backs' (where you lie on the ground with your knees touching and your toes pointing behind you. Your feet/heels should be outside of your buttocks. Now lean back. You should feel a warm stretching sensation along your thighs. You should be able to lean all the way back so your back comfortably rests on the floor.)
Other variations are standard back bridges which can be made easier by having your feet on a platform. Once happy with this position, you can then do Wall Walks where you back bridge with your hands close to a wall and then walk your hands up the wall until you are standing upright. You can also reverse this latter move.
Experts can go on to perform a 'limber'. Get yourself to GymnasticBodies.com for further details.
3) Other Exercises
One of the keys to paleo living is to develop strength through a more general paleo-centric behaviours. For me, three activities stand out.
Climbing is highly specialised now, but with its general development of upper body strength I would sincerely recommend it to anyone as an integrated way of developing strength in the back arms and shoulders. Climbing would have been a fundamental skill on the plains of Africa.
A tree would have provided an optimal defensive position amongst other apex killers! You certainly wouldn't have tried to out run a lion and a spear is useless against a pack animal, particularly if you are on the ground. Much better to head upwards...!
I personally think that combat would have been a familiar ingredient in paleo life. Fighting for women, territory and resources (has anything changed?). Both striking arts and wrestling (including things like Judo) will fit the mould.
Training, particularly with arts like kickboxing, involve intense shorts bursts of activity followed by rest. This is a classic paleo activity profile and one that should filter through in to your training mentality.
One minute front-kicking a kick-shield will break you, especially when your pad-man starts walking towards you! If you ever get the chance to train with a boxer, you will truly see what fatigue means. The fighting arts can milk every part of your body.
Gymnastics: The Planche and the Lever
The planche and lever are totally UN-PALEO. I cannot possible shoe-horn them in to the paleo-training model. But if there were two exercises that I would advise anyone to perform other than the four at the top of this post, these would be them.
The planch and lever engage just about every muscle in the body. They both offer several progressions and variations meaning they are two exercises from which you can make continual gains. You can even integrate them with the exercises above (planche to handstand or Muscle Up to a ring routine involving levers).
So there you go. These are my paleo staples. If you do the paleo and play exercises at least once a week, you will indeed develop your paleo-athletic qualities. The 'other sports' I suggest will similarly develop your athleticism. Any comments, thoughts and insults will be gratefully received.
I hope to post up some routine ideas in the new year and show how I integrate these ideas/concepts in to my training.
I should point out that I will undoubtedly fall off the paleo cart over the coming weeks. In fact the cart will be rolled on its roof and torched! However, on Christmas Day I will go for a paleo-dip in the Irish Sea (no wetsuit). And, I will try to get out and perform one or two sprints, planches and a few handstands.
I am happy to kick back a bit as I know it will refresh my hunger for 2009!
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to one and all!