This past weekend I took home first place in my weight class (lightweights under 200) at the River City Strongman in Richmond, Virginia.
It was a great but grueling day of lifting and competing. I met some awesome people, had overwhelming support from friends and family, made a few mistakes, but most importantly, overcame and battled throughout the day to bring home the win for Primal Strength Gym. I was also honored to compete with another Primal member who took home third in the heavyweight class.
My first few years in the gym I would be so cranked up on pre-workout and oozing testosterone that I could walk into the weight room and start cranking out sets with authority. No warm up, no stretching, just my dumb “meatheadness” and bulldog mentality.
Fast forward to today and I don’t touch a weight without a fairly thorough dynamic warm up. Part of that is I’m 32 now and can’t meathead my way through workouts anymore, but more importantly I’m a much smarter lifter than I was in high-school and my 20’s.
I was costing myself a ton of gains by not getting my body properly fired up before training. There are two main reasons for this:
Your muscles are not warm and elastic when you first start lifting, which hinders performance and mobility
Translation is that you don’t perform optimally until partially through your workout, meaning the first exercises (which are usually the most important) you are hitting are probably getting neglected or not performed to their maximum potential.
I’ll take another example from a very recent experience of mine. I had been experiencing pain in my lower back after squats and deadlifts. I diagnosed the problem as underactive glutes. So the other day when I was scheduled to squat, I expanded my dynamic warm up to target my glutes and get them firing in full force before I started squatting.
I had one of the best squat days I’ve had in a while and finished the training session pain free.
You can probably take an example out of your own training if you don’t do a dynamic warm up. Think about your performance in the first exercise you do and compare that to some of the things you do 20-30 minutes into your training. I bet you are much more focused, your muscles have stopped being sluggish and are firing on all cylinders, and you are cranking out sets much more efficiently than your first couple of the day.
Do not jeopardize your gains or perform sets sub-optimally because you don’t want to take the time to properly warm up. Every set matters…
Not to mention the injury risk you pose to yourself by going full Hulk smash the first 5 minutes you enter the gym…
There are two components to a proper dynamic warm up.
#1: Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a must before a training session to break up inflamed tissue, promote blood flow, and boost performance.
I usually hit my quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, adductors, and any trouble spots in my upper body.
You only need to foam roll for a few minutes. I don’t advise rolling a certain area for more than “10 rolls” because too much foam rolling can actually irritate muscle tissue rather than benefit it.
#2: Dynamic Stretching
I don’t really advocate static stretching in a warm up until after I hit some more dynamic movements. Forcing cold muscles to stretch for long durations of time when they aren’t elastic isn’t optimal.
I also do a series of resistance band stretches (overhand and underhand pull-aparts, and disclocators).
Dynamic stretching is an easy, low-impact way to get your CNS firing, warm up your muscles, and tune up your mobility prior to lifting.
** Now only after I have done some dynamic stretching, I will incorporate some static stretching into the mix, specifically to target my hips and glutes. **
Sample Primal Warm-Up
This entire dynamic warm up should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete.
Band Pull-Apart Circuit (10 each movement)
Walking lunges: 10/side
Bodyweight Squats: 10
Standing broad jump: 8
Single-leg broad jump: 6/leg
Jump squats: 10
After the foam rolling, you could do several rounds of the other exercises to get your body primed for some heavy lifting. The dynamic warm up should be up-tempo with little to no rest in between exercises and rounds.
A big part of why I founded Primal Strength Camp is because fundamental skills that were once prevalent in mankind are eroding from our society. The most common of those is the ability to run.
At Primal Strength Camp, we are geared towards performance so training to sprint faster is commonplace. There are a variety of things you can do to sprint faster and fortunately a lot of those things align with other things you should be doing in the gym anyway.
#1: Lose Body Fat
Blinding flash of the obvious I’m sure, but carrying extra weight, other than for leverage in some big lifts, does nothing for your athletic performance. The extra weight will make you slower, less agile and mobile, and less healthy overall. Drop the weight with high-intensity cardio and clean up your diet.
Lifting heavy weights, plyometrics, and medicine ball work are all things you should be doing in the weight room that will develop your explosiveness and help you sprint faster.
#3: Improve Your Posture
This is by far the most common problem I see when I watch people run. Office jobs, long bouts of sitting, too many video games for kids, and overworking the muscle groups you can see (chest, shoulders, etc.) and neglecting your posterior chain are all major contributors to bad posture.
Bad posture directly translates to poor running mechanics.
This correction can be made through conscious effort and persistence. When walking and sitting, you should be thinking about a big chest and retracted shoulder blades, rather than slouching. You can make a lot of progress just by sitting up and walking “proud”. In the gym, try retracting and holding your shoulder blades at the lockout of your deadlifts (using lightweight).
#4: Increase Your Stride Length
The longer your strides, the faster you will cover more ground. A lot of this goes back to #2 and being more explosive, but more specifically you must focus on driving with your legs.
In most cases this means driving your legs back and creating more leverage with each stride. Focus on “pulling the ground” away from your body with your feet and actively engaging your posterior chain.
To improve your stride length and technique, prowler and sled pushes and pulls are the best remedy. The necessary movement to move the prowler or sled mimics running technique.
The top sprinters in the world focus on hip flexor development, so in addition to hill sprints, emphasize hanging leg raises and knee drives (explosively move your knee upwards to your chest). You can add resistance to your knee drives as well by strapping your foot into a cable machine.
Want to boost fat loss, improve your conditioning, build some extra muscle, and increase your mental toughness, all in less than 20 minutes?
Adding training finishers to the end of your workouts is an extremely effective way to do all of the above.
Most of the time Primal finishers take the form of either high-intensity cardio, a hard hitting bodyweight circuit, or a strength movement with a conditioning component built around improving mental toughness.
Since finishers are meant to be high-intensity, you only need to do them a few times a week and are not meant to be done after every training session. Doing finishers too often will jeopardize your recovery times and strain your central nervous system (CNS), and if you are working your ass off during the main components of your training sessions, they just aren’t necessary all of the time. Keep your finishers to 20 minutes in duration or less.
High-Intensity Cardio Finishers
Primal conditioning philosophy centers around high-intensity cardio and using finishers in this fashion is a perfect opportunity to burn some extra fat. High-intensity cardio burns more fat calories in a shorter period of time than steady state cardio like jogging or the stair climber, and it will have a long lasting metabolic effect, boosting fat loss for up to 24 hours after you have left the gym.
Here are some examples of high-intensity cardio finishers:
Battle Rope Finisher: 3-4 rounds of battle rope for intervals of 30 seconds to 90 seconds or more. Non-stop movement of the ropes switching between rope slams (single and double arm variations), rope jumping jacks, and shoulder rotations. Rest 1-2 minutes between rounds.
Hill Sprints: This is the most classic and effective fat burning cardio you can do. 5 – 10 sprints with 1-2 minutes rest in between rounds will do the trick. Your rest period includes time spent walking back down the hill.
Sled and Prowler Work: Weighted sled pulls and sprints, and loaded prowler pushes make for brutal conditioning finishers. Pulls/pushes for 50 feet or more with short breaks in between movements work best.
Bodyweight circuits are one of my favorite finishers to not only boost fat loss, but also build muscle and throw in some extra volume to my training sessions. You can do circuits with light resistance as well, but if you worked hard enough during the core of your training session it probably isn’t necessary. Bodyweight yields a good training effect while minimizing wear and tear on your body that increases recovery times. Using a circuit that recruits the entire body will boost the effectiveness of the finisher.
An example would be:
1a) Pushups x 10
1b) Recline Rows x 10
1c) Jump Squats x 10
Perform each exercise consecutively without rest in between. Completing all 3 constitutes one round. Rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes after each round. Perform 3-5 rounds.
Strength and Mental Toughness Finishers
These are my favorite finishers to use. I like leaving the gym knowing I gave it everything I had and really testing yourself at the end of a training session is a sure-fire way to end on a high note. The strength component of this finisher should involve heavy weight but with a movement that has little risk for technical error or injury. With this in mind, I often turn to heavy farmers carries or carrying odd objects like kegs, sandbags, or stones.
You will get a strength, muscle building, conditioning, and mental toughness training effect with this kind of finisher. I also like combining this type of finisher with high-intensity cardio as a form of contrast training.
A couple examples of this type of finisher would look like:
Kettlebell farmers carries for 150 feet.
Heavy object carries for 150 feet in a variety of positions (zercher, shouldered, cleaned, overhead). Keep in mind risk for technical error and increasing the difficulty with different positions since you are already fatigued from your entire training session.
Farmers carries for 50 – 150 feet followed immediately by a hill sprint.
Finishers are a great way to boost fat loss, improve conditioning, increase muscle mass, and build mental toughness.
The best finishers can be high-intensity cardio, bodyweight circuits, and strength and mental toughness movements.
Do not perform finishers after every training session because they can jeopardize your recovery times and increase CNS fatigue.
You’ve heard me mention plyometrics before here and here.
They are key at developing explosiveness and athleticism and should be an important component of a well balanced strength training program. You will need this explosiveness when trying to build strength for the heavy barbell lifts like the bench and deadlifts. Plus they are vital in developing general physical preparedness and work capacity that will allow you to increase your training volume as you progress.
There are a ton of jump variations you can do, but for most of you these 3 will do the trick.
#1: Box Jumps
Most gyms have some sort of box you can jump on. Nothing complicated here. Just jump onto the box. Jump higher and higher as you progress.
This simply means jumping over things. In a standard gym sitting, you can jump over benches or boxes. If you are training outside, this is where park benches and other objects come into play.
#3: Long Jumps
These are the most advanced because they require a great deal of explosiveness and athleticism already. You have to be very careful on cushioning your landings, and be aware of the pounding your joints, knees, and legs take in the process. I do not recommend this for beginners, but as you progress, you can work these in. Make sure your technique is sound and you have a strong core before doing these.
Knowing you need to focus on these 3, how do you incorporate them into your training?
I’d treat them just as any other exercise. They count towards your overall training volume and the higher/further you jump counts towards your training intensity. The higher/further you jump, the less reps per set you should perform. Fifteen or less total reps split up among 3-5 sets would work.
I tend to work my jumps in at the end of my workouts or after my big compound lift. If I’m jumping for a low vertical, I’ll use them as a conditioning finisher. If I’m going for high verticals, I’ll make them a focal point of my training after heavy squatting for example. One thing you can do to work in jumps mid-training is superset heavy squats with box jumps to really build up your explosiveness and leg strength.
One important distinction here is to not treat jumps as high-intensity cardio alone. While they do make a kick ass conditioning exercise, you also need to treat them as a way to develop explosiveness. The more explosive you are, the better you will perform on your big lifts. That’s why it’s important to test yourself and continually try to jump higher and further, not just for reps and time.
As far as frequency goes, you could jump a couple of times a week. Work in your plyos on the same days you are training lower body if you can. If you must jump the day after lifting heavy squats or deadlifts, crank your intensity (height/distance) down to no more than 75% of your max effort. Just like lifting weights, jumping for prolonged periods at 100% max effort can be stressful on your central nervous system (CNS).
Conditioning is a vital component of being strong and able to perform. Not only do you need it to stay lean and mean, but building up your work capacity is the only way to push yourself in the gym on a continual basis and amp up your volume. If you are out of shape, you cannot progress. Bottom line.
For many people, they fear conditioning will take away from their gains and they are unsure of how to fit it into their programming. Have no fear. If you are training the right way, and not running yourself into the ground, you will shed some fat and build some muscle at the same time.
Now, as far as programming goes, you have a number of options.
The main thing you need to realize is that you should treat your cardio as you would a lifting session. What I mean is that you should base your programming around the effort you use for those conditioning sessions and the frequency and timing in which you do it.
So, to throw an example out there, you don’t want to go through a heavy squat workout and then go perform a 100% puke inducing hill sprint session the following day (or vice versa).
There are two simple ways to fit in your high-intensity cardio.
The first is to pair your conditioning sessions with your lifting. Tack on an extra 20 minutes to your workout to get your hill sprints and sled work in. Then give yourself a full 48 hours of rest before you tackle another conditioning session. Some of you may have the discipline to do this. Others read this and probably say “F*ck! The last thing I want to do after lifting my ass off is do a conditioning session.”
The remedy to this would be two-a-days. Separate your sprinting from your lifting session by 6 hours or so. Back in the day, I would jump and sprint at 10am, then go lift at 4pm. For those of you really trying to cut the fat, hitting up your sprinting sessions first thing in the morning in a fasted state might help you burn more fat than you otherwise would later in the day. Just make sure you drink some coffee or caffeine to increase the thermogenic effect and take in about 10 grams of amino acids to prevent any form of muscle loss. If you are keeping your sessions to 20 minutes or less and only a couple of times a week, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about anyway.
By doing either of the above, it ensures you are resting on your rest days instead of trying to fit a conditioning session in.
If you must run a day after lifting, you should tackle those sprints at 60-75% of your max effort instead of going 100% max effort. A lot of times, these sprints may even help in your recovery after the previous day of hard lifting. When running on off days just take into account what you did the day before and base your effort on that.
For most people, two 20 minute sessions a week will do the trick for staying lean and maintaining the ability to put on muscle mass. If you are above 15% bodyfat, or fat loss is your main goal, you can tack on an additional session or perform a couple of high-intensity finishers at the end of your lifting workouts. Five minutes of things like battle ropes or medium height box jumps work really well here.
As a side note, I know I stress high-intensity cardio, and that should in fact be the focus of your conditioning. But do not underestimate the power of a 30 minute walk upon waking. Back in the golden age of bodybuilding, and even dating up to Arnold himself, walking on an empty stomach in the morning was mostly all they did to keep fat off. Not to mention it does wonders for mental focus and your psyche to start the day.
Don’t make conditioning too complicated. Vary your efforts and allow yourself enough rest so you don’t jeopardize what you are doing in the weight room. Follow these rules and you will be well on the road to making gains and shredding fat.