One of the first things you lay eyes on when you enter the Primal Strength Gym is a wall of kegs. Once you take a closer look around, you’ll see a wide variety of odd objects like a circus dumbbell, sandbags, slosh pipes, tires, logs, grip tools and other unorthodox equipment.
The only two training splits I recommend are either full body or an upper lower split.
Body part splits and bodybuilding style training has its place for supplemental programming, but it’s ill-suited (as a primary focus) for the average gym rat or athlete who wants to get both strong and huge. Training full body or with an upper lower split recruits far more muscle, allows you to train much more frequently than body part splits, and will build both size and strength concurrently.
If you want a more detailed look into why I advocate against body part splits for the average gym rat, read this: Ditch the Body Part Split
I favor an upper lower split personally because I think it has a few advantages over full body training, but I’ll give you examples of both just so you can decide for yourself what suits your needs and schedule more.
For a full body split, it’s pretty straightforward. You train your entire body each training session so no movement is off limits.
The disadvantage to full body training is that your training sessions will typically be longer than normal and your recovery times increased. You may also be hard pressed to fit everything you’d like to do in a single training session.
As a general rule, no matter what the split, I train my biggest/heaviest lifts first and follow that with assistance work and specialty training such as plyometrics and explosive movements. Several days a week, I will end with 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio.
Here is an example full body training plan:
- Big Lift (Bench, squat, overhead press, deadlift)
- Assistance (row variations, tricep and bicep work, hamstring and posterior chain movements, floor presses, squat variations, single-leg exercises, etc.)
- More Assistance (different movement from your 1st assistance exercise)
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement (push-up and pull-up variations, dips, kettlebell cleans and snatches, barbell hang cleans, heavy push presses, plyometrics)
- Core Work and/or Conditioning (sprints, hanging leg raises, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, battle rope, weighted crunches, farmers carries)
* For some of your explosive work, if it’s really taxing, you may perform that as your second movement to reduce the possibility of technical errors and injury, as well as increase the actual training effect of the exercise. *
Training hard with a full body approach, you only need to train 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example), with some light to moderate active recovery sessions on your off days.
Upper Lower Split
Upper lower splits are a progression from full body training and are what I typically use in my own training and with my clients. Your training sessions are split into upper body days and lower body days.
The upper lower split is more flexible than a full body split and allows you to hit your entire upper/lower body within a reasonable time frame (a typical training session would be about an hour). It also allows you to train more frequently, several times a week for both your upper and lower body.
Sticking with some of the considerations I laid out above (heaviest lift first, etc.) an upper lower split would look something like this.
- Big Lift (bench, or overhead press)
- Upper Body Assistance
- Upper Body Assistance
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
- Core Work and/or Conditioning
- Big Lift (squat, deadlift)
- Lower Body Assistance
- Lower Body Assistance
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
- Core Work and/or Conditioning
For an upper lower split, I take a 2 days on 1 day off approach. A sample schedule would be something like this:
Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Sunday – Off Day/Active Recovery
If you are looking for some set and rep guidelines for both full body and upper lower split programs, check out these two articles:
If you want an 8 week program centered around an upper lower split, check out Uncaging Your Primal Strength. You can download it from my programs page. It comes complete with an exercise list, rep and set guidelines, and built-in printable training worksheets.
Since its release, people from all over the world have been crushing the program, breaking strength plateaus, building muscle mass, and shredding body fat.
I also have a ridiculous deal going on for 3 of my eBooks, where you can get Uncaging, The Primal Mind, and Primal Strength Nutrition for a 30% discount. Don’t miss out before I come to my senses and raise the price back to face value!
If you want something even more dynamic and personalized, check out my online coaching portal: Primal Online Coaching.
By investing in online coaching, you will get 8 weeks of personalized programming, video critiques of your lifts, and a lot of interaction with me. Why not invest in the same training that is producing the nationally ranked athletes and record holders from the Primal Strength Gym?
Take a look back at your training logs and see how much time you are devoting to these. I bet you’d be surprised at what you find. I meticulously plan my workouts every single day, but when I look back on my records, I can always find at least one these best exercises that I’m neglecting.
Missing something from this list in your training? It’s time to make it a priority. Maybe that means scrapping something else from your current training plan to fit these in, and in that case, you are welcome for the intervention.
- Deadlifts – What? Everybody does deadlifts right? Wrong. The average gym rat doesn’t spend enough time making these a focus, or they commit one of the greatest gym sins of all by not deadlifting period. They are one of the greatest tests of overall body strength, and if you aren’t doing these with regularity, I can guarantee you that you aren’t meeting your full strength potential.
- Pushups – Amazing that such a classic can get overlooked, but it happens on a regular basis. Hall of Fame NFL running back Hershel Walker claims he built his body totally from push-ups. Not sure I buy it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. An easy way to make sure to get these in is by incorporating them into a warmup or a finisher.
- Pullups – Same as above. After you can do 15 perfect pull-ups, vary your grip and start working on some of the variations.
- Glute Ham Raises – Weak hamstrings are the single most pervasive muscle imbalance across the planet. Weak hammies will hinder you in the deadlift, squat, sprinting, and a myriad of other athletic performance activities. If you don’t have access to a glute ham machine, there a variety of different techniques to perform them, or you can substitute in Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts, hamstring curls and boxsquats. If this list was a top 15, all of these would be on there.
- Farmer Carries – These are a must and one of my favorite exercises. They make a great training finisher and will work wonders for your upper back, grip strength, forearms, and mental toughness.
- Squats – Kinda goes hand in hand with #1. If you don’t want to look like a lightbulb, you gotta squat. Squat often, squat for a lot of reps, and squat heavy. As I mentioned with pull-ups, work in some of the squat variations like front squats, box squats, and single-leg squats. All of these will help improve your flexibility, technique, and strength.
- Hang Cleans – Performing these will do wonders for building mass on your entire upper body and for developing your explosiveness. Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research. They are also fairly easy to learn, making them a great addition to the classics like bench, squats, overhead pressing, and deadlifting.
- Kettlebell Swings – These are the easiest of the kettlebell lifts to learn and one of the most effective. Benefits for your legs, shoulders, hips, mobility, explosiveness and power make this fat burning lift a must for your strength training routine.
- Hill Sprints – Get outside and run some hills for fat loss. I always feel sorry for the suckers I see on the stair stepper or treadmill for hours on end when they could be outside doing 20 minutes of hill sprints and get a far better training effect. Hill sprints are the single most efficient way to burn fat. No more elliptical, I’m begging you.
- Hanging Leg Raises – In my opinion, these are one of the best core exercises you could do. Not only do they strengthen your ab muscles, but they target your hip flexors as well. They offer a great range of motion and help improve your mobility.
Grip strength is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, yet it can be one of your most important assets in your quest to get stronger.
The stronger your grip, the better you will perform at all of the big lifts like the bench press and deadlift.
This all stems from something called “radiant tension”. For every lift, you should be gripping the sh*t out of the bar. When you do this, the tension will travel from your hands, into your forearms, through your upper arms and into your shoulders and so on. This is radiant tension. Any experienced lifter knows that to get stronger and press more weight, you have to be able to create not only radiant tension, but also total body tension. Grip strength is your starting point.
If you want to test this concept, do a light set of bench presses with a slack or just loose grip. You will notice that your control over the bar isn’t that great and you aren’t recruiting a ton of muscle to do the lift. Then do a set with as much radiant tension as you can muster by really death clutching the bar, and I guarantee you will be able to feel a difference in your muscle recruitment, efficiency, and force production.
So, what if your grip sucks? How the hell do you fix it? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are 7 ways to develop crushing grip strength:
#1: Death Grip the Bar
I already mentioned this is the key to creating radiant tension. You should be doing this on every single rep of every single set. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice. Frequently grabbing the bar as hard as possible will improve your grip strength over time.
#2: Use a Thicker Bar
Thick bar training is not only what I attribute my grip strength to, but also my forearm development. In fact, I haven’t used a standard size barbell in years. Using a thick bar will challenge your grip and force you to get stronger.
If you don’t have thick bars at your gym, pony up $40 and invest in a pair of Fat Gripz. This is what I use and they are ALWAYS in my gym bag. You can purchase them on the right hand side of this page.
#3: Do Not Lift With a Bar At All
If you missed my post on imperfection training, check it out here.
Training with odd objects can be one of the best things you can do to help develop your grip strength. Why? Because odd-objects typically have no grip!
Sandbags and stones for example have nowhere for you to naturally put your hand around. You simply have to grip it wherever you can get your hands placed in order to move the weight, and your hand position will rarely be in the same place twice. This is a sure-fire way to force your body to use radiant tension, whether or not you even realize it.
This will also take your fingers out of some of the lifts, forcing you to be more proficient with your entire hands and upper body muscles to help maintain a hold on whatever you are lifting. This brings me to the next technique for maximizing your gripping power…
#4: Use False Grip
A false grip is simply switching up how you grip things, taking the emphasis off of your fingers, and gripping anything you might be holding deeper into your hands.
For those of you trying to learn muscle ups, using a false grip is crucial. But this also applies to your various strength training exercises as well. Using this kind of grip gives you more surface area on the things you are gripping, naturally giving you more power and ability to sustain gripping power.
Watch this video. Travis Bagent gives a great breakdown on the false grip and how that has helped him in his arm wrestling career.[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9235-tIBkA[/tube]
#5: Ditch the Straps
For the longest time I didn’t use straps. I viewed them as cheating. However, my outlook on that has since changed and I think there is a time and place for them.
If you want to emphasize a muscle group, but don’t want your reps to suffer and fail prematurely because of your grip, it makes sense to use straps. But they are a slippery slope. I started using them too frequently during a training cycle, and then when I started training without them again, I immediately noticed my grip had weakened.
Use them strategically but not too frequently.
If you are picking up heavy weight off the floor repeatedly, you will develop serious gripping power. Deadlifting is awesome for this because you inherently squeeze the hell out of the bar anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone deadlift with a slack grip.
So, not only will you be moving serious weight with a strong grip, you will be utilizing radiant tension that will carry over into your other lifts.
#7: Farmers Carries
Anybody that knows me knows that I have a special place in my heart for farmers carries. In fact, I think they are one of the top 5 exercises of all time.
Picking up heavy sh*t and walking is the ultimate grip test. You can also carry light to moderate weight over longer distances to develop your “grip endurance” that will help you maintain a strong grip over the course of long training sessions.
So get a grip Primal Nation. Without it, I can promise you that your performance is suffering.
Imperfection training is a big part of what Primal Strength Camp is all about.
I first read about the idea of this type of training in the book “Supertraining” by Yuri Verkhoshansky. If you’ve never heard of this book and are serious about strength training and muscle building, you need to invest in it.
Consider this statement:
All-round sports training must include the capability of coping with unexpected and sub-optimal conditions. In certain sports where accidents or unexpected situations often occur, such as the martial arts, parachuting and motor racing, participants are taught how to cope with events that can have serious consequences. This type of preparation needs to be adopted far more extensively in all sports so that the athlete is able to anticipate threatening situations, react much more rapidly to unexpected circumstances, take action to avoid or minimise injury, and cope with sub-optimal conditions by practising with imperfectly executed movements.
When I first started training outside with odd-objects for fun as a way to break up the monotony of the gym, I immediately noticed that my gym strength didn’t translate to the real world.
The real world IS a “sub-optimal condition”. Nothing is ever perfect. But our bodies get so damn accustomed to moving so rigidly in the gym (almost always in a linear fashion) that we are ill-equipped to handle unexpected movements and uneven loads. This is why I had trouble lifting kegs and sandbags when I first started. I was already using imperfection training without even realizing it.
One thing I think we can all relate to is helping somebody move furniture. You can bench 300 pounds and squat twice your bodyweight, but if you ever try to move some weird shaped couch or get a dresser up some stairs, I bet it kicks your ass.
Anyhow, if you are interested in possessing “real-world strength”, the concept of imperfection training and working it into your routines is a no-brainer. This especially goes for athletes because nothing you ever do in a game situation is perfect. Rarely are you moving in a linear fashion like most of your exercises in a gym (they may be dynamic like Olympic lifts or jumps, but are still not chaotic).
“Creating chaos” in an exercise form is not totally accomplishable. There is only so much you can do and you will never be able to mimic the things you will encounter in real-life situations, but there are things you can do to help bridge the gap.
#1: Lifting Odd-Objects
Kegs, stones, slosh pipes, and sandbags are all good tools to use here. Cleans, clean and presses, overhead presses, and sandbag shouldering are all examples of movements to perform. None of these tools have evenly distributed weight, especially in the case of kegs (only partially filled) and sandbags. The water and sand will continually shift making each and every rep of the movement different.
#2: Uneven Carries
Farmers carries are an awesome exercise, but rarely do you see variations in style. Uneven carries require different sized loads to be carried in each arm. For example, two different sized kettlebells.
At Primal, we like to take things a step further and carry two entirely different objects altogether. In one hand we may have a 50 pound kettlebell, but we will have a 100 pound sandbag in a shouldered position in the other arm. Or carrying the same sized object in two different carry positions; one at your side and one in a cleaned position is a good example.
Ever used a slosh pipe? This is an uneven carry extreme and a Primal favorite. A 10 foot pipe filled only partially with water, the water is constantly changing positions side to side, creating full body tension in an effort to keep the pipe upright and stabilized.[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c93mGtzBhJs[/tube]
#3: Outside Sled Work
Most of the time you see sled work, trainers have their people pulling/pushing the sled on turf. That’s good and all, but it certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier.
We train with our sleds outside in parks, often times in tall, dry grass or patchy fields at best. It may go from fairly easy to impossible in a split second if you snag it on a dirt pile or high-patch of grass. Doing it this way, you have to be very focused on keeping your legs churning and burning, similar to how you would see a running back trying to push the pile in a short yardage situation.
#4: Dynamic Throws
Heavy throws are a great way to build strength and total body power and explosiveness. Aside from normal medicine ball work, kegs and sandbags and even stones are a great tool to use for these.
If you are trying to build some “functionality” behind all of that gym muscle, imperfection training is something you need to consider for your training arsenal. Use some of these ideas and run with them. The beauty of this style is it allows you to be creative. When you get so bogged down in traditional training, throwing a little chaos into your world can be a really rewarding and refreshing thing to do. Training this way once or twice a week in addition to your normal routine should reap you some benefits.
Just do it responsibly and with some thought behind it, because just like sports, some of these movements can lead to injury. You should be concentrating and focusing on moving efficiently during this training just like any other gym session.
Here is a list of the top 5 exercises everyone should be doing to get stronger and build muscle mass. If you aren’t doing them, you better start! These are not an option, no excuses. Get it done.
Nothing makes you feel manlier than stepping over a huge amount of weight and muscling it up off the floor.
In the earlier stages of my training, I made the rookie mistake of ignoring this. Don’t be like me.
Deadlifting is the best total body exercise you can do. Most new lifters are weak in the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, back), so immediately putting this into your routine will help bring up your weaknesses.
If you look at some of the strongest and most impressive physiques around, you will notice the size of their upper back. Deadlifting will build mass on your traps unlike anything else, and having strong glutes and hamstrings will improve your ability in a lot of other areas; jumping, sprinting, squatting, etc.
Another often overlooked benefit of deadlifting is the improvement it will have on your grip strength. Getting over the bar and picking up heavy sh*t will improve your grip strength exponentially.
You know how I tell the difference between serious lifters and “pretenders” at the gym? The size
of their legs and whether or not I ever see them squat.
You want to be strong, you gotta squat. Quads, abs, glutes, hamstrings, I can’t think of a better lower body exercise to do.
Squatting is an essential part of your routine. The beauty of squats is the versatility of the exercise. Bodyweight squats, front squats, back squats, zercher squats, jump squats, the list goes on and on.
But we train for strength here, so start with back squats. Using a box is a good way to get your form down correctly before you progress to free form squatting.
#3: Bench Press
Want to build a big chest? Get off the pec dec machine, put down the dumbbells and step away from doing flys.
Get under the bar and move some heavy weight. Bench pressing is king. And lets face it. If you are trying to be an alpha male and impress some people, what’s the first thing most people will ask?
If you have a choice, set the bench to an incline of about 30 degrees. It’s a bit easier on the shoulders, and helps incorporate more upper chest into the exercise. A big upper chest is what most people look for in their physique.
Bench pressing is a great upper body exercise, not only because it builds your chest, but also your triceps, shoulders, and forearms. I never do direct forearm work and I attribute my growth there to doing rep after rep of heavy bench.
Keep adding weight to the bar and improving this lift. Aim to bench press 1.5x your bodyweight; that’s an honorable accomplishment.
#4: Overhead Press
Picking up heavy weight and pressing it over your head doesn’t get any more Primal than that.
Shoulders, upper back, triceps, and core strength are just a few of the areas worked by this classic exercise. If you perform these standing (which you should be), or progress to a full clean and press, you are talking about an awesome total body exercise.
This press is a great example of an exercise you can do with anything, anywhere. You name it, you can press it. Odd objects like kegs, sandbags, stones are awesome tools,
or just your standard barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells.
Regardless of how you are performing the exercise, incorporating heavy military presses in your routine will build some serious upper body strength.
**Note** NEVER perform these presses behind your head. I know you’ve seen people do it, doesn’t mean you should. It’s just an injury waiting to happen, unless you are rigidly strict with your form.
#5 Farmers Carry
Farmer carries will crush you. If you want to build some serious mental toughness, start performing these.
The beauty of farmer carries is, like the military press, you can do them anywhere, with anything. Sandbags, jerry cans, kettlebells, dumbells, stones; just pick up something heavy and walk around with it.
Grip strength, your entire back, forearms; they all get worked over doing this exercise. If you perform these while only carrying an object in one hand, you will work your obliques and core.
At Primal Strength Camp, we try to emphasize this lift because it’s simplicity and versatility yield great benefits for any kind of lifter.
“Only 5 exercises? These possibly can’t be all you need to do!”
Yep, you are right. There are a number of exercises you should be doing that aren’t on here. Maybe one day I’ll expand this to a top 10.
So what didn’t make the cut?
- Pull-ups — You can argue for these over military press. Either way, you need to be doing these.
- Pushups — An oldie but a goodie.
- Snatches — A great power exercise and overall strength builder.
- High-Pulls — I’m big on building an impressive back. These will add meat on your traps.
- Power cleans — Awesome exercise leading up to incorporating the full clean and press into your routine.
Start doing these NOW! If you want to get bigger and stronger, you have to do these on a regular basis. If you don’t, you will be missing out on some serious gains and you won’t be meeting your potential in the gym. There is a reason these have been around forever; it’s because they work!