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Primal Fitness & the 7 Basic Movements

Primal Fitness & the 7 Basic Movements

| On 23, Jan 2014


In a previous article, I’ve promised you we’ll talk about Primal Fitness and the 7 basic movements, so today we’ll take a closer look at how our ancestors used to train. Why should we care about this? Because the 7 basic exercises promoted by this fitness trend mimic the movements we do on a daily basis, in all our activities.

Although gym workouts are excellent for strengthening muscles, improving posture and enhancing stamina, one doesn’t have to hit the gym daily in order to build a strong, toned and well proportioned body.

In fact, home and outdoor workouts can be just as effective in sculpting a lean physique, and this is what Primal Fitness aims to do: help one put on lean muscles, strengthen their body and get rid of fat through fun, entertaining and tough outdoor workouts.

primal movements


What makes Primal Fitness different from classical strength workouts?

Primal Fitness emphasizes the importance of functional training, as opposed to isolation exercises.

Functional training defines those exercises that mimic movements we perform in our daily lives, and work more than two muscle groups at once. These exercises are more efficient in strengthening the body and burning calories, as they require better coordination, form and focus, and work more body areas at the same time.

The principle behind Primal Fitness says that in our daily activities, we use more complex movements than those performed at the gym, when exercising on machines. Daily tasks require:

  • strength,
  • coordination,
  • balance,
  • speed of reaction
  • flexibility, and involve not only the quads or biceps, but all the muscles in legs, back, abs and arms.

Now, I’ve said that this form of training is based on 7 basic movements. Each of these movements focuses on a major group of muscles, while targeting the other body areas as well. Exercises can be performed with weights, for a tougher training session, or using your body weight only, as this is usually enough for people who just want to get in shape but without bulking up.

However, note that the idea promoted by Primal Fitness’ initiators is to train outdoor, replacing the classical gym exercises with movements like lifting logs or stones, climbing trees, running in the park, moving heavy objects from one place to another, trail sprinting and so on.

primal fitness


We can therefore talk about two different approaches to Primal Fitness:

  • On the one hand, you can do gym exercises based on the 7 basic movements. For this, you can either use cable machines to work more muscle groups at once, or use free weights or your body weight, while performing compound exercises.
  • On the other hand, you can do your functional training session outdoor, lifting, pushing, pulling and throwing objects found naturally around you.

First option sounds a bit more civilized and organized, right? However, there are lots of Paleo enthusiasts who prefer to Grok around, so if you’re among them, you can always find fun workout ideas on Mark Sisson’s blog; Mark is one of the most renowned promoters of the Primal movement, author of “Primal Blueprint Fitness” and adept of the Paleo lifestyle.

primal fitness mark sisson

Still, if you’re new to Primal Fitness and want to start with easier exercises, I advise you to try the 7 basic movements at home or at the gym, until you learn how to do them correctly and how to maintain the proper form throughout the entire training session.

The 7 basic movements

1. Squats

2. Lunges

3. Push

4. Pull

5. Bend

6. Twist

7. Gait

These are incorporated in exercises that replicate the moving patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, such as walking lunges, weighted squats, push-up burpees and so on. But are these really more efficient than machine workouts or free weights exercises performed at the gym?

primal fitness

Pros and cons of Primal Fitness

This fitness trend promotes some healthy ideas, such as training outdoor, doing functional workouts and using your body weight for performing compound exercises. All these are excellent for building a strong, lean and healthy body, but there are some problems with genuine Primal training patterns:

  • Risk of poor form, especially in beginners. It’s a lot harder to maintain the proper form and use the right technique when lifting a log, and easier when doing the exact same movement with a barbell, at the gym.
  • Increased risk of injury. Although Primal Fitness claims to build stronger bodies, and to reduce the risk of injury by strengthening the muscles and improving balance, coordination, flexibility and agility, the workouts are actually quite dangerous. It’s a lot more likely to get injured when climbing a tree than when doing a classical mountain climber exercise at the gym, whether it’s standing or on the ground.
  • Not suitable for easily bored individuals. Although its creators claim the opposite, let’s be honest: who wants to lift logs and fool around moving stones from one place to another, just to mimic the Primal man? Unless you mix these with mountain climbing, swimming, forest running and so on, it gets terribly boring after a while.
  • Primal Fitness isn’t the best choice as a long-term weight loss or body building strategy, as without a trainer and a fix workout program, it’s a lot harder to get motivated and stick with these exercises in the long run.

Although the basic movements are effective and should be part of any workout, it’s not necessary for one to switch from dumbbells to stones, as muscles can’t tell the difference between these.

primal fitness

As long as you lift weights, it makes no difference whether they’re all natural or not, so you don’t have to replace barbell squats with log squats, or to switch from kettlebell lunges to stone lunges. Remember that a fitness session is supposed to condition your body, and Primal workouts aren’t necessary the best for this, due to the poor form and technique.

Thus, unless your goal is to outclimb monkeys and outswim dolphins, I encourage you to stick with your non-Primal yet functional gym or home workouts, and incorporate the 7 basic movements into your daily training sessions. These are just as effective as Grok-type workouts in terms of balance, coordination, endurance, muscle strength, flexibility, speed and agility.

mark sisson primal fitness

*Note: Mark’s an excellent fitness professional, promoting healthy diet and lifestyle principles, and his articles are worth reading. But all this Grok thing is a bit too … Primal for my taste.