Basic Primal Movements: What are they and why are they important (Part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we explained what primal movements are and why they are important to incorporate in our training. This second part will look at what movements to select and what a primal-based workout would look like.

Ok, so with any program design, the first thing to do is select the exercises/movements that will be part of the program/protocol. 

The initial consultation will revolve around becoming familiar with a person's injury/health issues and personal goals (which will most likely be tied to increased quality of movement) and selecting a movement list. 

The following example will be for a relatively healthy/injury free individual that wants to look and move better. 

Here is the primal exercise list:

1. Air Squats: Whole books have been written about how to squat, variations of the squat, why to squat, etc.

Know this, getting good at squatting has a tremendous ripple effect on both functionality and aesthetics. We'll be doing the old school air squat, where we work on getting our buttocks to our heels. 

That is where we will start.

2. Pushups: Pushups done right. 

Contrary to popular belief, pushups are not just a chest exercise. It is a total body exercise.

Now I know some of you are saying, "I can't do a pushup!" 

Good. No bad technique to correct. 

If you can't do pushups, we would start with a static push up plank. 

Static pushup plank is a great exercise. Usually, when a person can hold a 60sec pushup plank, they will be able to do 1 pushup!

In the meantime, those planks are doing wonders for the whole body, abdominals included. Once we can do 1 pushup, we would add something called an "eccentric" pushup to add volume to the workout. Here's a good example of an eccentric pushup!

3. Pullups: Pull-ups are a big deal. Probably what makes the biggest difference for the upper body. 

The pull-up is a great indicator of relative strength (strength relative to body weight). If a person is carrying around a lot of non-contractional tissue (body fat), pull-ups become that much harder. 

So sound eating habits will help with all of the primal movements, with pull-ups at the top of the list. Most people starting out can't do a pull-up, so they will use a horizontal pull-up variation, as seen here. 

Once a person gets strong in the horizontal pull-up, they will move on to the traditional vertical pull-up.

Even one pull-up is fine. To add volume, you would simply take long rest periods between reps. For example, do one pull-up, wait 3-5 minutes and do another and quit when you can no longer do a pull-up with clean technique.

4. Hinge: In the gym, these are called "Deadlifts". This is the ability to pick something up off the ground correctly. This is the most "technical" of the primal movements and the one we will rely most on our demo video (linked below).

Great movement for the whole posterior chain, which frequently contains many of our weakest points. You can see an example here.

5. Sprints: If I could do just 1 exercise, it would be sprints (starting on the ground in prone position). You can't get more primal than sprints. 

Since the beginning of time, if humans wanted to eat or avoid getting eaten, sprinting was involved. 

When I say "sprint," many believe you have to be fast or be a sprinter to perform sprints. 

Absolutely not! 

My sprints will be different from yours, and ours will be different from Usain Bolt's. 

The important thing is to sprint as fast and as far as you can using sound running posture. I may finish after 60 yards and you after 100 yards. The crucial thing is to push your limit and get the tremendous hormonal response this exercise offers.

Finally, let's look at how a primal based workout would look from a set/rep perspective.
After a 5 min warm-up ( jog, jumping jacks, etc.)

  1. Air Squats: as many correct air squats as you can perform in 60 sec. Rest when needed
  2. Pushups: as many proper pushups you can perform in 60 sec. Rest when needed.
  3. Pull-ups ( vertical or horizontal): as many correct Pull-ups you can perform in 60 sec. Rest when needed.
  4. Hinge: find an object roughly 25% of your bodyweight and correctly lift it from the ground 3 times.
  5. Sprint: begin in the prone position on the ground, push yourself up off the ground, and work up to an all-out sprint as fast and as long as you can.


  • You should do this circuit 1-2 times max.
  • The rest periods are taken during the 60 sec. when technique deteriorates.
  • Rest periods in between movements should be near complete.
  • You should do every single set of exercises to your technical limit. This requires you to focus on what is being done and listening to your body.
  • This workout should be performed 2-3 times x week, depending on recovery.


Thanks for reading! 
Dominick Harwood BSE CSCS

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