Mark Sisson is the creator of Mark’s Daily Apple, a website devoted to teaching people how to “live primally.” He uses evolutionary biology and scientific evidence to formulate a lifestyle that results in optimal health and fitness for the human body. In my humble opinion, Mark’s ideas are pretty sound, especially his dietary advice, which is essentially a version of the Paleo Diet with an emphasis on consuming ample quantities of quality fat. He doesn’t totally buy off on the Zone Diet or CrossFit, but he doesn’t have to agree with me on everything to have some great ideas.
Yesterday Mark published a more lengthy exposition on his three tenets of fitness that he had previously described as “move frequently at a slow pace, lift heavy things, and sprint once in a while.” Mark is making his work, Primal Blueprint Fitness (PBF), available for free. I want to offer my opinion on how it compares to CrossFit and what we CrossFitters can learn from it.
If you skip to page 90 you’ll notice that Mark directly addresses the question, “How Does Primal Blueprint Fitness Compare to CrossFit?” He answers that, “PBF is CrossFit for the rest of us.” Many of PBF’s concepts are familiar to CrossFitters; we just take them a little further than Mr. Sisson. This is a theme throughout the book. In many ways PBF is “CrossFit Lite.” In fact, at least four of PBF’s “five essential movements” (page 32) will look quite familiar to CrossFitters: pushup, pull-up, squat, overhead press, and plank.
One thing PBF does really well is provide progressions for beginners to achieve competency in each of those movements. It also covers some advanced techniques that CrossFit could probably benefit from: uneven towel pull-ups, uneven pushups, and plyometric pushups/pull-ups. PBF also uses Bulgarian squats as a development tool for pistols, which is pretty clever. Another thing Mark gets right is his ethos and philosophy of fitness as a tool for life, sometimes playing like a kid, and the importance of lifelong sustainability.
Where I think PBF gets it wrong is a perceived attempt to keep mainstream appeal by not recommending anything too extreme. PBF’s suggested schedule is very loosely structured by design, which is less structure than most people require to achieve fitness. PBF also shys away from barbell training, saying “Whether you load your musculoskeletal system with heavy weight is up to you.” I thought we were going to be “lifting heavy things?” Apparently heavy things only involves your body weight, sandbags, rocks, and sometimes dumbbells and kettlebells. Mark fully understands the usefulness of barbells–he has said that he performs weight training often– but I think he knows this will turn away many people who are apprehensive about weight training. Score +1 for accessibility to the beginner, but -1 on diluting the facts.
My experience also runs counter to his emphasis on “move frequently at a slow pace.” Perhaps this is because most people I’ve seen implement that idea are definitely lacking the primal diet that Mark recommends. Regardless, I’ve observed countless people in life who take “exercise walks” every day or who read novels on an elliptical at Globo Gyms for extended periods. With few exceptions, I’ve observed them remain unchanged (usually overweight) for multiple years while executing the very prescription of “move frequently at a slow pace.” However, to Mark’s credit, those people are not executing his complete plan, but only a very small part of it. I still just don’t think that moving frequently at a slow pace should be a key part of an exercise plan. Perhaps PBF is really a “life plan” more than an exercise plan.
While PBF isn’t a prescription for becoming a firebreather, it’s definitely a prescription for not being a couch potato. That’s the primary difference between PBF and CrossFit as I see it: intensity. Not necessarily the intensity of each individual workout, but the intensity with which you apply yourself to seeking fitness. I definitely plan to keep CrossFitting rather than adopt PBF, but I think some of Mark’s ideas could benefit our community.
I encourage everyone to seek new and varied sources of information and evaluate them objectively against your current ideas. There is no dogma in CrossFit, only that which produces results. Skim Primal Blueprint Fitnessand let me know what you think.