Primal Blueprint Fitness Review

Primal blueprint fitness

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.

11 thoughts on “Primal Blueprint Fitness Review

  1. To be honest, I have not read the free pdf because it required an email to download it and I would rather not be spammed about his philosophy which seems to be more scientific theory instead of scientific fact. I do however think that for me to evolve my physic I should incorporate a natural movement routine. One that interests me is MovNat. Based on Georges Herbert’s Methode Naturelle, MovNat “rehabilitates” an athlete to rediscover the movements that made the human race so adaptable. It involves walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending; which usually occurs in an unplanned scenario. You lift and throw rocks and logs instead of weights and medicine balls, you jump on and off boulders instead of boxes, you climb trees instead of ropes. I know what Jeff and David are thinking, how do you keep record of your performance? How can you calculate the weight of the rock? You can’t, but when in a life and death situation or a heroic action are you going to be worried about how fast your time was or how heavy was the rubble you threw? Also, just like our ancestors these kinds of routines are probably all day events.

    I come to the conclusion that for the working man a weekday schedule of CrossFit is perfect because in twenty to forty minutes I can kick my ass more than any 2 hour globo-member. But a week of CrossFit and a weekend of MovNat in the woods might be perfect for the mind and body and its this kind of experimentation that might help evolve CrossFit to be an even better Regiment.

    1. A guy at work said I should go out to Alaska punch a bear in the face and then the workout is me running like hell to live. Talk about the largest adrenaline rush/bowel eradication. LOL

    2. I have read the primal blueprint, downloaded the PBF, done some CrossFit and attended a MovNat seminar in Mexico with Erwan and I think a blended approach of the best of all is an outstanding path. The Primal Blueprint I think has a lot more merit than the condensed version presented in Mark’s small download. I really like getting outdoors, up on the mountain or down to the lake far more than being indoors, though this heat is taxing. Erwan’s MovNat seminars and path is a far cry from the PBF and definately drives intensity more like CrossFit just using the good old outdoors to kick your ass. Take the best of it all and put it to use. I just watched the video from Wall Street Journal and New York post on the barefoot/ minimal run in NYC and wonder how many folks from down here would participate if there were similiar organized outside events? Interestingly I see mark’s Daily Apple tribal/ group symbolism in almost every workout group, everyone builds their own group, network, friends or tribe- it’s just all different terminology

      enjoy the workout

  2. This article sparked a variety of repsonses in me. Mainly because of the history of my struggle from obesity to my present fitness level and the fact that making things easier really doesn’t help, you either want it or you don’t.

    I chose Crossfit because I had become stagnant in mainstream fitness style workouts and the fact that I had stopped seeing regular progress in my body composition. I want the mental and physical challenges that CF brings. I want to raise my personal bar.

    In my humble opinion making things easier so that more people are willing to slowly creep out of their comfort zones to do it isn’t any different than creating a program where you count points or do pyramiding weight routines. And I mean no disrespect as I have done both of those things in the past.

    In the primal days those same people would have been eaten alive by the first carnivore they ran across or they’d be standing at the cave door starving too scared to hunt and gather.

    In order to make a lasting lifestyle change you must commit to yourself that you will follow through no matter how difficult the changes may be or no matter how hard it is to achieve that next level.

  3. Michelle, you’ve 100% got it nailed–better than I could have nailed it. However, to play devil’s advocate, I’d point out that many people take vastly different paths to fitness. I am an all or nothing guy, so your logic appeals to me. In everything I do I am either 100% focused or 100% relaxed. It’s probably my biggest asset and also my biggest curse. Anyway, that part of me makes me appreciate your approach, implement your approach, and think that others should do the same.

    However, one thing I have found as a trainer is that different people are receptive to different methods, and the method really doesn’t matter if the end result is the same. All that babble is to say that if Mark Sisson gets someone out of obesity by tricking them into walking a little each day and lifting a phone book and little by little that turns into a sub 20 minute 5k and a 2.5x bodyweight deadlift, then I’m glad he “tricked” them.

    I’m with you. Either commit or don’t. But I think there is something to be said for accessibility. But if I had to choose one, I’d take commitment any day.

    Thanks for the comment. Very enlightening and thought provoking.

  4. Funny thing Jeff, I thought more and more about this last night oddly enough and I would have to say that what he’s doing is not a bad thing in theory. Anything that gets an overweight person moving is better than nothing. Having been at that very same level of obesity myself, I really do appreciate what he is doing.

    It’s been my experience however that some good old fashioned kicks in the pants or should I say kicks in the ego through failure that I have gotten the most benefit. It’s when you are at the very lowest level you realize that if you want to get better, you have to be willing to make changes, dramatic disciplined changes.

    Being fit isn’t easy in itself but being CrossFit is a completely different animial all together.

  5. I really find it encouraging that the minimalist attitude seems to be making a comeback. I’ve long been an advocate of taking a more primitive approach to things like spirituality, but only recently have I used that same mentality when it comes to fitness. It’s interesting to me how things have come nearly full circle. The modernization and advancement of technology resulted in fitness taking a more modern, watered-down version of itself. Instead of the compound and basic motions like dead lifts and pull ups, we started doing bicep curls and leg extensions. We tried to take the inherent discomforts away from training, but what we really did was dilute the entire process, and in so doing, we crippled our results. Now there’s somewhat of a fitness revolution in progress. I suppose the only thing that should be really surprising is, why the hell did it take us THIS long to realize it, and correct it? The globo-gym methodology is so skewed and yet still so prevalent. I was a slave to it not that long ago. In some ways, I still am. I continue to encounter situations where I have to yank myself up by the nap of my neck, so to speak, when I find myself slipping back into one of the many bad habits I’ve developed over years of misguided training. Sometimes, I just need a good dose of self-discipline to shake myself out of a rut. I am glad that I found a community of like-minded people that, when I can’t self-medicate, are willing to give me encouragement and guidance to keep me honest!

    So, all that is to say that, for some, the PBF approach would be beneficial. I think today’s American culture is obsessed with fads and quick fixes. We want to do and eat whatever we want, and we want someone else to fix us when our bad habits inevitably lead to health hazards. We need to realize that there are no quick fixes, miracle diets, or 90-day fitness plans that will “fix” us. We can only heal ourselves by making permanent changes to our exercise and diet routines. There is no substitute for hard work. But, like all things in life, the payoff is worth it. So, if this type of fitness plan is more appealing to some people than Crossfit is, then I am all for it. Whatever can be a catalyst for permanent and positive change is a win in my book.

  6. I didn’t read the whole article, but from what I did read I think PBF has some very sound principles. I certainly agree more with what Mark Sisson has to say regarding fitness than the local “fitness” club instructor. I also like reading what people have to say on a subject after living through it. The best advice comes from the person who has experienced the event of discussion. This guy went through the intense training required of a world class marathon/triathlon competitor, which some percieve as the fittest humans on the planet. And after all that he decided to do a balance of sprinting, body weight training, sports, cardio, and healthy eating” then realized he felt more fit and apparently looked better than he ever had in his life. Who would have imagined?…I’m sure he wouldn’t have at some point early in his weight training and conditioning career.

    On a slightly different note, I’ve found that it’s difficult to talk to people about fitness. Especially those that aren’t pursuing it in any fashion. But, even those that are practicing some type of physical training routine seem wary to discuss fitness and what it means to be “fit”. I guess I can relate though. I think it’s similar to the matrix. You either have this yearning or feeling that something isn’t “right” and that you’re living a lie, or someone has to break the “good news” to you. Either way, it can be a difficult and harsh reality to accept, especially after so many hours were spent in a globo gym and so much sweat poured out. The problem I think many people have is their notion of fitness and what that looks like. If you place an accomplished CrossFit athelete next to your avid globo-gym attendee, then they will look, smell, and seem very similar. However, if you pit the two against one another in various exercises from the “popper” and you’ll find out the major differences between the two. Many people just want the look. And while that doesn’t sit right with me because they advertise themselves as being fit, strong, and capable, it is every person’s right to pursue the level of fitness they percieve to be real. Some people don’t want to be unplugged. That’s okay with me. It just means there’s more weight for me to train with at CFI!

    So, I agree with you Jeff. As long as the end result is the same, or close to it, then I think the means may simply be a matter of preference or responsiveness. Some people don’t want to go to a box with a bunch of people and throw weights around in, what looks like, strange movements (although they are perfectly natural and functional, many gym members won’t think so-just ask the old ladies watching me and Josh do power cleans at the Wellness Center on Bailey Cove). They don’t want to walk around with bloddy palms or barely walk around at all because of shredded muscles from the previous days’ WOD. I don’t believe there are shortcuts, but I certainly believe there may be other methods to attaining a similar level of fitness achieved through CrossFit. CrossFit is my choice. For some reason, I enjoy abusing my body for the greater good. I enjoy the comraderie that comes with attending a box. I enjoy the unique competitiveness found in CrossFit by not only competing with friends at the box you attend, but comparing times/weights with people all across the world. I enjoy the improvements in my abilities playing sports. It’s a fitness program that fits me. But, I understand that it’s not necessarily going to be the same for everyone. Although, I believe if you can get a person through the door of a CrossFit box they won’t want to leave. Some people may lack the means to do even that, so maybe PBF will give some of those people an alternative. (I certainly don’t see it as a substitute for CrossFit, however it seems to be productive and beneficial. Certainly more so than the typical globo-gym routine!)

  7. Remember PBF cannot be taken by itself. People that are going to do it will have already committed to the Primal Blueprint lifestyle and are eating extremely healthy.

    I think it’s a good program for someone wanting to have a decent amount of fitness but doesn’t need to be a fire-breather. They’re not going to be able to do a 2x-bodyweight deadlift or a sub 4 minute Fran but they will be able to keep up with their kids and walk from their car to their office without running out of breath.

  8. Our feet are continuously working to maintain us balanced and stable, even on the roughest terrain. Nevertheless, we now have restricted our feet by putting them into trainers and footwear that provide support and correction in the best way we transfer our ft, making us use them in an unnatural way.

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