A few years ago I realized something was terribly wrong with the way I was approaching fitness.
Boredom was setting in and I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to go to the gym. To make matters worse, I was getting stiffer and waking up with more joint pain than ever.
I began to wonder why I trained all the time, but I never really got to do what I was training for. I didn’t even know what that was, to be honest with you. But I did know that I wanted more play, purpose and freedom in my movement.
Somewhere along the way I realized how far we’ve gotten off track as a species. We’ve successfully engineered the need to move out of our lives (hooray! … kind of), but it has come with a cost:
- Loss of mobility
- Decrease in strength
- Lack of confidence in our bodies
Because we no longer need to move to live, we’ve compartmentalized fitness into a box. And that’s why traditional gym-style workouts fail. Not only do they become boring incredibly quickly (evolution has wired us for novelty as humans, not treadmill running), but they don’t prepare you for real life situations, like squatting on the ground to play with your kids, or jumping over a log blocking the trail.
These days I rarely pick up weights and I can’t remember the last time I was on a treadmill. I’ve changed my training to be focused on movements and exercises that resemble what I’d be doing as a hunter-gatherer getting food in the wild, in essence, what I evolved to do before you could order groceries from your phone.
As a teacher that helps people reclaim their primal movement potential, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the core movements every human should master.
These movements might seem incredibly simplistic and rudimentary, but you’ll be surprised at how challenging some of them are.
Let’s start with a simple movement you’re probably familiar with.
1. Master the Deep, Flat-Footed Squat for Unbreakable Hips
Before we invented chairs, the squat was the natural human resting position.
Yes, the squat can actually feel like rest (even though it might not feel that way now!). It can take a few months of practice, but you’ll get there if you remain diligent.
Having a solid flat-footed squat is a baseline movement I work on with every single one of my clients. Why? It’s an incredibly functional movement that allows you to more easily get up and down from the floor, it helps relieve back pain, it builds healthy hips and knees, and it can even strengthen your immune system. There’s a reason why the lymph nodes are found to your largest muscle groups like the shoulders and hips, regularly compression of these joints help keep the lymphatic fluid moving, and keeps your immune system healthy.
Squatting should be practiced frequently, in small doses throughout the day. In the beginning aim for accumulating about 10 minutes of time squatting a day, in 15-30 seconds sets in the beginning.
If you can’t yet get into the squat, watch this video.
2. Learn to Fall Without Fear, So You Can Always Get Back Up
Because we live in a culture that wants to be completely safe, many of us never learn how to fall safely or absorb impact from the ground.
This is a shame, because not knowing how to fall properly creates an overcompensation of guarding in the nervous system. You end up overestimating the risk of a jump, leap, or sometimes, even a small step.
A lot of us became afraid of falling because our parents overreacted any time we took a spill. But for most of us, we just never actually learned how to fall properly.
When you do learn how to fall with skill and control, you’ll no longer be afraid to try to climb a tree or jump over an obstacle. You’ll also be able to more accurately assess risk, knowing when there is a true danger, and when your mind is just playing tricks on you.
Knowing how to take a fall (literally and figuratively), makes you a more confident, resilient human.
But to start off, we need to inoculate our fear by making the fall very safe.
A great way to do this is with a warm up to your training sessions. Just practice falling a few time from a squat or seating position. A park with lots of grass or a squishy mat can help pad your fall in the beginning, and help you overcome the fear. Gradually, you’ll want to build up to harder surfaces, and falling from standing or even elevated on an object.
If you want to take your training further you can practice dive rolling and even consciously fall while you’re doing different movements to gain mastery in falling from any situation. Any martial art that involves a lot of throws can be good to study to learn how to fall safely.
3. Conquer Any Obstacle in Your Path
A fence in your way, a log in your path, a boulder you must climb over. Whatever it is, you want to be prepared for it.
You can always look for a way around it, but what if you don’t have that luxury? In the event of a chase, or needing to assist someone in danger, the most direct path will always be the fastest. Your skill in overcoming that obstacle quickly and efficiently could make all the difference.
The simplest and fastest technique to learn as a beginner is the safety vault. It will allow you to make easy work of a bench, gate, log or any other mid-sized obstacle.
4. Be Prepared to Defend Yourself When You Must
The jab is the most basic punch, and it’s where I believe everyone should start with primal combatives.
Because it’s the longest range weapon in the upper body, it’s an essential attack that allows your to strike while maintaining a safe distance (getting into close combat range is always a last resort in a self-defense situation). In a seriously dangerous situation, it can be modified into an eye jab to completely disarm an attacker.
Being the most simple strike, it should be first everyone learns. When you master this punch, you can then move on to the rear cross, hooks, kicks and other weapons.
5. Build a Strong Grip for Climbing and Lifting Confidence
A strong grip unlocks a lot of doors with lifting, carrying, climbing, and even grappling. Unfortunately, it’s something few people ever train.
We’ve all heard the saying “get a grip” before, but a day might come where you really do need to get a grip Hanging from a cliff anyone? Okay, maybe you won’t ever be in a movie-style cliffhanger situation. How about pulling your body over a wall while being chased by zombies? It could happen!
The point is when the time comes, you want your grip to be strong.
The best way to build healthy, strong hands is to make hanging a regular practice. I like having a pull-up bar in my doorway so I’m reminded to hang for a few seconds every time I pass through.
Aim for accumulating (not all at once!) about 5-10 minutes of hanging every day. 20 or 30 seconds here or there adds up quickly. Before you know it you’ll be crushing bones with your iron grip.
6. Breathe Deep For Calm and Focus Wherever You Are
If few people actively train their grip, even fewer deliberately work on training their breathing.
Simply breathing deeper and more consciously can give you a sense of calm and relaxation. It sends a signal to our nervous system that we’re conscious, in control and can even open new ranges of motion.
I saved the breath for last because it’s so important to be breathing consciously while we’re practicing movement. The deeper we breathe, the more we tell our body “I’ve got this.”
Breath can be a practice in and of itself. I like to embed breath practice into my rest periods, and I have all my clients do the same. It will not only make you feel more calm and confident, but also speeds up recovery. Deep, belly breathing fully oxygenates the blood, bringing much needed recovery to tired muscles.
If you’re feeling tired and sluggish throughout the day, you might notice you’re not breathing as deeply as you could be. Try some deep belly breaths before you reach for another cup of coffee. 🙂
How Should You Get Started?
One easy way to begin practicing these movements is to create a simple circuit style training workout. Here’s what that might look like:
- Deep Squat – 15-30 seconds
- Step Vault – 10 repetitions each side
- Jab – 15 repetitions each side
- Squat to Fall – 10 repetitions each side
- Hanging – 20-30 seconds
- Horse Stance Meditation – Focus on breath and recovery for 1-2 minutes