Get ‘Primal’ With This Intense Lifting Routine That Would Make Our Caveman Ancestors Proud

Muscular man in gym, shaped abdominal. Strong male naked torso abs, working out


It’s time for to take a break from pec decks and seated calf raises and attack our workouts with a mindset similar to our cavemen ancestors.

Now many smarter and larger men than I have lectured on primal movement patterns including Paul Chek and Charles Poliquin. But indulge me this morning as I recover from my New Year’s Eve festivities.

Here are some movements our ancestors performed on a regular basis which are programmed into our tiny brains that helped us to evolve into the knuckle draggers we are today.


Deadlifts are king. Deadlifts or any hip hinging exercise including Romanian deadlifts, and for the challenged, Hex bar deadlifts. In other words – lifting heavy stuff!


This movement involves more quads and upper back than deadlifting.


Whether you do them statically or dynamically as in walking lunges, the lung or split squat position is very functional and helps improve your squats.

Box Step-Ups

Not only is this a basic and primal movement necessary for evading goats, but also an excellent secondary lift to improve your deadlift.

Upper Body Push 

Both vertical as in overhead press as well as horizontal as in pushups.

Upper body pulls or brachiating

Just like our ape ancestors, or my New Jersey cousins, would do. This includes vertical pulls such as chin-ups.

In this sample routine, I am also going to cover bent-over dumbbell rows to simulate horizontal pulls.

These are the basic primitive movement patterns which stimulate our flight or fight response allowing us greater neural drive and increased adrenaline and testosterone levels. Weeeee!!!

A Guide To Primal Training

primal lifting squats


Now let’s take all this primitive bullshit and add some more recent strength and conditioning movements to develop a kickass training program sure to start the new year right.

Day 1: Squats and high box step-ups for lower body. Chin-ups and dumbbell overhead presses for the upper body.

Day 2: Deadlifts and lunges for lower body. Pushups and bent over dumbbell rows for the upper body.

You will do 7 sets of your primary lower body lift (Deadlift and Squats) in a pyramid fashion (8,6,6,6,6,6,8) and three sets of 8 reps for secondary lower body lifts (step ups and Lunges).

For your upper body, you will do 5 sets each of the two upper body exercises (8-12 reps) alternating movements for each set.

For example, set one would be pushups for 12 reps and the second set would be 8 bent over dumbbell rows and so on and so forth. I think it breaks up the monotony and gives your upper body parts more time to recover.

Let me illustrate:

Set 1: Deadlift for 8 reps followed by 12 reps of pushups.
Set 2: Do 6 deadlifts followed by 8 reps of bent over dumbbell rows.
Set 3: The third set would be another 6 reps of the deadlift followed by 12 pushups again.

The rest period should be about 2 minutes between sets, but if you need more take it.

At the end of the day you should do 10 sets of lower body movements and 10 sets of upper body movements. Add some bullshit abs crap in as you see fit and maybe 10 minutes on the bike at a healthy clip and there you have it.

primal workout chin-ups


Here are some additional tips while primal training:

  • I prefer chin-ups over lat pulldowns. If you cannot do any try doing assisted chin-ups with bands.
  • If you can do a few chin-ups, try accumulating chins. Do as many as you possibly can then take a short rest of 10-15 seconds and resume. Continue this process until you hit 8. Now go sit in the corner and feel shame.
  • If you must do lat pulldowns, then do them, but make it your goal to do some chin-ups this year, dork.
  • If you are not comfortable doing deadlifts, use the Hex bar. Its safer and will allow you to load more weight.
  • For squats, I prefer front squats with the bar racked across the shoulders. You will most likely need to put plates under your heels. Just make sure you keep torso erect and don’t let your knees knock.
  • For overhead press, I prefer one arm at a time with dumbbells to Olympic bar. You can push press the dumbbells with your legs to allow for heavier loads.
  • When doing pushups do them slowly with strict form. Grip dumbbells to allow more range and keep hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
  • If you want to do a third day of arm and rotator cuff stuff, have at it.
  • Now would be the time to add wind sprints or bike intervals on your days off from weights.
  • Get plenty of rest between lifts.

So, there you have it. A new primal workout routine to start immediately.

Have fun.

Lift hard.

If hair starts to grow on your back and knuckles, don’t blame me.


Coach Pat has been Major League and Division One baseball Strength coach and corrective exercise specialist for 15 years. In addition, he has been training and rehabbing sports injuries in New York City. He is currently employed by the Washington Nationals Baseball team where he serves as corrective exercise specialist and strength coach.

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