There seems to be a definite trend in fitness towards complexity. Training program progressions seem to rely on adding layers and nuance that complicate something that should be straightforward, instinctual and fun.

Recently, I committed myself to following one of these programs and found that it was more an exercise in memorization than movement. I found it difficult to get into the training groove for having to constantly check my training program and calculate percentages.

If you want to return to a more instinctual program that allows you to focus your energy and attention on movement and intensity, let me make a case for using sprinting as one of your foundational movements.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a man or woman living in the Paleolithic era (this is not a post about the Paleo diet!). In a time when you have to catch your meal or run for your life, only the fast survive.

Our Paleolithic ancestors evolved to move in ways that ensured their survival. Based on what we know about their lives and hunting methods we can assume that there was a premium on running fast.

Their hunter-gatherer existence meant that food was often scarce while danger was abundant. Those that moved the fastest had the best chances for catching dinner, while the slowest had the best chances of being dinner.

In order to move fast, our ancestors had to travel light. They carried only what was necessary for survival and couldn’t afford to have anything slowing them down, especially body fat!

When sprinting means life or death, there is the ultimate premium on power-to-weight ratio. Under those circumstances body mass must be as functional as possible. Any excess in adipose tissue, aka body fat, beyond what was needed for basic metabolic functions and emergency energy stores is a hindrance.

If you want to build a primal physique that is lean with dense, explosive muscle you have got to start sprinting. 

Sprinting is the ultimate expression of total body power, coordination and grace. It’s a movement pattern that is hard wired into our primal DNA. It is also one of my favorite forms of exercise for several reasons.

For starters, it is exercise minimalism at its best. Literally, no equipment needed and you can do it anywhere. I also love it because it is such a bang for your buck exercise. Sprinting is a fat burning monster that builds a killer physique and explosive power. Obviously it builds great legs, but it is also a great exercise for building chiseled abs and shoulders.

3 Sprint Workouts to Build A Primal Physique:

1. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid)

This workout will develop your top end speed/power output. It is as simple as it gets, hence the name. Sprint the straight-aways and walk or slowly jog the curves for active rest. This works on a football field too if you take extra time walking the width of the field because it will be far shorter than the curved portion of a track.

First, you must understand that you should not start a rep until you have recovered from the previous rep to a point that you can actually sprint at or near your top capacity again. If you are still breathing hard from the previous rep, rest longer. Running a bunch of 70% effort reps because you didn’t rest enough is an endurance workout that is training your body to run medium fast by activating slow twitch fibers. A good rule of thumb is to wait until your heart rate has gone back into the 120’s or lower before sprinting again.

The best neuromuscular and fat burning adaptations come from high intensity reps. Your goal is to stimulate fast twitch fibers, which have the most potential for power and growth. Also keep in mind that high intensity reps, meaning those run at a level that is at least 85% of your top speed, stimulate the greatest growth hormone release which is responsible for burning body fat and improving your power-to-weight ratio.

Break the 100 meters up in the following manner

  • First 20 meters is an easy build-up to top speed. Focus on lengthening your stride, picking up your knees and building the speed of your arm swing towards a theoretical top speed.
  • 20 to 80 meters is show time baby! If you did the first part correctly you should be in full stride and at about 70-80% of your theoretical top speed at the 20-meter mark. At 20 meters you want to step on the gas hard, accelerating to your top speed and then trying to hold on for as long as possible. This will take you to the 80-meter mark and the end of your realistic acceleration capabilities.
  • Between 80 to 100 meters your goal is to hold on to good form, staying relaxed and graceful. You are still trying to run hard, but you have to be realistic here. Straining to run harder when you are out of gas is how you get hurt. If you are making an ugly face at the finish you are fighting it too hard.
  • Do not come to an abrupt stop! Gradually slow down to a very light jog or walk.

Jog the curve slower than you think or just walk. This is not a conditioning drill. You want each sprint to be near your theoretical top speed because that is what creates the adaptations that build power and dense muscle while burning fat. 

2. Rhythm Sprint

Acceleration is crucial for sprinting because the person that can get to their top speed the quickest has a huge advantage. The importance is magnified in athletic competition, or real life, when the distance of the sprint isn’t pre-determined and the ability of one person to accelerate faster than another may be the difference in the sprint lasting 20 meters or 200 meters.

Let’s say I find myself in the wrong place with a pissed off attack dog bearing down on me and a fence I can jump to safety 40 meters away.  If I can accelerate fast enough to keep my distance from the dog that sprint will last 40 meters to the fence regardless of my actual top speed.  If I don’t accelerate fast enough and the dog bites a chunk out of my ass at 20 meters my top speed is irrelevant and so are the pants I was wearing.  This logic applies big time to football and soccer as well.

Acceleration training is also great for building a lean primal physique because it is the phase of sprinting when fast twitch fibers are firing the hardest and when your body is working the hardest to provide explosive energy, which stimulate the release of positive growth factors.

You will need something to mark off distances like cones or lines on a football field to do this workout.  Mark off 100 yards with markers at each 10-yard increment. Start each set accelerating as fast as possible until you get to the first marker at 10 yards. As soon as you hit that marker slow down dramatically without shortening your stride. Your stride length should stay the same while your stride frequency slows down. When you hit the next marker (20-yards) accelerate again until you get to the 30-mark where you will once again slow down your stride frequency.  Continue that same rhythm until you have finished the 100-yard set.

3. Power Endurance

This workout touches on all phases of sprinting (acceleration, top speed, and power endurance), but tends to favor adaptations in power endurance, which is a relative term in this case.

  • Start workout with five 40-yard sprints accelerating hard out of the start. Rest at least 2 minutes with fast and loose drills.
  • Follow that with three 75-yard sprints focusing hard on hitting your top speed and maintaining it as long as possible without tightening up. Rest at least 3 minutes with fast and loose drills.
  • Finish the workout with two 150-yard sprints. Focus on staying relaxed, even breath rhythm and maintaining good form.  Straining for something that isn’t there will only slow you down more (a metaphor for life).  Rest 5 minutes or longer between sets so you can give each 150 your absolute best.

After you have done this workout several times you can add a little volume. Start by adding a couple sets of 75-yard sprints. After that you can add another 150, while taking away one 75-yarder. I don’t recommend doing more volume than that in one workout. If you feel you are recovering well from this workout add frequency of sprint workouts to your weekly split rather than more volume per workout.

Start your quest for a primal physique by adding one of these workouts to your weekly routine, preferably not after a leg intensive workout or plyometric training day. After 2-3 weeks feel free to add a second training day with a different workout. Respect your body during sprint workouts. If you start getting tight or feeling twinges in a muscle shut the workout down early.

Minimalist training and building a primal physique is about addition by subtraction. The unnecessary is discarded to make room for the maximum development of attributes that are necessary. This approach to training will unlock your athletic potential by tapping into your primal genetics. It also serves as a metaphor for a very enlightened way to live.


Tanner Martty Head shotTanner Martty

Involved in fitness for most of his life, Tanner earned a college basketball scholarship, studied Olympic lifting under a former head coach of the USA Olympic lifting team and won an amateur bodybuilding title by the time he graduated from college. He then began competing in kettlebell competitions, tactical strength challenges and mud runs. His health and fitness philosophy is rooted in getting back to authentic movement, nutrition and lifestyles that are in alignment with what nourish and develop our emotional, mental and physical bodies for an integrative approach to discovering the superhuman within all of us. He teaches people how to move, eat, and live in a way that’s congruent with human engineering. This includes being mindful and enjoying the journey as opposed to being fixated entirely on results-oriented goals. Committing to the process of growth and self-improvement is a way of life, not a goal, that provides a rich content of experience regardless of context.

Tanner is the owner of 34° North in Santa Monica, CA where he trains clients and is the head instructor of the small group training program that includes some of the most talented trainers in the Los Angeles area. You can read more of his work on the 34° North blog in the Knowledge section.

When he isn’t training or working, Tanner is going on adventures with his 2-year old daughter, Ryan.

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