Thinking About Going Primal/Paleo for the New Year: What Does That Entail?

As mentioned in my previous post, going primal/paleo is about adopting a new lifestyle that emphasizes building new habits to clean up our diet, exercise more optimally, have better sleep hygiene, and learn how to manage the stress in our lives. It focuses on adopting an ancestral health approach. 

In my previous post, I listed which primal/paleo staples were good to have on hand to start eating in a more “ancestral” way. I am now going to explain what exercising in a primal/paleo way means.

So What About Exercise?

Exercising in a primal way is approaching daily movement and exercise in a non-demanding way (the opposite of chronic cardio). It is embracing a life of daily activities that makes time for frequent breaks to stretch and move around enough. Exercising in a primal/paleo way (as explained in The New Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson) comprises of:

  • Flexibility/Mobility practices: yoga and pilates, for example, allow for greater mobility and flexibility, while strengthening muscles, including the core. Mobility exercises are beneficial to the tendons, ligaments, and fascia that support the entire musculoskeletal system.
  • Move frequently: make everyday movement (short walking breaks, evening strolls, etc.) a default habit, along with well-designed cardio workouts at 180-minus-age heart rate in addition to the flexibility/mobility practices mentioned above.
  • Schedule: Try to align your workouts (type, frequency, intensity, and duration) with your energy levels each day. Having an Oura ring (which I recently purchased) can help you track your overall readiness each morning.
  • Shoes: progressively allow some barefoot time for low-risk activities to strengthen feet and replicate natural range of motion. Opt for shoes with minimalist design (like Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free, Merrell, Inov-8, etc.), but make sure you go from a regular 8mm shoe (to maybe a 4mm shoe) to a zero-drop shoe gradually in order to give your body enough time to adjust.
  • Sprinting: all-out efforts of 8 to 20 seconds every 7 to 10 days only if fully energized. Some easier “wind sprint” sessions for conditioning can also be included more regularly.
  • Strength training: brief, intense sessions of 10 to 30 minutes; twice a week is plenty. Go for full-body, functional exercises that help with athletic competency.
  • Stretching: minimal, full-body, functional stretches (like the Grok Hang and the resting Grok Squat) after exercising and/or simply at the end of the day are recommended too.

On a Final Note

You can also check my article on The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid which sums up what should be at the core of an individual’s movement regimen in order to be fit in the most down-to-earth way.

Until next time!

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, p. 482.

You can also find me on Instagram.

A Good Stretch Can Go a Long Way!

No matter what our daily activities are, standing or sitting, we can easily tax our backs. So it is essential to incorporate movement throughout the day along with regular stretching to loosen tight muscles and enhance circulation to help nourish the spine. When we do this every day (making sure the form is correct for each movement/exercise of course), this can help strengthen the back, making it more resilient with a spine that is strong and flexible.

What follows are five stretches that can help strengthen the back.

Child’s Pose

This helps with mobility of the spine and relaxation of the lower back muscles.

  • Begin on all fours. Sit your hips back on your heels if possible (if not, you can put a pillow on your heels and sit back on the pillow instead). Your knees are wide open and your big toes are touching. 
  • Reach out your arms forward while your forehead is resting on the floor. 
  • Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds at a time. Repeat 3 times while breathing in and out deeply for maximum relaxation. 

Cat Back

This exercise helps with spine flexion and extension. It promotes proper movement and function of the spine as a unit. The directions are from an Egoscue Method zoom session I attended this year.

  • Start on your hands and knees, where your wrists are placed directly under your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. 
  • Starting with your hips, tuck your pelvis to round your lower back and spine up towards the ceiling while dropping your head and pulling your shoulder blades away from each other. [Breathe out as you are doing this].
  • Starting with your hips, roll your pelvis forward to put the arch in your back while collapsing your shoulder blades together and look up toward the ceiling. Be sure not to shrug your shoulders towards your ears. [Breathe in as you are doing this].

Hip Crossover Stretch

This exercise helps with hip and spinal rotation. The directions are from an Egoscue Method zoom session I attended this year.

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor pointed straight ahead. 
  • Place your arms out to the side at shoulder level, with your palms flat on the floor. 
  • Cross your left ankle over your right knee and rotate the ankle/knee junction down toward the floor. Your left foot should now be flat on the floor, along with the outside of your right leg. 
  • Look in the opposite direction and relax your shoulders. 
  • Press the left knee away from your body using the left hip muscles. 
  • Hold [for up to 1 minute], then switch sides and repeat. 

Hamstring Stretch

When we have to bend and lift things (making sure we practice the hip hinge), having flexible hamstrings lessens the stress put on the back. 

  • Lie flat on your back. Place a yoga strap over and around the toes of the left foot and grab both ends of the strap firmly with your hands. Slightly activate the core muscles.
  • Slowly raise the left leg (pulling on the strap) until you feel a stretch in the back of the left thigh.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Psoas (Hip Flexor) Stretch 

If we sit a lot, the front of the hips (where the psoas muscle is) gets really tight and this puts stress in the lower back when we do things upright by pulling the lower back forward. Stretching that muscle can help with that issue. 

  • Step forward with the right leg and bend the knee at about a 90-degree angle. Keep the right knee positioned above the right ankle. (If you have any knee issues you can instead put the right foot on a stable chair or couch, for instance, and bend the right knee. In that case, the left leg will not lie on the floor, of course). Hold on to something if needed.
  • Extend the left leg behind the torso and touch the floor with the left knee. The lower leg lies on the floor. 
  • Move the hips forward (doing a slight pelvic tilt and activating the glutes), pushing the right knee in front of the right ankle. Make sure to keep the right knee pointing forward. You should feel the stretch in the hip area on the left side.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Hope this helps whatever you have to do this holiday season! (And always consult your personal physician before starting anything new). 

Happy Holidays!!

References

“5 Best Back Pain Stretches for Immediate Back Pain Relief.” Dave Asprey, 20 Aug. 2018, daveasprey.com/best-back-pain-stretches-pain-relief/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2020.

Nelson, Arnold G, and Jouko Kokkonen. Stretching Anatomy. Champaign, Il, Human Kinetics, 2007, pp. 98–9, 104–7.

You can also find me on Instagram.

Tree Pose

Why Balance Training Matters

We don’t necessarily think about it, but balance training is of primordial importance. Working on our balance is recommended as we are getting older to help prevent falls which can further lead to things such as hip fractures. Working on our balance is also helpful when we practice a sport like running, swimming, or cycling. And if this isn’t enough to convince you how beneficial balance training can be, it turns out that balance training can help improve memory too!

What Helps You Maintain Your Balance

Three sensory systems allow you to control your balance (along with the cognitive system and the musculoskeletal system): the vestibular system, the somatosensory system, and the visual system.

In Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield defines these three sensory systems:

  • Vestibular system – the sense organs in your head, primarily your ears, which regulate equilibrium and give you directional information as it relates to your head position.
  • Somatosensory system – the nerves called proprioceptors in your joints, along with the pressure and vibratory sense information in both your skin and your joints.
  • Visual system – the ability of your eyes to figure out where your head and body are in space, and also where you are relative to other objects.

9 Training Strategies to Work on Your Balance

The following are different strategies suggested in the same book listed above. 

To help better your vestibular balance, you can:

  • Go barefoot as much as possible, or use minimalist footwear. Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich said: “I have invested in shoes that help me feel the ground beneath my feet better. I don’t want every step I take to be predictable.”
  • Balance on one leg while keeping your gaze on something stationary. You can practice the one-leg standing exercise for 30 seconds as a first goal (“without having to put your other foot down for balance”), then aim at 60 seconds. Then try with the eyes closed. In that case, it is helpful to mentally picture something stationary. I like to stand on one leg with my eyes closed for 60 seconds on a regular basis. It’s important to keep practicing. Every day may be needed at first. Also, make sure you engage the core muscles and the glutes, and grip with the toes. Have something nearby you can hold on to at the beginning, just in case. This exercise is beneficial to the brain cells in your cerebellum and inner ear-vestibular system. Yoga is also great to work on your balance skills – try the tree pose!
  • Look for things to stand on wherever you are, like narrow ridges, sidewalks, or posts.

To help better your somatosensory balance, you can:

  • Stand one-legged or two-legged on unstable surfaces like wobble boards, thick balance mats, or balance disc pillows.
  • Use an unstable mat under your desk. I like to use a thick balance mat, engaging the core muscles and glutes. 
  • Use a mini-trampoline, great for practicing single-leg stances.
  • Stand on one leg on a raised height, like a balance beam or a plyometric jump box.

To help better your visual balance, you can:

  • Play a sport that requires eye tracking, like soccer, golf, tennis, basketball, and ping-pong.
  • Do vision drills – exercises to help strengthen the 6 eye muscles and boost your visual-acuity skills, using, for instance, the Z-Health Vision Gym. I do those regularly too, as mentioned in a previous post.

In Summary

These are 9 balance training strategies that can help make a big difference over time. Being that I am now 50 years old, I see working on my balance as something essential to do for the rest of my life. Which strategy will you pick first?

Until next time!

References

Chiu, Titus. BrainSave : The 6-Week Plan to Heal Your Brain from Concussion, Brain Injuries & Trauma without Drugs or Surgery. Middletown, De, The Modern Brain, 2018, pp. 105–6.

Dunsky, Ayelet. “The Effect of Balance and Coordination Exercises on Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Mini-Review.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11:318. 15 Nov. 2019, http://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2019.00318/full. Accessed 23 Aug. 2020.

Greenfield, Ben. Beyond Training : Mastering Endurance, Health and Life. Victory Belt, Las Vegas, 2014, pp. 137–45.

Merzenich, Michael M. Soft-Wired : How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. San Francisco, Parnassus Publishing, Ltd, 2013, p. 228.

You can also find me on Instagram.

The Importance of Daily Movement

As I mentioned in my previous post, Why Everyday Movement is Non-Negotiable, it is said that when we have to sit for long periods of time, we should get up to stretch and walk around every thirty minutes or so. The same goes for if we are at a standing workstation. It is important to incorporate movement throughout the day to nourish our cells. A few squats or other simple exercises can be nice little breaks throughout the day. That way, going to the gym after work can be optional.

As a matter of fact, if you think that going to the gym for one hour can make up for a long day of sitting for hours, that is not the case. We want to shape our daily life so that it is as similar as possible to how it was during hunter-gatherer times. And when it comes to movement, it has to be varied motion throughout the day. Taking short walks in the morning, at lunch, or after dinner, whenever you have a few minutes can be a great addition to your daily movement regimen. Start trying whatever fits your schedule best and be sure to only implement one change at a time in order to ensure adherence to it. 

Each day, I do a certain amount of stretches. Stretching is a habit most of us can benefit from, no matter what our fitness level is (Just make sure you get the okay from your personal physician before starting any new exercise routine). What follows are 5 simple leg (& hip) stretches that can easily be done every day.

Calf Stretch

  • Stand facing a wall 1 to 2 feet away.
  • Place your hands on the wall.
  • Keeping the right foot in place, position the left foot 1 to 2 feet behind the right foot.
  • Bend the right knee and lean towards the wall as you are keeping the left heel on the floor, 2 to 4 feet away from the wall. 
  • Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Quad Stretch

  • Stand upright with weight balanced on the right leg (hold on to something if needed).
  • Keep the right foot pointing straight forward and the right knee almost straight.
  • Bend the left knee by grabbing the left foot or ankle tightly and pulling the left heel backward and upward without over flexing the knee. Also, do not let the left knee go out at the same time.
  • Push the hips forward by doing a slight pelvic tilt.
  • Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie flat on your back. Place a yoga strap over and around the toes of the left foot and grab both ends of the strap firmly with your hands. Slightly activate the core muscles.
  • Slowly raise the left leg (pulling on the strap) until you feel a stretch in the back of the left thigh.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Psoas (Hip Flexor) Stretch

  • Step forward with the right leg and bend the knee at about a 90-degree angle. Keep the right knee positioned above the right ankle. (If you have any knee issues you can instead put the right foot on a stable chair or couch, for instance, and bend the right knee. In that case, the left leg will not lie on the floor, of course). Hold on to something if needed.
  • Extend the left leg behind the torso and touch the floor with the left knee. The lower leg lies on the floor. 
  • Move the hips forward (doing a slight pelvic tilt and activating the glutes), pushing the right knee in front of the right ankle. Make sure to keep the right knee pointing forward. You should feel the stretch in the hip area on the left side.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Piriformis (Hip Rotator) Stretch

  • Sit on the floor with the left leg extended.
  • Bend the right leg and place the right foot on the outside of the left knee.
  • Bend the left arm and place the outside of the left elbow against the outside of the upraised right knee.
  • Put the right arm on the floor near the right hip. 
  • Push the left elbow against the right knee, twisting the trunk as far as possible to the right. Maintain enough pressure with the left elbow to keep the right knee in a stable position. Do not arch the back or bend forward at the waist.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

So, which one is your favorite stretch?

Until next time!  

Reference
Nelson, Arnold G, and Jouko Kokkonen. Stretching Anatomy. Champaign, Il, Human Kinetics, 2007, pp. 78–9, 98–9, 104–7, 130–1.

You can also find me on Instagram.

How Easy Staying in Shape can be

Moving and exercising enough shouldn’t feel like yet another challenging goal to put on your to-do-list. Our ancestors were doing basic functional movements (squat, crawl, walk, run, jump, climb, carry, throw, etc.) when going about their daily activities. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously over the centuries, especially in the last 100 years, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot throw in a few stretches and bodyweight exercises (for instance) as simple 1-2-minute-breaks throughout the day every day. The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights how easy staying in shape can be without going overboard on any type of fitness activity. Moving frequently, exercising your muscles and getting your heart rate up occasionally is all you have to do.

Move Frequently

The base of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid is comprised of three types of activities:

  • Flexibility/mobility, such as with Pilates, yoga, tai chi, gymnastics, dancing, and dynamic rolling/stretching/therapy work
  • Cardio workouts at your target heart rate (Cycle, hike, walk/jog, water activities) – Your target heart rate is a simple calculation: 180 BPM – your age
  • More general daily movement to avoid prolonged inactivity

As mentioned in my post, Why Everyday Movement is Non-Negotiable, when we have to sit for long periods of time, such as when working at a computer, we want to get up, stretch, and walk a little bit every 30 minutes or so. The same goes if we are at a standing workstation. Enough movement throughout the day is necessary for proper blood flow to be delivered to the different muscles we use, which means more oxygen and nutrients, along with “waste removal.” In short, moving throughout the day (along with other variables) ensures proper cellular health.

We also want to add a few cardio sessions done at a comfortable heart rate. No chronic cardio here. Whatever fits your schedule the best. Cycling, swimming, running, or even just walking are all good options, whatever your energy levels of the day make you feel like doing.

When it comes to working on improving flexibility and mobility, there are a plethora of options, as listed above. Yoga is my favorite, but I also do some basic stretches every day and some tai chi exercises. Having a foam roller handy is helpful too in order to massage muscles and break up knots.

Lift Heavy Things

To lift heavy things refers to strength training: brief, intense resistance exercises. It doesn’t have to be more than twice a week for 10-30 minutes at a time. In this category, you find basic bodyweight exercises like the 4 Primal Essential Movements (planks, pushups, squats, and pullups). Keeping things simple and not too demanding is a sure way to build a habit in a concise way. I like to do planks, squats, and bridges on a regular basis. You can also use free weights and resistant bands.

Sprint

Every 7 to 10 days, if you are 100% energized, you can do several 8-20 second bursts, during a cycling or running session, for instance. There is no need to do more than that. These short all-out sprints are a great addition to moving frequently and lifting heavy things on occasion for optimal primal fitness.

In Summary

The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights what should be at the core of an individual’s movement regimen in order to be fit in the most down-to-earth way. It is modeled after the ways our ancestors moved in everyday life. Simplicity is key. Moving frequently, lifting heavy things occasionally, and sprinting when you are fully rested is all you have to do. Including time for recovery, which includes adequate sleep and relaxation is mandatory. And it is also good to include play, which refers to any spontaneous outdoor physical activity like running around with your kids outside, or your dog. Being and staying fit is not a difficult goal to attain. The main thing to keep in mind is not to be in any specific position for a prolonged period of time. As they say, “The best position is the next one you will be in.”

Until next time!

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, pp. 314–369.

You can also find me on Instagram.