Playfully Fit: A Primal Move Workout

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Based on the movements of young children, this freewheeling Primal Move workout puts the fun back into fitness.

When was the last time you had fun working out? We’re talking real fun here — the kind that causes you to lose track of time, forget your deadlines and laugh out loud.

If you’re like many gym-goers, the answer probably is, way too long ago.

For students of Primal Move, the game-based, play-oriented exercise system founded by Hungarian kettlebell instructor and fitness coach Peter Lakatos, having a good time is an unavoidable, essential part of the program.

“We’re seeking to improve physical and mental well-being through playful movement,” Lakatos says. “Fitness is a natural side effect.”

To Lakatos, playfulness is an outgrowth of the state known to psychologists as “flow,” that spontaneous, unselfconscious frame of mind we all experience when we’re fully engrossed in a challenging-yet-enjoyable task — whether it’s cooking, competing in a sport or running a board meeting.

Drawing on the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial, 2008), Lakatos sought a way to bring this productive and pleasurable state of mind into the gym.

The result is a movement-education system in which students learn increasingly complex full-body movements that can be done on a floor, using primarily their own body weight as resistance. Over the course of a single class, students may crawl and roll like babies; jump, squat and invert themselves like dancers; even compete among themselves — albeit good-naturedly — like skilled athletes.

Many of these graceful-yet-complex exercises are based on developmental movements we all learned as children, making each workout an enjoyable rediscovery process that stimulates both the body and the brain, while simultaneously improving both strength and cardiovascular conditioning.

Primal Move classes often culminate in interactive games, races and cooperative activities, all of which add to the fun while enhancing the learning process. “Give somebody a game,” says workout designer Adrienne Harvey, RKC II and Primal Move National Instructor, “and they’re suddenly much freer in the way they move.”

To experience a little of this interactive dynamic for yourself, grab a workout partner or two, stake out an aerobics room or outdoor park, and try the following exercises. (Or visit www.primalmove.com to find one of the several hundred certified instructors currently teaching worldwide.)

Flying solo? No sweat: Experiment-ing with these unusual moves on your own will still improve your posture and flexibility.

The Primal Workout

  • Choose your intensity level. Find “Make It Harder” and “Make It Easier” versions for each move below, or use the “In a Group” options there to create friendly competitions with your workout partners.
  • Perform all moves in an aerobics room, an outdoor park, a basketball or racquetball court, or any other open space. The only equipment you’ll need is a soft exercise mat (wrestling-style kneepads are optional).
  • The first few times you perform the workout, move slowly, paying close attention to form, and rest as needed. Minimize momentum, and breathe easily and deeply throughout. If a move feels awkward, choose the easier version, or simply slow down and do less.
  • As you become more comfortable with each exercise, perform them as a continuous, flowing circuit. Experiment with different movement speeds, but never sacrifice form. Moving slowly and attentively leads to the biggest improvements in mobility and coordination.
  • Moving on all fours — quadrupedal movement, a fundamental part of Primal Move — is great for your joints, upper-body strength, core stability and coordination. If you feel silly skittering around on all fours in public, remember that anyone who gawks probably just wants in on the fun. “Whenever we do Primal Move in a park or other outdoor area, people always come up and ask what we’re doing and whether they can join in,” says Harvey. “There’s definitely an infectious quality to the workouts.”

1. Figure-Four Switches

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  • Sit with your back straight at the front edge of your gym mat or other firm, padded surface, with your knees spread wide and the soles of your feet together. Place your hands on the floor behind you for support.
  • Raise your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor a few inches in front of your right, and rest your left arm on top of your left knee.
  • Roll backward slightly, lift your feet off the floor and switch the positions of your two feet.
  • Roll forward and sit up with your spine long, this time with your right foot flat and your left knee near the floor, and your right arm resting on your right knee.

Reps: Five or more per side.

Purpose: Improves coordination and body awareness; mobilizes the hips, spine and ankles.

 2. Rocking to X-Lift to Creeping

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  • Assume a “creeping” (or baby crawl) position: hands and knees on the floor, shoulder-width apart; feet flexed, balls of your feet on the floor; spine long and abdominals engaged.
  • Keeping your gaze forward, gently sit back toward your heels.
  • Rock forward and back four to six times, sensing the change in your weight distribution as you move.
  • From the creeping position, lift your right hand, left knee and left foot a few inches off of the floor, and touch your left shoulder with your right hand. That’s one “X-lift.”
  • Perform the same movement on the opposite side, this time lifting your left hand and right knee and foot.
  • Alternate sides, performing four to six X-lifts on each side.
  • Using the same alternating hand-and-foot pattern, crawl forward four to six steps, then backward the same distance, keeping all movements slow and under control.

Reps: Four to six trips forward and backward.

Purpose: Improves shoulder stability, hip and ankle mobility, and core strength. The rocking motion also sharpens the vestibular system, which contributes to balance and spatial awareness.

 3. Pushup to Frog to Crab X-Lift

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  • From a creeping position, step your feet back to a pushup position:
  • lower back in its natural arch, body straight from head to heels, and hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Walk your hands back toward your feet, bending your knees as you go, until you are in a low squatting posture, or “frog” position. Keep your feet flat and hands on the floor in front of you.
  • One hand at a time, slowly reach behind you and place your hands flat on the floor in a “crab” position. Your hands should be directly beneath or a little behind your shoulders.
  • To perform the crab X-lift, keep your hips up, slowly raise your left hand and right foot off of the floor, and touch the palm of your left hand to the sole of your right foot in front of you.
  • Repeat the same movement with your right palm and left foot.
  • Alternate sides for two to four hand-to-foot touches on each side.
  • Return to the start by walking your hands forward, moving through the frog position and ending in a pushup position. That’s one cycle.

Reps: Two to four cycles.

Purpose: Develops coordination, strength, shoulder and core stability, and hip mobility.

4. X-Roll

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  • Lie facedown on the floor in the prone position. Spread your arms and legs so that your body forms an X.
  • Strongly extend all four limbs and lift your arms and legs a few inches off of the floor.
  • Turn your head to the right, looking up and over your right shoulder, and reach your right hand toward the ceiling.
  • Slowly roll onto your back, maintaining control of your body as you go.
  • Reverse the movement, reaching across your chest with your right arm and rolling back to a prone position. That’s one rep.
  • Repeat the sequence, this time looking over your left shoulder and rolling to your right.

Reps: As many as you wish. Perform an equal number of reps in both directions, looking for the simplest and easiest way to roll.

Purpose: Improves full-body and cross-core coordination, and injury prevention.

5. Pushup Jump to Silverback to Lateral Silverback

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  • Assume a pushup position.
  • Keeping your back flat and spine long, carefully jump your feet forward until you are in the “silverback” position: hands about 6 inches in front of your feet, hips back, knees bent, feet flat.
  • Lift both hands slightly off the floor, and then place them on the floor about 12 inches to the right.
  • Jump your feet to the right, bringing them up to your hands to complete a lateral silverback.
  • Repeat four to six more times to the right, and then switch directions, performing four to six moves to your left.
  • Jump your feet back to the pushup position.

Reps: Two to four total repetitions of the pattern.

Purpose: Develops coordination, upper-body pushing strength, explosive power and mobility. Performed continuously for 10 or more repetitions, lateral silverbacks also
develop metabolic conditioning.

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Make It Easier, Make It Harder, Do It In A Group

1. Figure-Four Switches

Make It Easier: Use both hands for support throughout the movement (don't slouch!).

Make It Harder: Perform the movement in slow motion, precisely coordinating the shift of weight from side to side and varying the distance you roll backward on each repetition.

2. Rocking to X-Lift to Creeping

Make It Easier:

  • Slow down throughout the exercise, taking small steps and peforming each move slowly and precisely.
  • Remain in the creeping position, knees and feet on the floor, and don't move forward or back as you perform the X-lifts.

Make It Harder: From the crawling position, lift your knees a few inches off the floor and crawl forward and back with only your hands and the balls of your feet on the floor.

In a Group: Perform crawling races or a round of "Touch the Hand": Pair up, and face your partner in the crawling position. Remain on all-fours and attempt to tap your partner's hand while dodging his or her advances. If you're tagged, perform a pushup.

3. Pushup to Frog to Crab X-Lift

Make It Easier: When moving through the frog position, walk your hands forward or backward as far as you can comfortably, and then stand or sit to move into the pushup or crab position.

Make It Harder:

  • Before the crab X-life, lift your hips high so that your thighs and torso are parallel to the floor. Lower your hips and continue the sequence.
  • After the crab X-lift, perform a "crab walk" taking five or six steps in any direction (forward, backward, side to side) before returning to the pushup position.

In a Group: Crab-walking races moving forward, backward, or side to side.

4. X-Roll

Make It Easier: Slow down, and work with low effort, but don't get discouraged if you can't do it your first few times out!

Make It Harder:

  • Lead the roll with your legs.
  • Roll with minimal help from your arms or legs.
  • Experiment with different speeds, from slow motion to fast paced.

In a Group: Rolling races across the floor.

5. Pushup Jump to Silverback to Lateral Silverback

Make It Easier:

  • Perform fewer reps.
  • Walk—don't jump—your feet forward into the silverback position.

Make It Harder:

  • Perform a pushup after returning to the pushup position.
  • Move side to side in slow, controlled motion, shifting your weight fully onto your hands (you will be standing on your hands briefly).
  • When your feet are in the air, "clap" them together slowly behind you.

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, is a contributing editor at Experience Life.

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