Serious Monkey Business

Time to check out a resistance-training program that turns basic movements into a state-of-the-art power plan

Jan 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

We could learn a thing or two from our simian ancestry. So says Paul Chek, author of Movement That Matters and director of the Corrective High-performance Exercise Kinesiology Institute in Encinitas, California, where he's trained professional athletes and coaches for 18 years. Chek's workout is based on simple, basic motions—squat, lunge, bend, twist, push, and pull—just the kind of thing our hunting, gathering forefathers would have been doing regularly. Now updated for the 21st century (you won't be called upon to hunt or gather, unless you want to), Chek's Primal Patterns program runs dramatically counter to old-school strength training, which operates under the belief that the best way to build muscle is by exercising isolated muscle groups. But how often do you do curls or bench press in your actual sport? You don't, says Chek. You utilize muscle groups together. "The brain doesn't know muscles," he says, "the brain only knows patterns of movement." Hence the following 12-week Chek-inspired plan that, combined with a normal cardio routine, offers total fitness in a modest five workouts a week. Plus, you'll never have trouble swinging from trees again.

The Exercises

Reverse Wood Chop

Use a weight cable (shown) or a resistance band secured at ankle height. Take a wide stance with your left side facing the resistance and most of your weight on your left foot. Using both arms, pull the cable upward and across your body, beginning outside your left ankle and finishing above your right shoulder. Avoid arching your back as you move through the motion. Return to the start position. After a full set (see regimen below for repetition numbers), switch sides.

Split Squat
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Brace a long weight bar on your upper back (see "The Primal Program" below for the appropriate amount of weight). Take a moderately large step forward with your left foot and then slowly dip down until the knee of your right leg almost touches the floor. Keep your torso upright and your left knee directly over your left foot. Press back upright without moving either foot for one complete repetition. After a full set, switch legs.

Single-Arm Cable Push
Use a resistance band or a gym cable slightly above shoulder height. Assume a split stance, one foot about two and a half to three feet in front of the other, and face away from the resistance with most of your weight on your rear foot. Holding the cable handle against your chest in your right hand, reach forward with your left arm. Now throw a smooth, controlled jab with your right hand. Initiate the movement from the legs, then twist the trunk and finish by emphasizing the pushing arm. After a full set, switch arms.

Single-Arm Cable Pull
Secure your resistance band or gym cable a couple of feet above shoulder height. Assume a split stance, facing the resistance, with most of your weight on your forward foot. Hold the handle in one hand at full forward reach. Pull the handle toward your armpit. Initiate the movement from your legs, then twist your trunk, and finish with an emphasis on pulling your arm to your armpit. As you retract the pulling arm, reach forward with the other and twist your trunk. After a full set, switch arms.

The Primal Program
Perform the above exercises as a circuit with a 90-second rest between each set (consider one set to include both sides). Beginners should do two circuits; those already following a strength regimen can try three or four. The 12-week program will take you through three four-week phases that vary resistance, repetitions, and tempo for each repetition. Use the table below to see how you might mix the functional training circuits with your cardio training during any given phase.

Month 1:        Strength Phase: 10 repetitions, 12 RM* weight, moderate tempo Month 2: Power Phase: 8 reps, 10 RM weight, fast tempo Month 3: Coordination Phase: 12 reps, very light weight, moderate tempo
1 Primal Cardio Cardio/off Primal Cardio Primal Off
2 Cardio Primal Cardio/off Cardio Primal Cardio Off
3 Primal Cardio Cardio/off Primal Cardio Primal Off
4 Cardio Primal Cardio/off Cardio Primal Cardio Off

*RM stands for repitition maximum, the amount of weight that will bring you to failure—i.e., 10 RM means you should be able to do no more than 10 repitions with that weight per set.

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