how to squat proper techniqueThere’s no question that the full squat exercise is an essential, Primal movement, and yet many folks in modern, industrialized society are unable to properly perform one. Kids have good squat form (just watch them at play), but their parents are stiff at the hips with rounded backs and tight knee joints.

Many more have been taught – by health experts and personal trainers – that the full squat is dangerous, that it will destroy your knees with wear and tear and render you incapable of normal activity. They say a half-squat is perfectly adequate, or, better yet, get rid of the squat altogether and use the leg extension machine! (Actually, don’t.)

Disregard these “experts.” Squatting is a natural movement that humans are built to do. You don’t need to use a ton of weight (or any!), but you do need to be mobile and flexible enough to reach a full squat below parallel.

What Do Squats Do?

Squats serve a variety of practical purposes: they can help you arrive into a resting position, they’re a proper starting form for lifting, and they work the muscles of the lower body. A proper squat engages and works a host of muscles, like quadriceps, abdominals, glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When done correctly, squatting can build bone density, a key element in aging well.

How to Do a Squat

Stand with a comfortable stance. Most will prefer their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle. Lower yourself by reaching back with your butt while maintaining a strong lower back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground.

Chest up, upper back tight, eyes looking forward and slightly down, head in a neutral position. Maintain a nice cohesive line along your spine. Go just below parallel, so that your butt drops below your knees.Come back up by pushing through the heel.

Proper Air Squat Form

Air squats, also known as body weight squats, can take pressure off of knees and still provide a ton of benefits. Learn, modify, and perfect your air squat over time using three squat progressions. If you’re already familiar with the motion but finding your squats result in knees caving, lower back or hip joints pain, your form might need a further tune up. Follow along with the video or these three progressions to get your squat into shape.

Squat Progression 1: Use an Assist

Find a supportive assist, such as a wall, bar, pole, or the back of a chair – anything that is sturdy and comes to about navel height. Come to a neutral position with feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and explore your range of motion. Aim to achieve 20-30 of these assisted squats before moving on to Progression 2.

Squat Progression 2: No Assist, with a Spot

Use a box or a bench to act as a ‘spotter’ while working on your full squat form. When in the ‘sitting’ position, pull arms up and out ahead of you. Keep knees in line with toes, and keep feet just over shoulder width apart. At the lowest point in your squat, thighs should go parallel to the floor or the ground.

Squat Progression 3: You’re On Your Own

Take the bench away to move into a full air squat. Go as low as you can, and press upward through heels and not toes. You’ve now achieved air squat form!

Squat Variations & How to Do Squats at Home with No Bar

If you’re at home without a bar, looking to target specific muscles or modifying your squat for injuries or different abilities, consider adopting a few of these squat variations. For more detailed instructions on perfecting these variations, check out this article:

  • Goblet squats
  • Front squats
  • Band Zercher squats
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Resistance band split squats
  • Step ups
  • Walking lunges and Reverse Lunges
  • Tempo squat jumps

How Many Squats Should I Do?

If you’re an absolute beginner, first be able to nail the form just squatting your bodyweight. Focus on your mechanics for 10-15 reps, with 3 to 4 sets of these at a time. If this starts to feel too easy, rather than just crank out countless, mindless reps bouncing up and down, slow down the tempo and add a pause at the bottom of the squat. Once you get proficient, you can start adding weight.

A good general starting point for any workout is three to four “hard” sets – warmup sets don’t count. A hard set is one or two reps away from not being able to complete another rep with the same consistently good form. Plan for three hard sets, and attempt the fourth.

For rep counts, eight to ten reps is a good range for those looking to build muscle. Three to four reps can be helpful for getting stronger but not necessarily bigger. Split the difference with four to seven for a little bit of both. Find the rep count that works best for you. Expect to be somewhat sore in your legs a few days after the workout. If you’re not sore at all, you probably didn’t do enough to elicit a training response, but if you can’t walk correctly for a week, you probably did too much.

How Much Should I Be Able to Squat?

As a starting goal, everyone should be able to squat their own bodyweight, no matter their age. If you’re not there yet, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that you haven’t trained that muscle group yet. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will achieve a bodyweight squat.

Once you start adding weight to the bar, use your own bodyweight to set benchmarks. First, aim to load your own bodyweight on the bar, as a beginner goal. Then go for 1.5 x bodyweight, with 2x bodyweight as a good long term benchmark to strive for.


The post How To Squat with Proper Technique (with Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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posterior chain exercisesThere is an epidemic of chronic lower back pain.‘>2 They did deadlifts, goblet squats, lunges, planks, and step-ups. This was a progressive program, meaning they started with lower weights and added resistance as they progressed in strength. Loads were between 6 and 10-rep max.

After 16 weeks, they were stronger, their pain had dropped by 72%, their disability score had improved by 76%, and their overall quality of life (every 4 weeks they completed a self-assessment) had skyrocketed.

Another study from the same year had similar results.‘>4

Planks can be done just about every day. They’re a great way to start the morning or break up sedentary time.

Kettlebell Swings for Lower Back Pain

These are not to be taken lightly. Whereas planks and deadlifts are relatively linear and non-dynamic, KB swings take a lot of precision to get right, especially if you have lower back pain. A lot can go wrong with a poorly-done kettlebell swing.

This is a hip hinge and hip extension exercise. All the power should be coming from your glutes and hamstrings with your lower back a stable lever for transferring the force. If you use your arms to “swing” the kettlebell, you’re doing it wrong. Arms should be passive.

Keep the weight on your midfoot/heel. If the weight gets “in front” of you and you start going onto your toes, your lower back will bear the brunt.

At the height of the swing, maintain upright posture and a straight torso. Do not lean back—this takes the emphasis off the hips and places it on the lower back.

When the weight is coming back down, accept it by sticking your butt back and hinging your hips. Don’t “bend over”; get those hips back.

Stick with a weight you can swing for 20-30 reps at a time. You’re not going for any records here. You just want to get the blood flowing and the hips moving. One effective method is to keep a kettlebell in your office and do a minute of swings every hour.

There are other posterior chain exercises you can do to improve lower back pain, but these give the biggest bang for the buck. They should serve as the foundation for your journey back to pain-free life.

Do you have lower back pain? What worked for you? What didn’t work?


The post Posterior Chain Training: Exercises for a Strong Lower Back appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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alternatives to burpeesWhenever I’m strapped for time and equipment and still need a solid workout, I turn to the burpee. Burpees are bodyweight exercises, and thus require no equipment or weights. They are full body movements that engage every muscle group, require only as much space as you need to do a pushup, and can be done anywhere. You can do them slowly and methodically, or quick for a sprint-like workout. If you’re ever outdoors and need to warm up fast, a quick set of 15-20 burpees will get your body temperature up faster than anything. The pros go on and on.

Now, I don’t typically bake burpees into my week-to-week workouts. Instead, I resort to a burpee workout when I’m crunched for time, don’t have access to a gym or nice outdoor experience, or am otherwise not feeling a full-on gym workout but still want to train.

The way I usually do them is to go all out for the first 20. Catch my breath (maybe 10-20 second break). Go all out for another 10. Catch my breath. And repeat in sets of 10 reps, until I reach 100 or 150 or 200. So for me, burpee workouts are very intuitive. Rather than go for predetermined reps or rest periods, I let my body determine that stuff in real time. Give it a try. You’ll like it, or hate it, or both.

Reasons you Might Want an Alternative to the Burpee

While burpees are great for all the reasons I listed above, there are some reasons you might want an alternative movement:

  • Burpees are demanding and relatively complex. Many people start making technique mistakes toward the end of a burpee workout because they’re so fatigued and that can lead to injuries. A crisp, clean burpee is beautiful and safe and effective, but if your knees start caving in on the landing or your lower back starts dipping toward the ground and your elbows start flaring out on the pushups, you’re not just selling your own training short — you’re putting yourself at risk.
  • Burpees involve three movements people might simply not be able to do. Squats, even bodyweight ones, take a reasonable amount of mobility, flexibility, and coordination. Pushups can be a surprisingly demanding strength exercise when performed with correct form, and many people haven’t jumped in years. Stringing them all together for reps as a conditioning workout is asking a lot.
  • Burpees get old. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is another regular-old burpee, but you still like the training effect they offer.

So, here is a series of alternatives to burpees that have similar qualities and produce similar results as the burpee. See if you can try them all. Primal Health Coach Brian demonstrates all of these moves in the video at the bottom of this post.

1. Squat Thrusts

Think burpees without the pushup and the jump. Squat thrusts actually birthed the modern burpee. They involve squatting down to place hands on floor, shooting the legs back to assume the plank position, shooting them forward, then squatting back up. They’re really, really simple and for the first ten or so you’re thinking “These are too easy.” Keep doing them, though, and suddenly you’ll realize you’re getting a great workout.

2. Murpees

To do the murpee, or modified burpee: instead of shooting your legs back, dropping into an explosive pushup, leaping to your feet and springing upward, and repeating it as quickly as possible, slow everything down and rely on strength and balance instead of sheer momentum.

  1. Slowly lower yourself into a squat until you can place your hands flat on the floor in front of you.
  2. Slowly step back one leg at a time to assume the pushup position.
  3. Do a pushup (some people omit this step).
  4. Slowly, deliberately bring one leg forward, touching knee to elbow and holding it there for a moment. Draw the other leg forward. Place your feet flat on the floor until you’re in the bottom squat position. Each rep, alternate which leg you bring forward first.
  5. Either stand up or jump up. The advantage of doing everything slowly means you can muster more force for the jump and land safely.
  6. Repeat.
  7. Everything is slow and controlled and deliberate.

3. 180 Degree Burpees

Do a regular burpee with a jump, only instead of jumping in place, turn 180 degrees. Alternate which direction you turn and don’t get sloppy with the landing; the rotational momentum exerts novel forces on your body and requires greater trunk (and really full-body) stability. Beyond that, do these offer a unique training effect over regular burpees? Who knows. These sure are fun, though.

4. Broad Jump Burpees

Again, it’s a regular burpee with a jump, only instead of jumping in place, you’re broad jumping as far forward as you can. Be sure to do these on a comfortable surface with decent traction. Grass? Good. Wet muddy grass? Probably not. And do fewer of these than you would regular burpees. The maximal effort broad jump really takes a lot out of you and increases the degree of risk.

5. Jumping Jacks

You haven’t done these in years, right? Jumping jacks probably remind you of gym class, back when you’d do them half-seriously. Today, try doing them for real. Actually jump. Get your hands up there like you mean it.

6. Russian Lunges

Bodyweight lunges: easy, right? Too easy to approach the conditioning potential of the burpee. But what about jumping lunges? That’s exactly what a Russian lunge is. You lunge with one leg, then spring up and land in a lunge with the other leg forward. Keep doing it, alternating each time. You can even do this while holding a weight plate; just keep it lighter than you’d think would be necessary.

7. Get Up, Stand Ups

I’m not sure if this is the right name, but it sounds good. You start sitting down on the ground, legs straight, knees together, back tall, hands flat on the ground at your sides. Pop up by pushing off the ground with your hands and bringing your feet underneath you to stand up (throw in a vertical jump here to spice things up). Quickly return to the starting sitting position — without using your hands, if possible — and do it all over again.

8. Kettlebell Swings

If you’re looking for a self-contained comprehensive workout that will get you stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned without being a burpee, look no further than the kettlebell swing. Sure, you need a piece of equipment — the kettlebell — but I’d argue that the swing is probably safer to do repeatedly for high reps than the burpee. For every one burpee you’d normally do, do three swings.

9. Sandbag Shouldering

This is another option that requires a single piece of equipment, but it’s one you can make yourself by spending a few bucks at the surplus store and stuffing it with contractor bags filled with sand. Sandbag shouldering is exactly what it sounds like: pick the sandbag up and hoist it up to your shoulder, lower it back to the ground, repeat with the opposite shoulder. Throughout the entire movement, maintain as neutral a spine as possible. It’s essentially a deadlift (picking it up) and power clean (hoisting it up) hybrid exercise that hits almost every muscle in the body. And if you want to throw in some pushing work, you can overhead press the thing once it’s on your shoulder.

No sandbag? Fill a duffel bag with soft weighted objects – emphasis on soft so that you don’t conk yourself in the head.

10. Jump Rope

For pure conditioning’s sake, few activities beat the jump rope. It’s a mainstay in boxing, MMA, kickboxing, wrestling, and even swimming and endurance running training programs for the simple reason that it just works. Of course, jumping rope is a miserable way to improve one’s conditioning, but that’s a common problem with methods that actually work. Another advantage is that jumping rope is self-limiting. It’s really hard to jump rope with poor technique or hurt yourself doing it because you’ll just catch the rope with your foot or slam it into your shins. If you do it wrong, wrong enough to get into trouble, you won’t be able to actually jump rope.

11. Tabata Squats

Think air squats are pointless and way too easy? Okay, guy. Try this out: just squat down and back up as many times as you can in 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat the sequence 7 more times.

12. Mountain Climbers

Sort of like running in place from the pushup position, mountain climbers can destroy you if you’re not careful. Your abs will be sore, your chest will pound, your stamina will increase. If mountain climbers on the ground are too tough, try them on an incline; place your hands on the couch, a coffee table, a bench, or a sturdy chair.

13. Shoulder Tap Planks

Assume the plank position: arms straight, hands flat, body forming a single unbroken line. Then, ever so slowly, tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Slowly place your right hand back on the ground. Now, tap your right shoulder with your left hand. Return it to rest on the ground. Keep alternating shoulder taps. Go slow and feel the tension in your trunk muscles. Tougher than you thought, eh?

14. Thrusters

Hold two weighted objects at your shoulders. Bend your knees and lower into a squat, and rise back up to standing. Once your knees are straight again, go right into a shoulder press. These get your heart pumping in no time.

15. Sandbag Clean & Press

Start in a squat position with the sandbag at your feet. Bending at the elbows, flip the bag upward to touch your chest. Then squat and raise the sandbag over your head. Finish by dropping the sandbag onto the ground, and repeat.

Now, watch all of the moves in action!

Whether you’re looking to improve mobility, strength, conditioning, or overall fitness, the burpee is a fine choice. But it’s not the only one, or even the best one. If you’re getting tired of burpees, or just want to try something new for a change, give the exercises from today’s post a trial run. I think you’ll like them. Or maybe you’ll hate them, which means they’re probably working.

Let’s hear from you down below. Have you done any of these exercises? How do they compare to burpees? Got any other suggestions for people sick of the burpee?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.


The post 13 Alternatives to Burpees for When You’re Tired of Doing Burpees appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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alternatives to back squatAs great as back squats are for strength, general fitness, and body composition, sometimes they just don’t work for a person. Maybe they cause knee, shoulder, or wrist pain. Maybe someone’s body proportions aren’t conducive to proper back squatting. Maybe their legs are too long to achieve good depth without compromising position. While there are dozens of articles imploring you to mobilize this or that joint and work out the kinks in this or that muscle so that the back squat will work, and those can be very informative and helpful, some people just don’t want to back squat. For whatever reason, it doesn’t work for them.

Especially now, when gyms are closed and it’s difficult to get your hands on a barbell, you might be looking for alternatives to back squats that will keep your legs just as strong.

Plenty of other knee flexion exercises are worth doing. Let’s take a look at some of the best alternatives.

9 Back Squat Alternatives You Can Do At Home

  1. Air squats
  2. Goblet squats
  3. Front squats
  4. Band Zercher squats
  5. Bulgarian split squats
  6. Resistance band split squats
  7. Step ups
  8. Walking lunges and Reverse Lunges
  9. Tempo squat jumps

1. Air Squats

air squats

Don’t underestimate the efficacy of the simple bodyweight air squat. It’s great for mobility and surprisingly metabolically demanding.

To do air squats, start with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend at the knee, and come to a low “seat” in an imaginary chair. Keep a straight line between your tailbone and your head. Don’t think you can work your quads without heavy weights? Do a few high-rep sets of air squats and you’ll feel it. If you’d like an extra challenge, wearing a weighted vest or holding weights at your sides will add some extra oomph.

2. Goblet Squats

goblet squatsGoblet squats are easier on most bodies than back squats for two reasons: less weight is used (because you have to hold it in your hands at chin level) and they promote a more “natural” squatting technique. To perform a goblet squat, you hold a weight (kettlebell, weight plate, dumbbell, small child) at chin level, stay tall, and squat down between your legs while maintaining an upright torso. Many seasoned strength coaches use the goblet squat to teach beginners how to squat because it’s so intuitive.

That said, there are some extra details to keep in mind:

  • Tuck your elbows against your body. This creates a more stable “shelf” of support for the weight.
  • Keep your chest up.
  • Push your knees out.

Since you won’t be pushing heavy weights with the goblet squat, focus on higher reps and more overall volume. If things get dicey, dropping the weight in a goblet squat is way easier than dropping a barbell sitting on your back.

3. Front Squats

front squatTo me, front squats have always felt more natural than back squats. There’s less thinking about what your joints are doing and which muscle groups you’re supposed to be activating. You just squat with a weight in the front rack position and the rest follows. It’s hard to mess up and round your lower back because if you lean too far forward during a front squat, you’ll just dump the weight.

According to a 2009 study on front and back squats in trained individuals, front squats exert fewer compressive forces on the knee and “may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.”‘>2

To target quads, hamstrings, and glutes, use a surface high enough that your knee is at 90° when you step onto it. The higher the box, the more glute and hamstring you’ll hit. Lower boxes will focus more on the quads. Try not to push with the off foot. If you find yourself pushing off despite best efforts, dorsiflex the off foot and touch down only with the heel.

8. Walking Lunges and Reverse Lunges

walking lungeMy go-to exercise when dealing with substandard hotel gyms is a few sets of walking lunges while carrying the heaviest dumbbells they’ve got. There’s something special about the combination of moving through space and lifting that adds a whiff of complexity and increases the training adaptations.

Lunges are relatively easy on the knees for many people who get knee pain during back squats. For others, it’s the opposite (but this post isn’t really intended for them). If you have problems with lunges, play around with the torso angles. Turning the movement into more of a single leg hip hinge by slightly leaning forward (shoulders over knees) can alleviate unpleasant forces to the knee.

To make them easier, forego the weights. To make them more challenging, add hand weights and a weighted vest if you feel like you need to ramp it up.

reverse lungeWalking lunges are awesome, but they require magnificent balance. And if you’re pushing heavy weight, any minor mistake during the initial descent can send you and the weight tumbling. They also require a lot of room. Reverse lunges are generally safer, more stable, and they don’t require much space (because you do them in place).

Instead of taking steps forward, you will step backward into your lunge and return to standing for each rep.

9. Tempo Squat Jumps

Start as you would an air squat, feet shoulder-width apart. Over a count of four, lower into a squat position. Explosively jump up, land soft, and lower your body back into a squat position, taking a full count of four to get there. You can watch Brian demonstrate this and all of the above squat alternative movements in this video.

That’s it for today, everyone. If you feel like you’re missing out on the barbells at the gym, I hope you’ve found at least a couple exercises in today’s post to fill the void — and get you a fantastic workout in the process.

Thanks for reading. What are your favorite alternatives to the back squat?


The post 9 Worthy Alternatives to Back Squats (No Barbell Required) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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plankWhen you ask most people what it takes to be fit, you get some pretty wild answers. Hours on the treadmill or pounding pavement every day. Hours in the weight room. Obsessing over how to turn every moment of the day into an opportunity for some kind of workout move.

I never liked what I heard, and after many decades of overtraining, I decided it was time to come up with a sane alternative—Primal Blueprint Fitness as I’ve called it over the years. It boils down to three logical steps all rooted in ancestral patterns people lived for hundreds of thousands of years:

All told, it’s a handful of hours a week, most of it moving frequently. In addition to those 4-5 hours a week of walking or other light movement, throw in an hour’s worth of strength training and 15 minutes of sprint time. There you go. Do that, and you’ll be in darn good shape.

I’ve written over the years about ideas for moving frequentlywalking, hiking, and various ways to keep your walking routines interesting. But it’s not just about walking. Moving frequently can mean a lot of things after all.

Today I’m sharing a whole host of video how-tos and routines that touch on all of those three Primal Fitness Laws—but especially #4 and #5. Sit back, watch the ones that speak to you, and see how they’ll shake up how you’re working out….

First off, let’s review the Primal Essential Movements:

The 4 Primal Essential Movements





For those who have these moves down and want to step up the effort, variations are one tool.

Advanced Variations On Basic Moves

One-Leg Push-Ups

Dead Stop Push-Ups

Now let’s move on to resistance training workouts.

Lifting Heavy Things

My Favorite Way To Lift Heavy Things


That brings us to Primal Law #5: Sprint Once In a While….

Sprinting How-Tos

My Sprinting Workout

Running Form Primer

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s move on to quick workouts you can do anywhere.

Quick Workouts


On the Road Warrior Workout

More About My Personal Routine

How My Routine Has Changed

My Take On “Ab” Workouts

How I Rest: Matters for Ancestral Fitness

My Favorite Way To Play… After All These Years

Thanks for stopping in, everybody. Have thoughts or questions about any of the above moves or routines—or anything fitness related? Shoot me a line below. Have a great week.


The post Video Roundup: The Moves, Routines and Know-How You Need For Ultimate Primal Fitness appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Today’s show is with Dr Kelly Starrett, the man behind Mobility Wod and New York Times bestselling author of Becoming a Supple Leopard. This guy knows his stuff – you’re in for a treat.

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