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Get Primed for Primal Move

June 5, 2013 09:01 AM

Games are a core part of the Primal Move curriculum.

I swear I’m not competitive anymore.

Let me revise that statement: I like to swear I’m not competitive anymore, and my outlets for that type of energy have dwindled in number enough that I’m able to pull off this argument at least halfway convincingly. Most of the time…I think. (Hey, I just don’t want to be known as the jerk who can’t take it down a notch when the situation calls for temperance.)

Unfortunately, instructor Adrienne Harvey has my number from the moment I walk through the door to The Dance Complex in Cambridge, Mass. She knows my history as an U.S. national team rugby player, and even though I’m nearly four years clean, I suppose she figures some traits are hard to shake.

"Ohhhhh, I can’t wait to see how you’ll do in the crab-walk races," she says. "Watch out, everybody, she knows how to tackle!"

National Primal Move instructor Adrienne Harvey demonstrates the crab walk, while the author practices in the background.

Harvey calls it right, of course. I scuttle and silverback (a version of a lateral shuffle in which you can use your hands) as quickly as I safely can from line to line, and by midafternoon, I end up locked in a minutes-long tug-of-war battle — from a modified plank position — with one of the men in attendance. (I win, by the way.)

The daylong Primal Move (PM) Certification course is an appealingly dense mixture of instruction, demonstration and experience, and Harvey paces it like a pro. We take turns instructing each other in the movements, and I leave feeling able to convey both the information and the spirit of its delivery.

It’s in that spirit where the real magic happens. What had originally piqued my interest in the course was its emphasis on play and the pure, unadulterated joy of animation. "Primal Move is about being happy and enjoying movement again, as we did when we were kids. We did not think about fat burning and muscle building, plyometrics and periodization," writes Peter Lakatos, founder of the Primal Move program. "We did not even feel like we were training, we just loved moving."

A focus on recreation is often, in my opinion, the missing component in an otherwise solid fitness regimen, and the fun factor tends to be an accurate predictor of compliance or evasion. A program can be as good as you want it to be, but that doesn’t mean you — or your clients — are going to want to do it.

PM delivers on the fun front, but also in terms of eliciting measurable improvements in strength, mobility and body composition. The combination of the following qualities will keep you coming back for more.
1) You’ll Move Better

Enjoyable as it may be, Primal Move is not all about play. Quite the contrary: Its ulterior motive (and main mission) is to get you moving better. The 12-exercise warm-up is a mobility screening in disguise, and through careful repetition of the series, coaches can note improvement in clients’ movement patterns, as well as strength levels. In fact, there is a direct tie-in to the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), and there are a few similarities in the course material. "I realized how poorly people move, and also how much they don’t want to do their FMS corrections," says Lakatos. "So I decided to hide corrections behind play and fun movement. Move better, move stronger and move more, and later on, move faster."

Those familiar with the FMS will notice the two methodologies play nicely together.

Once you’re looking for this connection it becomes obvious. Fundamental exercises incorporate midline stability, brain-body coordination drills, and ankle, hip, thoracic spine and shoulder mobilizations. "The FMS tie-in has added even more value to my CK-FMS certification," says Harvey. "Also, the progressions are such that anyone can start and some will progress to a mind-bendingly advanced level."

Primal Move also rolls in movements that awaken the vestibular system — the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance and eye movements — which is sadly inactive in most people. Compared to standard gym exercises, movements happen in 3D, including much more rocking, spinning and rolling.

By the end of the day, I am pleased that I am able to maintain a more upright torso in the rock bottom position of a squat, and my hips have loosened up measurably. Best of all, these improvements weren’t tedious to come by.

"Primal Move is a game-based, play-oriented approach to the art and science of enhancing your movement skill. With deep roots both in modern science and the most revered of the ancient ‘body culture’ disciplines [Ginastica Natural, for example], it provides you a dynamic way to effectively retrain your body and reclaim its natural ability to move with elegance, strength, power and speed," says Lakatos. "Benefits often include improved endurance, a reduction or removal of pain, greater energy and a radically improved sense of overall well-being."

 At its core, Primal Move is "a fun, creative, and slightly addictive way to improve mobility and coordination," says Harvey.
2) You Can Express Your Creativity

Each Primal Move training session includes a 10-element flow, which incorporates mobility, skill work, resistance training, metabolic conditioning and games, to name a few. The warm-up and cool-down are the only pieces explicitly prescribed exercise by exercise. How you execute the other eight points is up to you — and your imagination.
Harvey channels a silverback gorilla.

This means instructors design exercise combinations to suit whichever element is at hand, moving from one to the next so seamlessly that participants might not even notice the shift in gears. It’s even possible, once participants learn enough of the moves, that some of the class design is in their hands. One of the games involves partnering up and wordlessly performing an exercise combination that you come up with on the spot, and that your cohort then has to mimic. The process is then repeated with the roles reversed.
Crawling and creeping show up in quite a few exercise combinations, as brain-body coordination is crucial to health.

"I like how Primal Move provides a much-needed outlet for movement creativity," says Harvey. "As adults we often need ‘permission’ to play, and a practice like Primal Move provides that within a fitness structure that’s not restrictive."

That permission is granted in part by music selection. Lakatos notes the role of music in one’s ability to immerse oneself in an activity. Instructors are encouraged to select music that syncs with movements, and edges participants closer to entering a "flow state," described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as the mindset that accompanies being fully involved and fully energized by the task at hand. "It’s a program that can keep people sharp mentally, too," says Harvey.
3) You Can Explore Your Competitive Side

"What if we made a game out of training?" asks Lakatos.

"What if" indeed. The result is increased engagement, increased cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, and decreased self-consciousness. "That was a lot of work, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it!" says Mark Schneider, fellow trainer at The Movement Minneapolis, after I took him through a Primal Move session last week. That’s the trick.

Group sessions are called "tribe training," and focus on community, cooperation, and — you guessed it — competition. "Everyone seems to enjoy the games, especially when they involve both competition and creativity," says Harvey. "It’s a real joy to watch people become very engaged in the challenge." Peals of laughter fill the room; it’s rare to have a block of time to play and a safe space for friendly competition, and it does us good.

Some games are cooperative, such as this one, where the goal is to work together with a partner to move an object to a certain target without using your hands.

Games can involve everyone or a single other person, and as with every element of PM, intensity level can range from low key to all-out. Some are races, some involve intense concentration and the cooperative completion of a task, some mimic fighting, and others are tests of strength. (I’m still proud of my tug-of-war record.)

"Many of the drills have challenged me physically and mentally, and the potential for improvement is never ending," says Harvey. She is as competitive as she accuses me of being, and PM offers her another sphere in which she can pursue personal bests.

You haven’t lived until you’ve raced across the floor from a seated position.

If, as Lakatos says, the path to health and strength is the same one, Primal Move paves the way. "We aim to make changes through playful, beautiful and mindful movements," he says. Looking around at the group of people crawling, whirling, reaching and twisting around me, I am inclined to think he has already been successful.

For Primal Move workshops in your area, click here.

Jen Sinkler, RKC and Primal Move Fundamentals Instructor, is a longtime fitness writer and editor. Listed as one of Shape magazine’s "Top 30 Motivators of 2013," and Huffington Post’s "20 of the Best Fitness Experts Worth Following on Twitter," Jen works with clients to expand their capabilities at Movement Minneapolis. Sign up for her fitness newsletter at and follow her on Twitter @jensinkler.