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Primal Exercises to Improve Movement, Posture, Balance and Strength

April 24, 2019

Most people don’t know this, but good human movement starts from the ground up. Before we stand, walk, run and jump, we start on the ground. As Gray Cook puts it, we need the 4 B’s: Breathe, bend, balance and bounce. When we are all born, we do not have the ability to do much. As we age, we begin with tummy time, crawling, rolling over, standing up, and eventually walking. If this sounds like I am talking about a newborn infant to child, then that is correct. The funny thing is that as we age, we lose ability to do these primal movements. We tend to look at exercise as running, biking, swimming and lifting weights. These are all true forms of working out, but maybe not the only thing we should be focusing on.

Let me explain. As we begin life in the “real world”, starting when we go to school, we begin to sit more and not move as much. Kids move more than adults that are for sure. When we get to about the college age, we sit even more, and move less. At that time, we start to lose some abilities we once acquired simply by growing up. As time goes on we lose the ability to roll over, get up off the ground, kneel and squat. This may sound silly to you, but this is true and well documented. It is not news that we sit too much and don’t move enough. So you should understand that our posture and strength diminishes as we age.

So how can we get pure core strength and mobility back? We can do this by simply starting on the ground and working our way up. These “primitive” patterns can help us increase core strength, improve movement, and help us get back to moving how we were made to move. Let’s go back to basics and gather back what we once had, but lost over time due to our daily limitations. Include these 5 primal exercises in your daily warm-up, and watch all of your athletic movements improve.

The Turkish Get-up

  • Start by lying on your side, for purposes of explanation we will assume you start on your L. side.
  • With your L. hand grasp a kettlebell or dumbbell (15 lbs or less).
  • With the weight in your hand roll onto your back and press the weight straight up like a bench press.
  • The R. leg will go straight out in front of your while the L. knee stays bent with the foot on the ground.
  • Place the R. arm on the ground to stabilize your body and use your L. leg to help propel your body up off the ground. Do all of this while maintaining the weight up above you with the arm extended.
  • Next take your R. leg and kick it behind your body. If you can't do this part of the TGU then stop there and go back to the TGU to pelvic post. Once the R. leg is behind you from this lunge position stand up while maintaining the weight up in the air.
  • Now reverse everything you just did and go back to the side lying position.
  • Do this as many times as you can until technique breaks down.
  • Please don't perform reps with poor form. Quality over quantity on this one!

     How To Video: The Turkish Get-Up

Inch Worm

This simple exercise helps increase core stability, shoulder stability and improves overall flexibility. It mimics a crawling movement while maintaining a strong core. You simply keep your arms and legs straight at all times while walking your hands out as far as possible, keeping your body straight. Walk back in maintaining the same posture and repeat.

     How To Video: Inch Worm


Starting on all fours on the ground is an essential movement to everyone. The “quadruped”, more known as all fours, is a position/movement we lose as we age. The bird dog is the perfect movement to mimic core rotary stability when we are younger. You simply start on all fours in good alignment and then extend the opposite arm and leg. As you return, pull then hand and knee to the ground together and back out to increase the challenge of the core rotary stability strength. The bird-dog is an essential core exercise that can be incorporated into most strength training protocols. The bird/dog requires asymmetrical trunk stability in both the sagittal and transverse planes of movement. Consider this an effective exercise to maintain a healthy low back.

     How To Video: Bird/Dog

Bear Crawl

If you have kids, I am sure you can remember the first time your child started to crawl. It was an amazing part of the growing up process to watch them grow up. Do you remember how much they struggled at first? I do. There is a reason for this. Crawling is hard work! Once we start to walk, we forget about crawling. Walking is a much easier way to move around. Us humans always take the path of least resistance. What we forget is that the hard stuff can benefit us. At State of Fitness, we use crawling very regularly. Our clients have a love/hate relationship with the crawl. They notice that the more they crawl, the better their shoulders feel and the stronger their core becomes. They also get a great metabolic effect from the movement thus leading to more fat loss. Try crawling for 40 meters and see just how great of an exercise it is!

     How To Video: Bear Crawl


I learned this exercise about 6 years ago and have kept it as a staple in my programs ever since. This exercise helps improve hip mobility, as well as core and shoulder strength. You start in the push-up position and then lift one leg and try and put it right next to your hand. If you watch a young kid, they do this with ease. For adults, we have lost strength and mobility, so it is a little harder.

     How To Video: Spidermans

The Workout

All of the above exercises can be done at any time, during any workout. Overall, I have found it best to perform these movements as a warm-up to stimulate the nervous system, vestibular system (think balance), activate the core musculature, and improve mobility. Perform the following 5 exercises in a circuit fashion before each workout, or on an off-workout day for daily workout maintenance.
  • Turkish Get-up: 5 reps per side
  • Bird/Dog: 5 x 5 second holds each side
  • Inchworm: 6 full lengths walking out and in
  • Spidermans: 5 alternating reps each side
  • Bear Crawl: 50 meters total
If you want to gain strength, improve movement, improve your sports and just plain feel better, sometimes you just need to start with the basics and get on the ground.

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