I have been eating paleo for a few months and I've been trying to exercise paleo-style as well. And here I have some problems. I know the general idea, but when I try to get down to practice, I am really confused. It seems like any strength workout is pure science and mathematics.
So my questions is - how important it is to follow some kind of a strict plan? I generally just try to do simple stuff, lift dumbells, do variety of movements... till I am tired. But is it wrong? I've read so many confusing plans, with particular number of reps, intervals, sets... I don't think our ancestors had a chance to move in a such organized way!
But I also would like to build my muscles (and I am doing a not-bad job, especially with my arms) and get stronger, and don't want to do something that would slow my progress or damage my health!
At the moment I workout at home (I can't afford a gym) with dumbbels 2-4x a week. I do some tabatas once in a while, in classic stuff like push ups, squats, some mixed pseudo-martial arts movements and kicks, lifting in various configuration. I generally try to mix stuff and do most out from memory or some ideas from books. When my hands get tired, i move to legs then back to hands and so on. I also walk a lot (don't own a car).
To make a program, you have to have a goal in mind. Are you going for general health? Do you want to run a marathon? Play soccer? Do you want to get stronger or do you want to look good?
Your goal will determine your program, and yes, for most programs things are fairly regimented - you do a certain set of movements or exercises a couple times per week utilizing progressive overload until you can't get gains from that anymore, at which point you switch to a more complicated program and so forth.
The way paleo people exercise is that they don't exercise at all. Their life by nature is stressful and since they're less interested in competing with other people, and probably less interested in/capable of sculpting their bodies for looks, they don't usually program for anything. You can try to mimic this if you want, but it's basically impossible in this day and age to mimic wandering around being a hunter-gatherer while still holding down a real job. Things like Crossfit and MovNat try, and maybe they come close, but it's just plain hard to simulate HG existence. And in any event, paleo mimicry won't really do much for you if you're trying to compete at a modern activity against people training for that activity.
So that's my basic advice: state your goals, clearly, to yourself, and then develop a program around them. You mention wanting to "build muscle" - in this case, I would check out Mark Rippetoe and Starting Strength for a primer on what it takes to build muscle and get stronger. His key selling point is maximizing the novice effect - the ability of an untrained person to make rapid muscle gains. Your program sounds like it might be too unfocused to keep overloading your system to the point where it adapts. In the absence of a gym, that might be the best that you can do, of course, but it's worth doing the reading on how people train just to get an idea of how better to fill your goals.
Paralysis by ananlysis. Don't let that happen! Because exercise at its basics is rather simple. And it seems like you're doing a good job.
I think all of the above posters have really good advice. Maybe some loose thoughts:
Variety is really important, but it can be good to do one particular basic workout (containing some basic movements like pushup, pullup, squat, ...) to test your improvement.
Progressive overload is how you should train, but it is in the recovery that you get stronger. So if you're not improving, it could be that you're not working hard enough, or that you're not resting enough (quality and quantity)
Search the net for interesting new exercises, but don't get paralysed by all the complicated schemes you will encounter.
The point made above about specific goals is important, but if general health is your main goal, I think you're doing quite fine.
I agree that sprints are great, a lot of buck for your bang. My favorite are uphill sprints.
Train for athletic ability, the looks will follow. Vice versa is not necessarily true. By the way, ask some women about what they find attractive...
Keith Norris (over at Theory to Practice, super blog btw) talks a lot about auto-regulation: the 'art' of knowing when to push or when to back off. Really important, and makes your workout very effective, while decreasing the risk of injury or overtraining.
And indeed, don't forget to move a lot at low intensity: this is not really exercising or working out, but still very important for health.
Mark Sisson is coming out with a "Primal Blueprint Fitness" e-book next month ( http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ask-me-anything-and-updates/#more-12953 ). It is free to all subscribers of his e-mail newsletter ( http://www.marksdailyapple.com/feeds/ ), which is also free. It should be helpful in designing your workout program.
Try this blog for inspiration - workouts provided 6x/week. FREE. 20 minute workouts, and scaling for beginner, intermediate, advanced.
(not by my blog, but I'm willing to plug something I can follow easily, and don't need much equipment, if any, to accomplish daily)
As far as general fitness goes, I'd say what you are currently doing sounds good. Plenty of resources already mentioned for good, bottom-up designed exercise plans. But a good simple rule is the tried and tested 'Break a sweat' frequently, which it sounds like you are doing. Personally, I think sprints are hard to beat for overall fitness.
Check out Dan John at danjohn.net. Look for his randomizer post. Super awesome. Gets into all things fractal. You roll the dice to see what your day will be. "Feast or famine" for nutrition, what the WOD will be, or if it's a rest day. I think if you added some longer "hike/jog" efforts, it would be the perfect paleo "system".
Dumbbell squats scare the daylights out of me. Either the weight is too light to push yourself, or the weight is too heavy and you risk injury.
If you're looking to hit the quads safely (and I realize the squats do more than that), try a wall sit. Safe as can be, grueling, and effective. And you can progress to using heavy dumbbells.
This is what I do. I added the wall sit to my routine the weekend after Thanksgiving, and my progress has been phenomenal. And I see more benefits day to day from this one set - every other week now - than any other exercise I do.
Some people find it helpful to follow a work-out routine because it gives them a specific set of exercises to do, and goals to work towards. However, I find that work-out routines become boring quickly.
Instead, I have a large list of exercises that I pick from. I work at a web hosting company, so am looking to get up and move around frequently. Thus, I do a couple of them several times a week in one of the board rooms. Someone on our forums asked what they can do to stay fit, so I wrote up what I do: http://myhosting.com/forums/myhosting-forums/off-topic/373-best-exercises.html#post1871
I'm finding that many small (10-minute) work-outs are more beneficial than a few large work-outs. YMMV.
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