Interview: Primal Fitness

This is an interesting interview with former pro-triathlete Brad Kearns about taking a more “primal” approach to your endurance training. Here are some of the lessons to take home (with some of my own opinions and suggestions mixed in):

1. Kearns suggests an “intuitive” approach to training. Forget about those pre-planned highly-structured weekly workout schedules. Listen to your body. It will tell you if today is good day for that super-long ride or run, or if your legs are up for a tough sprint workout, or if you just need to take the day off and opt for an afternoon nap. On the coach-athlete relationship, he says that the athlete is the ultimate expert when it comes to his own body and what to do with it. A coach should ride shotgun; he shouldn’t be a carjacker.

2. We’re not all “genetic freaks.” There’s no objective “ought” about the number of hours/miles any one athlete should be putting in each week. As Kearns puts it: “All runners speak in terms of mileage per week, which is a flawed mentality. Conventional Wisdom about endurance training is a massive ruse that we all need to wake up to and reject wholeheartedly.” The point is that not all of our bodies can (or even should) handle excessive training volumes; not all of our knees can handle so much pounding of the pavement. Over-training to reach a certain mileage will lead to injury and burnout. Train smart, not necessarily long.

3. What is “fitness”? Kearns talks about a time when he was finishing olympic-distance triathlons in 1:46, but could hardly sprint or do push-ups or pull-ups. It’s kind of like how some teachers, in order to raise their students’ standardized test scores, will “teach to the test.” Sure, the students might score higher on the test, but that doesn’t mean that they are really learning or getting smarter. The same, perhaps, goes for training. If you devote all of your workouts to one particular event, you certainly may succeed at that particular event. But if your body is not capable of doing many of the diverse  activities that we associate with fitness (strength exercises, sprinting, flexibility, and, yes, endurance), are you really a fit human being? Kearns would say no. I would agree with him.

4. Barefoot running. Kearns has embraced barefoot living. He suggests that one of the best things you can do for your running form is not to spend hours watching videos and attending clinics, but to simply kick of your shoes and spend some time running barefoot. Even if you don’t fully embrace barefoot running, incorporating it into your regimen will help train your body to run with better form (e.g., landing on your mid- or fore-foot, instead of your heel) even when you are wearing shoes. If you do embrace barefoot running, be sure to make the transition slowly. You’ve spent your entire life in what are essentially casts which restrict the mobility of the complex structure of your feet, and you’ll now be working muscles in your feet, legs, and even back which have been seriously neglected. Be patient and it may pay off.

This all pretty much clashes with a lot of the conventional wisdom out there. And some of this may not be the best advice if you are one of those who truly can compete and who really does wish to succeed in the sport of triathlon (no doubt more than a handful in our club are capable of going somewhere in the sport of triathlon). However, if you’ve chosen the sport of triathlon because you want to have fun, and truly be healthy and fit (and happy), some of this stuff may be worth taking seriously. Any thoughts?


3 Responses to “Interview: Primal Fitness”
  1. Good stuff Matt! I definitely agree there is a problem with the “teach for the test” and how that applies to training. I think we need diversity in workouts! I dunno how I feel about “non-structured” workouts; my “body” isn’t as strict on me as some professional workout plans. I also don’t think I am ready to embrace the “bare-foot running” thing either. I am working with the Nike Free shoes right now. Maybe I’ll get there one day… – ERIN

  2. Dhruv Balwada says:

    Well isnt that one of the reason why we are doing triathlons? I mean it is better training than just being a runner. Also swimming is one of the best total body workouts. I am not arguing that we don’t miss out on strength training but that it is still better than some other sports out there.

  3. @Dhruv: You make a good point. A triathlete is in a much better position than someone who trains for and runs only 5Ks or marathons, or someone who only swims a certain event, etc.

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