Book Review: Primal Endurance

primal endurance cover

Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns (2016)

Amazon link for purchasing

I became interested in this book to learn more about aerobic heart rate training (specifically via the Maffetone method) and following a primal diet for endurance athletes.

Mark Sisson’s website, Mark’s Daily Apple (, has been around since 2006. It contains information on Diet & Nutrition, Fitness, Weight Loss, Primal Lifestyle, and Personal Improvement.  Mark is a former tri-athlete and marathoner who became interested in a Paleo-like diet (rather than a carbohydrate-dependent one) and a way of training for endurance sports that does not overstress and burnout the body.

As I made my way through the book from cover to cover, I found myself underlining sections as if I were studying the book for a class.  There is a lot of interesting and useful information that I plan to incorporate into my training and nutrition.

In the introduction of the book, Sisson states the goals and outcomes of a primal athletic lifestyle:

  • Reduction of excess body fat
  • Improved performance by reprogramming your genes to burn fat and spare glycogen during sustained endurance efforts
  • Avoid overtraining, burnout, illness, and injury through improved balance of stress and rest (in training and in life in general)
  • Periodized and purposeful workouts with fewer total training hours and more return on investment
  • Fun while being active
  • Variation in your training, movement, play, and competition
  • More energy

Some thoughts and ideas that resonated with me:

  • ”The Black Hole”: an ineffective middle zone in training that’s too slow to make you better, too fast to allow for sufficient recovery (p. 41). Pretty sure I’ve been there . . . 


  • The importance of building an aerobic endurance base, and staying in that zone 100% of the time when building.  Even wandering into an 80/20 (aerobic/anaerobic) will not produce good results. “When a training group of disparate abilities gathers for a long run intended to be aerobic, it’s typically only aerobic for the select few folks at the front of the pack, like the top few runners on the varsity. For the majority of participants, it can easily turn into a destructive black-hole session.” (p. 43)
  • The aerobic base building period = minimum of eight weeks to begin the season. (p. 65) Drifting out of the aerobic zone even briefly can cause lactate to accumulate in the blood, a hormonal response, and an acceleration in glucose metabolism (which is the opposite of what you are trying to build, fat metabolism).
  • The importance of Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) tests to measure aerobic improvement (p. 67) 

    The importance of Mobility (NOT the same thing as stretching), including the work of Kelly Starrett, author and founder of (p. 152). Starrett recommends devoting 15 minutes of each endurance workout to working on correct positioning and alignment. This includes running drills (hopping, high knees, kickouts) that help your nervous system integrate and preserve correct form in the midst of fatigue. Post work-out, stretching, foam rolling, and massage help to stimulate the parasympathetic system (and to hasten recovery).

  • Starrett also emphasizes resistance training and mobility practices like yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, and kettlebell training. As you fatigue during a run, you want to fatigue into safe mechanical positions and have your efficiency increase, not decrease. Resistance training in addition to running strengthens these positions, spinal alignment, mobility, breathing patterns, recovery techniques, and sleeping habits.
  • A detailed section on Maximum Sustained Power (Jacques DeVore) strength training (pp. 166+)–why to do it, examples of workouts and progressions.
  • Learning how to improve your deadlift, squat, vertical jump, and one-legged press can translate to faster race times (p. 168).

    Sisson’s “Primal Essential Movements:” pushups, pullups, squats, and planks (p. 161) and the baseline mastery standards for these (p. 163):


    Females:  20 pushups, 5 pullups (overhand grip), 50 squats, 2 minute hold of forearm/feet plank

    Males:  50 pushups, 12 pullups (overhand grip), 50 squats, 2 minute hold of forearm/feet plank

    A complete strength session is two or three sets of the max reps in each of the above exercises.

    Videos are available on YouTube for each of the essential movements; a search for the movement plus “Primal Blueprint Fitness” will bring up a video of Sisson explaining and demonstrating the move. What I like is that he also demonstrates progressions if you can’t do the move yet without scaling it down first and working up to it


  • Dr. Tim Noakes’ Central Governor Theory: that physical discomfort (lack of oxygen, burning muscles) are NOT the main limiters in physical performance, but that instead, brain function is what leads to good performance. In other words, ‘mind over matter.’ (pp. 178-179)
  • A section on sprinting (to be done after the aerobic base building period is completed) to improve cardio function, help muscles buffer lactic acid, and extend “time to fatigue” markers in intense workouts. Sprinting elicits an adaptive hormone spike into the blood which delivers a potent anti-aging effect. It also improves resilience to physical (muscular) and psychological fatigue (p. 185+). In addition, practicing safe sprint technique allows your injury risk when running at low intensity to drop substantially. This section gives parameters for good sprinting sessions (with recommendations to not over-do the work) as well recovery time in the days (weeks) afterwards.

    Sisson illustrates some good warm up exercises to do pre-sprint (p. 202).


    Benefits of wearing compression gear (calf sleeves are a favorite of mine):

    *Enhances ability of lymphatic and circulatory systems in clearing out waste products and excess fluid in tired muscles after strenuous workouts

    *Squeezes blood vessels open with force, allowing more blood and oxygen into the area to remove waste and fluid

    *The pumping (waste removal) effect is enhanced when combined with elevation of the area above the heart and also with movement

    *Many athletes wear compression socks/sleeves (after activity) overnight and while traveling (long flights or automobile rides)

    *Worn while running, compression socks/sleeves minimize muscle vibrations that occur upon impact and contribute to post-exercise soreness

This was an informative, interesting read that didn’t go too deeply into the science of any one area (biomechanics, nutrition, etc.); it provided just enough information to pique interest and make you want to dig for more.  It was worth the dollars spent and the time reading.

The authors of this book also host a podcast, Primal Endurance Podcast, which you can find on in the iTunes store or at this link.  It is most often hosted by Brad Kearns; it includes summaries of chapters from the book as well as Listener Q & As and interviews with fitness influencers, coaches, and athletes. It’s in my podcast queue of those favorites to which I listen weekly.


One thought on “Book Review: Primal Endurance

  1. Thank you for this review it is so insightful. Pretty sure the black hole is my problem – I will definitely get this book. Kelly Starrett is the best of the best and I love that Sisson is using his methods.


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