How I Doubled My Muscular Endurance in 3 weeks with the Primal Challenge

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I'm pretty interested in working out. The health benefits are great, but I really just like how it makes me feel. Seeing and experiencing progress while hitting new goals is awesome.

But I get bored easily when it comes down to keeping a workout routine. I'm pretty good at starting workouts but not sticking to them.

I've tried so many different workouts, it's hard to keep track. Here are a few of them:

  • CrossFit - Did the workouts of the day on my own and freaked all the Gold's Gym members out. Competed in Fight Gone Bad and got my butt kicked, plus a visit from Mr. Pukie. (mid-2007-early 2008)
  • Navy SEAL-inspired workout consisting of running, swimming, pushups and pullups. Brutal. (2009)
  • P90x (2010)
  • Kettlebells off and on since 2010
  • The Tim Ferriss 4 Hour Body Workout to gain weight and increase strength. I think I gained 10-12 pounds in a month with this. I also ate bacon every day for breakfast that month. (January 2011).

As you can tell, I have a hard time sticking to a “routine.” But I think it’s good to switch things up, and it’s much more exciting for me this way. Currently I’m doing a 70s bodybuilding program. Pumping Iron, for the win.

Flashback to the end of 2013. I had recently turned 30 and needed a kick in the pants to get my workout game going. While listening to a podcast from Lewis Howes, I heard about Onnit, an athletic performance/equipment/nutritional company and one of his sponsors. I stumbled upon the Onnit Primal Challenge and was intrigued by the workout (I have yet to try their supplements so can’t comment on them).

You can see the full details of the Primal Challenge by watching this video (skip to 5:43 for the workout explanation). It’s basically a 5-week program consisting of 6 exercises, performed 3 times per week:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Kettlebells
  3. Thrusters
  4. Bent row
  5. Push-ups
  6. Burpees

I really like hate burpees, because they are awesome for building strength and as an aerobic exercise they are painful.

On the first day of the Primal Challenge, you perform as many reps as possible for each exercise with the weight you select (I went with a 35 lb kettlebell). Then, you try to improve these numbers each time you work out.

As you can see below, this workout helped me basically double my muscular endurance (# of reps performed with the same weight) in an extremely short time. Maybe that’s the wrong terminology, so feel free to correct me there. I'm definitely not an expert.

Week 1


  1. Deadlifts- 26
  2. Kettlebell swings - 26
  3. Thrusters - 14
  4. Bent row - 35
  5. Push-ups - 35
  6. Burpees - 15


  1. Deadlifts- 30
  2. Kettlebell swings - 30
  3. Thrusters - 15
  4. Bent row - 38
  5. Push-ups - 40
  6. Burpees - 16


  1. Deadlifts - 34
  2. Kb swings - 33
  3. Thrusters - 17
  4. Bent row - 43
  5. Push-ups - 45
  6. Burpees - 18

Week 2


  1. Deadlifts - 38
  2. Kb swings - 35
  3. Thrusters - 18
  4. Bent row - 46
  5. Push-ups - 47
  6. Burpees - 20


  1. Deadlifts - 40
  2. Kettlebell swings - 36
  3. Thrusters - 20
  4. Bent row - 48
  5. Push-ups - 48
  6. Burpees - 22

Week 3


  1. Deadlifts - 45
  2. Kettlebell swings - 40
  3. Thrusters - 23
  4. Bent row - 51
  5. Push-ups - 51
  6. Burpees - 25


  1. Deadlifts - 53
  2. Kettlebell swings - 50
  3. Thrusters - 26
  4. Bent row - 55
  5. Push-ups - 52
  6. Burpees - 26


  1. Deadlifts - 65. 150% increase
  2. Kettlebell swings - 55. 112% increase
  3. Thrusters - 31. 121% increase
  4. Bent row - 59. 69% increase
  5. Push-ups - 59. 69% increase
  6. Burpees - 30. 100% increase

As you can see, I didn’t follow the workout for the entire 5 weeks (can’t remember if I got bored, busy, lazy or moved on to something else), but I still saw big improvements in each exercise (average of 103% increase in reps across all exercises). It’s not like I was a world class athlete before (and I’m still not, let’s be VERY clear), so this kind of increase might not come as easily for folks who are.

I didn’t eat any special diet or use any supplements during this time. I don’t drink soda very often or smoke cigarettes ever but I enjoy a happy hour from time to time.

For me, doing something is almost always better than doing nothing, when it comes to working out. Just being a little bit consistent can have big results. When I'm consistently doing something and trying to improve each week, it feels great. So my goal lately has been to be more consistent.

I’m not a professional nutritionist or workout guru, so I can only report on what happened when I tried this workout. Hope you find it interesting.


Photo credit: Daniel Lee