The Scientific Backing of Cavemantraining



Benefits of Unilateral Training / Neurological Development

Unilateral training involves performing exercises one limb at a time, or developing one side of the body at a time. An example would be performing one-legged squats, lunges, one-armed rows and side planks. There are a couple benefits of unilateral training. The first is that each limb or side has to independently perform. If you were to perform two-legged squats, for example, your dominant leg is able to take on more than 50% of the work load, thereupon taking it easy on the non-dominant leg. Training each side independently, however, requires that each side pull its own weight. Because of this, unilateral training can be used to improve a particular muscle’s weakness. If a client is weak on one side or in one limb, you can have them perform a greater number of repetitions on that weak side.

Another benefit of unilateral training is that it recruits a greater number of muscles and requires a greater amount of coordination. According to a 2005 study by Dr. David G. Behm, unilateral and unstable exercises produce greater activation of back and trunk stabilizers when compared to bilateral exercises. This means that the unilateral exercises better recruited participant’s core muscles as well as other surrounding stabilizing muscles.

Unilateral training mimics the recruitment and force production requirements of your core muscles when performing movements in daily life. A person’s abdominals, lower back, obliques and pelvic muscles are contracting throughout the day one sits, stands, reaches and bends over. Unilateral training requires your muscles to handle that same type of load as needed during daily activities, thus making it a more functional type of training. Dr. FM Feldwieser’s 2012 study furthers this finding. He and his team discovered that those who participated in unilateral exercises saw a greater amount of abdominal and back side-to-side muscle activity.

Another interesting study by Dr. Shiyu Zhou found that when participants performed unilateral exercises with only one limb, they simultaneously saw improvements in strength and muscular tone were found in the other limb that never underwent training. This is due to a mechanism called cross education, which comes from adaptations of the nervous system that transfer the changes from one side of the body to the other side.


Behm DG and Leonard AM. (2005). Trunk muscle electromyographic activity with unstable and unilateral exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(1). 193-201.

Feldwieser FM. And L Sheeran. 2012. Electromyographic analysis of trunk-muscle activity during stable, unstable and unilateral bridging exercises in healthy individuals. European Spine Journal. S(171-86).

Zhou S. 2000. Chronic neural adaptations to unilateral exercise: mechanisms of cross education. Exercise and Sports Science Review. 28(4). 177-84.


Complex, Multi-joint Movements Require More Energy

Traditional strength training workouts typically incorporate exercises that focus on isolating one particular muscle at a time. At times, an exercise will recruit a couple of muscles. For bodybuilding purposes, this type of isolation training is ideal. You want to focus on absolutely overloading a single muscle or a small set of muscles by performing a large number of exercises that target those muscles. While this type of training is effective at building muscular size, it is not the most effective way to develop functional strength, muscular coordination or physical performance.

In our Caveman Circuit program, we utilize only complex, multi-joint exercises. This means that there are multiple joints involved in every exercise we assign. Multiple joints means a large number of exercises that are required to complete the exercise. According to Dr. Lee E. Brown, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the National Strength and Conditioning Association, in order for muscles to contract, they must have a fuel supply at the ready. Muscle contraction is primarily fueled by adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which during high intensity exercise comes from the phosphagen and glycolysis system. Calories are originally used to fuel both of these energy systems that fuel high intensity muscle contractions. As a result, because complex, multi-joint exercises recruit a greater number of muscles, they in turn will burn an overall greater number of calories than isolation exercises in traditional strength training workouts.


Brown, Lee. Muscle Fuel: Energy Source for Muscle Contraction.


Developing Mental Toughness in your Clients

As a Caveman Trainer, you should not only be interested in helping your clients develop physically, but also mentally. Mental toughness is an important component that your clients must develop in order to perform at their highest level. According to George Karseras, the senior consultant at UK’s Sporting Bodymind, feelings affect physical performance. Confidence, motivation, anxiety and concentration, whether a client is conscious of those feelings being present or not, affect their performance when working out. According to Dr. Sheard’s 2009 study published in Perception and Motor Skills, mental toughness is directly related to successful physical performance. Dr. Garry Kuan’s 2007 study found similar results, as athletes who possessed greater self-confidence performed at a higher level.

Although some are naturally more mentally tough than others, it is a trait that can be taught. According to Dr. Gucciardi’s 2011 study in the Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology, athletes who possessed higher levels of mental toughness did so because of their previous experiences having to overcome difficult physical circumstances. If any of your clients haven’t experienced such difficult physical circumstances prior to attending the Caveman Circuit Training workouts, they should once they get to you. As a Caveman Circuit Trainer, you must be assertive and in-your-face with clients. You will motivate clients by using a loud voice and getting right up into their faces, encouraging them to keep pushing beyond their discomfort and pain. Because you will be on them, they will be forced to push beyond what they normally would, and as a result, over time, they will become more mentally tough. Dr. Gucciardi’s study further found that the second most influential component to an athlete’s mental toughness was their fear of negative peer responses. Your clients will work harder because they’re afraid of disappointing you and the others participating in the circuit, and will become mentally tougher because of it.

As you start out with clients, you’re going to need to be one them a bit more than those who are more advanced and experienced. Beginners are not going to know how to push themselves just yet. They’re going to think that discomfort and nausea means they must stop. Although this may seem like a tireless effort on your part as the trainer, who at times will feel as if you’re yelling at them over and over again, the benefits your clients will receive will be worth it. As time goes on, and they get more circuits under their belts, they’re going to become more mentally tough. Their confidence will increase. They will get more out of their workouts because they know they can push through the discomfort and will be able to get in more repetitions.

You pushing your clients to become more mentally tough will not only effect the quality of their workouts, however. According to a 2010 study by Dr. Gucciardi, athletes that possessed high levels of mental toughness not only reported greater physical developments, but also saw significantly lower levels of negative emotional states. In other words, being more mentally tough increases one’s happiness. According to Dr. Coulter, athletes who are more mentally tough report greater levels of self-belief, physical toughness, work ethic and motivation, and resilience. They’re able to remain focused and competitive during their training, even when exhausted.

How to Effectively Push Your Clients

As a Caveman Circuit Trainer, you’re not going to be able to be afraid or timid to raise your voice. Your clients are going to be exhausted and nauseous. If you weren’t there, they’d likely stop, and even with you there they’re going to want to quit. You can’t let them.

When presenting clients with instructions, you should utilize a normal speaking voice. Save your more intense voice for when you really need to motivate someone and use a drill sergeant voice when dealing with a truly difficult client. Saving your loud, intense voice to motivate will get your clients’ attentions more effectively.

When necessary, don’t be afraid to get in a client’s face and be assertive. You never want to demean or be rude to your clients, but you want to make it clear that you expect more out of them. You want to make them feel that you believe in them and that you know they can achieve more. For example, if a client is struggling with push-ups, our trainers have been known to actually get down on the floor next to them, close to their face and slam their hands on the ground encouraging them to get that one last repetition out.

Not only do we yell and scream encouragement during the circuit, we motivate our clients to yell and scream with us as they’re working out. This helps them push themselves and work harder. During Dr. Coulter’s study, one of the most common techniques athletes who possessed higher levels of mental toughness utilized was to talk to themselves when training. They would yell and encourage themselves to work harder and perform at a higher level.

If you were to run a class with no energetic atmosphere, with no noise and no yelling, your clients will not work as hard and as a trainer, you will have failed to push them as far as they can. You’re responsible for getting the energy up in the circuit.


Coulter TJ and Mallett CJ and Gucciardi DF. (2010). Understanding mental toughness in Australian soccer: perceptions of players, parents, and coaches. Journal of Sports Sciences. 28(7). 699-716.

Gucciardi DF and Jones MI. (2012). Beyond optimal performance: mental toughness profiles and developmental success in adolescent cricketers. Journal of Sport Exercise and Psychology. 34(1). 16-36.

Gucciardi DF. (2011). The relationship between developmental experiences and mental toughness in adolescent cricketers. Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology. 33(3). 370-93.

Gucciardi DF. (2010). Mental toughness profiles and their relations with achievement goals and sport motivation in adolescent Australian footballers. Journal of Sports Sciences. 28(6). 615-25.

Kareseras G. Mental strength: performing under pressure. Peak Performance.

Kuan G and Roy J. (2007) Goal profiles, mental toughness and its influence on performance outcomes among Washu athletes. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 6(CSSI-2). 28-33.

Sheard M. (2009). A cross-national analysis of mental toughness and hardiness in elite university rugby league teams. Perception and Motor Skills. 2009. 109(1). 213-23.


Elevated Metabolic Rate

An individual’s resting metabolic rate is the number of calories that they expend every day. Calories are required constantly in order to repair and maintain function of organs, including the heart, lungs, muscles, liver, intestine and skin. For those looking to lower their body fat percentage, resting metabolic rate is an important value to understand, as in order to succeed at decreasing fat, they must consume fewer calories than they burn.

Those actively working towards body fat loss are also interested in increasing their metabolic rate, which would cause them to burn an overall number of calories a day and thus facilitate their fat loss goals. Several factors determine an individual’s basal metabolic rate, including genetics, body type and sex. Two factors of metabolic rate can be altered, however, including a person’s body composition and physical activity. Individuals can increase the number of calories they burn in a day by participating in exercise. It’s important to understand, however, that not all exercise is equal when it comes to maximizing the number of calories burned.

Caveman Circuit features exercise bouts that last 30 to 45 minutes, with each session being structured in a circuit-type manner. Participants perform one activity at high intensity for 30 to 60 seconds, and then move directly into the next station. Each round consists of at least four stations, although typically more, and the participants get just 10 to 15 seconds of rest in between rounds.

There will be no sitting at any of the stations. Many are explosive in nature. Stations can include aerobic activities, such as skipping, and anaerobic strength and power focused exercises, like power push-ups.

This type of training is more effective at increasing one’s metabolic rate. According to Dr. Elisabet Borsheim and Dr. Roald Bahr of the Norweigian University of Sport and Physical Education in Oslo, Norway, the magnitude of calories burned after an individual is completed with exercise is dependent upon the intensity of the session. They found that brief intermittent bouts of exhaustive supramaximal exercise elevates post-exercise energy expenditure for four hours (pg. 12), while those who participate in traditional cardiovascular activity see elevations in post-exercise energy expenditure for just 35 minutes following training.

This means that when a person participates in a Caveman Circuit session, not only will they burn a significant number of calories during the actual training session, they will continue to burn more calories for about four hours after they’re finished. As a result, their basal metabolic rate will be greatly elevated for the day, supporting the efforts towards a decrease in body fat. Jason Karp at adds that clients who are supervised by a trainer during their high intensity workouts will likely exercise at a higher work load and thus see even greater effects of post-exercise energy expenditure.

It’s expected that post-exercise energy expenditure will be even higher for those who participate in Caveman Circuit Training, as our bouts of high intensity exercise are longer in duration. Instead of working at a high intensity, and then resting for a period before exercising at a high intensity again, our clients move from one station to the next without rest, working at a high intensity for a significantly longer duration. Therefore, those who follow our training program are likely to receive even greater elevated metabolic rate results than those in Dr. Borsheim and Dr. Bahr’s study.

According to Dr. Borsheim and Dr. Bahr, this elevated post-exercise energy expenditure is due to the body working to replenish oxygen stores, phosphagen resynthesis, the removal of lactate, increased breathing rate, and increased body temperature. All of these processes are elevated following high intensity exercise bouts.

Those who are consistent with their training with Caveman Circuit will likely see long-term increases in basal metabolic rate. According to Dr. Mole of the University of California, Davis, those who train regularly have about 7 to 10% faster metabolic rates than those who are sedentary. This is likely due to the difference in skeletal muscle that a person who’s consistent with high intensity workouts will possess.


Borsheim, E. and Bahr, R. 2003. Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption. Sports Medicine, 33(14) 1037-1060.,%20Duration%20no%20EPOC.pdf

Karp, J. Strength Training and RMR.

Mole, P. 1990. Impact of energy intake and exercise on resting metabolic rate. Sports Medicine, 10(2) 72-97.

Vella, C., and Kravitz, L. Exercise After-Burn: Research Update.


Functional Training

Functional training utilizes exercises that are designed to improve the force-producing capabilities of one’s muscles as they perform movements. Often these movements are related to activities one would perform in their daily life. In our daily lives, we must be able to squat down, bend over and pick up children or a bag of groceries. A squat that is completed on a reclined leg squat machine would not be a functional exercise, because it doesn’t mimic the squat motion that one would perform in their daily life. But, performing a squat while standing does mimic what is required of us during our lives, and thus incorporating a body weight squat would be better for developing functional strength.

In essence, functional training puts emphasis on developing movements rather than focusing on isolating specific muscles. Functional training respects that the body works in a total chain. According to Ken Kashubara, full-body exercises that utilize multiple joints, restrict local fatigue, reduce stress on individual joints and increase a person’s coordination. BLANK adds that functional training not only increases a person’s ability to perform challenging movements, but they decrease the risk of injury.

Currently, most of the studies that compare functional training to traditional training in the general population fail to utilize an appropriate battery of tests. Many tested for muscle girth improvements, instead of looking at improvements in movements. However, in 2007, a study funded by Dr. John Porcari and Denise Milton tested the effectiveness of functional training while utilizing a battery of tests that looked at movements. The researchers looked at elderly individuals and tested them on their ability to get up out of a chair, scratch their back and walk constantly for six minutes. One group participated in functional training, performing exercises like standing on one leg, squatting with their arms forward, push-ups on a wall, lateral squats and lunge and chop. That group saw significantly greater improvements in their movement abilities, supporting the idea that functional training better transfers to real-life movements.


Anders, M. 2007. Function Follows Fitness.

Functional Training & Core Stabilization. The Fit Stop Human Performance Lab.

Kashubara, K. 2007. Functional strength training; using hundreds of muscles with each exercise.


Training Duration Versus Intensity

One may think that the duration an individual trains during a session would be directly proportional to the health benefits reaped from that workout. It was once believed that the longer someone works out, the more improvements in cardiovascular health, muscular strength and body fat loss they’d receive. However, more recent research has found that instead, shorter, intense bursts of exercise are more beneficial than longer duration exercise sessions.

In 2005 Dr. Martin Gibala published a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The study found that bikers who sprint cycled in the red zone for two minutes in 30 second bursts had the same cardiovascular developments and performance improvements as a group of bikers that rode at a submaximal pace for two hours per day. Both groups saw improvements in their cardiorespiratory system, which means they were better able to deliver oxygen to their working tissues. In addition, and even more interestingly, both groups saw the same performance improvements in an 18.6 mile biking test. In a 2005 interview with Dr. Gibala published by the UK Telegraph, the researcher explained that he’s discovered that people do not need to work out for long durations to lose weight, build muscular endurance or improve physical performance. Instead, they could see significant health benefits if they were willing to exercise for shorter durations, but at higher intensities.

Incorporating high intensity exercise is also beneficial for endurance athletes. According to a 2004 study by Carl Paton and Will Hopkins, endurance athletes who incorporated high intensity workouts into their regimen saw significant gains in their performance when competing in their endurance sport. Not only did they perform better, but they saw significantly higher improvements in their maximum oxygen consumption, anaerobic threshold and work economy.

The red zone is considered the very top of the pyramid of intensity. It consists of training at 90 to 100 percent of one’s maximum heart rate. Because of the difficulty and intensity of our workouts, those that participate in Caveman Circuit Training will be training in the red zone. This intensity is extremely challenging for participants, but if offers the same cardiovascular and performance benefits as submaximal exercise that’s performed for a long duration. Plus, there is evidence that for those looking to lose weight, training in the red zone is the way to go.

Dr. Alan Sears, who is responsible for the PACE training principle, which stands for progressively accelerating cardiopulmonary exertion, explains that long duration exercise isn’t natural for humans. Plus, those who participate in submaximal, aerobic exercise for longer than 20 minutes, such as those who engage in long distance running, will start burning fat as fuel. Although one may believe this to be beneficial, Dr. Sears explains that when you start utilizing fat as fuel during your exercise activities, you signal for your body to start storing fat. Your body does this in an attempt to be better prepared for the next long distance, submaximal exercise bout. On the other hand, fat cannot be used as fuel during high intensity exercise because of the time it takes to break it down into a usable form. Instead, training in the red zone requires your body to use glycogen, or carbohydrates for fuel. Therefore, those looking to lose body fat will want to train at a high intensity.

Caveman Circuit places emphasis on training intensity, requiring that each station be completed in the red zone, which would be beneficial for those looking to develop their cardiovascular system, improve their physical performance and lose body fat.


Paton, C. and Hopkins, W. 2004. Effects of High-Intensity Training on Performance and Physiology of Endurance Athletes. Sportscience, 8(25-40).

Sears, Dr. Alan.

Skae, T. 2008. Long Duration of Short Burst Exercising – Deciding Which is Best for Health and Fat Loss. Natural

Zimonjic, P. 2005. Six Minutes of Exercise a Week ‘is as good as six hours. UK Telegraph.


Utilizing The ‘Caveman Buddy System’

When you’re organizing your Caveman Circuits, consider organizing your scheduled clients into pairs. Instead of your clients always being alone at each circuit, by being in pairs they’ll make their way through the entire workout with their partner. There are a number of benefits to this, including that you’ll be able to assign exercises that require two people, but most importantly, working out with another person has been shown to increase physical performance.

Working out with someone else increases peoples’ pain thresholds, according to Dr. Emma Cohen of Oxford University and the findings of her 2009 study. She discovered that rowers were able to handle discomfort and push through pain significantly longer compared to rowers who trained alone. She went on to explain she believes this is due to the desire to not let your teammates down. Therefore, organizing your clients into partners will put pressure on them to perform for their buddy.

In addition, using the buddy system may be appropriate when you have clients who are beginners, as they will more quickly pick up the routine if they’re working alongside someone. This will facilitate getting them up to speed and will also decrease their risk of injury since they’ll have someone experienced by them the entire time.

Furthermore, a 2008 study that was published in the journal Birth by University of Taiwan, women who exercise with others reported significantly less postpartum depression that those who worked out alone. A 2007 study by researchers at Ohio State University found similar results in women who were being treated for early-stage breast cancer. Women who worked out with at least one other person had higher levels of physical and psychological well-being. This is typically due to the feeling that everyone is in the workout together and that each participant has a common goal. Your clients will feel a bond with their buddy as they work together to get through the entire workout.

Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, believes that working out with another person creates at atmosphere of accountability, in which he described as, “positive competition.”

In addition to the increased motivation and accountability that comes with working out with another person, utilizing the buddy system allows you to incorporate exercises that require two people, such as bulldozers, tyre wars and chest ball pass.

There are times when logistically it makes sense to assign one person to a station, particularly if you have 10 or fewer clients. If you want to avoid having nobody at some stations, then you’ll likely stick with single stations.


Barron J. Oct 13, 2009. Exercising with Others Gives Advantage. Baseline of Health Foundation.

Worth, T. Jan 19, 2009. Exercise Groups Provide Strength in Numbers. Los Angeles Times.

Yong, E. Sept 15, 2009. Rowing as a Group Increases Pain Thresholds. Science Blogs.


Yelling, Screaming and Talking To Yourself During Workouts

As a Caveman Trainer, you need to encourage your clients to yell, scream and talk to themselves when they’re working out. You will set that tone in the very beginning of each session by being loud yourself. Find one of your clients that you feel would be comfortable getting into it with you and have them yell with you. This will break the ice and make other clients comfortable yelling and talking themselves.

Noise during the circuit workouts will keep the energy elevated throughout the entire session. This is essential if you’re going to get the most out of your clients. It helps them push through discomfort and work harder. Any time your client is in a position where they’re forced to exert significant force or they’re struggling is an opportunity for both you and them to use positive sounds to motivate them to perform. An example of an activity where you’ll find this opportunity is during tyre wars, where your clients are forced to push a heavy tyre back and forth with a partner. As they catch the tyre and have to propel it back to their partner, screaming as they explode forward will help provide greater power.

It will also help your clients finish off every circuit on a strong note. For example, when they’re straining to get the last possible pushup repetition out, if they yell as they struggle, they are telling themselves that they believe they can do it. According to Dr. David Yukelson who is the Coordinator of Sports Psychology Services, positive self-talk is an important component to those who are mentally tough and able to push through adversity. In Dr. TJ Coulter’s 2010 study, he found that athletes who are more mentally tough have a tendency to talk to themselves during training and competition.

When things are quiet, it allows your clients to start thinking about how tired they are and how they can’t wait for the session to be finished. Just as positive self-talk makes a direct impact on mental toughness, so does negative self-talk. Dr. Yukelson explains that negative self-talk more than often leads to failure. Therefore, help promote positive reaffirmation by yelling at your clients that they can do well and encouraging your clients to do the same.


Coulter TJ and Mallett CJ and Gucciardi DF. (2010). Understanding mental toughness in Australian soccer: perceptions of players, parents, and coaches. Journal of Sports Sciences. 28(7). 699-716.

Yukelson, D. What is Mental Toughness and how to Develop It? Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes. Penn State University.

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