When it comes to preparedness for disasters, people can be very imaginative. Thinking through every possible scenario, difficulty or danger helps them in choices such as, “what type of firearm is the most practical?” “What medicines is it a good idea to have on hand?” Or, “where is a good place to go if it is no longer safe where I live?” These questions are all sound, practical thoughts for anyone who wants to be prudently prepared for emergencies.
One factor, however, largely gets neglected, if not ignored. Perhaps that is because you can’t simply purchase this most central and important factor of preparedness: yourself! Fitness is a huge asset in any dangerous or challenging situation, and is key to coming out on top of a survival situation. If you are reading this but are out of shape, you have some work to do.
Another problem that needs to be addressed is identifying what, exactly, fitness is, and what about fitness better prepares you for survival?
Fitness, like firearms, must be practical to be worthwhile. That is, it must be functional. If it’s not, it isn’t doing you any good. So what is functional fitness? What physical abilities and skills should every person have? And why is this important for survival preparedness, above firearms, food or any other supply gathering?
To demonstrate the point, let’s take a look at two scenarios. As a throwback to many of our childhoods, they are written in a “choose your own adventure” style.
In the first scenario, you are walking down a street in the city. Times are tough, and crime is on the rise. Due to legal restrictions, you are unarmed. While you wait to cross a street, two men approach from your right. You turn, and see one of them holding a knife down low. They demand your money. You decide to resist, and in an instant, your plan is to strike the one with the knife and then get out of Dodge.
Option A: Functionally Unfit: You’ve been taking yoga classes and maybe some bicep curls and crunches a few times a week, and you feel pretty strong. You wind up, and put those “strong arms” to use. The blow you land surprises the man, but it barely moves him. You turn and run. Adrenaline’s pumping, but after only fifty yards of sprinting, you’re winded. The two men catch up. The End
Option B: Functionally Fit: You’ve been doing old fashioned core lifts (dead lift, squats, etc.) along with gymnastic and military exercise, and even interval running mixed in. You wind up- your powerful lower body muscles generate a huge amount of force, transferring it through your strong core into your arms. The blow you land comes from your whole body, which you have learned to use properly. The man is on the ground with a busted nose. You still run, because the other man might be armed, and knives cut strong people too. After a quarter mile, you’re still going strong, but your assailants have slowed down, winded. You round the corner and lose them for good.
During the Trojan War, Aeneas needed to escape the city with his family and other survivors. The Greeks were massacring, raping, looting and destroying so to stay was a death sentence. Aeneas’ father was an elderly man, incapable of keeping up with the group as it fled the carnage.
Option A: Functionally Unfit Aeneas: Aeneas has a weak lower back, and cannot lift his father, let alone carry him. He must choose to either abandon him to a certain death, or walk slowly with him, until they are both captured and killed. The End.
Option B: Functionally Fit Aeneas: Aeneas is of sound body, and is physically trained and ready for battle. His strength is not about looks but about ability. When his father falls behind, he picks him up, carrying him with his strong back and legs, and not only keeps up with, but leads the others to safety.
These scenarios should hopefully paint a picture of how important real fitness is in emergency situations. There is more to evaluate, of course. Ask yourself the following questions: Could you subdue an attacker? Could you carry a wounded person to safety? Save a drowning man? Can you lift a heavy load? Carry heavy gear for a long distance? Are you capable of hard manual labor for long times? Can you climb? Can you catch someone you’re pursuing, or escape pursuit yourself? Could you survive in the wild? In an emergency, are you more of an asset or a burden to others?
In evaluating yourself, are you sounding more like a warrior or more like a weakling? Capable of coming to others’ aid, or incapable of even defending yourself?
The problem is, this is the point where most of us (guys especially) lie to ourselves. Admitting weaknesses or even pulling your head out of you-know-where enough to see your weaknesses is a difficult thing. As a man, I know that most of us guys would prefer to ignore the question, or inflate our heads with bicep curls and other non-functional exercise built for looks. For women, this is also a big temptation- to either do nothing, or to do everything with their dress size in mind instead of their overall athletic ability.
Functionality shines a light on our physical condition, and in a way, on the condition of our character. Take, on the one hand, the couch potato. His flab, his atrophied muscle and pathetic lack of stamina are the physical manifestations of his laziness and lack of discipline.
On the other hand, you have the bodybuilder. He can bench 400 lbs, but he can’t run a mile. He dead-lifts huge weights with a hex bar and a belt, but he can’t lift a heavy object in real life without hurting his back. He works hard for a beach body, but what good does it do him? His hard work has been for the wrong reasons, and his lack of functional fitness is because he was too vain to let go of exercises designed to make him look better.
Functionality brings clarity, helping us to see what’s important, and humility, helping us to make an honest assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses.
Functional fitness is well rounded. Strength is important, but so is endurance. Power is important, but so is stamina. There are multiple ways we can evaluate our fitness. One very good list was written by Bruce Evans and Jim Cawley of Dynamax, Inc. It has been adopted by well known groups and is a good, rounded list of skills and capacities every person should have.
1. Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance – the ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen
2. Stamina – the ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
3. Strength – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units to apply force.
4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed – the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination – the ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movements.
8. Agility – the ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance – the ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy – the ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.
Having looked at what skills or capacities men should have, what exercises help us achieve those? There isn’t room in one article to list and describe all of the many great exercises that are functional, but for further reference, we list, explain and discuss these, as well as daily workouts at my web site. For the time being, we will list some fundamental exercises, and some basic principles of functional fitness. After that, we’ll take a look at how this can be done at home, for little to no expense.
1. Front Squat
2. Romanian Deadlift/Deadlift
3. Kettlebell Swings
4. Overhead Press
7. Ring Pushups/Bench Press
Body Mechanics and the Real World:
Programs based on aesthetics tend to use movements that isolate muscles. But the body was designed such that multiple muscle groups work together. Furthermore, in real life, very seldom will you lift or move anything without using multiple muscle groups. While this doesn’t mean every isolation movement is therefore useless, it does mean that exercise should be focused upon compound and whole-body movements.
Fiber Over Filler:
Most non-functional exercise programs utilize a 3×10 format: three sets of ten repetitions (“reps”) of each exercise. This is the bread-and-butter of a program designed to maximize the growth of muscle cells mainly by way of the fluid in the cell. The strength gains made this way are not proportionate to the size gains.
A functional exercise program chooses performance over appearance. To build strength it utilizes a low repetition, high weight format. This maximizes the growth of the muscle cell primarily via the number of muscle fibers within the cell. This will build muscle size too, but it is primarily geared towards gains in strength-to-mass ratio (i.e., how strong you are for your size).
A functional program also makes use of very high repetition, low weight movements. This is done to build endurance, stamina, etc. This cannot be overlooked, because strength is only good as long as it lasts.
If the exercise you’re doing is comfortable, you’re not getting anything done. Without challenging yourself – without pushing yourself to a level that is genuinely hard for you, what are you doing? Because you’re not progressing.
In exercising – particularly in a functional way – you are saying you care about your body, your potential, and living more as God intended. There’s some irony, then, when our steps back towards our natural design and fulfillment are made with machines, fancy equipment and chemical supplements. If we’re moving towards a fulfillment of how we were designed, why do we need those things? What we are able to accomplish with simple gear, our bodies themselves, and with our surroundings in nature can be as good as and even better than with treadmills, hydraulics, isolation machines and so on. Why run on a treadmill if you can run outside? Why run on a flat surface if you can run on a trail? Why seek out fancy or even gimmicky gear when simple, rugged, time tested gear – or even no gear at all – can work so well?
Closely aligned with the notion that the closer to natural movement, the better, is the basic premise of simple natural diet:
If you can’t pronounce it, don’t consume it.
A simple diet consisting of as much whole foods and as little processed foods as possible is a realistic step towards letting our bodies function as God intended. Fueling our bodies with simple, natural foods will fuel us the same way we have been fueled since the dawn of time.
Austere is Good.
Gym memberships are prohibitively expensive. Owning your own fancy equipment is no better. Most people are at times like these scrimping to invest wisely into supplies they may need in emergencies or hard times. Expensive gear just doesn’t fit into that plan. However, as said above, expensive gear is neither necessary nor what is best. So what are some types of gear that are functional and inexpensive?
For those that can afford it, this gear is absolutely the best “bang for your buck”:
1. Olympic lifting set- an Olympic bar plus solid rubber bumper plates. Nothing beats this for safe, amazingly effective training. If not, an iron-set is an ok alternative- just be careful with it!
2. Kettlebells – kettlebells are the “AK-47” of fitness. They can be used for strength, power and stamina. They are getting more common on the market, which means prices are coming down.
3. Pull-up bar- whether for hanging in a doorway or outside, a bar to practice pullups on is absolutely essential for training those upper back muscles- so important yet so underrated!
4. Gymnastic rings- these can be used for everything from pullups to other drills to strengthen your chest, arms, and especially your core! Hang them from your deck, rafters, a stout tree branch, and you’re good to go! Rings are also very portable, which is a plus for those that need a gym in a backpack.
5. Dumbbells- these are on the bottom of the list, but they are practical and relatively easy to find. Even Wal-Mart has them. [JWR Adds: Used weight sets are often available free for the asking, via Craigslist or Freecycle.]
If you do not have any money budgeted for gear, or if you want to supplement on the cheap, you can make very, very effective gear from items at hardware stores like Home Depot!
1. Sandbags- These are the biggest, most all around useful money saver in a do-it-yourself gym. Get yourself an army surplus duffel. Better yet, get two. Go to a hardware store and buy yourself several bags of either sand or wood stove pellets. If you choose sand, wrap them again in contractor grade trash bags. Place the amount of weight you want into your duffels. You now hold a super-tool. Any of the basic Olympic, core strength lifts or kettlebell motions can be performed with this ultra simplistic bag.
2. Pull-up bar- no, this is on both lists on purpose. You can easily make your own pullups bar with some steel pipe from the plumbing section. Place it between some deck columns, between rafters, etc. $10-to-$12 gets you a solid bar to strengthen your upper body.
3. Your own body! While bodyweight training is not the end-all-be-all, it can accomplish a very great deal. Gymnasts are incredibly strong, and this is with years of bodyweight training. Your body comes with you, and any space where you can move at all becomes the gym. Check out Fatal Fitness for examples of bodyweight training.
Sound Mind, Sound Body.
In training physically, you are also preparing yourself mentally (and in a way, spiritually) for any difficulty that you might face. Overcoming extremely challenging tasks, overcoming laziness, the need for comfort… all of that will form your character, so that when exceptionally difficult times come, you will be strong enough to adapt and survive. Improve yourself, harden yourself! Take on the challenge; prepare yourself for whatever may come. Whether that means a survival or emergency situation, or simply living your life more fully now, it is worth it! Dive in to functional fitness, and watch as you begin to transform into a stronger person, more able to deal with anything!
About the Author: Mike Hussle is Vice President of Fatal Fitness. He has trained many people in strength and overall conditioning, for sports, military preparation, and general health and wellness. He is also the founder of DailyStrong.com. This article was adapted from a chapter of his upcoming book, “Austerity.”