Physical Fitness for TEOTWAWKI Preparedness, by The BYU Kid

There’s one thing that’s guaranteed in any SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation, and that’s the age old adage that only the strong survive. But how do we get to that point? How can we improve our strength with things that will actually be adaptable to a survival situation? I would like to lay out a few selected exercises that have direct carryovers to very important skills and suggest a program for you (not my own) and offer a couple workouts that you can incorporate into your current routine.

First, let’s talk about what’s not necessary: any routine found in a bodybuilding magazine. We’re talking survival, not show, and what you want are exercises that will help you thrive. Excess muscle is costly metabolically, so we’re not necessarily looking to gain muscle, but we are looking to increase performance. Another: any routine given by a personal trainer. These guys are alright for some people, but odds are you’ll get a copy and pasted program involving every single exercise machine in a straight circuit. And another: crossfit. While crossfit can be challenging and they use some of these exercises, they metabolic conditioning programming is not conducive to the ultimate goal of being able to be useful, functional, and simple.

Secondly, a few principles; namely:
-Bodyweight strength is the foundation
-Free weights beat machines
-The more work you can do daily the better off you are (if you’re sleeping and eating properly)
-Movements are trained in a progressive fashion- either by adding weight, doing more, doing it faster, or doing it longer (that’s what she said)
-If you’re unfamiliar with an exercise, ask for help
-If you can do an exercise with no fatigue, find a way to make it harder

1) The Pushup

The pushup is an exercise everyone is familiar with but no one gives the credit it needs. You don’t need any equipment to perform it, and there’s a number of ways to make it more difficult. The pushup transfers into all overhead pushing that may be required, and it helps you to lift your own bodyweight. Pushups can be made more difficult in one of two ways (I don’t recommend combining them, but you can if you’re ambitious): first, feet elevation, secondly, adding resistance through bands or weights. Strong shoulders, pectorals and a core are vital to survival. When doing pushups, you can go to failure, but I suggest doing 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps with very little rest in between.

2) Sledgehammer

Using a sledgehammer has been a hit lately in functional fitness, and for good reason- pounding the crap out of a tractor tire is fun, it is work, and it makes you explosively powerful. It directly carries over into many aspects of survivalism from chopping down trees and splitting logs to construction or demolition. For this, the key is to find the balance between explosiveness and sloppiness- once you reach it, step away. Remember to go with both arms, or each arm individually.

3) The Deadlift

The deadlift is perhaps the king of exercises. It requires the whole of a person to perform correctly- from your feet to your neck can be activated and benefited. Proper form needs to be exercised- when you deadlift, don’t focus on pulling, instead focus on sitting back and having the weight ride up your legs. Wearing longer socks is recommended. The carryover is perhaps most important- notably, the deadlift improves your grip, and grip will be an important thing for any survivalist- from climbing to pulling to breaking, grip work is extremely beneficial. One can increase the grip difficulty by adding fat grips or making their own. The other aspects of the lift- holding heavy weight- will have enough of a strength carryover that no other lift would. With the deadlift, focus on lower reps (4-6) and heavier weights. You can always add in a straight set of higher reps if desired.

Another aspect of the deadlift I want to make clear is the psychological one. It is a true test of strength- getting a weight off the ground, your own bodyweight, maybe even doubled. That is something that is so hard to describe. I personally have deadlifted over 650 lbs, and the mental aspect of that lift was more important than muscle or mechanics. I can’t say for sure the deadlift activates the fight or flight response, but it really separates the men from the boys.

4) Pullups/Chinups

Pullups and chinups are essentially the same exercise in function- you pull your bodyweight up. The movements themselves are much better and effective than machine substitutes. A chinup is performed with your palms facing you, a pullup is performed with your palms facing away. Either way, being able to pull your body up with just your arms is a skill that you will want to cultivate. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to either as pullups. Again, grip strength is a benefit and these require a lot of it. If you can’t perform one, then looping an exercise band around the bar, or using a partner to help you during the concentric (contracting) portion of the lift are good ways to build up strength. As you are able to do 15+ pullups, you can add weight through a vest, a backpack, or a weight on a belt or held between your legs. You can also make these more difficult by using thicker bars, or using towels to pull yourself up.

5) Sprints/ Jumps

Sprinting is the best cardio. Odds are you won’t need to plod along anywhere at 7 mph, but a quick 1-2 minute sprint session may absolutely be required of you in any survival scenario. Sprints can be tricky to program, but I highly recommend that they be done in a way that’s referred to as Escalating Density Training (EDT). It essentially means that you try to do more in less time, or do more total. Jumps I included with sprints because it’s the explosive nature of the movements- they can be thrown in in any situation you want and they are easier to recover from. Remember, the more work you can do and recover from, the better.


6) Loaded Carries/ Sled Drags or Pushes

These are fun exercises. You grab the heaviest dumbbell in each hand, a loaded barbell in each hand, put on a weight vest, throw a bag over shoulder, however you can, you get a weight and you carry it for as long as you can as many times as you can. The carryover is immediately evident and aside from that, it gets you grounded. All these exercises are designed to keep you in touch with the basic human movements- push, pull, jump, run, hold, etc. Farmers walks are also fun to combine with sled drags- get a harness on yourself, throw a bag over your shoulder and drag a sled. Combining the two movements is challenging. Pushing a sled for distance or for time is a conditioning workout that will challenge you but also improve your physical performance and has a carryover to many movements. Building your own sled using a tire and rope is fairly easy and plans can be found with a quick web search.


7) Olympic Moves

These are last on the list because while they are great exercises, they may or may not be as useful as the others. The thing about olympic exercises is for many people they’re too technical, or weird, and they’re worried they’ll mess it up. If you feel that way, don’t bother. These are slightly more dangerous exercises and as such you should be very careful with them. I personally love the power clean and the power snatch and I work them into my workouts every week. Learning to generate explosive force has a better carryover to things that require an extended time of work than extended work has to explosive movement. Go and look at videos or train with someone who can coach you through these lifts.

I highly recommend Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program. It is a simple, basic strength training book that will get you on the right track for strength and health. If you are interested, please go ahead and purchase it- it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s not just about survival of the fittest though, it’s about survival of the most useful. If you do, I recommend these setups for the exercises:

Main Lift: Bench
Accessory Lifts: Pushup, Dip, Pullup

Main Lift: Deadlift
Activation: Power clean (performed before the main lift to activate the nervous system)
Accessory: Sledgehammer, Jumps

Main Lift: Squat
Activation: Power Snatch (performed before the main lift to activate the nervous system)
Accessory: Sprints and either Sled Push/Pulls OR Farmer’s walk

Main Lift: Overhead Press
Accessory: Face Pulls, Pullups, dumbbell presses

 But if you’re happy with your gym setup and are just looking for a workout that you can do here are two that will get you on track:

Workout A
Power Snatch 3 sets of 3 at a lighter weight
Deadlift Pyramid up sets of 5 reps until you can’t do 5 reps (add 20-30 lbs each set) with 1-2 minutes rest between sets
Pushup 5 sets of 10
Sledgehammer 30 reps (either 30 overhead or 15 per hand)

Workout B
Jump to a box 4 sets of 6
Pullups as many sets of as many reps- aim for 100 reps total per session (over time)
Loaded carries- the heaviest weight you can carry for as long as you can carry
Sprints- 4 x100 meters working up from there.

Remember, the more work you can do, the better. We’re not looking for excessive amounts of muscle, we’re looking for the ability to perform. Good luck and happy surviving.