Letter Re: Physical Fitness for TEOTWAWKI Preparedness

In his recent article, The BYU Kid offered some pretty solid advice regarding physical fitness, but neglected to mention a couple things that are important for some of the exercises he mentioned. 

1.) The pushup should be done slowly – most people when doing pushups tend to rush through them as fast as they can. While there is something to be said for explosive power training, for the purposes of functional strength the pushup should be smooth and controlled – two seconds for the descent, hold at the bottom for a second, then two seconds for the ascent. Make sure that your body is straight like a rod (flex your abs) throughout and focus on the ground in front of you instead of looking forward or down at your feet.  Its best to grab a baseball or brick or similarly sized object and place it beneath you if you’re unsure as to how far down to go. Place the object underneath you and ‘kiss’ it with your sternum – do not rest upon it.  Pushups can also be made more difficult in several ways other than simply raising the legs.

The first way is to simply slow the pace at which you do a pushup. Try descending/ascending for five seconds, then holding at the bottom for two seconds.  You’ll find that the number of pushups you can do will go down with this slower speed. 

The second way is to perform the pushups on gymnastics rings (hanging from above, the rings about an inch off the ground). These can be a little costly but their use for fitness makes them well worth it – I use Xtreme Rings because they can easily be adjusted for multiple kinds of ring work.  You’ll find that doing a pushup on a set of rings is far more challenging than normal pushups, as you need to stabilize your arms and balance them on the rings.  Increase level of difficulty further by elevating feet, or moving onto Bulgarian Ring Pushups – where you start with the rings beneath you, turned slightly outwards, and when you descend your arms should widen and your hands should rotate 90 degrees. 

Additionally, if regular pushups are too difficult, they can be made easier by doing them on the knees – the more your legs are piked beneath you the easier they will become. Work on getting your knees further and further away from you until you can do a regular pushup

4.) Pullups and Chinups are not the same exercise. While the movement is indeed similar the two exercises work the muscles in the arms and torso differently – Chinups will work the biceps more while Pullups will work the lats more.  For most, chinups are the easier exercise, while pullups are slightly more difficult.  Ideally you’ll want to work on pullups over chinups, as getting over fences, walls, etc will require that your hands go over the obstacle instead of under.  The ideal pull-up should be done from a dead hang – your feet should not be touching anything, (if your pullup bar is not high enough for this, tuck your legs back) and you should be hanging, completely relaxed as low as you can go while still gripping the bar. Pull up smoothly until your chin clears the bar, and smoothly let yourself down, try not to just drop after you make it to the top. Ideally your body should be completely loose except for your arms and upper torso. You should not be swinging, your body should not wiggle or buck while going up, and you should return all the way back down to the dead hang before you go back up to the top.

I see people in the gym all the time doing half range of movement pullups – where they buck themselves up to the chin position, and then let themselves back down, not going to a dead hang like they should. This type of action i’ve found to cause the occasional tweaked shoulder or neck muscle as it is very tense and frenetic version of the pullup.   If you can’t do a full range of movement (dead hang to chin to dead hang) pullup, then you should build strength by doing negative pullups; jump up to the bar with your chin over, and as slowly as you can, let yourself back down to the dead hang. I find that when you can do about 5 of these taking 5 seconds to descend, you should be able to do a pullup, or at least get yourself to the top of the bar.  

As with pushups, the slower you do the exercise the more difficult it becomes.  I like to alternate sets of smooth, slow pullups, with explosive, fast pullups, as I want to be able to do a muscle up, eventually. (A muscle up is when one does a pullup, but does not stop at the chin, and continues to press up until the bar is below their hips.) Pullups can also be modified to work different muscle groups – a wider grip will work the lats harder, where a closer grip will focus on the triceps more. When doing wider grip pullups its important to remember to let the Lats do the work – seek to keep your elbows out instead of inward. 

Finally, Lat Pulldown machines are great but are frequently misused – where possible always opt for regular or negative pullups instead of a lat pulldown machine. 

A truly excellent (and more difficult) variant of the pullup, that works both the legs, core, as well as the shoulders and arms is the L-Sit Pullup.  While in the dead hang position, keep your legs together, knees straight and toes pointed, and raise them 90 degrees so from the side, your body forms the shape of an L.  Hold this position throughout your set while doing pullups. It is far more difficult than a regular pullup, and requires a degree of stomach and quad strength.  Given that, there are two intermediate forms between the regular pullup and the l-sit pullup that can be done to work up to the L-sit.  The first is to simply tuck the legs – your thighs will be 90 degrees away from you as in the l-sit, but your shins and feet will be relaxed, and perpendicular to the ground.  After you can do sets of Tuck L-Sit Pullups, then the next is L-Sit Low pullups, where your legs are straight like the l-sit, but not as high, about 45 degrees less.  I recommend working up to the tuck l-sit by doing ab work in addition to the regular pullups.  Remember to listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard.

5.) Sprints are great, but the writer forgot to mention that a warm up period is essential when doing sprinting training.  For one who is not used to running/sprinting, its incredibly easy to pull or tear a muscle. Before you begin sprinting make sure to stretch lightly, and jog a few hundred yards. For those new to sprinting don’t sprint at 100% effort for the first few weeks until your body gets used to the strain. 

6.) Another great variant of this is to drag a tire or two on a rope through the snow during the winter. Not only will this be difficult as the footing may not be sure and/or slippery, but it’ll also help you realize how easily one can sweat while bundled up.  Its best to learn now how to keep dry/ventilated in while exerting oneself in the cold weather than when bugging out or in a dire situation. “You sweat, you die”

7.) I agree that olympic moves are simply the best for both strength building and weight loss.  For those starting I would also recommend that particularly with the Squat and the Deadlift they begin with nothing but the olympic bar, so that they get the form down first.  With these two exercises form is absolutely key to both strength building and injury avoidance. Read up about form and watch videos of correct form on youtube. Remember to focus on contracting the muscles that are working while doing the exercises – with deadlifts its the hamstrings and the glutes, with squats its primarily the quads and thighs. 

Finally the exercises recommended, all of them, should be done by both sexes. I’ve heard from so many women that they want to get strong and in shape but don’t want to become like female body builders so all they do are ab exercises and cardio.  Female bodybuilders get that muscly by using testosterone, steroids, or workout routines that are both extreme and focus on muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) and not simply by weightlifting. Women do not build muscle in the same way that men do, so the worry about appearance is a misinformed one.  Furthermore, Squats, Dead lifts, and Pushups/Pullups are excellent exercises for both losing weight and toning up, as they are compound exercises and work multiple groups of muscles, engaging focus, co-ordination and balance. I find myself soaked in sweat at the end of a workout doing olympic moves and pullups/pushups, more thoroughly worked out, than when I used to do exercise machines and bicep curls.  There’s a woman at my gym who squats 25 lbs less than I do — but she’s also 10 inches shorter than I am and probably 100 lbs lighter, and she’s by no means ‘ripped.’  – Z.H.