This article is presented as an example only. The author is not a licensed medical practitioner and is unable to diagnose any medical condition or give recommendations on treatment of any medical condition. There is inherent risk involved with any physical training, and if you undertake anything mentioned in this article it is at your own risk. Neither the author nor SurvivalBlog.com are responsible for any injury that occurs while exercising under the guidance of this article. Please consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program.
I’ve spent the largest part of a decade in the United States military, including deployment to combat. I’ve attended a number of highly advanced courses within numerous branches of the military, all of which have high physical demands. I’ve experienced the physical rigors of both real world combat, and successfully trained for some of the most difficult selection processes. I have real world experience with real world fitness.
How many times have you thrown on your BOB and walked more than three miles? How long did it take? Were you winded after, and could you repeat the effort numerous times in a single day? How recently have you dug a trench, chopped a cord of fire wood, fell trees, or hammered fence posts? When’s the last time you carried cans of water, crates of supplies, or (God forbid) another human up a hill? My guess is that most of you haven’t done many of these things, and unfortunately all of them are very real tasks, which may have to be undertaken in a “TEOTWAWKI ” scenario. As self-sufficient people/survivalists/preppers, we have a tendency to greatly overestimate our own physical capacity. What good is your BOB if you can’t move with it efficiently and consistently? What good are knowledge and skills if you’re exhausted or too broken to enact them? My hope is that this article will give people a reasonable starting point for building a base of physical fitness, one that is both applicable to a TEOTWAWKI scenario, and sustainable in their current every day lives.
This article will address only the physical training side of fitness. Diet and nutrition are beyond its scope, and there are volumes of information freely available about those subjects to the curious reader. This article will not detail what physical training (if any) should be undertaken in a post-event world, as that is too highly individualized and circumstantial. This article will also not detail specific physiological adaptations to exercise, as that information is also freely and widely available. This article WILL detail what the author feels are the essential components of fitness for a post-event world, and it will provide templates that can be used to enhance those components. The overriding purpose then is not to give readers a rigid, defined workout plan; rather it is intended to give the tools and knowledge to build an effective and sustainable program. Teach a man to fish…
Fitness can be defined as an organism’s ability to fulfill a particular task or role. Various organizations and establishments have defined the components of fitness in various ways, and most are valid. For our purposes, we’re most concerned with the following (very simplified definitions):
- strength – the ability of a muscle or muscles to apply maximal force
- stamina – the ability of a muscle or muscles to repeat an effort of given intensity (muscular endurance)
- cardiorespiratory endurance – the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen and remove by-products of physical taxation
- durability – the ability of the body to withstand wear and tear
Throughout time there have been numerous tests created to gauge physical fitness, and most of the time people default to those tests administered by the military. While these are valid tests, they are most often very basic and far from the be-all end-all. It is my opinion that you can come up with your own standards of fitness. which may be more applicable to your situation. For example, you may say, “I want to be able to walk ___ far under my ruck, in ___ amount of time. I want to be able to sprint 100m. I want to be able to fell and process a tree, and still function the next morning.” Our first objective then will be to define a set of goals. Training without goals is akin to running in a hamster wheel. To give ourselves a starting point, let’s first reverse engineer our primary objectives. In a post-event world, we will likely need to perform a variation of five different tasks
- pushing (think pushing a vehicle that is out of fuel or a wheel barrow of dirt or supplies, for example)
- pulling (dragging downed trees, pulling a rigid litter, or lifting stones, for example)
- locomotion (simply walking under load, running to avoid animals or detection or sprinting in certain hostile situations, for example)
- carrying (carrying cans of water or fuel or carrying stones or heavy equipment, for example)
- swinging (a term I use to describe movements that require the dynamic articulation of the shoulder joints and/or hips, while the core works to stabilize the mid-section; think digging, chopping, and hammering.)
We can see from this list that every activity involves stabilization of the core to prevent injury and large muscle movements in the extremities. Each movement will also likely involve odd objects– ones that are not perfectly balanced or are uneven in some way, which is something we should try to replicate with the implements we choose in our training (more on this later.)
Additionally, we can see that very rarely, if ever, will a true test of maximal strength be required. What is much more likely is that stamina and cardiorespiratory endurance are taxed. With that being said, strength is a huge part of how fast one can sprint and what level of activity the muscles can repeat at a given intensity, so it is still of the utmost importance.
To give some simple guidelines in creating your own goals, we can look at some commonly accepted standards. The average person walks at 3.1mph (about 20 mins/mile), an Army infantryman must be able to carry a 35lb ruck at a 4 mph (15 min/mile) for distances of 12 miles or more. A good standard here might be three miles, with your BOB, at a 15 minute mile. The army uses an abbreviated physical test known as the 2-2-2, to gauge whether or not a person is physically capable of graduating basic combat training. The scores required for this are 35 pushups in two minutes, 47 sit-ups in two minutes, and a two mile run in less than 16:36. A 20L gallon can of water weighs approximately 44lbs, and carrying one in each hand for 100 meters without stopping is a solid goal. These are just examples of “fitness standards,” and I encourage you to create your own based on what you think may be required.
According to the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands), we should try to emulate our work as closely as possible in training to elicit the most advantageous adaptations. If you have access to a gym, by all means use it! Squat, dead lift, press, and row to your hearts content. The resistance a barbell or dumbbells can provide are extraordinary tools and should be used whenever possible. It is not, however, required to have a fully stocked gym in order to attain a high level of fitness. Below I will detail a small number of movements that can be done with no commercial gym equipment. All of these movements can be done with no weight at all, or they can be done with improvised implements (slosh pipes, sand bags, stones, weighted ammo cans, etc.):
- rows (upper body movement; can be performed with one arm or both; extremely important to develop upper back strength)
- dead-lifts (form is important here; injury while training is unacceptable)
- pull-ups/climbing (upper body movement; builds the entire back, and if unable to perform one full repetition, there are numerous scaled-down versions that will progress you towards a complete movement)
- –sled/tire drags
- –tire/log flips
I have chosen not to give detailed descriptions of how to execute each exercise here, as some of them are complex and compound movements. There are ample demonstrations and detailed descriptions of every movement I’ve listed freely available on the Internet. In addition to the movements I’ve listed, there are the old standbys of classic calisthenics.
Constructing your own gym equipment is affordable, easy, and can be highly functional. The four training tools I outline here will make for a well-rounded start, or an invaluable addition to any equipment you already have.
•Slosh Pipe – This is a very effective tool to add resistance to both upper and lower body exercises. It consists of a pipe, generally PVC, which is capped at both ends and filled approximately 2/3 of the way full with water. This provides an unstable and constantly shifting center of gravity, which forces the user to stabilize the weight throughout the movement. A small amount of weight can become very challenging, very quickly. I recommend starting out with a much lighter slosh pipe than you think you’ll need. Bear in mind that one gallon of water weighs 8.34lbs, and a 40lb slosh pipe is no joke!
•Sandbags – A durable, effective, and affordable sandbag can be constructed by measuring out predetermined portions of filler inside small plastic bags and adding them as necessary to a USGI duffel. I recommend shredded rubber mulch as a filler, because it doesn’t rot the way wood mulch does, and it’s bulkier than sand. To start, fill a few plastic bags with 10lbs each, and duct tape them completely shut. It is important to make sure the bags are taped well, to prevent them from bursting while being dropped or tossed. With these 10lb bags, you can adjust the weight of your sandbag as you see fit. (I’ve found that 80lbs seems to be the sweet spot, but I’ve used them upwards of 100lbs). Add your desired weight to your duffel bag, bunch the top together, and secure it using 550 cord or zip ties.
•Tire Sled – You’ll need an old tire, an eye bolt  with a nut and washer, a sheet of wood just larger than the tire, and 20-30 feet of cordage  that’s thin enough to run through the eye bolt, and thick enough to hold on to. The tire doesn’t need to be new or even in good condition;, an over-sized SUV or tractor tires work great for this. To start, cut the sheet of wood just small enough to fit inside the tire. It should seat on the inner bead of the tire and not fall through. This is where you’ll add weight as needed. Drive your eye bolt through the tire with the eyelet outside, and fasten it inside the tire using the washer and nut. Run your cordage through the eyelet, and tie a handle into either end of the cord. Your sled is complete.
•Ruck – This is something most of us probably already have. Don’t underestimate how powerful of a tool it can be. Add weight, strap it on, and start stepping.
To begin, I would highly recommend you start with the most basic of movements– walking. Walk three to five days a week, until you can walk three or four miles at a stretch without stopping. Once you’re able to do this, you can begin adding in resistance to build strength and running to further build your cardiorespiratory system.
To create a template for yourself, first assess your goals and assess where you currently are. Figure out how much time you’re willing to train each week. A good starting point is three non-consecutive days a week. If you can manage this, you’ll be able to build and maintain all of the areas discussed earlier. If you’re able to train four or even five days a week, that’s even better. However, remember to start slow!
To begin on a three-day template, you may choose to do something like this:
- Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday
- Two types of workouts (A – strength/carries and B – endurance/cardio)
- Workouts alternate each week (A/B/A one week; B/A/B the next)
To build each type of workout, you should again assess your goals.
Bearing in mind we are not overly concerned with absolute maximal strength, we should aim for three to five sets of four to twelve repetitions. A very effective way to build a strength workout is to use a superset method, in which two opposing movements are paired. For instance, you may choose to do 10 push-ups, followed immediately by 10 ammo can rows, completing that combination four times. Another way to do this effectively is to pair an upper body movement and a lower body movement in the same manner for instance five over head slosh pipe presses, followed immediately by 10 lunges. Try to make sure that whatever type of exercise is performed, its opposite is also performed. This will prevent asymmetry in the body and reduce the risk of injury. Each of these workouts should be full body, meaning both upper and lower body should be worked. At the end of a strength focused workout is a great time to add in some of the carries mentioned earlier. Farmers carries for time or distance can serve to build an enormous work capacity in a very short amount of time. Don’t believe me? Go pick up 44lbs in each hand, and walk for 60 seconds. Then repeat that process four more times.
To build an endurance/cardio workout is much simpler. Running and rucking are the best and most applicable, but they should be taken on very slowly as the risk of injury is higher. Running distance should not be increased more than 10% per week, meaning if your weekly mileage is five miles one week, you should aim for no more than 5.5 miles the next week. For most people rucking should never be done at more than 25% of your bodyweight (unless in an emergency, of course) and should be done no more than once a week.
To address the durability portion of our formula, I also recommend adding core specific work after each workout. This doesn’t mean endless sit-ups and crunches; in fact I mean quite the opposite. The core is designed to resist movement and stabilize, and it is for this reason that planks and bridges are my favorite type of core exercise. Sit-ups, crunches, and planks will go a long way to building a strong and stable core. Stretching after a workout (never before!) should never be skipped, and warming up with an easy walk or jog is equally as important.
The most important aspects of any training program are consistency and progressive overload, meaning that in each workout you should always push for one more pushup, one more pound, or one more meter of running. Realize that everyone will have bad days. There will be missed training sessions, and there will be days where you’re just too tired. That’s okay! That’s when the consistency part comes into play. Just pick up where you left off, and let it go.
This article is a very basic outline of ideas and methods that can get you started on the road to being physically prepared for whatever may come. I encourage everyone to educate themselves further on the subject of personal fitness, and take their bodies into their own hands. Don’t be a liability to your group or family. Be an asset!