The concept of prepping has been widely publicized throughout the past decade, but it is rarely cast in a positive light, outside of survival dedicated websites, such as SurvivalBlog. The mainstream media networks mock our community by seeking out and casting the most ridiculous so-called preppers they can find to achieve high viewer rankings. The federal government encourages the citizenry to make minor preparations for surviving major disasters by storing several days’ worth of food, water, batteries, and other basic necessities. However, at the same time, it labels citizens who truly prepare (and especially those who own guns and military equipment) as “extremists” and “terrorists”. The general public, therefore, perceives preppers to be unjustifiably paranoid kooks who squander their lives engaging in pointless and often times dangerous endeavors in order to ready themselves for some event that is unlikely to ever actually happen. Is there any legitimacy to the criticism that the prepper community receives? Do the unprepared have good reason to fear or scoff at preppers? I believe that some preppers, like those seen on TV as well as a significant number of private individuals through actions displayed on the Internet and in the physical world, have created a negative stereotype that the rest of us are forced to endure. It is my hope to turn the tide by advising the reader according to my own example.
First, here is a little about myself. Today, I would be considered a prepper or more appropriately a survivalist, although I considered myself to be a fairly prepared person long before “prepping” became a household term. Back when I was quite young, in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it was not uncommon for people to inquire of me about all the gear I was carrying that caused my cargo pants pockets to bulge. I enjoyed activities such as fishing, snorkeling, archery, bicycling, exploring local forests, and climbing rocks and trees, and I was especially fascinated with making my own weapons, which included knives, crossbows, blowguns, spears, and bolas. I did most of these things by myself. My family wasn’t very interested in outdoor pursuits, and nobody else really influenced me in that direction. It’s just who I happened to be. Halfway through 9th grade, my parents told me I could no longer spend all my time running around in the woods by myself and that I needed to join some kind of club or organization, of my own choice, to socialize with other people.
I had heard of the Boy Scouts and had a vague idea (mostly from the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) that they were an outdoor-oriented organization, so I called up the local scout office. The clerk there put me in contact with the scoutmaster of a nearby troop, who said to stop by and check it out. I rode my bike across town to the next Monday evening meeting, walked down into the church basement, and introduced myself to the scoutmaster, who in turn introduced me to the guys in the troop (some of whom I recognized from school and would not have suspected were Boy Scouts). Our troop was athletic and creative, wild but very self-motivated, and disciplined when it mattered. Joining it was probably the best decision my parents ever made me make. (Please note that I took responsibility for joining and attending. My parents didn’t do the work for me.) In the Boy Scouts, I learned about camping (which I had never previously done), cooking (over an open fire), knot tying (to include advanced knots and their many uses), shotgun shooting (I had never previously fired a real gun), rock climbing (specifically, climbing with a rope and harness and belaying others), lifesaving, first aid, orienteering, leadership and true teamwork (which we frequently put into practice while conducting our own clandestine operations at camp and around town). It’s hard for people to call you a kooky prepper when you’re a Boy Scout and the organization’s motto is “Be Prepared.” During the years I was in Boy Scouts, I also joined and competed in Cross Country, Track, and Swim Team at the varsity level. Although I’m pretty sure all of the guys and most of the girls could swim faster than me, I did eventually become one of the school’s fastest long-distance runners. Curing the winter time, some friends from the troop and I would stay long after the school day ended to lift weights in the gym, and in the summers I did body-weight lifting at home. I attained the rank of Eagle Scout a week before the cut-off date of my 18th birthday, at which point I enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the SEAL Challenge written into my contract.
I left for the Navy in August of 2000, completed boot camp in October, attended and graduated Intelligence Specialist “A” School, and in early 2001 I headed to Coronado for BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training). In BUD/S we learned how to paddle a raft through rough surf and land it on rocks with waves crashing down upon us; reconnoiter and survey a beach for Marine landing forces; SCUBA dive (open and closed circuit); effectively navigate, using a map and compass; navigate underwater using an “attack board”, consisting of compass, depth gauge, and stopwatch; rappel and fast-rope; responsibly use and maintain handguns, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and grenade launchers; and handle, assemble, and detonate high explosives; and more. We did a tremendous amount of PT (physical training) by running, swimming, performing calisthenics, and body-weight exercises, running the obstacle course, and doing boat PT, log PT, and ruck humps. We also received a lot of beat-down sessions that could be considered exercise, and we ran six miles each day, regardless of any other PT, just to get to the galley and back for each meal. After BUD/S, we went through three weeks of Army jump school (static-line parachuting) at Fort Benning, GA, and after Christmas break we returned to Coronado for SQT (SEAL Qualification Training), where we refined and built upon the skills learned in BUD/S (minus the beat-down sessions). Upon graduating SQT, we were officially recognized as Navy SEALs and awarded our Tridents. At that point, we were all sent off to either our Teams or additional specialized training. It’s really hard for anyone to call you a kooky prepper if they know you are/were a Navy SEAL (or any other elite soldier).
Now granted, not every guy out there will take a path into special operations, but I wanted to begin with this lengthy introduction to illustrate the efforts and results that a motivated survivalist is capable of achieving. Below, I present and detail six points that, if implemented in your own life, will greatly increase your chances of success, both in surviving TEOTWAWKI and in breaking the stereotype of the “kooky prepper.” Hopefully, your good example will attract others to the prepping community!
I would venture so far as to say that if you are not fit, you cannot be adequately prepared for life, much less for a major crisis. A high level of personal fitness (PT) is one of the most important character traits an individual can build for himself and must be earned and maintained through self-discipline and perseverance over the course of a lifetime. Your PT should include activities to build and maintain your strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and agility.
Strength is not necessarily all about how much weight you can lift. Although bench-pressing twice your body’s weight may be impressive, it is more practical to be able to actually lift and move your own body as necessary for any given task.
SEAL PT for strength generally involves:
- several sets of 20 to 30 pushups for the chest;
- sets of 25 to 30 reps of various abdominal exercises;
- sets of 15 dips performed on parallel bars or a similar apparatus for the triceps; and
- sets of 10+ pull-ups or chin-ups for the biceps and upper back muscles, followed by some 30-foot rope climbs.
Other exercises should also be added in, including:
- arm circles to strengthen the shoulders,
- “Superman” back-extensions for the lower back, and
- squats and lunges for the legs, plus more.
You can easily do these exercises at home or on a playground with little to no equipment cost. (I use a Yukon Power Tower, with reinforcement struts added between the dip bars and base to prevent flex in the apparatus.) Be sure to focus first on your form, and only increase the number of repetitions to the extent that you can perform each rep perfectly. It is a pet peeve of mine to see people doing pull-ups by kipping and swinging. Each pull-up should be a perfect dead-hang pull-up (all the way up and all the way down) using only the arm and back muscles; otherwise, you are just using momentum and not actually building your upper body. Similarly, pushups should be done with the entire body in-line, head up, and chest touching the ground on each downward movement. (Again, go all the way up and all the way down.) Abdominal exercises should never involve any bouncing of the back or legs off the ground. Dips require the elbow to fully bend to a 90° angle and back.
Speed and endurance are developed best by running and swimming. I recommend regularly running three to six miles per day, several times each week, over a variety of terrain to include hills, stadium steps, and tracks. A track and a stopwatch will help you to establish a steady pace (6-9 minutes per mile). Stadium steps and steep hillsides provide the best mediums for improving your speed via uphill sprinting. (Avoid excessive sprinting, as it can lead to painful shin splints, which will prevent you from running later.) Long, cross-country runs (preferably over semi-hilly terrain) will build up your endurance. While running, I inhale and exhale every left step to keep a rhythm going, similar to calling cadence. I have previously run while listening to an MP3 player, but I found the wires and controls to be distracting, and the tempos of different songs can make it difficult to keep a steady pace. Conversely, it is beneficial to carry weights while running, such as 3-6 lb dumbbells or a dummy rifle, which will acclimate you to patrolling with a real rifle for extended periods.
I recommend swimming 1-2 miles per day, as your situation allows, using the breaststroke or sidestroke. These are both underwater-recovery strokes that can be maintained over long distances with relative ease and which do not cause splashing that would attract unwanted attention during a clandestine operation. The sidestroke can be performed with or without fins, but the breaststroke cannot be performed with most fins. Fins will increase your speed but more importantly your “horsepower”, meaning they’ll allow you to easily tow objects, such as a rucksack or another person, through the water, so they’re good to practice with (and they do require practice). Until your legs are familiar with fins, you will probably experience cramped calf muscles and sore ankles.)
Swim PT can be done in virtually any aquatic environment, as long as there is ample space for you to move freely and sufficient distance for minimization of boost-providing turns; a 25-yard pool is as short as I would recommend. Like running on a track, swimming in a pool that has been measured lengthwise and marked with lanes will help you to establish your pace. For better real-world practice, you can place buoys (add your own flags, lines, and weights) at a fixed interval in a lake, bay, or past the surf in the ocean, and swim from one to the other and back, guiding yourself off the shoreline or along a yellow polypropylene rope stretched between the two buoys. If you have no calm body of water in which to swim, you can also swim upstream in a moderate river current for a pre-determined amount of time and try to stay in the same spot relative to a point on the shoreline or bottom. (This is probably the least satisfying of any swimming workout, as you don’t actually cover any distance. I did this once or twice, and that was enough.) You should complete each swim by sprinting the last 50 to 100 yards, just as you would for running during the last 100 to 300 yards. I recommend swimming with a mask, rather than goggles, to keep water out of your nose and for better vision. I got a headache the first few times I did it in BUD/S, but now a mask is all I’ll use. Be sure to get a quality low-profile/low-volume mask as well as a snorkel, for survival, operational, and recreational use. If you opt to use fins, the Deep See Aqua Glide split fins feel great with or without fin socks (“translucent black” is the best covert option). The SEAL-issue fins are the excellent Apollo Bio Fins, which you can certainly use for PT, but they cost about ten times as much as the Aqua Glides and you’ll need a pair of dive boots to use them. Although there are many other forms of endurance exercise, none of them are as beneficial or practical as running and swimming.
Tomorrow, we will continue the section of “Be Fit” and move on to the second point of success outlined in this five-part article.