This article is about physical fitness, because I believe it is most important for those who want to survive some of the potentially devastating and even not so devastating situations that one can encounter today. I’m not an athlete but have been involved in fitness training for decades and done quite a bit of research as well. As an introduction to the concept of fitness, I identified its components– muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and body composition.
This essay series is for informational purposes only. Fitness concepts are discussed that the reader may find informative, however the reader is advised to visit their health care provider and obtain medical clearance prior to embarking on any exercise program. The author is not a health care professional and assumes no responsibility for injuries or detrimental health effects the reader may sustain from performing any fitness regimen.
Body Composition (continued)
In our current society, fat is viewed as a shameful thing. From my observation, this is especially hard on women. We want everyone, especially our women, to appear lean and hard. This was not always the case. Century’s old art indicates that a little extra weight on women was viewed as positive at many points in our past. Why would that be, and why would it change?
Some Conclusions From Observation About Body Fat
I do not know for sure but during my time as a Navy Physical Fitness Coordinator I came to some conclusions based years of observations. They will be presented, though you may disagree. I will state that I am a male who does not typically struggle with weight.
In my Navy time, most people did not fail the physical fitness test on performance of the three exercises of the run, push-ups, and sit-ups. If they failed, they typically failed because they were above the Navy’s body fat standards. Nine times out of ten, my job was to get people within the body fat standards.
“Unlucky” and “Lucky” Ethnic Groups
I quickly noticed that on my roster of “fat boys”, certain last names dominated the list. They included those with “Mc” in front or “ski” at the end. The “Smiths” and “Jones’” were frequently African American. Although it may be politically incorrect, it was pretty clear that those of Irish, Scottish (to some degree), Slavik, and African American decent seemed to struggle with their weight more than those of English, German, or Scandinavian decent. There were, of course, exceptions, but this was my general observation.
All these “unlucky” (by body fat standards) ethnic groups had one thing in common– their ancestors, by and large, had a worse food supply than the “lucky” ethnic groups, or so it appears from my reading of history. The Irish had the potato famine. The old Scottish in the highlands frequently had a very rough time. The Slavik people are called Slavik from the root word slave, and they lived in an area where war came from every direction, causing them to be frequently enslaved. And of course, most African Americans had to run the gauntlet of the Atlantic crossing. With all these groups, even if the people did not actually starve, their women, once they got below a certain body fat, would become infertile. Only those who stored fat well survived, which would explain why women with higher body fat were viewed more positively in the past.
That is my opinion. It may offend some. For those who are old enough to remember Jimmy the Greek, a famous sports odds maker who used to be all over television, he had a similar opinion about the ethnic element of athletic performance and lost his job over it. It is something we are not allowed to talk about. However, I think it is relevant.
I also think that in a survival situation just who is lucky and unlucky in this regard could flip very quickly. From a survival perspective, those who struggle with their weight may be genetically superior in my opinion.
Meal Team Six
There is a humorous picture of “Meal Team Six”on the Internet. There are two gentlemen who are fairly thin and two who are pretty hefty. Who would survive? I say it depends.
Fat– A Double Edged Sword
Fat is a double edged sword. It has been proven that older people who carry a bit of extra weight have a higher survival rate if they get cancer or other issues when they get older. In my time in the Navy, I found that many “fat boys” had some serious reserves of endurance. I knew marathoners and triathletes that barely stayed within and sometimes strayed out of body fat standards. In a famine, the fat people will likely survive longer. However, at the same time, carrying excess weight can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and severe joint issues. If you needed to walk somewhere, excess weight could stop you. If you had diabetes and needed insulin, an interruption of your insulin could kill you.
In a survival situation, some obese people may die quickly if they are unable to move about as needed or if the obesity makes them dependent on medications for survival. After the initial “thinning”, to use harsh term, the obese people who survive may be better off than those who were viewed as physically superior in better times.
Body Composition Must Be Divorced From Society Constructs of Appearance
So my conclusion is that body composition is important but must be divorced from our societal constructs of appearance. A six pack is not going to be relevant or maybe even desirable in a survival situation, whether it be societal collapse or being diagnosed with cancer. However, if losing 10 (or 50) pounds prevents knee surgery or replacement and keeps you mobile during societal collapse or just old age, that is desirable.
Focus On Function Not Aesthetics
If losing 50 pounds prevents or even cures diabetes and prevents all the unpleasantness that disease can offer (like neuropathy or even amputation of limbs) that is desirable. Keep the focus on the functional not the aesthetic.
Adjusting Body Composition
My time training people in the Navy taught me several things about adjusting body composition. There are many things that have no effect.
Cardio Has Limited Effectiveness in Reducing Body Fat
Cardio has only limited effectiveness in reducing body fat. Strength training has more. I observed that swimming and biking (unless you are at a competitive level at least equal to perhaps a high school swimmer) had almost no effect on reducing body fat, although they were outstanding for overall fitness. I even saw a lot of good runners struggle with their body fat, though some had good success.
Diets and Physical Labor Worked
Low-carb diets worked but were difficult to stick to. Eliminating alcohol worked. Eliminating sugar worked. The new Weight Watchers diet works pretty well, from my observation.
Periods of physical labor, where people work at least four to six hours a day with a shovel or some other pleasant instrument, work very well.
I had a Navy Corpsman friend who was sent to Viet Nam to dig up the remains of U.S. servicemen that were found in the country. (This is actually an assignment that Navy Corpsman can apply for, and it is a great honor to get selected.) He would shovel and sift dirt, frequently on hill sides, looking for the bones of the fallen for about six hours a day in the Viet Namese heat. He was a bit hefty going in, but at the end of six weeks his weight was the same. However, his body fat was down 5%. For his weight, that was the equivalent of losing nine pounds of fat and gaining nine pounds of muscle in six weeks.
Bodies Designed For Effort
I am convinced our bodies are designed for long-term, moderate effort, like when people worked in the fields every day. We do not get it as much anymore, and that is a big reason for the “obesity epidemic”. It is hard to get that kind of fat burning activity in the gym or even running, unless you have a lot of time.
Concentrate on increasing muscle mass and decreasing fat, rather than losing weight. There is some value in getting weight off joints, but muscle mass and strength around those joints compensates for a lot of that. Few of the people I dealt with, who had chronic (as opposed to transitory) body fat issues, ever lost weight and kept it off. There were those, however, who could gain significant muscle and lose fat and keep the fat off, but they had to be sold on the idea. This was especially true of women.
Almost everyone, and especially women, needs to gain more muscle, even if they are currently of good body composition. Attempting to stay too small and skinny often results in excess body fat later on. This is hard for many to accept, especially women.
So far in this series we have discussed four elements of fitness and broad ways to achieve them. These are: muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and body composition.
Four Principles/Variables Applicable To All Fitness Activities
Next we will discuss four principles/variables applicable to all fitness activities.
These items are important to understand to avoid injury and burn out and to generally get anywhere. These are subtleties I wish I would have paid attention to when I was younger that would leave me fitter today.
Exercising one part of your body does not, in general, make other unrelated parts stronger. Working your upper body does not have a great effect on your lower body and vice versa. Running will provide only marginal improvement to swimming and vice versa. This is not a hard and fast rule, and that is why cross training and continuing to train uninjured parts of your body when other parts are injured can be helpful. However, if you habitually neglect one aspect of your fitness, it will as a rule stagnate or deteriorate.
Specificity says you need to exercise your whole body with enough variety to keep your whole body strong. There are ways to do this that are not overly time consuming or complicated. In practicality, the specificity principle leads to some recommendations.
Time Effective Exercises
Do exercises that involve multiple major muscle groups and joints. Squats are usually better than leg presses. Rowing exercises or chin-ups are better than curls. By better, I largely mean more time effective. If you have all the time in the world to exercise each individual muscle, that is great. I do not.
Although manual labor is an excellent source of exercise (perhaps the best for managing body composition IMO), it fails in specificity. As previously stated, most manual labor will tend to overuse certain parts of the body and underuse others. This can create injury problems and leave holes in your fitness when you switch activities. Chopping firewood is great exercise (one of my favorites), but it only helps you so much when you pick up a shovel. And after your yearly firewood is put up, or the ditch is dug, what then? Manual labor can be a cornerstone of fitness (and was for peasant societies), but specificity will demand that it be supplemented with other activities. And many peasants practiced various exercises to enable them to continue their manual labor.
As I mentioned earlier, youth sports can sometimes be actually detrimental to long-term fitness, both mentally and physically. Incorrect management of intensity is one reason.
Youth sports seasons are limited in time, and sometimes coaches are in fact not allowed to even interact with their athletes in the off season. This produces pressure to get everyone in shape quick and then start competing at full intensity on short amounts of training. There is also a tendency to view training in this environment as an avenue to “make a man out of you” and “toughen you up” rather than train at the optimum level (which is not necessarily very intense). This approach is not good for long-term physical performance. Consequently, many raised in this environment will approach training with too much intensity, get sore, get injured, get discouraged, and/or get nowhere.
Consistency Beats Intensity
You do encounter some who err the other way and train so lazily that they get nowhere. However, I have observed that sometimes the slacker gets further in the long run than the more diligent person, so long as they keep with it. Consistency beats intensity by a long shot.
From a functional and survival perspective, we also want to avoid being sore, as it may impair our ability to respond to an emergency situation. If you make yourself overly sore working out and you have a home invasion, you may lose a step or two in speed that may prove useful to fighting off an intruder. One of my favorite fitness authors, Paul Wade, points this out in his book ***Convict Conditioning***amazon.com/Convict-Conditioning-Weakness-Using-Survival-Strength/dp/0938045768. In one of the ultimate survival situations, prison, you cannot afford to be sore and unable to move effectively if attacked.
The Correct Intensity
What is the correct intensity? It’s hard to answer that definitively, but with caveats I would say roughly 70% to 80% effort with very occasional short forays into 90% plus ranges.
How does 70% to 80% work out in practicality? For cardiovascular work, this is 70% to 80% of theoretical max heart rate. Theoretical max heart rate is typically calculated as 220 minus your age. For example, if you are 40, your theoretical max heart rate is about 220 – 40 = 180. So then, 75% would be 135 beats per minute (bpm). That’s not a bad place to aim for with your cardiovascular work with occasional short training sessions of perhaps 5 to 10 minutes approaching 160 bpm every week or two but no more often.
Tomorrow, I will continue on the correct intensity as it applies to strength work and move forward on the other principles of fitness– duration and frequency, before wrapping up this article.
- 1 – Survival Fitness and Health- Part 21, by JBH
- 2 – Survival Fitness and Health- Part 2, by JBH
- 4 – Survival Fitness and Health- Part 4, by JBH (Active 9/6/18)
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part three of a five part entry for Round 78 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
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- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
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- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
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- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
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Round 78 ends on September 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.