“You can’t make people smarter. You can expose them to information, but your responsibility stops there.” -Mark Rippetoe, Strength Coach and Texan
Two-thirds, one-third, and one-tenth. Those are the stats on how many Americans are overweight, obese, and have diabetes, respectively. Let that sink in for a minute. One in ten Americans would be dead within weeks, should their insulin supply be cut short by any kind of major incident. (Insulin is only guaranteed to be good for 28 days.) There would be roughly 30 million bodies in the first two or three months. The remaining folks who are obese would have some serious issues with their calories being cut short. Those too unfit to defend themselves, forage, hunt effectively, or get some gardening going would snuff out quickly as well. There is no denying it; your health is the most important prep you can make, and it’s also the least expensive one.
Last year I spent a day helping a friend haul gravel and wood around his yard. I’m in good shape; he’s not. I went mountain biking and did yard work the next day. He went to the doctor for his back and was out of commission for three weeks. Imagine if his ability to get work done or get around the next day was a matter of life and death. What would happen to him?
For those with rural properties, farms, or authentic manual labor jobs, some of this will be much easier for you. For the average city folk or suburbanite, you could go weeks or months without sprinting or carrying a heavy object. You need to be better prepared for things. I’m here to help. (Note: Some city folk walk four or five times the amount that suburb dwellers do! Last time I was in NYC, I walked six miles per day getting around.)
I’ve been a personal trainer for eight years. I’ve had hundreds of clients and business isn’t slowing down. My business comes down to two things– knowledge and discipline. My clients lack one or both. The first is easily excusable, as a good trainer is worth the money. The time it takes to become really great as a coach is immense, and even the most disciplined person can still see solid benefit from an expert. Those who lack in the latter are less excusable. Nobody is perfect, but sloth is a great sin and the waste of an amazing gift. I’m not talking about six pack abs and massive arms. I’m concerned with the ability to put in work and come out alive and unscathed and to be able to face uncertain times with strength, mobility, and endurance. Plenty of people underestimate the impact that sudden physical exertion can place on the body and mind. Unless you’ve had a hardship, a manual labor job, or attempted a 4-day canoe trip having not walked more than two miles in a day for months (as one client of mine), you don’t fully comprehend what lays in store. Things can get nasty very quickly. A pulled groin will lay you up for weeks. A back muscle in spasm will relegate you to the nearest hard, flat surface for days. A sprained shoulder makes shooting near impossible. Your ability to put in good long hours day after day is your first and most important line of defense.
Health has come to mean the absence of acute illness, which is a sad state of affairs indeed. True health is thriving, being energetic, and relishing physical activities and challenges. It has a pyramid, like most things.
Mobility is the true base of health. If you can move well with full, pain-free range of motion (ROM) in your joints, you are way ahead of the curve. Good mobility means you can jump in and things will much easier. There is a simple test that tells a trained eye where problems lie– The Overhead Squat.
The Overhead Squat Test
Start by standing with your feet outside your hips and your arms extended overhead. Most people can’t get into an overhead position that shows full ROM. Your bicep should be behind your ear and the arms should be at 90° to the shoulder. Then sit back into a deep squat while maintaining the overhead position. Most peoples arms will come quite far forward, knees will cave, the lower back will round and they will end up on their toes. If you’re unsure about your ability, try it with your toes against a wall. That is your first challenge. Take a video of your movement for retesting two weeks from now.
The fix for any problems is two fold. Start doing Yoga stretches. YouTube is full of free videos, and five minutes a day will pay massive dividends. I like my stretching time to be a period of reflective thought, prayer, and deep breathing. I’ve become a fan of Kelly Starrett. He’s a physiotherapist from San Francisco and has book called The Supple Leopard. You’ll learn how to use inexpensive items to help prep the body for movement, work on painful spots, and clean up years of poor posture and movement. You are going to get hurt at some point. Be prepared to rehab it yourself. I use his methods everyday in my gym and was lucky enough to attend a seminar in 2011 that changed my practice forever. I can’t say enough about his work. Try my above advice for two weeks, and then retest your overhead squat. Things will improve quickly.
Many equate strength with size, and the correlation bears some mentioning. While a larger muscle has the propensity to become stronger, it doesn’t necessarily equate to more strength. Strength is quantified as the absolute heaviest repetition one can complete in any given lift.
The king of all lifts is the deadlift. Humans are capable of lifts well in excess of 500lbs without the use of anabolic steroids. My own personal best was a 455lb deadlift at a body weight of 190lbs, using no straps, belt, or drugs. That required three years of dedicated lifting, five days a week. I’m not naturally strong and had to work hard for it. I was also in my early 30’s, and age is big factor in how easy the gains come. I would propose that all men should be able to deadlift 1.5 times their own body weight to be considered physically fit. A solid women weight would be around 1-1.25, depending on their age. My wife pulled 225lbs for one rep at a bodyweight of 135, and she was quite lean at the time. She has her father’s genes, who at 71 can do 20 pushups, three pull-ups, and competes in Dragonboating weekly. Health is ageless. The big question is: How do you get strong enough to be useful in uncertain times and be bulletproof enough to not break in half when you need to use that strength?
How to Get Stronger
There are two choices. The first is that you can join a real gym, where people lift real weight. Look for powerlifting gyms or Crossfit locations; avoid large chain gym locations. These large chains gyms will stick you on machines and waste your time and money! Your second choice is to go the inexpensive and self-disciplined route– go for it at home. For under $450 you can buy a squat rack, a barbell and 300+lbs of steel plates. This will require a space to use it, some research, and some ego checking. Here is the simple strength plan. It uses the principle of linear progression, or what we call the Milo and the Calf Method. Linear Progression works off the human body’s desire to maintain homeostasis. An exercise induced stressor can cause the body to adapt to it, through a process called Super Compensation. When you lift weights or run for a long duration or high intensity, you damage the muscle fibers and stress the respiratory and nervous system. The body responds by building things up stronger and/or bigger so that the specific stressor you put to it will no longer be a problem. If applied with incremental progression, you can add between 80-100lbs to your strength numbers in 18-24 weeks.
Strength-Building Option 1: Barbell/Weight Training
Using the barbell can be simple for some with the right body type and mobility. Should you be concerned with your ability to get started, I suggest the Mark Rippetoe book Starting Strength. He has a no Bravo Sierra way of presenting things and is very thorough in the necessary details. His language can be a bit spicy at times. (You’ve been warned.)
- Start on Day 1 by testing your squat, deadlift, and standing shoulder press. You want to find a weight that challenges you for five reps while maintaining decent bar speed and your form should be near perfect. That’s your 5-rep weight. Write it down. Complete two more sets of five with 90-180 second rest between each set. Then, rest 3-5 minutes, and then do the same testing with the deadlift. Once you find your deadlift 5RM, you’re done with that lift. Deads are very taxing on the nervous system, and 3×5 is too much for most folks. Rest 3-5 minutes, and then finish up with your testing and 3×5 of the press.
- You will perform this workout three times every 7-8 days with a minimum of one days rest.
- During the first week you may find you can increase the weight you use each workout by as much as 10-15lbs (total on bar). This is your body making better use of its abilities.
- After that, make 5lb increases on each lift every workout.
- After three weeks, you can add some supplementary work for the upper body. Do 3×10-15 chinups or supine rows on your first workout of the week and 3×15 pushups or bench press on the third workout of the week. This extremely simple plan should yield massive results for the time and effort put in.
Everyday tasks will become easier, you will lose body fat and gain muscle, and you’ll be much better prepared for TEOTWAWKI.
The second option for strength training will be continued in Part 2 of this article.