Survival fitness and how to go about it
We’ve talked about survival fitness before but we thought it may be prudent to revisit the topic. As with any other aspect of prepping and survival, there’s always a lot more that needs to be covered.
Instead of going into specific workout exercises, this time we’ll delve deeper into the logic behind survival fitness. We’ll also focus more on some practical tips and tricks for starting with your new routine more easily.
Fitness as a form of prepping
Most people nowadays view fitness and “getting into shape” as an activity with two possible goals – health or beauty. Both of those are valid, with health, in particular, being extremely important.
However, fitness has another purpose as well, or at least used to have it – physical labor and survival. Yes, we’re counting those as the same thing because for millennia they used to be one and the same.
Today, however, most of our work is done sitting down. And when you ask most people about survival, they usually mention that they have some savings “for rainy days”. Fitness doesn’t seem to come into either of those things for people in the 21st century.
Even among preppers, their fitness and overall physical prowess seem to come second to food storage and survival backpacks. Maybe a part of that is the distorted image preppers tend to have. Pop culture has got us believing that a “prepper” is someone holed up in a nuclear bunker, eating canned beans all day. And why bother with your fitness if that’s what you think you’re prepping for?
Unfortunately, many “Shit hits the fan” (SHTF) or “The end of the world as we know it” (TEOTWAWKI) situations won’t be as easy to deal with.
Here’s what survival fitness can actually help you with in a true SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation:
- Survival fitness can help you run fast either from danger or to something.
- Survival fitness can also give you the endurance to run or jog for long periods of time. Historically, humans are one of the best endurance runners on the planet (1) (2). Yet, most of us today can’t run more than several hundred feet without stopping to “take a breath”.
- It can also help us march on with dozens of pounds on our backs for miles at a time.
- With proper survival fitness, we can also lift extra heavy objects for short bursts of time. This can be essential either to build something or to break someone free from a wreckage.
- Many SHTF situations require wounded people to be carried to safety. This is also impossible without adequate survival fitness.
- Throwing an effective rescue line is often required in survival situations. Your fitness will be extra important then.
- With proper survival fitness, you can do heavy physical work for hours at a time. This is crucial when you need to build something, tend to a survival garden, or labor on something important.
- Survival fitness also trains you to climb a rope or pull yourself up to/over something.
- Survival gardens are awesome but you often need to put more food on the table. Survival fitness is vital for most hunting situations.
- No-one wants to imagine SHTF situations when you have to fight your fellow man. Nevertheless, self-defense is an essential part of survival prepping. And it’s impossible if you’re not in a peak fitness condition.
- Last but not least, survival fitness is also very beneficial for our mind. The positive effects of fitness on our brain and psyche are well-documented (3) (4) (5). And needless to say, “being all there” mentally is of the utmost importance in a crisis.
There are countless other physically-demanding situations that can come up in SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situations. Hopefully, we don’t have to mention all of them. Suffice it to say that survival fitness is arguably the most important survival skill we can have. As such, it should be any prepper’s first priority.
Style vs power vs practical use
We touched on this in our “Survival fitness – what is it and why it’s vital for any survivalist?” article but it’s important to emphasize. Going to the fitness for aesthetic purposes is generally great, we’re not here to say anything bad about it. It’s certainly much better for your health and for your survival than just being unfit. Plus, even if you focus entirely on your aesthetics during your training, you’ll still build up quite a lot of “practical strength”.
But there’s still a big difference between training for how your muscles look and how they work. Survival fitness is very much about how much strength you have, how much endurance and flexibility, and what your reflexes are. At the end of the day, all the “beauty points” in the world won’t help you lift that log off your friend’s leg. They also won’t help you carry your friend for several dozen miles to a shelter. And style definitely won’t protect you from injuries picked up along the way.
In short, instead of training for looks, survival fitness is all about training for abilities. And that does sound scary at first – in many ways, it’s much harder.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to style vs power goes like that:
- Training for style is all about training for muscle volume. This means doing lots of manageable exercise routines that build up muscle mass but don’t stress it to its limits.
- Training for power is all about training for muscle strength. This means doing fewer but more extensive exercises, designed to always reach and surpass your limits.
- Training for practical (survival) use is all about training your body for what you’ll actually need it to do. This means doing some strength training but also focusing on endurance, speed, and flexibility.
That’s the general difference between bodybuilders and powerlifters. With survival fitness, you want a bit from the latter and a lot of endurance. Again, this may sound complicated but it’s actually very doable.
The key difference between survival fitness and style or power fitness routines is that the former doesn’t actually require a gym. Bodybuilders and powerlifters need the precision provided by gym equipment. A survival prepper, on the other hand, can do everything they need at home and in the park with just a couple of dumbbells at most.
The four aspects of survival fitness
We touched on them above but here we’ll outline the four pillars of survival fitness – strength, endurance, speed, and flexibility. Each of them is 100% essential in most survival situations as your survival would be at risk without them.
Strength training is the touching point between survival training and powerlifting. In both types of fitness, you want to build up your muscles’ strength rather than their volume. Powerlifters do lean much more on strength training compared to survival trainers, however. And that’s understandable – their sport is 100% about strength and strength alone.
With survival fitness, you do want to build up your muscle strength but you don’t want to go overboard. This isn’t to say that too much strength is a bad thing, of course, at least not on its own. But there is a tipping point after which strength comes at the cost of flexibility, speed, and endurance. And that’s a big No-No for any survivalist. Plus, excessive muscle mass comes at a huge nutritional cost as powerlifters eat tens of thousands of calories a day.
So, you do want to build up your strength. But don’t worry, we’re not talking about spending 6 hours a day in the gym.
Many would say that endurance is the most important aspect of survival training. And there’s a point to that – “slow and steady wins the race” as they say. Humans’ exceptional endurance is what allowed us to survive as a species. For millennia we used to hunt by simply jogging after our larger prey and bothering it until it tired down. It’s not the most “epic” way to hunt but damn if it wasn’t effective!
And endurance matters in countless other situations as well – fleeing, building, working, and so on. Without excellent endurance, we’re usually lost in 99% of all survival situations. While even if you’re not the strongest or the fastest out there, you can still get by.
This is another no-brainer for survival training that’s left out by bodybuilders and powerlifters. After all, no one needs speed when you’re alone on the podium with just some weights for you to lift. But in the wild, speed is often essential. Whether it’s to run away from something or to run to help a friend, speed saves lives.
Fortunately, like endurance, speed is pretty easy to train for. All you need is an open alley in the park and you can train for both, one after the other.
An often overlooked aspect of survival training, flexibility is essential for your health and well-being. Survival in most SHTF situations will involve a lot of lifting, carrying, and running but not in the “orthodox” ways. The weights you’ll have to carry in the wild or at TEOTWAWKI won’t come neatly packed in dumbbells and attached to durable metal rods.
Instead, in SHTF situations you’ll need to carry uncomfortable things. You’ll need to lift things that are hard to grip. You’ll have to bend at seemingly unnatural angles. And your body must have the flexibility to survive all that. That’s the difference between surviving through the day or cramping and dying in a ditch somewhere.
But, once again, fortunately, flexibility is also easy to train for. You don’t even need to leave your home for it – a yoga mat is all you need.
Fitness and the mind
Another grossly overlooked aspect of survival training is what it does for the brain. In fact, we can – and maybe should – add this to the four main aspects above.
For one, physical fitness of almost all types amazing for our brain and mind (6). But it’s also helpful in countless practical situations. That’s because in most survival situations we need to “think on our feet”. And that’s much easier said than done when you’re grossly out of shape. When you’re out of breath and your heart is pounding in your ears, the last thing you can do is think straight.
When you’re in good shape, however, you can think, calculate, plan ahead, and react even in the most physically stressful situations.
Starting out with your survival fitness routine
We’ve outlined certain basic survival fitness routines that you can start practicing here. However, as with any other type of fitness, it’s starting out that’s the most mentally challenging part of the process.
How do you start training? Where should you do it? What equipment do you need? How do you plan out your sessions? How do you fit all that in your daily schedule?
Keeping up with a pre-established fitness routine is about discipline. Starting out, however, is about knowing yourself, planning, and employing certain clever solutions.
So, before we leave you, here are some tips and tricks for starting with your survival fitness routine:
- Start simple. You may feel like you have a lot to compensate for but it’s better to start light. This way you can more easily build up the habit and then move on to more extensive exercises. Some initial exercises to try include yoga, walking, jogging, planking, sit-ups, rope jumping, and knee raises. After that, you can move on to sprinting, lunges, weights, push-ups, and more.
- Consider fun exercises. Survival training isn’t just about locking yourself in a gym and “pumping weights”. Have you ever wanted to go swimming? How about climbing? Exercises like that are both essential parts of a good survival training routine and can be a lot of fun.
- Make your routine fun. Even if you focus on more mundane and boring exercises, nothing is stopping you from making them fun. One neat trick is to combine the training with something else you’re trying to find time for.
Want to have more time for social interactions with your friends and family? Try training together! Need more time to read books? Audiobooks are perfect in combination with survival training.
- Build up your schedule around your training. Most people find out that they are much more productive at work after they’ve trained (7). That’s true, we are more productive after we’ve worked out. So, scheduling your training before work can quickly make it a part of your routine you don’t want to skip.
Survival fitness is a vital part of any prepper and survivalist’s daily routine. Or, at least, it should be. Like any other type of fitness training, it can seem daunting at first, that’s normal. However, unlike other types of training, survival fitness is much more practically-oriented. What’s more, it’s arguably easier to do as it can be done outside or at home and it’s easier to make fun.