By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
Most emergencies and disasters (natural or caused by man) require a dose of physical capacity to deal with or overcome. This role is usually delegated by society to trained agents, be those first responders, LEOs, firefighters, the military, or other civil defense groups and professionals. They all stay in top shape by way of severe and constant physical training.
But as we all know, when The Grid is down or even during normal times, helping forces aren’t always available. In many cases, it may be someone (or the entire community) called to deal with the situation at hand. At least in the first moments.
If you plan to assume a leadership position, a practical role, or are responsible for others in a house or group – in some way during or after an emergency or disaster – you must dedicate yourself to staying in good shape.
What are the main benefits of physical training?
History shows it’s possible to survive even the worst SHTFs in any condition or age. But being well conditioned, nimble, and physically capable can improve anyone’s chances and situation when the going gets tough.
There’s no way to overstate the benefits of practicing sports for quality of life in general. When it comes to preparedness and survival in specific, it’s even easier to make the case for the constant practice of different sports activities. What are some of these “survival” benefits of regular physical training? I think the following all deserve mention:
Physical conditioning and endurance
I’ll start with the most obvious: having good fitness, stronger muscles, bones, and tendons, and keeping the weight in check provides a better quality of life in all aspects.
We get sick less often and heal faster. It’s much easier and more economical to do anything – from everyday house chores to occasional or specific tasks – when we’re in good form and exercise regularly. And being strong makes us better prepared to even tackle the tasks we’re not conditioned for, like many that are common for survival.
(Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to emergency evacuations to see the practical aspects of how being in shape can improve your chances of survival.)
Character and confidence building
Facing and overcoming challenges and setbacks. Enduring pain, suffering, bad weather until the finish line is crossed. Developing discipline, self-restraint, and temperance. Those are things that build character over the long run. Sports provide that.
Competing is also a way to hone and test ourselves. But no one has to take part in races or matches to reap these and other benefits. Training with consistency is enough for inner growth, and that’s what really matters.
We don’t have to prove anything to anyone, just ourselves. And we do that by constantly challenging and pushing ourselves and beating our inner enemies: laziness, postponement, excuse-dropping.
Mental conditioning, discipline, and toughness
This goes in parallel with the above. When we push ourselves, we expand our mental as well as our physical limits. Once again, it’s not about winning medals or anything like that, just doing our best to become better and tougher every day.
Most action sports help develop peripheral vision and reflexes. Cycling, whether on or off the road or even in the city, requires the processing of a multitude of stimuli and information. The same applies to hockey, parkour, martial arts, and other fast-moving modalities.
Learn the limits
What happens when someone takes up a sport? More often than not, they end up finding they’re capable of much more than they thought.
This is too complex to go over here in more detail. Just know that no one has to be lectured or read endless treaties and papers about limit challenging to realize this. Just do it. Trust the plan, persevere, and it will come.
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Knowing how to communicate, coordinate, and work with others for a common goal can be a real asset – especially after SHTF.
We learn how to work with others by practicing and interacting with different people. And one of the best (and funniest) ways to do that is by taking part in collective sports. (But even individual sports require team play at some level, especially if you compete.)
Anxiety and stress-reducing
There’s no arguing this is one of the greatest benefits of practicing sports on an everyday basis. Again, to find out, just do it.
Things you need to consider about physical training
Some general principles and tips can help mid and long-term in various manners. We should aim to persevere, avoid injuries, and keep downtime at a minimum.
Motivation vs. Drive
Both are goal-oriented, but the difference is significant. Motivation is a fleeting desire. It’s important and has a role, but it takes more than passion and will to get something accomplished. If you have the drive, you’re determined to achieve a goal without any pleasure or desire or even motivation.
Driven people go out even when feeling down when it’s snowing or after a hard day at work. Think “David Goggins” to get a precise idea of the difference and to get inspired to go the extra mile or do the last set when you’re out there training (just be careful not to burn out or get injured).
Specificity is a big thing with sports. For instance, running can give good cardio and endurance capacity. But running doesn’t automatically translate into good performances at parkour, martial arts, or even cycling. Likewise, it won’t ensure the capability to perform “survival” tasks, except maybe the ones that require an amount of running.
Even trained athletes are reminded of specificity every time they have to work the garden, build a shelter in the forest, chop wood, or play airsoft. I’m no athlete, but I do a lot of different sports with regularity. Any intermittent activity will get me trashed and painful for days.
It’s rare that someone has both the time and energy to dedicate to various sports on a daily or even weekly basis. Life gets in the way. We all have other stuff to do. But that should be no excuse. Most sports can still provide a good “base” fitness, and this condition will ease adaptation and hasten recovery.
Most sports present a risk of injury. Those can be from repetition, impact, or accidents. For instance, cycling hasn’t the same level of impact as running, but accidents are more frequent and can be serious (trust me, I know that myself quite well). Parkour can also be very hard on the body.
The ways to prevent and fight injury are: finding good guidance (a certified instructor or gym), starting slowly, and progressing in tune with the development of your body.
Push yourself, but don’t overdo it. It’s crucial to keep increasing workout time and load as we improve. Otherwise, we stall. But this should be done with method and moderation. Learn to listen to your body and its signals.
Some sports you may want to consider adding to your physical training
Below I list my favorite sports and their main benefits. Some have been a part of my life since a young age. Others I have dabbled in for some time more recently. There are many, many others, and even sub-modalities within each sport.
Those can be very different in various aspects, but just doing it correctly and with regularity can warrant most benefits. We do what we can and make the best of it, and that’s much better than finding excuses and doing nothing.
I’ve considered the following with a perspective on prepping and survival. Meaning, that besides the direct health and mental benefits, there may be some specific advantages, too. If you have others, please add them in the comments.
For sheer endurance, cycling is hard to beat. Even at low competitive levels, it’s a tough sport that requires stamina and the capacity to stand pain and discomfort. It’s great to develop equilibrium, peripheral vision, and reflexes. For instance, anyone who is used to riding in city traffic has a pretty sharp 360° radar.
Cycling teaches the importance of effort dosage and energy conservation in varied situations and over a timeline. You learn when to coast and when to sprint. Much like cycling, survival demands both: it can be a marathon, but dashing can be crucial at times, too.
Running and walking
Both offer cardio benefits. Running works the upper levels of intensity and is pretty hard and painful. It’s also high-impact, and this can wear out joints over the long term.
Almost anyone can sprint for a few yards if necessary – like to escape some danger in a survival situation – even without much training. Doing so multiple times, to cover longer distances, or without getting painful afterwards requires training, though.
Walking at varied paces presents fewer downsides but won’t work for high intensities. Walking isn’t as easy as most people think. I get a lot of beginning preppers here that believe they can walk for hours on end for consecutive days, despite never training.
Just throwing a lightweight bag and taking them for a two-hour walk around the streets is enough to convince them of the importance of constant practice and increasing loads to withstand on or off-road adventures, especially if the objective is to carry extra weight and travel rough terrain.
Rowing and cross-country skiing
Much like cycling and running, these are cardio and endurance sports, but they work the upper body a lot more, thus making them better activities to build muscle and overall body conditioning. Skiing is done in the cold, which adds another layer of difficulty (good for building tolerance and extra toughness).
Martial Arts, boxing, and wrestling
Practicing martial arts offers perhaps the most benefits for preppers. It works the body and the mind at so many levels, also offering incredible benefits for the body: cardio, muscles, tendons, and skeleton.
It also develops reflexes, flexibility, agility, mental fortitude, and balance. Becoming more capable of fighting close-combat and free-hand is another obvious advantage. This gives calm and tolerance and some much-welcome confidence, too.
Resistance training and cross-training
Lifting weights and doing calisthenics (preferably both) are great for building musculature, strong bones, and tendons. It’s great for the mind and the spirit, too, because it releases endorphins and builds self-confidence.
With aging, we lose muscle, and lifting delays or even reverses that process. It builds a strong foundation for other sports, helps avoid injuries, and with keeping a healthy weight overall.
Watching a bunch of traceurs performing jumps and other crazy acrobatics smoothly between obstacles for a few minutes is enough to give an idea of the various benefits of parkour for urban survival, in case the SHTF. It’s no coincidence parkour has roots in the military, martial arts, and climbing.
It’s high-intensity but, at the same time, very fluid. Much like athletics, parkour is great for developing strength, coordination, reflexes, agility, and explosion. A combination of parkour with some aerobic sport and martial arts would be the ultimate urban survivor skill.
Sport shooting and archery.
Depending on the modality, shooting can be more or less physically demanding. But in any form, it requires high levels of focus, coordination, and dexterity. Another obvious benefit is learning to operate, maintain, and properly use firearms and other weapons.
Airsoft and paintball add some “combat practice” and tactical and strategic acumen. Matches usually require lots of cardio, repetitive short bursts, resistance, and the whole list of mental attributes, such as coordination, reflexes, and peripheral vision, too.
Even though I love camping and wild camping, I’ll limit this to trekking and backpacking (mountain biking is included in cycling). A bug-out through the city or the woods is essentially a backpacking expedition with a lot more danger and shit hitting the fan all around.
Back to the topic, besides the various benefits of staying in contact with nature and doing exercises outdoor (to the body and mind), we learn to read the weather and the terrain, cope with discomfort, find and save resources, and various other survival-related skills. Camping and wild camping are great for self-reliance, too.
The final word on physical training for survival
Wrapping it up, I’d say that knowing how to swim with reasonable proficiency (preferably not just in pools but also in the sea and in rivers) is good for overall conditioning but also very important for survival.
I have some co-workers, friends, and relatives who don’t know how to swim, how to ride a bicycle, how to drive a car, or even how to cook. And they say they don’t want to or don’t care.
That’s the wrong mentality. This is about sports, but it’s also about being prepared and more self-reliant. I went on a tangent and mixed a bit of extras here but – sorry to break it to you – some stuff is basic to life. Go out and just do it.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor
Did you notice that during the “pandemic” the “authorities” said nothing about staying fit and getting good nutrition. All you heard was “SHELTER IN PLACE!” “SOCIAL DISTANCIIIIINNNNGGG!” and “VAX UP OR ELSE!” The last thing these people want is a population healthy enough to push back against their edicts! They want WEAK people living in FEAR. Don’t be one of those people!
I get it. A lot of us aren’t what we were in our 20’s. There’s still no reason to not be in the best condition POSSIBLE. Back off on the beer. Eat what you like. Just eat LESS of it. You may not be able to run marathons, but even a solid walk whenever possible is better than nothing! In fact, walking is burns the most calories versus effort of any exercise! Note that I said “whenever possible.” My favorite go-to excuse used to be “Yeah, I can work out today, but the rest of the week’s shot. I’ll start again next week.” No, if you can work out only one day this week, work out that one day! Everything helps! Exercise is a cumulative thing.
Take care of your body at least as well as you do your bugout vehicle. Chance may have it that your body WILL BE your bugout vehicle!
I don’t know about the authorities where you live, but where I live they did recommend exercise during the pandemic.
I agree with you that everybody should try to get exercise and be in the best condition they can.
I would add another exercise to the list: yoga. I know it seems terribly silly and the sort of thing that only hippies do, but it’s the best thing to improve flexibility, and being the one person that can reach that place that others can’t is definitely useful for survival.
We use hiking as our workout. Climbing up steep ridges with hand over hand techniques. Carrying our Bob s. Our grandkids know the safe spots for shelter, where the springs are, where firewood caches are hidden. We are older but the family knows strategic retreat is our fallback safe plan. We even built vantage points to watch the house while hidden. So far we hike in spring summer and fall. I want to go in winter but my husband says need a structure with roof and walls, his arthritis won’t let him be comfortable. I think we are conditioned better than most our age 54 and 66.
I’ve been watching my 6 sons wrestle (as part of a team/club) for the last 10 years. The oldest is 23 and the youngest is 11. In grappling sports there are incredible numbers of “moves” …. each move has who knows how many “finishes” depending on how your opponent responds. Resilience and quick, strategic thinking is something my boys have practiced on the mat. Mental self-control has been a huge part of their training as well. If you get angry during a match, the thinking part of your brain shuts off and you can no longer make good decisions and the other guy wins. Our family has witnessed this many times at wrestling tournaments … left quite an impression on my home schooled boys.
Most firefighters and cops are totally out of shape.
Avoid getting injured.
I heard from a trainer at a gym that trainers are some of the most injured people on the gym floor. The cause? They have pushed themselves beyond what their bodies can take. Shoulders are some of the easiest joints to injure. At one point, I pushed myself too far too fast, and re-injured my shoulders. Now it’s slow and steady. I signed up with a trainer who specializes in shoulder injuries, his own shoulders are messed up because he pushed himself too hard, but there’s a feeling of accomplishment when I’m able to do things that I couldn’t do when I was young.
When I lived up north in snow country, I loved cross-country skiing, touring style, not racing. It is one of the least impact exercises that I know of, even less than walking. Once the technique was mastered, one could glide for miles with what seems to be little effort. Good exercise with little chance of injury.
On the other hand, I got a hernia from riding a bicycle. I’ve been told that recumbent bikes minimize that source of injury. That’s not counting accidents and falls.
Avoid injuries. But some actions are more prone to injury than others. Avoid pushing oneself too hard, as that is a major source for injuries.
Wrestled in the high school.
I have raced bicycles in the past (Tour de France style), done back to back 100mi rides.
Ran a half marathon.
Now that the snow is gone, getting the bicycle back out. Only a 13mi ride, but almost all hills.
This year, I am cutting back on the running and going to “ruck” it. 30lbs pack, and then hump over hiking trails for about an hour and a good pace.
Also do push ups, sit ups that kinda thing.
Instead of specific cardio or endurance exercises like running, biking, etc, you can do anything that puts you in the HR zone for the desired effect. Zone 3 for endurance improvement with longer training times, or trade some suck for shorter training times with a higher HR zone, so training in zone 4 at 70 to 80 % of your max HR, with your max HR being 220 minus your age.
Doing calisthenics is good advice, I would include some weight training, and use a website like strengthlevel for a way to have some sort of metric or way to measure yourself against others your age.
Its a good idea to have some sort of idea of your calorie requirements, especially if you have a physical job and are working out on top of that, or will be engaging in a short term activity (like a 2 week hiking trip) that will require more calorie intake. Protein and carb intake can be tailored to your goals, to make the fastest gains in the shortest amount of time. If you are on a powerlifting program vs a bodybuilding program, your protein and carb percentages will probably look different.
If you are 50 like me, an easy to do flexibility routine can be important. It sucks and I hate stretching, but there are injury prevention benefits that are hard to ignore.
Its mostly just slow, steady work, and knowing yourself well enough to autoregulate your effort level, and allow plenty of time for recovery.
Always surprising to me to see so many out of shape preppers, when you would think that prepping culture would be a culture of fitness. Rural folks like myself often assume we will be superior to “soft city folk” when the chips are down, but having lived in rural and metro areas, I see many more city folks hitting the gym and running, and many more rural folks sitting out back pounding beers.
We should be honest with ourselves, and take an honest look at where we are, and then make a plan for how to get where we want to be, and then develop the discipline to reach goals.
Endurance and stamina is what will be needed in a real scenario. Cardio, cardio, cardio. Walking, biking, running and slowly increase resistance with weighted vests. When using a weighted best keep it evenly distributed start with 5-8 lbs and never more than 35lbs or you will start doing damage to your body. DO NOT TOUCH WEIGHTS!!! In real life they are useless. Functional strength is what will be needed. Stick to all bodyweight exercises or exercises with a weighted vest on. Pushups, pullups, squats, dips, planks etc.. Everything you do needs to increase cardio endurance and muscle stamina.
Your’re so right. Thank your for your article.
Greetings from Germany.