Being out of shape can be an inconvenience; being out of shape in a survival situation can be fatal. 

*Always consult a medical professional before engaging in physical training.*

Staying physically fit takes dedication, sacrifice, and a level of willpower that often seems to escape us, especially around the holidays. Let’s face it: our lives are busy enough with school, work, kids, and other activities. Many times we just feel too tired to even think about working out, and instead of taking the time to cook healthy meals we opt for our favorite drive-through to pick up a quick bite.

But being out of shape can have detrimental effects when it comes to surviving in an uncertain world. Be honest with yourself for a moment; if you had to trek for five or ten miles with a fully-loaded pack, could you do so without losing your breath? If you had to fight hand-to-hand to defend yourself, would you struggle keeping your composure?

In a survival situation, keeping a clear head is an absolute necessity. If you are able to think clearly, you can make rational decisions based upon logical reasoning that will allow you to escape with your life. Blocking incoming strikes, drawing and discharging a firearm, and even running to a position of cover requires that you have your wits about you. The problem is that when your body has been pushed to its absolute breaking point, all rational thought processes become hindered. Your mind screams MAKE IT STOP, and stopping is all you can think about. You begin to make decisions based on how you feel, not what you see, and this is a dangerous situation indeed.

During my time in the military, we often conducted drills while wearing gas masks and fully-loaded kits of weapons, ammo, and other equipment. While most of us were in great physical shape, those who were not stuck out like a sore thumb. Gas masks are incredibly constrictive on your breathing, and if you can’t keep your composure this can quickly lead to panic. It became immediately evident who was lacking in physical prowess and those individuals became the weak links in our chain. Communication suffered and those who couldn’t breathe began making decisions that compromised the integrity of the unit. Rather than focusing on the potential threats in front of us, their minds were in disarray. Individuals suffering from extreme physical fatigue would often stare at the ground, sucking wind and unable to keep their eyes on the threat.

Being fit for survival doesn’t mean you have to be a bodybuilder. In fact, I would argue that muscular strength is a secondary consideration when it comes to survival fitness. Most survival situations will require either long-distance walking to reach a safe location or short burst-type exertions such as fighting or sprinting. That is not to say that being strong is unimportant; you could very well find yourself carrying or dragging an injured person which requires a great deal of muscular strength. However, you should first focus on carrying yourself and your gear before worrying about carrying others.

So where do I start?

First, you should consult a medical professional before starting any physical training regimen. If you are new to working out, be careful not to overdo it as pushing yourself too hard could lead to injury. I recommend starting with some light cardiovascular training to build your endurance, such as jogging, biking, or rowing. I like to split my cardio workouts between two different types: steady-state and interval training. A typical week’s cardio plan might look something like this:

Monday: 30 minute jog

Tuesday: 20-30 minutes of high-intensity interval training (10 second sprint/30 second jog/repeat)

Wednesday: 30 minute stationary bike

Thursday: 20-30 minutes of high-intensity interval training (10 second sprint/30 second jog/repeat)

Friday: 30 minute stair stepper workout

There’s no magic formula for optimal cardiovascular exercise, but I’ve found that a good mix of steady-state and interval training sessions work well for me. The goal is to build long-distance endurance for hiking, as well as short-burst power to get off the X in a hurry. I also incorporate strength training at least 4-5 days per week, but I’ll save that topic for another discussion.

If you’re already in great shape, you may need to ramp up your routine to push yourself even further. If you are severely out of shape or inexperienced, that’s okay too. Consider hiring a personal trainer at your local gym until you learn the ropes and can continue on your own.

What if I don’t have the money?

If you can’t afford to pay for a gym membership, work out at home. There are plenty of free resources available on the internet showing you how to get in shape right from your living room. Body weight exercises (calisthenics) are a great way to get in shape with little or no equipment needed.

What if I don’t have the time?

I know that making time for physical training can be tough. We are all busy, but that’s no excuse to neglect your own physical well-being. The simple fact is, all the knowledge and tools in the world won’t save you in a crisis if you can’t physically carry the weight on your back. If you can’t find time in your schedule for a workout, get up 30 minutes earlier. I know this sounds like an unpleasant task, but your body – and mind – will thank you.

The bottom line:

Make time and put forth the effort to improve your physical fitness. This will take dedication and sacrifice, but the results are always worth it. Get in shape, and do it NOW. Someday your survival just may depend on it.




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