Survival fitness is the practice of staying physically fit and prepared for any situation that may arise. Whether you find yourself stranded in the wilderness, facing a natural disaster, or in a self-defense situation, being physically fit can mean the difference between life and death.
Have you ever gone to the range and seen the guy that’s 75+ pounds overweight dressed in more “tacti-cool” gear than I was ever issued in the military? He’s got all the latest gadgets, high-end firearm and optics. Then he’ll say something like, “I’m ready for anything and I could shoot the hair off a gnat’s ass at 100 yards!”
It’s probably true that he’s a great shot in a relaxed environment, however, the sad reality is, he’s not ready for jack. In high stress situations over long durations, his elevated heartrate and excessive breathing will eventually crater him. Effective accurate fire only happens when the breathing is controlled.
In this article, we will cover the essential exercises, nutrition, and training you need to stay in peak physical condition no matter what challenges you may face.
Table of Contents
Assessing Your Fitness Level
Assessing your current fitness level is an important first step in any fitness program, but it is especially important when it comes to survival fitness. Knowing where you currently stand will help you determine where you need to go and what you need to do to get there.
There are many different ways to assess your fitness level, but here are a few of the most common methods:
Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate is a good indicator of your cardiovascular fitness level. To measure your resting heart rate, simply find your pulse (usually on your wrist or neck), count the number of beats for 60 seconds, and record the number. A lower resting heart rate generally indicates better cardiovascular fitness.
Your body composition refers to the amount of lean muscle mass and body fat you have. It is an important factor in overall health and fitness.
There are several methods to measure body composition, including skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impedance analysis, and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).
Strength and Flexibility Tests
There are many different tests you can do to assess your strength and flexibility. For example, you could test your maximum number of push-ups or pull-ups, your one-rep max on a particular lift, or your flexibility in various joints.
Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)
When I was in the Army, we had to perform the APFT every 6 months. It consisted of 2 minutes of pushups, 2 minutes of sit-ups and the 2-mile run. You were scored on each event with a possible 100 points for each event. The total of all three events was your overall score.
Depending on what school you were in, the cadre would tack on 8 hanging pullups, 5 mile run and 12-mile road march. The 5-mile run would average a 9-minute pace, however, there would be long sprints during it to see who they could get to quit.
Being in the infantry, our unit always did the 12-mile road march with battle gear and rucksack. The standard was the typical 15-minute pace per mile.
I still feel like these are good to test your overall physical fitness level.
Once you have assessed your current fitness level, be sure to track your progress over time. This will help you see how far you’ve come and stay motivated to keep pushing yourself.
Basic Fitness Principles
You need to have well balanced survival fitness goals. Your survival fitness plan should include developing strength, endurance, speed and agility.
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the ability of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles during prolonged physical activity. It is an essential component of overall fitness and plays a critical role in survival situations.
When faced with a physical challenge, such as escaping a burning building or fleeing a dangerous situation, your cardiovascular endurance will determine how long you can sustain physical activity before becoming fatigued.
The more efficient your cardiovascular system is, the longer you can perform physical activity, and the better your chances of survival.
Additionally, cardiovascular exercise is also known to improve mental health and cognitive function, which can be critical in survival situations that require quick thinking and problem-solving skills.
Types of exercises to improve your endurance:
Strength and Power
Strength and power are critical components of overall fitness and are essential in survival situations. Strength refers to the ability of your muscles to exert force against resistance, while power refers to the ability to exert force quickly.
In survival situations, strength and power are essential for tasks such as moving heavy objects, defending oneself, and navigating difficult terrain. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to move debris to escape, having the strength to lift heavy objects can mean the difference between life and death.
Additionally, building strength and power can also improve bone density and reduce the risk of injury, which is crucial in survival situations where medical attention may be limited or unavailable.
By engaging in strength and power exercises such as weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, and CrossFit, you can improve your overall physical strength and power, increasing your chances of survival.
- Bodyweight exercises- These include:
- Sit-ups, flutter kicks, or leg raises.
- Inverted rows
- Weight training- These include:
- Bench press
- Shoulder press
- Weighted lunges
- Lawnmower pulls
Flexibility and Mobility
Flexibility and mobility are important components of overall fitness and are essential in survival situations. Flexibility refers to the range of motion in your joints, while mobility refers to your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion.
In survival situations, flexibility and mobility are important for tasks such as navigating difficult terrain, accessing tight spaces, and escaping dangerous situations.
For example, if you need to climb over a fence or crawl through a small space to escape danger, having good flexibility and mobility can make it easier to maneuver through these obstacles.
Additionally, improving flexibility and mobility can help reduce the risk of injury, as it allows your body to move more freely and with greater ease.
By engaging in flexibility and mobility exercises such as yoga, stretching, Pilates, and foam rolling, you can improve your overall flexibility and mobility, increasing your chances of survival in any situation.
I’ll admit, I’m the worst when it comes to stretching, however it should be part of your survival fitness plan.
- Foam rolling
Real World Survival Fitness Training
Functional training is a type of exercise that focuses on building strength and endurance that is directly applicable to everyday movements and activities.
The goal of this style of training is to improve overall movement patterns and to increase strength and endurance for the types of activities you may perform in a SHTF scenario.
In contrast, traditional training methods typically focus on isolating individual muscle groups and building muscle mass through weightlifting and bodybuilding exercises.
Functional training is particularly useful for survival situations because it involves training your body to perform movements and activities that are necessary for survival. Besides, it’s nice to break up the same old routine that you’ve probably been doing.
Another benefit is that it tends to be more efficient than traditional training methods. Because it involves full-body movements that engage multiple muscle groups at once, it can provide a full-body workout in a shorter amount of time than traditional weightlifting exercises.
- Farmer’s carry- Fill up some buckets with weight or grab weights in both hands and walk. If life ends as we know it, you’ll be required to perform a lot of manual labor for things we take for granite. This will build grip strength, legs, back and core.
- Rucking with a heavy pack- A great practical exercise is to load up the old rucksack and walk. If your bug-out vehicle becomes incapacitated, you will need to be able to carry your gear. An added bonus could be to go off the beaten path to practice your land navigation skills while you train.
- Sledgehammer/Tire Workout- Find an old tractor tire. Lay the tire flat on the ground and start swinging the hammer down into the tire. You can perform these in sets or intervals. This will build conditioning and power. In a power down situation, you’ll be chopping your wood.
- Obstacle course- Climbing over challenging obstacles is not only real world applicable, but also a great confidence booster.
There are a ton of functional moves that you can perform to stay survival fit. I’ll write a listicle post covering all of my favorite moves in the near future.
Martial arts training or some type of boxing is an excellent way to exercise. Not only is a great workout, but it helps with hand eye coordination and overall balance.
God forbid, you ever have to get into a fight. Practicing boxing, kickboxing, jujitsu or my favorite Muay Thai, will greatly improve your self-defense survival skills.
If you can’t afford a gym membership, you could get a heavy bag and a descent pair of gloves to train at home. If you have friends or family members, you could get a pair of focus mitts or Thai pads for better fight simulation and movement.
One works the gloves for a few minutes while the other holds pads or mitts. After a few, rotate. Repeating this for 12 rounds is an excellent workout. Most people will be surprised how fast they get smoked with these types of martial arts workouts.
Nutrition Tips for Survival Fitness
The old saying, “you get out what you put in” is 100% spot on when it comes to nutrition. Junk in equal junk out!
Eat the best quality foods that your money can buy. This doesn’t mean the most expensive steak. It means quality food. Non-GMO and non-processed. If it doesn’t grow from the ground, doesn’t have a mom; don’t buy it.
Survival Fitness Plan Tips
Here are some pointers if you’re a little rusty or just starting out in your survival fitness journey. They will help you stay healthy and have success with your survival fitness plan.
Get a physical checkup!
Before you start getting after it, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor to ensure that you’re healthy enough to start working out.
Don’t go out there like gang busters your first few training workouts. Your body isn’t prepared for the type of torture you’re putting it through to get back in shape. Your joints, ligaments and tendons all have to be conditioned as well.
You’ll be much more prone to injury if you go too hard, too fast.
Before you start every workout, take the time to warm up by going for a light jog, jumping jacks or cycle to get your muscles warmed up. Once you feel warm and your heart rate is elevated, start training.
You don’t need a gym.
If you don’t have a gym in your local area or can’t afford the membership. Your body weight and imagination are free. Trust me, you can get survival fit with just your body weight.
We never used weights in an organized training session in the Army.
Your body needs time to recover from your workouts. Not only do you need to recover, but you need sleep. Sleep and recovery are just as important as your workouts. It’s sometimes hard to get good sleep with all the unwanted noise and stress in the world but do your best to get 8 hours of sleep.
You’ll get the most bang for your buck with interval training. My wife and I used to run marathons all over the country. Our bodies were ok, and we could run for hours, however we never got extremely lean and didn’t really have explosive power.
We later started running hill repeats and sprints. Our bodies began to get a lot leaner and developed fast twitch muscles. performing interval training will really crank up your metabolism for long after you’re done.
Instead of working out for hours, 20-30 minutes is all that’s needed.
What’s a possible training plan look like?
Day 1- Work your upper body with exercises like pushups, pullups, and military presses. Stretch before, during and after your workout.
Day 2- Warm up for a couple of minutes. Run or walk as fast as you can for 1 minute and then walk at a normal pace for 1 minute. Repeat this for 10 – 15 sets. Cool down for a few minutes. Work your abs.
Day 3- Functional exercise like farmer carries, sledgehammer tire workouts, tire flipping,
Day 4- Warm up for a couple of minutes. Run or walk as fast as you can for 1 minute and then walk at a normal pace for 1 minute. Repeat this for 10 – 15 sets. Cool down for a few minutes. Work your abs.
Day 5- Work your lower section with exercises like squats, lunges and deadlifts. Stretch before, during and after your workout.
Day 6- Use Day 6 to mix things up instead of intervals. Maybe try strapping a rucksack on and hiking. On the next day 6, try some self-defense workouts like boxing or martial arts.
The next time, go to your gyms pool and swim some laps. Other pick-up games can be fun to break up the routine as well.
Day 7- Rest, relax and recover.
It truly doesn’t matter how you organize your workouts as long as you take a break between muscle groups. When you are doing your sets, take no more than a minute of rest between exercises.
Try to mix in some functional, high intensity and self-defense skills training at least 3 times per week. It will keep it refreshing and the elevated heart rate will boost your cardiovascular function.
There are millions of training programs online. Get on a computer and go to some place like Muscle & Strength for free fitness plans. They also have free videos that demonstrate how to complete each exercise.
Listen to your body-
You should struggle with weighted exercises. That’s why it’s called workouts. You will have some discomfort until you harden up some. Discomfort is fine. It’s how we know we’re alive.
Pain on the other hand is not good. Listen to your body. If it needs a break, then take one. Practicing perfect form and taking the time to
In any survival situation, being physically fit can be the key to survival. By assessing your current fitness level, engaging in essential exercises, eating a nutritious diet, and training for specific situations, you can prepare yourself to face any challenge that comes your way.
If you’re not in the best shape possible, all of your prepping will be for the people left behind or the people that smoked you. It’s not to scare or shame you into taking your survival fitness plan seriously, but to get you thinking about prepping your body to suit your survival mindset.
Survival fitness is just as important as the rest of your survival skills if you want to survive what’s coming next.
Remember, survival fitness is not just about looking good or feeling healthy; it’s about being ready to handle anything life throws your way. Hopefully this has given you some survival fitness knowledge so, you can stay fit, healthy, and start training for what’s coming next.