Survival Fitness: Are You FIT Enough To Survive?

There‘s a lot to prepping, material and otherwise. One has to stock and store all manner of goods and equipment, and also invest countless hours in personal development of skills and acquisition of knowledge. There is no end to prepping; you can always be better, be smarter or better equipped.

From shelf-stable food, lights, batteries and weapons to navigational knowledge, emergency procedures and austere environment shelter techniques, any prepper has plenty to do and much to learn in order to be “ready” and increase their chances of survival should disaster strike.

But there is one facet of personal development I see neglected more than any other single thing in the prepper-verse, and that is physical fitness.

The body is the first tool after the mind, and the first weapon. Without the necessary fitness to endure the trials of a real SHTF situation all the gear in the world will not amount to much.

Neither will comprehensive knowledge of dozens of subjects. In this article, I’ll make a case for getting fighting-and-surviving fit priority one for prepping.

Why You Need to Get In Shape for Doomsday

Okay, to be fair, maybe not just for Doomsday, but definitely for everyday SHTF events. In an emergency, you might have to:

  • Run fast and far to escape danger.
  • March like a mule with a heavy pack through broken or dense terrain.
  • Lift a heavy object off of a loved one.
  • Pull yourself up and over an obstacle.
  • Climb a rope.
  • Engage in heavy labor for hours and hours at a time.
  • Carry the wounded
  • Fight someone bent on killing you for what you have.
  • Hunt animals for meat (hunting requires you to be in top shape)
  • Stay mentally sharp and balanced even on little sleep.
  • Throw a rescue line.

All of the above are common tasks in the aftermath of short-term and long-term disasters alike. Don’t delude yourself in to thinking you’ll “rise to the occasion” or “summon the strength.”

No, no you won’t aside from a short term burst of power that adrenaline provides. No amount of will power is going to keep an obese body marching for 12 hours with a 40 pound pack. Sheer force of will can only overcome a failing body for so long.

The arithmetic of survival is brutal and uncompromising. You measure up, or you don’t. You can lift it, or you can’t. You can push on, or not.

You can outlast the desperate maniac trying to shank you, or your quivering arms and burning lungs fail as you feel the knife pierce your guts. This is real talk. The stakes are high.

And this is only the beginning. A truly cataclysmic event could see your life will change forever: No more computers, cars, or supermarkets to make everything easy. This means

  • you’re going to have to walk to get anywhere,
  • you might need to climb ladders daily,
  • and you’ll spend all day working your survival garden, the field, taking care of animals, washing clothes by hand, cooking, sharpening knives, etc. etc. etc.

To put it another way, your whole life is going to be one big workout! In your head, this sounds like a hard life of hard labor. It is easy to forget, but not even a century ago in the West this was just called… Life!

At least for most citizens. Americans and Europeans had not yet been inured with the labor-saving obsession that simultaneously grew waistlines while shrinking muscles. This is still the standard of life in many, many parts of the world.

A fit, strong person is harder to kill by any means, will get sick far less often, and is more useful all the way around.

Not for nothing, a fit person has a much easier time defending both themselves and others when the lies stop and the fight starts, and with gun, knife or fists, feet and teeth they’ll have a big advantage over a weaker attacker.

If you were preparing your storehouse and mental hard drive for such an event, why not also your body?

Fitness in Mind and Body

Increasing your physical fitness also has a marked effect on your mental health.

A person who is fit from engaging in strenuous exercise regularly will be less affected by stress and will think clearer and perform better under stress, all things equal, than someone who is a hot mess, physically.

Physical stress in excess of your body’s max work capacity threshold will greatly impair clear thinking and decision making capability.

When your blood pressure has you seeing red and hearing the ocean, and you cannot catch your breath, it is difficult to respond intelligently to new info, make a quick and accurate decision or give instructions to someone else.

Fit people don’t get gassed out and suffer from such things nearly as quickly from strenuous work, and they recover from the effects faster.

The old cliché that promises “you’ll have more energy!” is very true, and a fit and healthy body will let you stay alert and moving for longer than a broken down one.

Fitness will enhance your mental acuity and grant you greater emotional strength in times of exertion and pain. Believe it.

Why Don’t People Get Fit for Survival?

As I said above, for many decades now the citizens of Western countries have been facing a triple threat of poison arrows that have seen them slowly slide into an oozy and gelatinous mire of weakness.

The aforementioned reliance on, love, and worship of labor saving technology and gadgetry is the first.

A predisposition and ready availability of calorie dense junk food is the second and the decline and stigmatization of jobs and careers that actually require exertion is the third.

Most of us lead lives that are incredibly sessile, low impact and low effort. We drive everywhere. Everything is delivered.

Everything is made for us. Even our recreation is mostly low or no exertion stuff; endless binges of movies, TV and internet content (ahem).

Gone are the days of weekly or nightly bouts of strenuous play, replaced instead by even more staring at screens when we get home from a long day of staring at a screen.

This slide into rootedness has coincided with skyrocketing obesity, heart and joint problems, the emperors among a legion of lesser maladies.

Nonetheless, you’ll find preppers among the soft and buttery contingent in no short supply, and oddly confident in their ability to survive.

They’ll be quick to regale you with all of their preps and information gleaned from much study and what they are going to do when “it goes down” but frankly they will have trouble conquering the stairs.

And, how can you blame them? We live in a society of unparalleled prosperity, safety, entitlement and security. You don’t need to be fit to survive, or even prosper, so long as the machine does not break down.

Hell, even social stigmas against being fat, weak and useless are being actively, aggressively dispensed with under threat of unpersoning. The message is clear: the government (read: someone else) will always be there to take care of you.

Do you believe that? I will assume and fervently hope not, that is after all why you are here on this site in the first place. Since you don’t believe that, why are you okay with being fat and weak? Don’t you want o be self-sufficient? Do you want to be a burden and liability to your family and fellows when the chips are down? Didn’t think so.

And look, I can already hear dozens of people out there rolling up their sleeves to regale everyone who will listen about their Special Snowflake disability, the one where they just can’t lose weight no matter what and so on and so forth.

I’m not saying there aren’t people with debilitating conditions out there who struggle with such things. I know there are. But I’ll bet everything on the fact it isn’t you.

All that is needed to get fit and strong is eating right and putting work in consistently. The end. The only thing you need is discipline. You sure don’t need motivation. You should have motivation, but it is not what makes the fitness train go. That’s it.

The Four Pillars of Survival Fitness

There are 4 things you need to focus on if you want to be physically ready for when it hits.

Most people at the gym are simply building muscle to look good, and while training for aesthetics is fine, we must always be concerned with performance, first, and looking good as a happy byproduct. And that’s just something you need.

But this doesn’t mean they have the speed, stamina, and flexibility to deal with a large or even a smalls-scale disasters. But you will, as long as youTo accomplish this, we will train on these four aspects, these pillars of survival fitness as I like to call them:

  • strength
  • stamina
  • flexibility
  • speed

If you can improve each of these Big Four just a little bit every week, you’ll increase your chances of survival exponentially in less than a year’s time. Here’s what I mean.

You’ll need strength to lift heavy objects or carry people, to lift yourself and even to fight off or escape an attacker.

You need stamina to be able to bug out into the woods, marching all day and night carrying a heavy BOB. Most preppers today will run out of breath after 10 minutes of walking with a backpack on their back!

You need flexibility to be able to exert yourself without risking injury, and to stay mobile when reacting explosively to an emergent event or threat.

Finally, you need speed for those few moments when you have to run for your life or strike like a viper at whoever is threatening to kill you.

How Can You Improve the Big Four Fitness Levels?

It’s pretty clear that people who want to look good in the mirror need to go to the gym. It’s the only place they have the right equipment to target their muscles optimally.

Believe me, I tried doing it at home, but once my body got accustomed to the improvised weights I was using, I needed something heavier.

But that’s not the case with survival fitness! You don’t even have to have access to strength training machines and a complete weight pile to get fit. You’ll be focused on a completely different set of exercises than everyone at the gym.

You can train on all 4 aspects/pillars with almost no free weights at all. In fact, if you can buy or get a couple of adjustable dumbbells, and you’re more than set to get into shape for any apocalypse.

Once you have those, you’ll just need to write out your exercise program and then take a big ol’ shot of stick-to-it!

The Ultimate Bodyweight ZOMBIE SURVIVAL Workout (30 Minutes)

Thoughts on Programming

The best workouts for practical survival (fighting, escaping, etc.) are those that focus on endurance exercises like running, rowing and sprinting and then short, intense strength-focused exercises before finishing a circuit with more endurance work.

This is sometimes called “Run-Fight-Run” methodology because it better simulates a dangerous emergency.

Some exercises you can incorporate freestyle in to this methodology at any fitness level include:

  • Walking (increase distance and pace over time)
  • Running
  • Sprinting (which I prefer 10:1 over long distance running)
  • Push-ups (use an elevated surface such as a bed to put your hands there and make it easier for you if required)
  • Squats (body weight or weighted)
  • Sit-ups
  • Stretching, or yoga
  • Planks (hold yourself rigid with your back and legs parallel to the floor, similar to the push-up position but supporting your upper body on your elbows as opposed to arms)
  • Rope jumping (it’s quite the cardio work-out)
  • Jumping jacks
  • Glute bridges (Lay on your back and raise your behind)
  • Superman – lie down on your belly with arms and legs extended and raised
  • Forward and side lunges (you need good knees to do this)
  • Biceps curls (you can use a sandbag, bucket or some other heavy object if you don’t have dumbbells)
  • Step-ups and Step-downs (you can hold a weight to increase difficulty)
  • Knee raises (bring one knee at a time to chest level then alternate)

There are a lot more exercises to choose from, but these will get you far with virtually no equipment and little room needed.

Next, you need to group these exercises/activities into workouts that make sense. For example, you may want to sprint for your first station, then do some push-ups and box-jumps for the second station, then do rapid-fire body weight squats as the third.

Again, you don’t have to break a world record or even your personal best, you just need to put the work in!

Survival Fitness: Cardio Conditioning Boxing Workout

There’s only one prime, goal you should have: never quit. If you start a workout, you finish it, barring you are risking injury. Feeling like you are going to throw up is not an injury. Neither is being out of breath and panting.

Finish it, even if you have to reduce your load or intensity, never allow yourself to give in! If you train like a mad man for two weeks and then you call it quits, you’ve just wasted your time.

It’s like with your other survival endeavors. You don’t just buy a few cans of food and be done with it, right?

You buy something each week or month, you take the time to rotate your stockpile twice a year, then you need a whole bunch of survival items and gear items such as toilet paper, fish hooks, flashlights, and on and on. Consistently!

Same thing with survival fitness. Since you don’t know when disaster will strike, you have to be ready and in shape at all times, to be ready any time. You should be working out no less than three times a week, your base condition allowing.

Make Recreation and Skill-Building Fitness-Centric Events

You can kill two birds with one stone if you plan your recreational activities to include a fitness component. You can do the same by undertaking physically demanding skill-building and preps.

There is no end to what you can accomplish if you look to do things “the hard way” instead of the short way or the easy way. Keep in mind that “most efficient” is not always the most productive if you are trying to kill two birds with one stone.

Case in point, you could play a friendly pickup ballgame of your choice with friends or strangers. Basketball, football, tennis, soccer, you name it, they’ll all get your heart rate up and the sweat pouring with the additional perks of building your agility and coordination.

Even toting a bag of golf clubs around a course on foot will be a heck of a nice workout. You could even engage in a few rounds of paintball or airsoft to the same benefit.

Solo activities will also provide ample opportunity for sweat equity. Hiking and rock climbing are two such enjoyable pastimes that will really test you physically. Many people enjoy Olympic powerlifting as a discipline unto itself, and it has enormous benefits for your overall conditioning.

The gains don’t stop there. There are plenty of skills you should be learning and sharpening that are old world physical tests.

Martial arts are an important foundational element to any self-defense program. Several of the most popular (and effective) emphasize physical endurance, agility, power or all three, among them boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and more.

“Street” fighting classes or “fight clubs” that emphasize pure sparring against resisting opponents are excellent laboratories for refining skills, identifying weaknesses and of course cutting the pork.

While shooting a gun in practice can certainly get tiring from the mental load and focus required, unless you are taking a pounding all day from a heavy-recoiling long gun or engaged in long hours of formal training, it is not that physically demanding compared to martial arts.

You can get in some exercise in competition though, especially the emerging variety of action shooting competition that emphasizes scenario-based problem solving and physical exertion over incredibly complex stages and target arrays.

Check out InRange TV’s channel on YouTube for plenty of the above, with the TwoGun Action Challenge Match, MGM Ironman and the Finnish Brutality shoots being foremost among them.

Survival Fitness Tips to Get You Started

You know what they say: Motivation gets you started, discipline keep you going. I couldn’t agree more. I think you’ll find my tips below pretty compelling to start your first workout today.

1. Resist the temptation to work out too much in the beginning to make up for lost time or terrible condition. The risk of injury from overexertion due to enthusiasm is high.

Not only is it dangerous, since you’re not in shape yet, but this is also the fastest way to lose your long-term motivation.

2. Warm up! Get the blood flowing, heart rate up and joints limber before you go hard. I met with a buddy of mine about a month ago (that I only see once every few years) and he has changed. He looks good, trains hard, and counts his calories.

Only problem is, he got injured at one point. So now he has to warm-up for at least 15 minutes if he doesn’t want to really screw it up.

That’s a lot of time for a warm-up, but the thing is, warm-ups exponentially decrease the chances of getting injured. Spend at least 10 minutes warming up. Yes, it might get a little boring but it’s important.

3. Start small. You don’t have to get those adjustable dumbbells just yet. Your first work-out can consist of a thorough warm-up and a session of walking or sprinting and bodyweight exercises.

If you have to buy your groceries, for instance, why not walk there and leave your car in your garage? Even better, you can get a backpack to put the groceries in. This will simulate you having to bug out with a BOB on your back, not to mention the money you save on gas.

4. Make walking your “new car” for close by errands. Not only will you gain a new perspective on your local area by travelling it on foot as opposed to by vehicle, but you’ll burn calories.


So, how about it? Are you up for my survival fitness challenge? Are you ready to be fit for Doomsday? Let me know your progress in a comment below.

survival fitness Pinterest image

updated 09/30/2019

6 thoughts on “Survival Fitness: Are You FIT Enough To Survive?”

  1. Jöran Jäderberg

    Hi !!!
    Thanks for a great article and i am a 44 year old male and i exercise 6 days a week 3 of them i run for 1 hour and the other 3 days i do some weight lifting.And i feel in good shape actually and i have done this for a couple of months now and i enjoy my training.I keep going and i feel so good too.And thanks for a good site too keep up the good work.

    1. Dan F. Sullivan

      Thanks, Joran! I hope you’re not neglecting the other aspects of survival fitness, speed and flexibility. 😉

      1. Jöran Jäderberg

        Well i stretch after i have exercised and i do that always and speed well i may have some problems with that to gain more speed.

  2. One of the best pieces of advice I was given many years ago was to sit and stretch when watching TV rather than just flaking out on the sofa because in normal daily life and especially in an emergency you won’t always have time to warmup before stretching.
    As an example, if you walk outside to put rubbish in the bin and your foot slips on ice, your leg may extend beyond it’s typical range of motion, but you haven’t had time to warmup.
    So your muscles, along with your tendons and ligaments should also be stretched GENTLY and CAREFULLY when cold

    Also you can do strength exercises during commercials (push ups, crunches, 1 minute plank)
    There’s often at least 15 minutes of commercial time every hour, and it kind of simulates real world activity which occurs in bouts with rest in between

    In warmer weather I could dig compost in over the time a film is on just by breaking it up into small blocks during the breaks, or sow seeds or plant those started in the greenhouse, later in the season you can harvest a bit at a time using the same techniques. AND it’s much easier on your back !!

    I use the same breaking up of activities when changing beds, doing the laundry, putting clothes away after they’re washed and folded. I’ve even done this when assembling furniture, during build work, etc.
    Chopping wood for even ONE SOLID hour can leave you sore and tired, yet the same activity done in 5 minute blocks over 2 nights is easy

    We’re told to take breaks from using the computer, many of the same activities as during commercial breaks apply here too

    It’s all about NOT sitting around doing nothing for HOURS at a time, even rotating your supplies can be done this way.

    Many other activities can be done this way. You can do your food prep this way, cutting up vegetables during breaks, wash your dishes this way AND scrap your dishwasher

    As an added bonus you’ll be amazed at how much time you free up and how much time you WASTED sitting through commercials

    A friend whose wife was a teacher started doing the same thing at school, she could mark a few papers during breaks, get through quite a bit at lunch times after eating her lunch. Unlike her fellow teachers she rarely took work home with her

    It’s all about not WASTING your time and keeping yourself fitter with small regular bouts of activity

  3. I found that training for and participating in mud obstacle race events, even if you don’t plan to compete, is an excellent way to focus my training and test my progress.

    It started with a coworker saying “Hey, this looks like fun”. A group of us participated in a weekend event that consisted of 25 obstacles over 5k of pretty tough terrain. I had been working out in a gym but the same old routine was getting stale. This was something completely different. I was hooked!

    Find an event of suitable intensity. If you’re just starting on your fitness journey, Spartan Sprints are great entry-level events. They’re not easy but they are definitely doable for a wide range of abilities and levels. I lean toward the middle level, something around 10k and 30 obstacles. They are considerably more challenging but not unreasonably so. It keeps me focused on a higher level of readiness training without consuming all of my time.

    The biggest benefit I find is the sense of achievement when I cross the finish line. I’m muddy, banged up (sometimes a little bloody), sore and worn out. But when I’m sitting there with my friends recalling how we just spent the last 2 hours, I feel so much more fulfilled than when I spend 2 hours in a gym. It’s an amazing feeling you should experience for yourself.

    Train hard. Train smart. Go get some!

  4. Well I noticed that someone seen a few things I have also noticed.
    I know someone that buys great gadgets and is stock piling food, etc. I question just how well him and his family will do other than in a short term emergency. Other than the kids they are way out of shape and none of them have the situational awareness to keep out of danger. Let the rule of law break down and they will have problems.
    So will I make it if TSHTF? Maybe. Getting old sucks but I still work out, and I am aware of what’s going on around me. And I have a plan. I will go hook up with my buddy and earn my keep.
    Can I do that? Well I made a cutlass without going to the store. Picked up hardwood and made charcoal, built a forge with scavenged material then heated part of a leaf spring from a truck then hammered it out and shaped it with a file. Hardened it, sharpened it and put a handle on it. Not going to get top dollar at a knife show but it’s sure functional. Nothing like trying to do something to see if you really got it.
    Have some more skill so I think I can earn my keep.

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