by Albert S
This month a relative of mine threw his back out very badly. He was bedridden and unable to function physically in any meaningful way. Cook his own meals? No. Get to the bathroom without assistance? No. Do survival tasks like chop firewood, plant a garden, or tend chickens? No, no, and no!
This 30-something man, husband, and father of two young girls was unable to work at his white-collar managerial office job. All this happened because he bent down to pick up a 20-pound object.
Nah, it happened long before that. Through idleness and putting the body in unnatural positions for long periods and eating edible food-like substances instead of food, he planted the seeds years ago and has just started to reap the whirlwind.
What happened brings me no pleasure and I do not write to gloat but to make you think. Are you on the same path? If TSHTF today, could you live a life dramatically harder and more physical than today? Or would your knees give out after a week of walking several miles every day?
If you’re ready to embrace the physical culture, mainstream fitness doesn’t have much to offer. Glossy magazine articles with steroid-fueled monsters look impressive but aren’t very useful. Stale medical articles based on faulty government science are at heart the cause, rather than the solution, to most of today’s maladies and conditions.
Nor does true, practical, functional, SURVIVAL strength require a fancy gym with a machine for every last muscle. Actually, the body works as a unit and isolation exercises are mostly counterproductive for practical strength.
I’m not going to be able to cover every last detail in a simple article, but here are a few key concepts to keep you out of bed and in fighting shape (without ever stepping foot into a commercial gym).
By the way, the usual disclaimer applies about checking with your doctor before taking on an exercise program.
How strong is your grip?
Your hands connect you to the world. They connect a pitcher to a ball, a laborer to their shovel, and a wrestler to their opponent. At one point, the world recognized this. When we hear the story of Beowulf, we do not hear about his bench press or his bicep curl prowess, but his grip strength: he had the strength of 30 men in his hands.
Our body invests a huge portion of the nervous system to our hands. If you drew the body in proportion to the number of nerves that each part has, it would be two giant hands.
So why doesn’t the personal trainer to the local gym ever include grip exercises? Well, because they don’t “peak your biceps” or “tone your butt!”
While grip can be training by itself with heavy-duty grippers for crush grip or putting your fist into a sandbag then splaying your fingers for extension strength, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. Simply include exercises in your regimen that already tax your grip.
If you like barbells (and a 300-lb Olympic set can still be had well under $200), the deadlift fits the bill.
If you prefer bodyweight exercises, then pull-ups and hanging exercises do the job.
If you like eclectic work, then the farmer’s carry will do. You don’t need 500 pounds per hand like the world’s strongest man. If you can carry 70 pounds per hand for distance, then your grip will be stronger than the majority (not to mention your shoulders, back, core, and legs).
Just pick up two heavy objects, one in each hand at your side, and carry them for time or distance. Done for multiple rounds with limited rest between, it’s a brutally efficient and simple strength-builder.
At my survival retreat, I’ll take a guy with a grip of iron over a guy with a big bench press and pretty biceps any day. This is a great grip exerciser at Amazon.com.
Don’t Touch the Iron Until You Can Move Your Bodyweight!
When most people think of bodyweight exercise, they think of jumping jacks, light jogging, and endless pushups for muscular endurance. Well, I’m here to tell you that your bodyweight is plenty of resistance to develop bone-crushing strength as well! By changing the leverage, bodyweight exercises are appropriate for beginners or experience strength athletes.
Take pushups. Anyone minimally healthy can stand in front of a wall and push themselves away from it. This is the place to start. Once you can do many repetitions, it will be time to engage more of your body weight by pushing up from the edge of a desk, workbench, or something else waist high. As we increase the difficulty, we pushups from the knees, do half pushups, and finally full pushups. But the fun is not done there!
Rather than increase the numbers as most people will do, once you can do 20 slow, perfect pushups in good form, bring in your hands until the index fingers touch and do close pushups. Now, the elbow is at a very narrow-angle at the bottom. Keeping control and pushing yourself out of the bottom with strength rather than bounce can be a challenge.
Then, start working towards strict one-handed pushups. A square-shouldered, square-hipped one-handed pushup is a feat of strength and even most hardened gym rats will respect (albeit from afar).
Similar progressions are available for handstand pushups, pull-ups, leg raises, and bodyweight squats. And they won’t cost you a dime.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll trust a gymnast to cover my six in a fight over any bloated bodybuilder.
Wiry Strength Trumps Muscle Mass When TSHTF.
Conventional wisdom believes that bigger muscles are stronger muscles. Wrong again. Strength comes from muscular tension, and that tension is generated by motor units, not muscles. Motor units consist of a muscle and a nerve connection. A stronger nerve connection to a muscle fiber means more tension within that fiber. Therefore, you can increase strength without adding weight by training the nervous system to tense your muscles harder.
Huge thigh muscles will chafe when you are running from zombies, and giant drooping pectorals will weigh you down when you’re trying to climb over a fence or wall to avoid marauding looters. A hulking man might also arouse suspicion among starving neighbors. So, stay lean!
Keep the reps per set low and generate as much tension as possible every time. Use a “big” movement like the deadlift (again, there’s that less than $200 barbell set) and do three sets of three, or two sets of five. That’s it: your entire “workout.” Gradually increase the weight over time, and you’ll be amazed at your own strength.
Just make sure to learn to do it properly. Make friends with a powerlifter and have them check your form. Speaking of which, making friends with a powerlifter is always better than the alternative, even before TEOTWAWKI (Click here to find out how to survive the end of the world as we know it).
And, speaking of deadlifts, that brings me to my final point:
Don’t Baby Your Back!
If your back is weak, you need to challenge it to get stronger, not baby it with back supports so that it keeps getting weaker. Properly performed deadlifts, bridges, farmer’s carries, and other total-body movements that involve the back will keep it strong. And if you spend a lot of time sitting, look into McKenzie extension therapy to put it back into balance.
Your spine is a complex structure, and small injuries can accumulate over time without much pain until one day you are tying your shoe and BAM!
Please, don’t be stuck in bed when the MZBs come calling. It’s quite avoidable, actually. It takes a minimal emphasis on remedial strength and the discipline to spend an hour or two a week (not per day) maintaining it. It’ll be much easier to get the most out of your gear, training, and skills when you can stand upright.