All in all it does sound like quite an intense question to ask in the grand scheme of things. There are many ways to define strength, whether physical or mental, and there’s an amount of subjectivity to this caused by our own boundaries in life. I want to look at this in the primal way that many of us translate into our modern lives. Life is very different today compared to our primal ancestors. We have shelter, medical care, comfortable chairs, and espresso machines but have these luxuries affected our ability to take care of ourselves in a crisis situation.
The pull-up follows on from the deadlift as a superior strength exercise. The key is working with your own bodyweight to build upper body strength.
There aren’t many times during our lives that we face actually needing to save our own life, but I take satisfaction knowing that I’m fit enough to get myself out of trouble should the need arise. Of course, unlike my ancestors, the most trouble I have is chasing around after my energetic son – so I have to imagine that I’m running away from a beast rather than a whole world of pain dressed up as Darth Vader.
When the Proverbial is About to Hit the Fan – Could You Save Your Own Life?
I’ll be honest here. I don’t expect the need will arise for many of us to adopt super human strength or the mental clarity to rescue ourselves, or those around us, but let’s think how we measure up to those that may exhibit this. What skills or at least feats of endurance do we have, as individuals, to be capable of making the difference when needed?
To some, it’s the small things that make the difference. Being able to lift your own weight or drag yourself up from the edge of that ravine you were precariously balancing on – why you were there in the first place I’ll leave to you to explain.
To others it may be the mental strength and agility to instantly assess the surroundings and be the one to make a quick witted decision. How do you think you would fare?
5 Skills to Help You to Save Your Life
It probably isn’t as simplistic to say that there are five ways to save your life. There are a lot of ways to measure strength and fitness and we all have our talents that we excel in. For now, this is how I feel I could have a good chance of emulating the skills and strength that our primal ancestors had. I am not perfect at these although I am trying to be. The list could be longer or have a different point of view, we can discuss that later, but for now this is how I am giving myself a chance to not only be a fitter and healthier version of myself, but also be harder to kill (thank you to Steph at Stupid Easy Paleo for this phrase).
1. Pull-ups and Deadlifting a Weight Equivalent to That of Your Own
It’s no secret that the deadlift is probably one of the best resistance workouts that you can do for development of strength1. A quick search in your favourite search engine will give you results from all levels of trainers extolling the virtue of this exercise. For me this exercise is also about speed and flexibility. The movement may not suggest it but it starts with developing a strong grip, lower back, abs, and field of movement that comes from a multi-joint exercise. The transfer of power from the lower to upper body develops to give an explosive start to that sprint or helping you to jump confidently over any obstacle approaching you.
The pull-up follows on from the deadlift as a superior strength exercise2. The key is working with your own bodyweight to build upper body strength. The pull-up helps to develop grip strength, biceps, back, and abs. Combined with a deadlift you have a full body strengthening routine that will give you the ability to haul your sorry arse out of any dangerous predicament that you may find yourself in.
2. Swimming in Open Water
This isn’t something that needs an outpouring of strength, but rather a good level of fitness and confidence is a must. Should the need ever arise there is a good chance that being used to swimming in water with a current not only will help to build confidence but the mindset to endure unpredictability. Much of the sea surrounding the UK is not only cold, it has a strong current and plenty of waves. Learning to swim a good distance in this, but also how to get out of a rip (a surface current that circulates water to the back of a surf break) is a good indicator of a calm mind that can endure the powers of nature and get oneself out of trouble in times of an apocalyptic flood… Please insert any dramatic disaster for effect if you so desire.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not discounting a lovely heated swimming pool to test and practice your swimming ability but there is a real benefit in swimming in open water as oppose to the pool wave machine – if nothing else it’s fun. Whether there should be a prescribed distance that you can comfortably swim is an open question for the individual, but as long as you can stay afloat for a few lengths of a large pool, I think you will be in the survivor category.
3. Running a Distance While Carrying a Heavy, Awkward Weight
Can you measure endurance by how far you can carry someone over your shoulder? I’m going to say yes! This is one of the functional fitness exercises that the trainers at my gym make me do. One big heavy punch bag, picked up and slung over the shoulder, followed by a 40 metre sprint. It’s normally interspersed with some other exercises but this is the one that I simply do not like. Why? Well, it’s hard.
Picking up an awkward object, balancing it, and then running is a lot harder than it sounds, ask any fireman. For the most part, it’s all in my head that this gets to me. I have to overcome the doubt. Knowing that it will throw me off balance, make running hard, and taking my breath away tells me that it’s an important thing to do, but I have to bury the little couch potato inside me. Not only am I strong enough to save my life but can I do it with someone over my shoulder? I can now!
4. Thinking Your Way Out of a Bad Situation (and Learning Bushcraft)
Mental strength and agility is often forgotten about in lists such as this but without this you may not make it through. All of the above are important in order to have the strength of the body to save your life, but if you don’t believe you can how do you expect to keep going?
The first rule of survival is a positive mental attitude… The strength of mind and character to pull together knowledge to work with all that is to hand will keep you alive longer.
It isn’t only brute force and mental drive you need though. Can you think on your feet? What’s going on around you that needs to be filtered out? What should be the next move to stay alive? All questions that speak to the primal mind. When the chips are down and you’ve carried yourself out of trouble, can you now think of the next steps to survive?
Paul Burkhardt of GBBG Somerset and Dorset, a bushcraft group, says that the first rule of survival is a positive mental attitude. The need to slow down the thought process and plan out the steps of survival; get shelter, make fire (warmth/sterilising water/cooking food), find food and water. The strength of mind and character to pull together the knowledge to work with all that is to hand will keep you alive longer.
Bushcraft is something that I often see neglected from the primal lifestyle. What could be more primal than learning how to survive in nature?
5. Good Old Fashioned Sprinting
There is a lot of conflicting information out there as to whether running or jogging is actually that great for you. Some people support it, and some people don’t. Personally, in my humble opinion I don’t think it’s great for me, but I’m going by my own experience. I’m not the best long distance runner and I find all that bouncing doesn’t look after my knees or hips that much. I understand that there’s a lot to be gained for your fitness but I actually prefer sprinting. All out, guns blazing sprinting as though your life depended on it. Not too far but at least for a minute. Have a brief rest and repeat.
I’m lucky to live at the beach, and so 20 minutes of hard sprints on the sand suits me fine – plus it’s a great setting to imagine that I’m chasing down dinner as a perfectly honed primal machine. It shouldn’t stop there though. The ethos of sprinting can be transferred to the mindset of conditioning work – short bursts at full intensity. These can include sled pulls, prowler, and kettle bell workouts. All great exercises to build muscle and improve fitness.
So, Could You Be Strong Enough to Save Your Own Life?
What are your thoughts? That’s my shortlist of the skills that we should possess in order to perform at our best and save our own life, should we need to.
Being able to complete these should create a well-rounded functional ability that can be expanded on. With these you should be able to fight your way to safety like any of our primal ancestors. If you have any other ideas, and I’m sure there are differing opinions, please do comment below.
Are there anymore important skills that I’ve forgotten? Why not leave a comment using the comments box below.
- Bird, S., Barrington-Higgs, B. (2010). Exploring The Deadlift. In Strength & Conditioning Journal, Vol. 32, Iss. 2, pp. 46-51. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2010/04000/Exploring_the_Deadlift.4.aspx
- (Anonymous). (2014). Why You Must Do Chin-Ups. In Poliquin Group. Retrieved from http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1161/Why_You_Must_Do_Chin-Ups.aspx