Can You Run for Your Life? A Prepper’s Plan for Physical Fitness

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Three mornings a week I meet with a few friends to walk in the wooded area around our neighborhood. We typically walk about four miles, enjoying each other’s company and getting some exercise in the name of physical fitness and friendship.

Thankfully, it’s finally warming up and coats and wool caps are no longer required. But warmer weather also means the bees are back.

For most people, it’s not an issue, but I’m highly allergic. One day when the bees were flying around, I mentioned that I really should start carrying my Epi-pens on our walks again.

This prompted a discussion about what we would do if I was stung right then. Someone would have to run to my house, get my medication, and run back to me. It got me thinking.

If one of my friends, or my husband or children, needed me to run to save their life, could I do it?

Could I run for my life? Can you run for your life?

image: woman running on trail practicing physical fitness for preparedness

Why is physical fitness important in emergencies?

I’m not the skinny teenager I used to be. At size 14, I’m not “too big” either. The real problem is that I’m not as fit as I once was. In my busy day-to-day life, I can function perfectly well and accomplish what I need to without trouble.

What happens, though, when there’s an emergency?

Most of us have felt an adrenaline rush before, and we’ve all heard the story about the mom who lifted a car off her child to save him from being crushed. My first response to the question about running to save my child was, “If I had to do it for real, I could. The adrenaline and the will to do it would push me.”

That might be true, but it’s also an excuse.

Denial is Dangerous

I shouldn’t be hoping that adrenaline gets me through. I should be improving my physical fitness level to guarantee success.

Too many preppers, myself included, dismiss the fitness issue, assuming that we will simply do what we must in an emergency.

But what if the situation requires bugging out and walking for a dozen or more miles a day for several days?

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s the same thing I thought… “Oh, well, I might not be able to do it today, but if I was forced to, I could manage.”

The problem is, we might not be able to “manage.” At best, it would result in some very uncomfortable days and nights with hurting bodies. At worst, it could mean failing to achieve an objective that could quite literally be the difference between life and death

Physical Fitness Is A Key Component of Preparedness

As a prepper, I’ve stored food, supplies, gadgets, and tools. I’ve learned new skills like building a fire, suturing a laceration, cooking with a solar oven, purifying water, and so much more. I’ve even made a specific effort to increase my resiliency by improving my mental and spiritual preparedness.

But what have I done to improve myself physically? Unless you count my brisk, but social, walk in the woods three times a week… nothing. And neglecting fitness is a big gap in my preps. That’s about to change.

A Physical Preparedness Plan

I decided to jot down a few things I felt I needed to accomplish in order to call myself “physically prepared.” This list is unique to me, but I hope you’ll find some inspiration to make your own.

Start Running

Problem: I can’t run to save my life.

I’ve completed several 5K races and multiple triathlons but I’ve never considered myself a “runner.” I’ve always finished miserable and in pain and at the back of the pack after a lot of walking.

But really, whether I’m running to get help or running away from the bad guys, is the back of the pack in a survival situation where I want to be?

Solution: Run from zombies! Yup, there’s an app for that!

Three days a week, in addition to the walk with my girls, I will be training with the “Zombies, Run!” app on my phone. It combines the traditional “Couch to 5K”  training plan with an immersive zombie story where the runner plays a main character. It tells you when to walk and run, and when to speed up because the zombies are about to catch you! It tracks your time and distance, and connects to an online game if you choose. Plus you can use your own music.

NOTE: An aggressive walking regimen is also a good way to begin when carrying extra body weight. Running is hard on the knees and even harder when overweight. Plantar fasciitis, stress on the knees, and other problems can occur. Once you’ve dropped some pounds, you can begin to slowly incorporate running.

Gain Flexibility

Problem: The best marksmen are flexible. I’m not.

I’ve embarked on a quest to improve my rifle marksmanship by attending weekend long clinics that teach me to shoot from prone, standing, and sitting positions. I’m at the threshold of achieving an expert “Rifleman” score but one of the things holding me back is a lack of flexibility to get my body into a stable sitting position. I’m close, but instead of being relaxed and focused on the target, my body is fighting me.

Solution: Complete a general stretching and flexibility routine several times a week.

Also, since there is a specific sitting position I want to be in to shoot my rifle… I need to sit in that exact position every day. My body will begin to learn what I want it to do, muscles will form a memory, and it will become easier and easier.

Increase Strength

Problem: Strong of mind, weak of body

During our family’s first camping trip this spring, I had to walk about a third of a mile carrying a 12-inch Lodge dutch oven that weighs about 20 pounds. As I struggled, I told myself it was hot, the path was uneven, and the thin handle was awkward. All of those things were true of course, but the reality was… it was heavy and I wasn’t strong enough.

I did it because I had to at the moment, but it was proof that just because I could, didn’t mean it was in any way easy. And my arms paid for it for a couple of days. I imagined other times I might need strength in an emergency. Carrying a bug-out bag or my child long distances (or both – see image above). Moving debris. Wielding an axe to chop firewood.

Solution: Add strength training to my workouts.

My husband regularly uses the equipment in our garage. I have no excuse not to join him.

Lose Weight

Problem: A 30-pound cushion

Losing weight may be the very best thing we can do for ourselves physically. There are medical reasons, of course, (heart and joint health, improving or even reverse medical conditions like high blood pressure, some forms of diabetes, etc.), but here’s why we should lighten up from a preparedness perspective.

  • Some preppers announce that if times get really tough, they’ll just live off of their body fat. Hello, that’s called starvation! They’ll just end up feeling miserable and not be of much use to anybody. Don’t look at a TEOTWAWKI event as a viable weight loss option!
  • Most survival educators recommend that a bug-out bag be no more than about 30 pounds. An extra 30 pounds is just like carrying a heavy bug-out bag around all the time, but without being useful.
  • The next time you’re at the grocery store, head down the pet food aisle. Hoist a twenty-pound bag of dog food onto your shoulder and really feel what twenty pounds feels like. Put it back on the shelf. See how much lighter you feel? Imagine taking twenty pounds (or more!) off your body and not having to carry it around anymore!
  • The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to need medication. Some of these medications become unnecessary once the weight comes off. Dependence on medication during a TEOTWAWKI situation is its own disaster waiting to happen.

Solution: Practice a great deal more moderation in my eating.

Add more fresh foods and remove more processed foods. Increase water consumption. This, combined with the above fitness goals will help me drop the pounds and increase my level of physical fitness.

Educate Yourself About Physical Fitness

The staff of the U.S.Army Physical Fitness School (USAPFS) created this Pocket Physical
Training Guide
for individuals preparing for the physical demands of Initial Military Training (IMT).  Lots of good information here.

The quality and quantity of physical activity recommended to the individuals using this guide
is consistent with current physical activity recommendations for the general public.

Can You Run for Your Life?

We’ve all met preppers who seem to have it all together… Food and water storage, finely tuned skills, tactical plans for every scenario, and books and books worth of knowledge.

And they are in terrible physical condition. So how prepared are they, really?

Physical fitness plays a crucial role in emergency preparedness. Being physically fit enables individuals to respond quickly and effectively in emergency situations, improves their ability to evacuate or take shelter, and increases their chances of survival.

Additionally, a physically fit individual is less likely to suffer from injury or health complications during or after an emergency. Therefore, it’s important for individuals to prioritize their physical fitness as part of their emergency preparedness plan. By making exercise and physical activity a regular part of their routine, they can ensure they are ready to handle any emergency that may arise.

What can you do today that will help you be physically ready for an emergency?

Originally published May 16, 2014; updated by The Survival Mom editors.

*This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your physician or healthcare provider before starting any fitness program or making changes to your diet or exercise routine to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for you. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, please speak to a healthcare professional.*

17 thoughts on “Can You Run for Your Life? A Prepper’s Plan for Physical Fitness”

  1. Eyes wide open

    Great post Amy! You are spot on. I run and use cross train dvds. I am a mother of four and preparing for whatever comes our way can be overwhelming and stressful. Exercise is a major stress reliever and energy booster. I hope your post inspires people to add it to there prep list.

    p.s. Wow, the zombie app looks like a lot of fun!


  2. You have raised a very important concern. I am very healthy but out of shape and overweight at 58 years old. Recently, a friend and I have started walking and it has made a big difference in my endurance. Anyone who takes seriously the possibility that we will one day have to survive must be able to “run for one’s life.” If we cannot survive, we cannot help our loved ones.

  3. Great article. I have been thinking about this exact thing this week. I’m in pretty good shape. I could probably lose 10-15 pounds, but I don’t run. I’ve watched shows (Jericho, Walking Dead) where people have had to run up to 5 miles in a survival situation, or worse, run from zombies 🙂 I’m going to start adding in running to my fitness schedule. I’ve heard about the zombie app before. Maybe it’ll make it more enjoyable.

  4. Found your page via a link on face book I have just started a weight lose plan (my own) and am looking for inspiration. Just another reason to run. I don’t have a cellphone (hate them) but love the zombie run app idea just might have to get a cellphone so I can use it. LOL Your right I could not run to get my son’s inhaler if he were in trouble… I will use my own self imposed guilt trip to keep me going. Great Article. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Just watch your knees with running. Stamina can also be built up very well with walking and a lot less stress to the joints. It just won’t do if you have an ACL tear when the zombies are after you.

  6. I am a bit over weight as comes with age. (5’9″ / 168lbs ) Working on that, as always. I’m in generally good health. My problem is bad knees…..really bad knees. sometimes I am in tears by the end of the work day just from my normal activities. I know if it were to all go south my physical limitations would be a liability. There isn’t much I can do about that. So I work to make myself stronger in other areas. Skills, knowledge……

  7. Flexibility for shooting positions is a very over looked item in most preppers “kits”. Everyone wants to be the fastest shooter from concealed carry – I want to hit them at 500 meters. In MC boot camp, the recruits sit cross legged and every opportunity to gain the flexibility needed, combined with new muscles, for the sitting position for our known distance course of fire. We have them like that for the month and half prior to shooting. It is amazing that once they cross the line and become Marines, that they never pay attention to flexibility again, even though they have to “qual” every year. On my range the sitting at 300 meters is typically a low point for most. We can tell who is a yoga instructor and who just sits in an office all day… Remember, Expert shooters know that good cover fire is just as good as precision fire!

  8. Good practical advise, Amy!

    One thing I began doing about 4 years ago is to add a sprint session to my workouts. One set of all out sprints every 7 to 10 days. You can sprint running, swimming, biking, whatever. You’ll be amazed at how much muscle mass is created and good stuff is release just by adding this one thing to your functional fitness routine.

  9. Inspiring article! Reminds me of the 83 yr old Japanese woman who escaped the Tsunami on her bike! She certainly was fit and ready. I don’t think I could do that now and I’m 40 years younger. Makes me want to evaluate what changes I need to make so I can be ready when my family needs me. My son would love the zombies app!

  10. Survivor Jack

    Your ‘Mental Fitness’ is where your physical fitness comes from. I’ve lost close to 100 lbs. and I’ve got more to go. The Secret is Movement. I currently get up at 4:10am, drive to the Gym and swim for :50 to 1:15. I also do stretching and work in my yard. I’m taking out dead trees and roots with a machete, two hatchets, a shovel and leverage. Why? Because I may need every muscle at maximum in a Disaster. Less weight on my knees means they hurt less, I can walk further and carry more.

    At 68+, I promise you this. The Navy Seals are right: “Yesterday was the last easy day.” As you age, AND in an Emergency, the more physically fit you are, the greater your mobility. The stronger, the quicker, the more accurate your body remains – and beyond the ‘luck’ factor – physical fitness will serve you best in the stress and exertion of disaster survival & recovery work.

    A resent addition to my routine, since I write a lot, is a small Kitchen Timer. Every 20 minutes now, the beep reminds me to stand and walk around doing small chores for 3 minutes. I keep weights beside my desk and when I need a break, I lift them. All of these small movements build muscle mass and that burns fat more quickly.

    IF you saw my “Doomsday Preppers” episodes, I walk around my neighborhood carrying my 72 Hour Bag. How far can you walk with yours?

    Be Honest,
    Be Excellent
    and Walk About Prepared!

    I’d appreciate five minutes of Your Precious Time. PLEASE watch Survivor Jack’s Ellen DJ Audition 2:47. You’re paid with Smiles, one Groan and some Laughs by viewing:

    IF YOU LAUGH, Cut & Paste to your Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc)

  11. I had polio, two strokes caused by a ruptured aneurysm and wasn’t supposed to walk again, never mind run. Also I am 75 and I keep up as best I can with garden and yard work and housework. I have the essentials gathered and water and food to last. But I will never be able to run again. What have you got for me or will I be left behind during the great escape.

    1. I am in similar situation. I had polio as a child in 1952, but recovered enough to serve in the Army during Vietnam, when I was badly injured skydiving in 1970, which caused them to give me a medical retirement. I have had multiple back surgeries and knee surgeries as a result of that one attempt at skydiving. I can no longer stand completely upright. They tell me I need both hips replaced and the left knee replaced AND some sort of rod put down the spine with the vertebrae from the thoracic to the saccral fused with plates and screws (the neck is already fused with plates and screws). I had to quit even trying to run as far back as the early 1990s since I never knew when the knee would suddenly give out and I would fall and further injure my back or even end up paralyzed. I am not overweight, 5’9″ and 135 pounds. I do my own housework and maintain a garden and worked as a volunteer at a dog shelter until a couple years ago when it got too much for me. Still have several of the dogs from that shelter who were considered unadoptable due to the abuse they had put up with before being dumped at the shelter. They are all now good, loving and very protective pets although two of them will still not allow anyone but me to touch them.
      I am realistic about long-term survival if the shit hits the fan – I won’t last that long. I am now 70 years old, and to think I have decades of active life ahead of me would be delusional. I am already older than my father, his father, and his sister were when they died, as well as both grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, and my only two cousins. Seem to come from a genetic pool of short livers, and not a whole lot of people who even made it to my current age. I eat reasonably well, have stocked up supplies, as I figure even if I do crap out, which everyone does sooner or later, those supplies will come in handy for other people. Oh, and I do have nerve damage in the neck which has caused, along with aging, considerable loss of strength in both arms. According to the neurosurgeons the only way to stop that is surgery.
      From my personal experience, the best advice I can give people is don’t jump out of perfectly good airplanes. Once you screw up your back, it is generally screwed up for life.

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  13. Good thoughts here, but I destroyed my knees after running for decades for physical fitness. Plus, my husband cannot run period, and I wouldn’t leave him to run away from anything or anyone. Also, I think it’s important to cover what type of footwear you are wearing everyday. I cannot believe the people I see out in flip-flops, sandals, etc. Get good shoes you CAN run in if you have to.

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