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The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult a medical professional before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan.
Don't jump on that bandwagon. Don't let mainstream media tell you endurance training is dead and some “seven-minute fitness phenomenon” is all it takes to stay in shape. In Issue 11, we focused on developing sprinting skills. In this edition, we turn to its complement: endurance training.
Being able to sustain optimal physical performance over long periods is the foundation from which other fitness components are built. Especially with the unknown ahead, enjoy the peace of mind knowing you've taken the precautions to be ready. Long-term survival situations can require endurance as your means to safety. Ever tried practicing your preplanned escape route? We don't mean walking on flat sidewalks — we're talking about really hoofing it through uneven terrain in the backwoods with your 72-hour pack. Or have you attempted to tread water for more than five minutes to simulate being caught in a flood or stranded at sea?
That being said, if walking to the mailbox has you winded, how can you boost your endurance?
You'd be hard pressed to find a more critical component of physical fitness than endurance. By endurance, we're referring to aerobic fitness, which is the foundation of your conditioning. Your body relies on the aerobic system as the largest source (by a substantial margin) of energy produced to fuel activity and daily function. So, yeah, it's pretty important.
By definition, aerobic means relating to, requiring, or involving oxygen. In the event you have to trek across an open field or make a series of sprints to avoid detection, the aerobic system is at work. Without a decent aerobic fitness level, not only would you barely be able to make it any appreciable distance with equipment, but you'll also be limiting your ability to make progress in other areas of your physical fitness.
When we build up our level of aerobic fitness, it has carryover into other aspects of general fitness. This includes improved exercise recovery, better oxygen delivery to muscles, shorter rest intervals between activities, and more blood pumped from your heart at each beat (termed cardiac output), and many more adaptations. Basically, you become more efficient at handling physically active situations.
When we're training for endurance, we're going to be doing some longer, slower activities that most fitness enthusiasts turn their noses up at. “Train slow, be slow,” they tell themselves. Well, they couldn't be more wrong. The activities may not be as exhausting as kettlebell swings, but they'll set the stage for further improvement and enhanced recovery.
Let's first cover what it means to train the aerobic system. Generally, the main components of an aerobic fitness program include exercise sessions lasting 30 to 90 minutes with exercises of lower intensity, which should get your heart up to 120 to 140 beats per minute (bpm). This is what's typical, and while we will include some of this type of training, we're also going to mix it up a bit.
Aside from just using a heart rate monitor (which you'll be unlikely to have in many circumstances), we can measure heart rate one of two ways. First, we can take a measurement finding your radial artery and counting heart beats for 15 seconds, and multiplying that number by four. See the sidebar for a detailed description of how to do this. If a watch or clock is unavailable, the “talk test” can do, but should be a last resort as it's not very accurate. The talk test is simply exercising at an intensity that allows you to just barely hold a conversation.
We can use many types of exercises, but let's focus on ones that are practical to survival and have been tested on athletes of all kinds. We're going to play with some of the training variables to give you options to work with. This will give you some ideas and won't require you to do something you loathe except exercising. If you don't like to exercise, you're SOL.
Running will be one of your most important types of aerobic exercise in a disaster scenario, as you're likely to be moving on foot quite a bit. (Jammed freeways with panicked drivers will make driving a difficult option.) Becoming a proficient runner will also make traveling with equipment easier, especially in any case where you really need to book it. The same case can be made for swimming, which could easily be trained similarly. This would be a great addition if you're near a coastline or large body of water.
How to Train It: We'll follow traditional aerobic training and focus on the cardiac output method of training. This is what most people are familiar with when we use the term “cardio,” which is low-intensity exercise (heart rate at 120 to 140 bpm) completed for 30 to 90 minutes, one to three times per week. Think of this as going out for a jog.
If you're newer to aerobic training, you can start at 30 minutes — or even start at 15 minutes and gradually build up to it. The key is a gradual increase in volume. Use the 10-percent rule by only increasing the time you're running no more than 10 percent per week.
Unlike other activities like hockey, this is a great option due to the limited amount of equipment needed. It does have good carryover into running, which is another plus. It's pretty simple, so we won't go into too much detail in jump rope technique outside of just staying tall and trying to make contact through the balls of your feet.
How to Train It: We're going to switch it up and use cardiac power intervals. Cardiac power intervals involve several brief periods of high-intensity activity followed by long rest periods. So, we'll jump rope as fast as possible either jumping regularly, or, if you can, doing double-unders (rope passes under feet twice with one jump). The key here is high intensity for one to two minutes followed by two to five minutes of rest. Repeat this four to 10 times in one workout, and only complete this one to two times per week.
Weight training can be manipulated to give us the result we're after. While this idea may have you thinking about heavy bench presses and squats (yes, you need to train your legs), we can play with other exercises, rest periods, sets, and repetitions to get a more aerobic benefit.
How to Train It: In order to get resistance training to give us an aerobic benefit, we're going to use a method called high-intensity continuous training. This involves completing an exercise with high resistance continuously for 10 to 20 minutes per set with lower speed. In our example, we're going to use step-ups, but you can certainly use something like a bike or lunges up a hill, just as long as the resistance is high.
You'll begin by choosing dumbbells or a bar with weight that is heavy enough to make a step-up challenging. Ensure the box you're stepping up to is at a height that creates a 90-degree angle at your hip and knee when your foot is placed on it.
1. Place your entire foot on the box.
2. Drive your heel into the step as you bring your other foot on top of the box, then step down.
3. Pause briefly (one to three seconds) before stepping up again with the opposite foot.
Complete two sets per workout with five to 10 minutes of active rest between sets. Do one to two workouts per week.
As you can see, not everything has to do with a mega high-intensity, sets-to-failure type of training. It's best to choose one or two of the recommended exercises and training methods, rather than all of them. There has to be a balance, especially if your physical fitness needs must be well-rounded, which it does if we're going to plan for the unknown. Take this information into consideration, and be ready for whatever the future may hold.