This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of our magazine.

A large-scale disaster has struck nearby. While it hasn’t devastated your community directly, it has forced your entire neighborhood into a long-term survival situation. You followed the best course of action in your case: to “bug in.” This can mean days or even weeks of staying put in your home or bunkering down until the aftermath subsides. Kudos to you on staying safe (hopefully) and having the wherewithal to store food, water, and supplies. But what’s your next course of action?

You’ll have plenty of time on your hands, and depending on your environment, the objects around you can go a long way to keep you physically prepared for whatever may come your way — whether that means a brawl, a firefight, or an all-out sprint. Being in a culture of obvious physical decline (two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese), few will argue what prolonged inactivity can do one’s body.

Don’t have a $10,000 home gym? Don’t worry. Read on to find out how you can stay fit while bugging in.

So, how do you stay fit when it’s just too risky to venture to your gym? (If there’s still a gym at all.) To keep in shape, make your home your fitness center.

The Body As One Piece

Strength training in a bug-in scenario should be handled differently than training at your local meat market. Exhaustive sets to failure or 10-minute rest periods to check Facebook aren’t an option. In this situation, building beach muscles would do nothing for your preparedness. We’re looking for a minimal effective dose of exercise that’s going to both improve your chances of long-term survival and leave some gas in your tank for when you need to save your ass (should a fight-or-flight condition arise). So, to that end, save the “no pain, no gain” attitude for a different time. Preferably never.

As legendary strength coach Dan John put it, “Groundwork and loaded carries are the things that are going to save your life.” That being said, we’re going to hone in on three core exercises while incorporating those concepts. Each of the exercises in this program will teach you that the body works as one piece, not as individual muscles or isolated movements. Together, they will build a solid foundation of optimal movement and total body strength, which is exactly what you need in a well-rounded strength program. You’ll be surprised how well an abbreviated strength program can work given the right structure.

The Program

Don’t own a set of kettlebells? No Bowflex home gym collecting dust in the corner? No worries. Your abode is probably filled with various objects that can double as weights. Those 5-gallon water bottles you’ve been storing even come with handles. If you don’t have any or if they’re a bit too heavy, consider using a 1-gallon paint can or water jug.

If you don’t have any paint cans lying around or your water containers don’t have suitable handles, consider grabbing a backpack or duffle bag. You can fill them with almost anything until they weigh as much as you need them to be, and they all come with straps that can work like improvised dumbbell handles.

Some common weighted objects you may have at your disposal include:

  • 1-gallon jug of water — 8 pounds
  • Paint can full of paint — 10 to 12 pounds
  • Sandbag full of sand — 20 to 50 pounds
  • 5-gallon jug of water — 40 pounds
  • Backpack — Various

The following exercises have a set of recommended implements based on the above list. Start out with the lighter objects until you feel confident that you can complete the movement as described.
Complete this program three times per week and in the order listed in the chart below. Do all four sets of the half Turkish get-up before moving on. You will then complete one set of bear-hug squats followed by one set of the farmer’s carry (or suitcase carry), alternating until three sets of each have been completed.

ExerciseSetsRepetitions / DurationRest Period Between SetsSuggested Improvised Dumbbell
Half Turkish Get-Up41 per armFull restPaint can, gallon jug, large jug, backpack
Bear-Hug Squat11060 secondsLarge jug, sandbag, backpack
Farmer’s Carry
(or Suitcase Carry)
130 seconds60 secondsLarge jug, backpack
Bear-Hug Squat11060 secondsLarge jug, sandbag, backpack
Farmer’s Carry
(or Suitcase Carry)
130 seconds60 secondsLarge jug, backpack
Bear-Hug Squat11060 secondsLarge jug, sandbag, backpack
Farmer’s Carry
(or Suitcase Carry)
130 seconds60 secondsLarge jug, backpack

Half Turkish Get-Up

Suggested Improvised Weights: Paint can, 1-gallon jug, large jug, backpack

Repetitions: 1 per arm

Sets: 4 consecutive

While this may be an old-fashioned strongman exercise, it can work wonders for your core, shoulders, and, well, everything else. In simplified terms, the get-up involves moving from a lying position to a standing position with a weight over your head the entire time. It is quite technical, though, so we’re going to limit this to half of the exercise, only going to what’s called the high bridge.

1) Lie on your back with your arms and legs 45 degrees out in relation to your body.

2) Hold your improvised weight in one hand and straight above your shoulder. On the same side, bend your knee and bring your heel toward your butt with your foot facing out at roughly 45 degrees. From this point forward, keep both of your shoulder blades pulled back and down, termed “shoulder packing.”

3) Push off your planted foot, driving your chest toward the opposite side, while simultaneously pulling your elbow into the ground to prop yourself up. Keep the other arm vertical the entire time with a straight elbow.

4) As you move from your elbow to your hand, screw your palm into the ground away from your body. Lastly, push your knee outward as you drive your planted foot into the floor and push your hips to the sky.

5) Slowly bring your hips back to the ground and reverse this process until you are lying flat on the ground. Repeat on the other side.

Bear-Hug Squat

Suggested Improvised Weights: Large jug, sandbag, backpack

Repetitions: 10

Sets: 3

The squat is a fantastic exercise for your entire body, especially the bear-hug variation. Most people squat incorrectly — this is a great exercise for teaching people how to squat properly, with the added benefit of incorporating core and upper-body stability as well.

1) Bear-hug something you can get your arms around, such as a large water jug or sand bag.

2) Keeping your weight on your heels, sit your butt back and down while remaining tall in the torso. We’re looking for maximum depth of your thighs being parallel to the ground. If you can’t go that far, adjust the depth to your ability.

3) Drive your heels into the floor on the way up to the starting position.

Farmer’s Carry and Suitcase Carry

Suggested Improvised Weights: large jug, backpack

Duration: 30 seconds

Sets: 3

Also called the suitcase carry, this is probably the most basic exercise you could do. It’s also one of the most beneficial. It’s great for your shoulders, hips, core, and posture. Just make sure the weight is heavy. Really heavy.

For the farmer’s carry, grab two heavy objects and go for a walk. The suitcase carry is exactly the same, but with only one heavy object.

Benefits of a Bug-In Workout

Why strength train in a long-term survival scenario? Considering you’re not sure how long you might be holed up in your house or bunker, staying fit is obvious. Aside from maintaining your health, an exercise regime can increase your strength and speed — vital if your long-term survival situation suddenly turns into a fight-or-flight scenario. Plus, strength training will also give you something to do when you’re bored out of your mind, especially if utilities and electronics have been knocked offline.

Here’s a brief list of some other benefits of a shut-in workout routine:

  • Improves and maintains joint mobility and stability
  • Decreases risk of injuries
  • Increases work capacity
  • Increases energy levels
  • Heightens perception
  • Improves sleep
  • Relieves stress
  • Sharpens the mind

About the Author

Ryne Gioviano, M.S.Ed., NSCA-CPT is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design. He holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. For more information, visit www.achieve-personaltraining.com. You can find Ryne on Twitter and Instagram at @RGioviano.

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