ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.
Aerobic or cardiovascular training is vital for over all health, keeping the heart strong enough to endure strenuous weight training. It is also vital for survival, both because you obviously can’t live if you’re heart and lungs are not functioning and because good conditioning can save your life and the life of those depending on you in a crisis.
It’s become rather popular in some trendy “fitness” circles to dismiss the importance of cardio training. I had one strength-only “trainer” from such a “school” try to convince me that because the heart is a muscle it is strengthened by weight lifting. This is ludicrous because not only is cardiac muscle a unique type of muscle fiber, different from both skeletal muscle and smooth organ muscle, there is the small matter that lifting only strengthens the muscles actually doing the lifting. How does one get the heart to lift? The simple fact is, the heart is strengthened by aerobic, that is “in air,” exercise.
I’ve also been told by many weight-training enthusiasts that they feel that all of their time is better spent with the weights, after all it repeatedly “gets me so out of breath and my heart racing so I just can’t see any need more than that.” This does not describe proper aerobic condition, however. When your heart is beating so fast that you’re out of breathe you’re not “aerobic,” you are “anaerobic” or “out of air.” While this training phase is a part of conditioning for a healthy exerciser, it will not build heart strength and can be dangerous for those whose hearts are compromised and unconditioned.
“Cardiovascular” refers to the fact that this training is to condition the heart and respiratory systems. I will use the term “cardio” here because it is shorter and avoid “aerobic” due to it triggering Disco music ear worms for some. However, when I use this term I am still including the entire system.
ACSM uses what they refer to as the F.I.T.T. principal for establishing training referring to Frequency Intensity Time Type. We will break our discussion down the same way.
For cardio training the ACSM Frequency recommendation for healthy adults is moderate intensity at least 5 days a week or high intensity at least 3 days a week or a combination of high and moderate intensity for 3-5 days a week. .
In regards to Intensity the AMCS notes that for basic fitness moderate intensity (64% to 70% of HRR) can help increase conditioning, however they recommend that a combination of moderate to high intensity (94% of HRR) will achieve the greatest over all benefits for a healthy adult. Information on finding heart rate and other ways of determining intensity are at the end of the article.
How much Time, or the duration, of a training session is the next factor. Actually, the ACSM allows for the use of time or calorie expenditure to determine duration, but as we’re not focusing on weight loss, and we want to build endurance and a high quality of cardiovascular recovery as a survival factor, I find it best to stick to the actual time. The standard recommendations are a minimum of 20 minutes for high intensity, minimum of 30 for moderate, although we are really looking for a mix and I’d recommend a minimum of 30 minutes per training session. However, we should aim to make some sessions longer, building stamina.
Remember, your cardio work out does not need to be the same length of time every time, in fact, it probably shouldn’t be. Varying time, intensity and distance can keep both body and mind fresh, after all. It can also prevent lack of time from being an excuse. If you only have half an hour to work out total, then a 15 minute run with a five minute warm-up and a ten minute cool down/stretch is better than not running. On other days you might want to spend an hour running or even longer hiking, which leads us to our last letter.
What Type of exercise is best? As a personal training I do suggest to my regular clients that there is no “best” cardiovascular exercise, except the ones you will do. This is great if your only goal is to have a healthier cardiovascular system. Keeping it fun is perhaps the number one necessity for keeping up with a fitness program. Cross-training, that is doing several different forms of cardio exercise, can keep the fun fun, as well.
However, actual training does not cross over. That is, you cannot train for foot race by swimming. Both might keep your heart and lungs in shape, but they do not condition the same muscles in the same way. Even riding a bike and running, which use the same muscles differently, do not cross over. However, there are times when your body needs a rest and a change so you can recover from a marathon while keeping your cardiovascular system in shape by swimming and many endurance athletes do this. But what cross-training can do, of course, is keep you in shape for many different things as tri-athletes who might run, swim and bike must do.
Just any cardio exercise wouldn’t work for an athlete who needs to train in the sport that they are doing, likewise it also doesn’t work for those of us who are survivalist types. What might we need to do, after all? Run. If you are capable of running. And walk long distances likely while carrying a go-bag, but run. A bike might be an alternative form mode of bugging out or you might find you have to swim. For those who cannot do one or more of these things, of course, doing what you can do to get yourself in or out of a situation -wheeling a manual wheelchair if you use one, for example-would be good to condition for. If you can “bug-out” under your own power, then being in shape to do so is just a good idea. (and yes, I know some who might take to this path may not be able to, and under those circumstances we work around it and, for survival sake, also consider the available contingencies).
This doesn’t mean that dancing isn’t useful as a tool of self-expression, warriors dance! However it is supplemental and our dancers stay running fit too.
Running, is also really the only fitness activity that we absolutely know the Irish warriors participated in. Running is mentioned throughout the literature. Running is even a key part of initiatory rites. Running was important no matter what direction you were going, into battle, away from attackers, into the woods, out of the woods, after prey, away from predators. It still is (again or some other method of movement…we do have more options now, but for those who can, again, running should be considered)
I’ve had many people say to me that “if X was coming after me I’d be able to run because I’d be so scared adrenaline will see me through.” Sorry, but no. You’re wrong. You might think that if you are being pursued you can run as fast and as long as someone who conditions as a runner bu,t in all honesty, you can’t. Adrenaline will only get you just so far. Adrenaline will get someone who is conditioned running much further much faster than it will someone who is not conditioned by running. Always.
Importantly, the conditioned runner also will also be able to recover far faster when running ceases to be an option and they must turn and fight or have the ability to drive. The non-runner, at that point will undoubtedly be utterly useless; their reserves will have been used up as their adrenaline crashes.
Keep in mind that most people who have told me they hate running that I then trained have turned out to be doing it wrong. They have poor running posture, they often start by lifting their legs too high, they’re hitting with their heels (commonly taught as correct, but it is becoming obvious that it is damaging), they are not wearing good shoes (which can include overly structured, inflexible modern running shoes), they’re going into it with a poor attitude. And, usually, they’re expecting themselves to run at their goal to start with rather than ramping up gradually.
Along with those who dismiss cardiovascular training all together, some, including those into preparedness, have been harping on the idea that training to do short sprints is better than long distance running. Usually this is accompanied by photos of a sprinter and an endurance athlete with the former looking buff and the latter looking extremely thin; this is one of those lovely false associations people love to make as you could instead pick a buff distance runner and a skinny sprinter to demonstrate the opposite if everyone who did the same thing all looked alike. They don’t. There is also a difference between a hard-core marathoner or, even more, 100-miler, and what we’re talking about for distance. But the key point is, this isn’t either/or. For survival you need to be able to sprint short distances quickly and do slower long distance miles, as well as be able to hike carrying a pack and any other mode of self-propelled transportation that might be needed in your own situation.
Those who propose that sprinting is the only necessary training note that short sprints are often what get people’s asses out of bad situations. I remember one noting someone they saw on TV getting up a hill when a tsunami struck (I’m not going to point these people out here). This is true. So sprinting is important.
But say you’re five miles from where you need to be and you have no other means of transportation but your own feet and some speed is warranted. There are reasons to also need to be able to keep a slower, steady pace over a distance. There is evidence, after all, that this is how we often traveled throughout our evolution.
We should also be prepared for the possibility that we might have to bug-out on foot for a longer distance with our packs. So walking, while carrying either our go-bags or something replicating it, is actually vital to any prepper. Taking it for runs isn’t a bad idea either as in the scenario above. It not only gets us in condition for it, but it also allows us to judge in a non-emergency situation if our packs are packed in a way we can properly manage, if our shoes are going to really work for it and how long it actually does take to get to your bug-out locations.
Likewise, if your bug-out might include biking out of the area, biking should also be a training focus. It also again gives you an idea of time and how you can manage your bug-out bag on your bike. If you live on or are often near water, keep in mind that water can be a point of departure, so swimming can be an important part of the training program as might be rowing. If you live where it snows, in the winter you may be looking at snowshoes or cross-country skis as your way and should include this in your winter training. Don’t forget that martial arts drills and heavy bag work are also very cardio when done continually (that is, not when in class when there is a lot of stop-and-go for instruction, but during practice).
Creating Your Program
So this is starting to add up to a lot. But as I already noted, cross-training can help keep things interesting and can help prevent both physical and mental burn-out, it’s just important that you include all the sorts of training you need to be doing throughout each week (in which it’s seasonable, for instance snowshoeing is limited to winter). Therefore, we’re still looking at doing 3-5 days a week, with those sessions divided into different activities. That division might be either different workouts or within one workout session and this can be constantly changing.
For example, after you’ve gotten your conditioning up, you could try to hit 5 days every week when possible, getting in at least 3 a week when not. You could tend to make at least three of those sessions primarily running (for those who can, otherwise modify this for what activity you can do), usually dividing that up into slow pace and sprint intervals. Some days you might come home and work the heavy bag for a while after a half an hour or so of running, while another day you might up the time out on a run and do only that. Or you could come back, change shoes and grab a pack and hike a bit. On another day or two you might bike. Perhaps another week you might bike three times, plus hike or bag work, and run only once or twice. On most weeks you might have one day a week that you have a bit more time to do a long bug-out practice hike. Then you take a hiking vacation for a week and just do that, taking a break from running and biking until you come home.
So you don’t have to do the same sequence each and every week, or the same amount of time, or the same intensity. Change things up. If on one day you don’t have a lot of time, it is far better to do a shorter session, perhaps raising the intensity. Same if you have less energy for some reason, doing a shorter session is not a fail nor is deciding to work only a lower intensity, especially if you’ve been ill. It’s a change and change is good
Remember, if you are not already doing this activity, this is not where you start. Obviously, if you try to just jump into that amount of work you’ll become disheartened and quit. If you’re totally deconditioned, then you really need to start slowly. Perhaps aim for a few weeks of doing 20 minutes three times a week, starting with a combination of running and walking. Don’t expect yourself to run or go all out in any activity the full 20 minutes. The start of your interval training might be walking and a slow run, rather than a slow run and sprinting. Push yourself as you feel ready, not so much that you’ll get discouraged. As you start running more than you are walking, start adding time and days. Start taking days where you do this same, slow ramp-up, with hiking (perhaps starting without your pack or with it lighter), biking, swimming, snowshoeing, the heavy bag, what ever you intend to become conditioned at as well.
If you’re already aerobically conditioned but doing, say, Zumba, keep in mind that it might seem demoralizing to find that that conditioning, as I noted above, won’t immediately translate to running or hiking. The cardiovascular conditioning might be there, the muscle training isn’t. You might adapt quicker, but you might want to do the above then hit a Zumba class or do it at home as well. Of course, you don’t have to give up Zumba if it’s fun but instead find ways to fit more survival focused stuff in as well. Remember nothing is either/or and the more you can do the fresher and more fun you’ll find it all.
If you find it boring out there, remember to consider survival strategies. Look for alternative routes for bug out, keep in mind whether your routes just for training are too predictable. Getting too routine can, after all, make you easy prey.
If you are running, when it comes to form, I do recommend a mid-foot stride with a minimalist running shoe. You may wish to go all the way to barefoot running or use something like FiveFingers shoes, but I like a regular, flexible, low-healed runner. This is especially nice for those of us who are older and might already have foot issues, as some companies like Newton Running make a variety of models which can accommodate various foot types. A running coach is never a bad idea, of course, but you can also learn a great deal on form and program development from books on mid-foot running such as Danny Abshire and Brian Metzler Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running (Boulder Colorado: Velopress, 2010 and Danny and Kathryn Dreyer, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, New York: Fireside – Simon & Schuster, 2004.
To find your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) conventionally, you first need to determine you resting heart rate. This should be taken when you first wake up, before you really stir, so have your watch handy to time your heart rate (HR). Then calculate your heart rate with the Karvonen Formula:
220-age = estimated maximum HR
estimated maximum HR – resting HR = HRR
You will then calculate the percentages noted above for your target heart rate for moderate intensity (64%) and high intensity (94%) thusly:
HRR x % = % of HRR
% of HRR + resting HR = target HR
It is, of course, far easier to get a HR monitor, often watch-like, which can do this work for you, including getting the resting HR without expecting you to be able to count immediately upon waking. Either way, remember to recheck your resting heart rate periodically, as it may go down as your conditioning improves, changing the numbers you want to hit.
There is also Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, which uses a number system to have the exerciser self-evaluate how hard she is. The biggest problem with this method is that unless you are already truly in touch with your body, your perception may not be completely reliable when first using it. Many people new to exercise may think they are working harder than they are. On the other hand, some warrior-minded types might push themselves too hard, perceiving themselves as lower on the scale than they are. I recommend spending some time using heart rate to become familiar with the varying intensity at first then using the Borg Scale, with occasional check-ins, again rechecking the resting heart rate as well.
Another quick check that I picked up along the way is speaking test. At a moderate intensity you should be able to talk but not sing. How well one might be able to actually talk can be used to vary intensity. As your intensity increases your ability to speak will diminish. Through a single training you should move from talking (or a military cadence chant, for example) to sprints of being having difficulty speaking and back down again, as we’ll discuss shortly. But only sing on the cool down.
Keep moving, keep changing things up, keep having fun, keep thinking survival and remember to cool down and stretch.
 American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 155
 Ibid. pg. 155
 ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, pg. 157
 Saigh Kym Lambert, “Chase to Nowhere: Thoughts on Fénnidecht Rites of Passage” Air n-Aithesc Vol. 2 Issue 1, Imbolc/Bealtaine 2015
 If you are unable to walk at a good pace for more than 20 minutes, then it is important that you consult a doctor and perhaps hire a fitness professional with advanced training.
 Gunner Borg, Borg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, USA
Coypright © 2012, 2015 Saigh Kym Lambert