Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
If premium cable is any indication of things to come, it’s only a matter of time until a quickly mutating virus turns us all to zombies, a wave of fires blazes across the country, or an alien species invades the planet and forces us to lick their spaceships clean. Whether the end of the world is nigh or not, we seem to spend a lot of time pondering it, which is probably why functional fitness is so popular. Functional fitness connects us to our primitive ancestors who ascended obstacles and outran predators because they had to — not because it gave them firm butts and chiseled delts. And even though the apocalypse is only hypothetical, knowing that you’re fit enough to give those space invaders a run for their money may help you sleep better at night.
To shape you up for the end of days (or maybe just your next obstacle-course race), you have to develop these five essential survival skills, and Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, master trainer, author and host of the All About Fitness podcast, weighs in with his tips for maximizing each move.
Once the global fuel shortage reaches a tipping point, you’ll be forced to make your escape on foot, which means carrying everything you own — food, supplies, weapons, a less-in-shape loved one. … In addition to super-solid legs, you’ll need a strong core and shoulders. This medicine-ball complex does work your whole body, but you’ll feel it most in your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves.
Other equipment that is great for carries: Sandbags, SandBells, kettlebells and small humans.
Clean/Lateral Squat/Alternating Step-Up
- Do six to eight reps of each part, completing all reps of one before moving on to the next. Do three to five rounds.
Part 1: Clean
Stand with your feet hip-width apart behind a medicine ball. Push your hips back, then bend your knees and grasp the medicine ball on either side, fingers down and back straight. In one explosive motion, straighten your legs, extend your hips and shrug your shoulders. Flip your elbows forward and underneath the ball so it rotates in your hands to rest on your chest, and immediately drop into a low squat. Extend your legs and stand up.
Part 2: Lateral Squat
Hold the medicine ball at your chest and step your feet about shoulder-width apart. Drop your hips and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor or just below, then extend your legs and step your feet together. Continue, alternating sides.
Part 3: Alternating Step-Up
Hold the medicine ball on one shoulder and face a knee-high box (or bench). Step onto the box with your right foot and extend your leg to stand on top. Touch your left toe on top, then step it back down, following with your right. Continue, alternating legs. Then drop the medicine ball to the floor and start from the beginning.
Pro Tip: As you get stronger and more proficient at this complex, decrease your rest time between sets. For example, start with 60 seconds of rest and gradually work your way down to 15 or 20. “If you’re running from zombies, you have to recover quickly,” McCall reasons. “You’re not going to have much time to stop and catch your breath.”
Speed and Endurance
Your survival relies on your ability to outrun predators and endure the long journey to safety, which means you need to simultaneously increase your speed and build your stamina. This interval running plan trains both, mixing in high knees and side shuffles to work your range of motion and agility. Do it on the road or on a treadmill for a killer cardio workout that strengthens your core as well as every muscle from your hip flexors down to your toes.
30-Minute Interval Run
Jog 30 minutes, incorporating speed, side-to-side shuffles and high-knee intervals as follows:
Pro Tip: For each 30-second interval, run hard until you’re out of breath, then slow down enough so that you can carry on a conversation. “That lets you know that you’re running really hard and that you worked anaerobically — without oxygen,” McCall says.
Surviving the apocalypse won’t come without a fight, and you’ll probably need to pummel a few zombies along the way. The steel mace is an effective weapon and a versatile training tool, and this uppercut move will get your core, shoulders, biceps and triceps ready to kick ass and take names.
- Do three sets of 12 reps per side.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees to lower into a quarter-squat. Using an overhand grip, grasp the handle end of the mace with your left hand and place your right hand under the heavy end. Hold the mace in front of your waist with your elbows bent, core tight. Pivot on your toes and rotate to the left as you draw your left hand in toward your body and punch your right hand upward in an uppercut motion. Rotate back to the start. Complete all reps before switching sides.
No steel mace? A baseball bat or sledgehammer works just as well to fight your way through a hoarde of those hungry, brain-craving undead.
Pro Tip: Your power should come from your back foot and hips, and each rep should be as explosive as possible. “You’re training the body to make that quick change in direction, so focus on snapping the hips,” McCall says.
Upper-Body Strength and Coordination
The path to food, shelter and water will probably be strewn with obstacles, and you’ll need a powerful upper body as well as some coordination to pull yourself up and over crumbled buildings, brick walls and chain-link fences. This modified rope climb challenges your grip while building strength in your shoulders, back, biceps and triceps.
Modified Rope Climb
- Do three sets of five reps.
Lie faceup on the floor underneath a rope with your knees bent. Reach up with both hands and grasp the rope as high as you can. Pull yourself up, handover-hand, with your arms and upper body to come to standing — don’t push with your legs — then reverse the action to return to the floor.
Pro Tip: Rope climbs of any kind can be a little intimidating (we blame middle-school gym class), so do what you can. “Just be consistent and work on one part of the movement at a time,” McCall says. So if you can only get halfway up the rope, climb that section to the best of your ability. Over time, you will see improvement.
Balance and Agility
Don’t wait until you’re navigating one of those shaky rope bridges to work on your balance and agility. The single-leg dot drill works all the muscles of your standing leg while developing your balance and honing your ability to move and change directions with speed and precision.
Single-Leg Dot Drill
- Do three sets of three to five reps.
Find an open patch of floor space and mark off an area that is approximately 2 feet wide and 3 feet long using chalk or tape. Place a dot in the center and a dot in each of the four corners. Stand in the bottom left corner and find your balance on your right leg. Then jump to each dot in the following order: bottom right, center, upper right, upper left. Retracing your jumps, return to the bottom left corner. This is one rep. Complete all reps on one leg before switching.
Pro Tip: “Try to land on the ball of the foot and roll down to the heel upon landing,” McCall says. “That will train you to absorb ground force properly.”
Jumping rope is another great way to train lower-body reactivity and agility — and the rope can be used later as a zombie restraint.