Monday, March 16, 2015

Sarah Connor and Other Action Heroines will Kick Ass at the Artemis Film Festival!

So yes, we've sucked at doing this regularly but....I had to come on here becasue I couldn't help but get seriously excited when I heard of the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival happening in Los Angeles April 24-26, 2015! 

They have been fundraising to make this happen at and now have the funds for a single screen so it is a go!  They are trying to raise enough for at least a second screen and maybe a third!  Please, if you can, help out, if not snag that link and share it around!  The fundraiser ends on March 19!

ETA: And there will be a Twitter Party on March 19 from 7pm - 8pm PST! this is important!  If we're going to get more movies with women action leads, we need to support and celebrate the effort and show that we are an audience to be reckoned with!  And it's vital that we have more of these movies out there, because it's not that we just want them, its that we need them!  At any age and we especially need this to grow so young women and girls can see women as equal, in all ways! We need this festival to thrive!

There will be competitions for films and screenplays and women of action films will be honored!

This includes Linda Hamilton receiving the Artemis Action Icon Award! Well, who else would it be?  Because for so many of us, even after more than two decades she just really is The Icon!

Actress, stunt woman, author Angela Meryl will be receiving the Artemis Stunt Unsung Heroine Award and stunt  woman  and stunt coordinator Maja Aro will be receiving the Artemis Stunt Warrior Award.

You can see a message from festival founder, actress and stunt woman Melanie Wise in this video.  Please remember that the Women Kick Ass fundraiser has been extended to March 19 and therefore you still have three days to join in and make this event really take off!

The Women Kick Ass Project from Artemis on Vimeo.

Of course, if you can help out and actually go to it ....well, if I could I would! So do it! 

(cross posted at Shadow of the Hooded Crow Blog)

Monday, April 29, 2013

SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

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.

Okay, this is what you came here for, right? And now you’ve waited far too long. This makes me feel I have to write something definitive and important, but if I waited until I had something like that you’d be waiting far longer. So keep in mind that this won’t give you all the answers. It won’t give you Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor workout, because I don’t have that and because it won’t work for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all workout. And it won’t make you look like Sarah Connor, because it won’t change your genetic structure. What I do hope this will do is help you build a program for yourself or refine one if you’re already lifting that will help you build strength.

As you are likely a diehard member of the Sarah Connor Charm School, I hope that you have already gotten to the point where you are not looking for training to make you smaller and weaker. Sadly, that is still the norm for much of the training aimed at women. We are often told we must train only with light weights and high reps, to avoid becoming bulky. At the same time, sometimes in the same breath, we’re “reassured” that  “women don’t bulk up like men.” Often this part is a favorite of skinny male trainers who we’d never mistake for a T800 Model 101.

The facts are that women have the exact same muscle structure as men. Women should train the same way as men (keeping in mind we all, everyone of us, is going to be different from every other person regardless of sex). Also, most people, male or female, simply do not bulk up hugely. How big someone gets has even more to do with genetics that the magic power that so many men want to believe, even when they are not showing evidence themselves, that testosterone gives them. And, of course, women have testosterone too and how much does vary among us. Bulking up is hard for the majority of people, that’s why bodybuilders have to work so hard (and, yes, why some resort to steroids ….an option NOT approved of by the SCCS!). Chances are, if you are here, you hope to get big, so this fact is probably not pleasing, but it’s something some of us have to face. We are all different

The training I am discussing will get you bigger than the usual recommendations for women, meant to appease this fear we’re supposed to have but really do no more than train us to be weaker rather than stronger. There will be muscle growth, you can’t get strong without it despite the fantasies of some who worship thinness, but the real focus will be on developing functional strength. This is training to become more, not less! And while the SCCS is geared towards women’s needs, there is nothing in any of my fitness posts that are not completely appropriate for men as well.

I have often seen people insist that lifting is simple, you pick it up, you put it down; add more reps and more weight as you develop. Simple. Often these people, happily giving advice on Facebook, aren’t serious lifters and if they do workout it’s usually a basic routine sold to them at their gym. Strength training, like all training, is a science. At the very core it is about chemical reactions and nervous system responses which we’re not going to get into heavily here but hopefully I will offer enough to help you  understand why certain things work and others don’t, as well as why things might work differently for one person than another.

A Bit on the Basics

The body has three types of muscle: skeletal, cardiac and smooth organ. Resistance training strengthens the skeletal muscle, while cardiovascular training strengthens the cardiac muscle and overall health maintenance, we hope, helps keep the organ muscles healthy.  Within the skeletal muscle group there are different types of muscle fiber, the number and exact purpose of each being still not conclusively determined. However, when it comes to fitness, there are two basic types that we are aware of: Type I or Slow Twitch which are resistant to fatigue and are most active through low intensity, endurance type activity and Type II or Fast Twitch which are more quickly fatigued and are most active in high intensity, power movement. These do not work exclusively, of course, the body goes through various chemical and energy changes as various fibers kick in throughout any given movement.[1]

Why some people bulk up more than others is due more to whether we tend to have more Type I or Type II muscle. Those with a lot of Type II are going to be gifted with gaining more mass, more easily, but may also not have great endurance as someone who is a “hard gainer” because they have more Type I.  A popular fiction is that certain forms of exercise will give you a certain body type, usually with photos of people who excel in, say, long-distance running and sprinting being compared to each other as if their sports gave them the varied bodies rather than their varied bodies allowing them to excel at their sport.[2] We all have both types and both need to be trained. While strength training is focused mostly on the Fast Twitch and cardio, fight training and some portions of our strength training will be affecting our Slow Twitch we’ll see that our more advanced weigh training will also include higher repetition work along with lower repetition work.  This gets all the muscle fibers in action, over a period of time, creating truly functional strength.

The American College of Sports Medicine’s basic recommendations[3] for a healthy adult resistance program is:

Frequency:  2-3 days a week for each muscle group, with a minimum of 48 hours between sessions. This may, of course, be either 2-3 whole body workouts a week or more days a week splitting up the body for different sessions, as we’ll discuss.

Type:  Multi-joint or compound exercises which affect more than one muscle group. They consider single joint exercises optional.

Volume (repetitions and sets): 8-12 repetitions to failure (which we’ll discuss in detail) are recommended for most muscle groups for healthy adults. They recommend 10-15 for older adults and those who are deconditioned (out of shape to normal people).
The 2010 recommendation for a healthy adult was 2-4 sets per body part, with older and deconditioned adults recommended to do one.  The multi-set debate is currently raging and we’ll discuss that further as well. If you are just beginning, however, one set per body part is a good place to start, you do want to have a place to work up to, after all.

Technique: ACSM recommends everyone receive professional instruction to be sure of proper technique and safety.  Controlled movement in the full range of motion involving concentric (lifting phase) and eccentric (lowering phase).[4]

Progression/Maintenance: As you gain strength, if you wish to continue to build, then continue to increase weight to continue to do no more than 12 repetitions to fatigue, increase sets for each muscle group and increase number of days you work each muscle group (we’ll discuss why this doesn’t work for everyone. We will shortly discuss how this doesn’t actually mean “just keep doing the same thing over and over, just more” it also involved variation, which I recommend starting in on from the beginning

Developing your program

The Sarah Connor Charm School programs (as there is no single one) follows the ACSM guidelines.  We recommend using free weights and body weight primarily, as much as possible, with machines and other resistant systems being alternative options. Exactly how each individual will implement these guidelines is going to vary and will be constantly changing. Change, you will see, is a huge key to long-term success.

Starting out

If you are lifting for the first time or just getting back from it after a long period of time, then I recommend starting with one set of exercises for each body part, of mostly multiple joint exercises so that you are working more than one muscle group at a time. You may wish to do the entire body in one day, to begin, or you may start with a basic upper body/lower body split to start. You should start by working the larger muscle groups first, like chest and back, then the smaller ones, arms and shoulders.

For the first couple of weeks do not worry about lifting to failure, focus on form and getting a full range of movement. During this time you are also learning what weights you’ll need when you do begin to lift to failure, for this is really the best and safest way to find this out. Remember, if you have not been lifting you will be progressing with any activity. You may find that, even with the recommendation to lift a bit lighter, in the first few weeks your strength will progress fairly rapidly, as you are going through both neurological and physical changes at this point.

As you become comfortable with the movement, you should continue the one set and lift for 8-10 repetitions to failure. When you are able to lift a weight for 12 repetitions then move up a weight if you can lift it for at least 6, but at this point preferably 8, repetitions to failure. For some muscles you may need to be able to do more repetitions before you find you can move up safely (there will be other exceptions as well, for some individuals, as we’ll see).  It may be best to start with two times a week, but then work up to three as long as you are doing this level and are doing your entire body at one time. 

Failure is failure. It means that you absolutely cannot lift it next time, at least without jerking or contorting the body.  And you do not want to contort or jerk your body.

Over your first few weeks, find and learn different exercises for each of the body parts. Change what you do frequently; this will be an important step to keeping both the body and the mind fresh for each workout. Not only can doing the same thing every time bore the mind, it also does “bore” the body. Our muscles adapt and find ways to cheat when they know what to expect each time you go in. .’s Muscle and Exercise Directory can give you some ideas if you are stuck and do not have a trainer or experienced exercise partner to work with (do keep in mind that it is advised that you do get some guidance from a professional if possible).

After a few weeks, you may wish to start some single joint exercises, especially for muscle groups that you may find you wish to focus on more. These may, of course, be areas you want to begin to build up more or they may be areas where you are realizing you need more work to build due to them being less used. Upper arms, both biceps and triceps, are in the first category for many of us, while the back of the shoulders may be in the second. 

Progression and Periodization

There is some controversy about adding sets, as studies have shown only a minor increase in improvement in multiple sets vs. single sets, with an increase in injury and a decrease in exerciser adherence. [5]  However, these studies have been with those who were previously untrained, therefore indicating that the above recommendations to start do apply.  I do believe that starting with single sets is far better in the beginning, likely for the first several months and might be enough for some exercisers to maintain depending on goals. It allows the body to have somewhere to go with it for those who want to keep pushing things.  If you start with too many sets to begin with, consider how many more you might eventually have to do. That offers a lot of potential for burn out, both physically and mentally. So start with one set, then work up.

However, as suggested in Roy Stevenson’s “Single vs. Multiple Sets: are extra sets really worth it,” we don’t need to do more sets of the same exercise, but rather start doing multiple exercises for each muscle group. This allows you to start hitting the muscles from different angles or in different ways in one workout. As you started by doing and learning a variety already, you will have learned several to work with by this time. You can continue to change things up each work out, by choosing two or three different exercises and doing things in different order.

Keep in mind that while you need to work all your muscle groups, to keep in balance, this doesn’t always mean you are best off doing the same number of sets for each. This is especially true where there may already be imbalances. We do essentially everything in our day-to-day lives with our arms in front of us, in the frontal plane. In fact, reaching behind us can be a recipe for injury; this is how we are designed. Yet this also means that our pectoral and front deltoid muscles are shorter and stronger than our back muscles and our posterior deltoid muscles. And our often very unhappy rear rotator cuff muscles. All this can lead to back pain and the development of a hunched back, known as kyphosis. Therefore, before injury occurs, you may wish to do more sets of varieties of rows which counter pectoral exercises, as well as doing external rotations. And then, because Sarah, you’re probably want to work on doing chin-ups and other pull-ups, which themselves are important but do not do as much to counter the pectoral muscles. Meanwhile, make extra sure to be stretching those pectoral muscles.

Conversely, for many the lower back tightens and the abdominal muscles may be weak, leading to lordosis, or an extreme curving forward of the lower back and, again, pain. In this case lots of core abdominal work is important, again before there is a real medical issue. Frankly, I do not believe that abdominals can be too strong, we need them for everything we do. Even lying down requires them. As theses are endurance muscles, they do best with lots of repetitions, worked with no weight, continuing to increase repetitions to fatigue.  For many, the lower back muscles may do best with less and very careful training and a lot of proper stretching.

If injury does occur, then get it attended to, including physical therapy and go from there. Even some of us (me) who already felt we were doing a lot more back work than chest work find that we might not have evened the balance enough and end up with injuries which leave us doing very little and very light chest work and a lot more back work. So, listen to what your body needs, if that doesn’t work then listen to your physical therapist.

At this point, as you do increase sets/exercises for each body part, you may want to increase splitting your workouts. This keeps workouts shorter and allows more recovery time between sessions for each body part. It can also keep those who feel that “rest is nonproductive” from too many days with no training, although you need some and some of need more.

That variation has been a start in muscle confusion and muscle confusion is the real key to continued strength gains and injury prevention. Without this variety, we end up plateauing, where all progress stops. The body has learned to adapt and “cheat” once it has gotten used to a routine. Even if we try to do more of the same, it will continue to adapt doesn’t work well for our plans or our safety. Some get frustrated and give up at this point. But if we keep pushing on with just more and more of the same with more sets and heavier weights, we start going backwards, losing conditioning and becoming more easily injured.  We end up overtraining.[6]

As I noted in the cardiovascular segment, athletes often change their training in relationship to their competition, and this is Periodization is also used by those who do strength competitions of all kinds. How athletes might change things up varies between sports but also between individuals. When you are “training for life” you end up with a lot of flexibility in how to change things…and that’s really good.  Because the more changes the better, and you can even keep changing how you change things.

There are several varieties of periodization typically used in strength training. The first is the linear or classic periodization. This is a progressive number of sets and weight increases, with small variations within one to four week microcycles. Each cycle would focus on either strength (working in the  8-10 rep zone), endurance (working 12 or more reps or power (working below 8 reps). Then there is an active rest cycle, usually after th others cycle for 12 weeks. I personally find this works great for those who have great genetics and recover well, but is not enough change for others.

Nonlinear periodization involves making changes throughout a shorter period, such as a week. For example (and these are just common examples of how to change things, not set in stone), one workout for power, second workout for power, third workout for endurance for each body part. Again this is usually 12 weeks, followed by one or two weeks of active rest.

“Unplanned” nonlinear periodization as described by ACSM isn’t actually is a planned set of routines decided upon at each session by the personal trainer based on her or his assessment of the client’s physical and emotional state, with each of the routines checked off.[7]

I like to make this latter a bit more unplanned, actually. Once you have a body of exercises you are familiar and comfortable with, once you have a plan for what body parts you work when and how. You can go into the gym, or your living room, on a given day and assess what your body needs on that day to do that.  If you’re tired do lighter work and less of it. If you’re feeling really gung-ho, up the weight and lower the reps and maybe pull off a few more sets. If you’re bored out of your ever loving mind and really stressed and just hate the idea of doing what you feel you’re supposed to do even though it hasn’t been twelve weeks, do something completely different, maybe kettlebells or a Pilates class.

I also am a fan of changing up power/strength/endurance sets within a workout. Classically this is done with “pyramids,” several sets of the same exercise going either from light/high rep to heavy/low rep or the other way around. However, you can mix this up more too, especially if you are doing different exercises each set. Say, do a set of heavy concentrated curls, then the next bicep set might be a high rep hanging curl…and just mix it up different next time you’re doing biceps.

You can also vary by how you order your exercises. When you begin with the whole body or at least half your body for each session, it was recommended that you start with larger muscle groups then smaller. At this point, you are likely splitting things up so that this may not be an issue. When you combine changing order with different exercise, this adds for even more a variety. Anytime you think “I did such and such last time” do something different.


Absolutely, allow yourself plenty of rest. Rest is actually vital to progress, for it is when our muscles recover that they actually gain the strength.  Train too often, you get into overtraining and the muscles actually weaken and get smaller. How much time between sessions for any given body part is individual, but everyone needs at least 48 hours. Some of us, especially those of us who are hard-gainers, need more. A day off completely, even if you break down your body into many splits, is vital. And, again, many of us need more than that to recover fully.

Remember that between sets you should give your body several minutes, say 2 or 3 if you’re doing a light day, but at least 5 if you’re doing a heavy. You can work another or opposing body part for part of that time. Mediation, socializing if appropriate, spotting for another person, it doesn’t have to be boring. Oh, but remember, the old advice to stretch between strength sets has been thrown out the window, save that for after.

And even if you’re going for that totally unplanned periodization, do plan for periodic active rest periods with no more than 12 weeks in between. Remember that doesn’t mean you don’t do anything at all, it just means you don’t do the program you have been doing. You might even keep lifting, but doing so in a very different and easier way.  Perhaps returning to one set of low weight/high repetition. Or doing kettlebell, Pilates or Yoga. You might want to try out Sarah Connor's Cell Circuits which I do hope to get up soon (no, really, I mean it this time! although you might be able to figure something similar on your own). You would continue your cardio training, perhaps changing that too, and, of course, stretching.  Again, if your activity levels change due to life, you should consider those changes in planning your active rest. If you are a homesteader and suddenly have a major physical workload to deal with, say in the spring or during harvest, those are great times even if it’s not been 12 weeks. If you’re finding yourself hiking through the Amazon, that’s a great time. If you’re on a business trip and lodged where there is a nice pool and you don’t usually get to swim, then do laps between meetings instead of your usual routine. Even if it’s not been 12 weeks. I discussed the importance of rest more thoroughly in Part 1, The Activity Triad.

Rounding it up

As I noted, there is no way to give a fully detailed plan in the scope of this, there is no one size fits all. You need to do the work, need to find what works for, by doing it, with care and consideration. Remember the difference between good soreness that comes with increased activity and bad pain that requires medical care. Be area of your posture. Consider hiring a personal trainer if you are in a position to do so, even for a short time. It is always best to work with a training partner or in a gym with others who you can count on, especially when you lifting heavy. Spotters can save your life! And if you don’t have them, be well aware of your safety situation, choose dumbbells or even machines over barbells you can get caught under. Stay safe!

You may find’s Exercises and Muscle Directory useful in finding a variety of exercises for all body parts.

[1] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg 142-143
[2] This has become a popular comparison to try to dissuade people from long distance running, especially in the “Paleofitness” realms. This is ironic, given what I have noted about the evidence out ancestors were runners in Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobic
[3] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010  pg. 168-171
[4] This seems a no-brainer, but from my own experience, I discovered that a fitness company did make a weight machine that they proudly advertised as being better because you lifted the weight but it became weightless as you lowered it. They felt this was safer and more effective, although the eccentric phase is a part of the development of strength. This company’s current weight machines apparently do not include this feature.
[5] Roy Stevenson, “Single vs. Multiple Sets: are extra sets really worth it”, American Fitness Magazine,  Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, March/April 2012
[6] Symptoms of overtraining include decrease in strength, endurance and coordination, sleep disturbances, headaches, symptoms of depression, fatigue, increased susceptibly to illness, increase injuries and a slowing of healing. Andrew C. Fry, Ph.D, “Overtraining with Resistance Exercise” ACSM Current Comment FactSheet.
[7] ACSM, Resources for the Personal Trainer, pg. 346-348


Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where have we all gone?

It's been over a year since any of us have posted here. I'm by far the most shameful for this offense as I had intended to get my next installment out over a year ago now.  Life happens. Non-paid and not related to making a living in other way writing gigs do get shunted for those things which might make us a living. Until Judgment Day rearranges things, that's still how we have to keep roofs over our heads and food on the table. I hope to get the next installment done soon. No, this time I mean it. Yeah, I do understand your doubts.

Meanwhile, you might want to check out the blog of a student who is chronicling her way through the  curriculum so check out Much Like Sarah, Exactly Like Me

Friday, March 16, 2012

SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics

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.

Getting F.I.T.T.

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.[i] The SCCS stands by this.

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)[ii] will achieve the greatest over all benefits for a healthy adult. Again, this is what the SCCS recommends, for both health benefits and the ability to function at various intensities for survival situations. 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,[iii] 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 she is doing, likewise it also doesn’t work for those of us in the Sarah Connor Charm School and other survivalist types. What might we need to do, after all? Run. And walk long distances likely while carrying a go-bag, but run. And maybe bike as might be a mode of bugging out, swimming could be useful too. We should be focusing on real movement, with a lot of options. I feel that in order to prepare for post-Judgment Day, we should concentrate on things that will get us from one point to another no matter what way we might need to do that. This doesn’t mean that dancing isn’t useful as a tool of self-expression, we do include war dance in our lessons, however it is supplemental and our dancers stay running fit too.

So let’s talk about running, as I have had a few of our students claim they hate it. Some people have even claimed that “if a Terminator was coming after me I’d be able to run because I’ll 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 but 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. Always.

Importantly, the conditioned runner also will also be able to recover far faster when running ceases to be an option (obviously, with Terminators you need to run to cover or to a vehicle, you won’t be able to out run one long) and she must turn and fight or have the ability to drive. The non-runner, at that point, should they not already have been Terminated, will undoubtedly be utterly useless; their reserves will have been used up as their adrenaline crashes. Consider if you wish to be Terminator fodder and what you might owe your companions when the shit hit the fan. Are you going to need others to carry you? Are you going to expect them to come back and rescue you? Are you going to have to depend on them to defend you while you lie there gasping like a beached whale; a beached whale that suddenly sprouted mind numbingly painful cramping legs?

Keep in mind that every person who has 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 search or pointing these people out here). This is true. It is also true that as we’ve already noted that we’re not going to outrun a Terminator and are just, yes, sprinting to a vehicle or shelter. 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.

You also need to be able to go from one speed to the other. Say you’re jogging those 5 miles and you run into some humans who want your shit or otherwise do you harm, you need to be able to out sprint them after already running or hiking and then continue at a slower pace to create more distance from them. Or, you know, the Zombie Apocalypse folk might be right and you’re going to deal with slower zombies, but you might still need to sprint through a gauntlet of them. It’s important to have our body prepared for anything.
SCCS students also need to 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, 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 running, 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.[iv] 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 the full 20 minutes. Consider the start of your interval training to 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 whether to Terminators or more human predators. Although there is none for the Terminator scenario (and I’d imagine licensing would be a problem or I’d try!), there is an app to practice for the Zombie Apocalypse which those with such, um, Machines might find a way to spice your runs up.

When it comes to running 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.

Finding Heart 

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.[v] 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 hard-core types like many Sarah Connor Charm School students 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.

[i] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 155
[ii] Ibid. pg. 155
[iii] ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, pg. 157
[iv] 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.
[v] Gunner Borg, Borg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, USA

 Recommended reading
Danny Abshire and Brian Metzler Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running (Boulder Colorado: Velopress, 2010 
Danny and Kathryn Dreyer, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, New York: Fireside – Simon & Schuster, 2004

Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer