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Training Regimen: The Woodsman

Posted by on 2011/04/04

This basic training routine will help prepare you for wilderness life, as well as almost many other survival scenario, so that your adjustment period is more of a gentle slope than a sudden climb.

I wish I could take credit for the woodsman, but really it’s just a combination of time tested classic exercise techniques designed to increase functional strength and muscle endurance.   The woodsman is a series of exercises that can be performed anywhere with no specialized equipment, a training routine that you can take with you into the wild.

I’ve seen some pretty amazing shit ‘personal trainers’ have forced their clients to do at the gym, like wobbling on a balance ball as they struggle to curl a few pounds a few times, or ‘isolating muscles’ with concentration exercises; tell me, why the fuck would you want to isolate your muscles? Who thinks that’s a good idea?  The human body is the result of 80 quadrillion years of evolution, a system of interlinking adaptive tissue which will naturally adjust itself to become better at whatever you do with it over time.  So why would you ever want to Isolate a muscle when you can train the whole muscular system to be better, stronger, more enduring, faster, more explosive.

Think of your workouts as practice, not just a labor for its own purpose.  Working out is your way of telling your body to get better at doing certain things; when you see someone at the gym standing on a balance ball and doing an overhead tricep extension, go ahead and try to figure out what the fuck they could possibly be practicing for.

Working out to ‘burn calories’ is masturbation.  While you’re working out, unless you’re actually improving yourself all you’re doing is making room for more food.  It’s like working just to afford gas so you can drive to work.  Here’s what a good exercise should do:

Improve muscular strength.
Improve Endurance.
Improve joint stability.
Decrease risk of injury.
Improve coordination.
Which can all be summed up by:
Improve efficiency and efficacy of your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems in order to improve the quality and duration of your life.

A good workout routine will assist you in self defense, overcoming hostile environments, and acquiring food; all things far more difficult to do than modern society prepares us for.  Anyway, enough bullshit, here’s the regiment.

The Woodsman.

The woodsman consists of four compound exercises: The push up, the squat, the pull-up, and the object deadlift.  The point here is to get stronger, faster, better, so prescribing an arbitrary number of reps or sets is counter productive.  In order to become stronger you must tense your muscles harder.  The only way your body knows to get stronger is by demanding more from it.   You don’t ever have to do endless reps, the muscles are triggered by stress not repetition.  Exercises are perfected by repetition.  You’re not looking to perfect these exercises, you’re looking to challenge your body.  Because it bears repeating: The objective is to CHALLENGE your body, not to wreck it; you don’t have to work to failure, but you should work pretty hard.

PUSH UP: If you’re the kind of cat who can bust out two hundred pushups without breaking a sweat, then I don’t need to tell you to vary the shit of them by elevating your legs, switching grips, one-handing it, handstanding it, or any of that other shit; but that’s what you’ve got to do.  Yeah, do normal pushups; but don’t just do normal pushups, do this:

1. Lay flat, face down, with your hands at shoulder level, palms flat, on the ground, Legs straight, feet perpendicular to the ground, weight resting on the balls of your feet.  (Standard position)
2. Push up (duh) keeping your back and legs straight until you have nearly fully extended your arms, pause at the top, but do not lock your arms, you want to keep constant tension on your muscles.
3. Lower yourself back down, again stopping just before you reach the ground, maintaining tension.
4. Vary your speed and the explosive strength of the push up; change it up constantly.
5. Changing the positions of your hands or the elevation of your feet will make the exercise more challenging, and thus more effective. As you become better at doing push ups, challenge yourself more by changing them up.
6. Shift your body weight to favor alternating arms, and when you feel confident, start doing them one-armed, or keep a leg off the ground for a few reps and then switch.
7. You should eventually reach a point where you can knock out alternating one-arm-one-leg push-ups at a range of elevations.
Squat:  Following the same rules as a push up, the squat is essentially the lower body compound exercise equivalent. There are a great deal of variations to the squat, some, like the hindu squat or the pistol are intended to be done without added weight, while others like the sumo squat or the overhead squat are intended to be done while lifting significant amounts of weight.  Again, as with the push up, we’re going to begin with the standard and add variations to keep it challenging as we improve.
1. A standard squat begins in a standing position, feet directly under knees and pointed in the same direction that knees bend, this is important.
2. The squat is initiated by moving the hips back and bending the knees and hips to lower the torso, almost as if you were going to sit down on a bench, keeping your back straight and sticking your ass out.
3. At the bottom of the squat, don’t rest, but hold it for a beat and then push back up to an upright position.
4. As you get better at squats you can either add weight, by hoisting shit overhead, resting it on your shoulders, etc.., or you can start training pistols; the one-legged squats advocated by Pavel Tsatsouline.

Pull-Up:  No need for a great deal of explanation here.  Grab something overhead, lift yourself up so that you chin rises above your hands.  Try different grips for each set if possible, keep your legs straight or stick them straight out, keep changing the speed.   You may only be able to do one or two at first… you don’t have to do it until failure, but do them often.  If you can’t do one, then try starting with a jump, or ‘kip’.  You’ll find that it won’t be long before you’re busting out 10 in a set.   As with push ups, start favoring arms alternatingly until you find you can do them one handed.  To bridge the gap you can clutch weight between your knees or ankles.

Deadlift:  Alright, this is the exercise that you’re most likely to injure yourself doing; so I’m going to get into detail about the form. A deadlift is made to strengthen you; that is its sole purpose.  Start with something light, or just do them without weight to become familiar with the exercise.  After that, use found objects of increasing weight, Logs, bags of sand or rock.

  1. Stand: your stance should be a bit more narrow than shoulder-width.  Your feet pointed forward, your knees gently bent. The weight you will be lifting should be dead center of stance.
  2. Bend through your kneesuntil your shoulder blades are directly over the weight.   Keep your back straight.
  3. Pull the weight up against your body and push with your legs, pulling your shoulders back,  until you are standing straight again.
  4. Now you are in position to perform the exercise… Stand holding your object with both hands and your arms down in front of you, elbows slightly crooked. Keep your chest up and shoulders back. Next, lower your body until the weight touches the floor. Now stand up again.  As you increase the weight, you may need to change your grip, the position of your arms, or the width of your stance, just be mindful of your spine, you need it.
  5. Repeat.   The best way to do this, if you dont have access to a straight bar, is using a sack of rocks or sand, you can easily adjust the weight to make sure you are being challenged but not tearing your arms off your body.

Those are the four basic exercises that you should be able to do almost everywhere, the exception being pull ups… sometimes its hard to find something safe to hang from.

Try starting this routine at least three months before the shit hits the fan to best prepare you for your new life as a wilderness survivor.

Don’t rest for too long between sets, don’t work a muscle to failure, and it’s better to do two smaller workouts in a day than one exhausting one.   You don’t need to do every exercise every day, but you should do a lot every day.  Feel free to write a routine for yourself, but change it frequently.   If you aren’t challenging yourself, you aren’t helping yourself.

I don’t want to hear whining like “what about burpees, or star jumps, or angry dragons?”.  Look, if you want to do a million jumping jacks, go ahead, if you want to do 50 good mornings and 100 box jumps, by all means, add it to your routine.   I’m not saying do this regiment instead of any other physical activity; i’m saying do these exercises and do them well. Or don’t.  If you’re a fitness guru already, fuck it, you don’t need this, do you?   Yes you can benefit by adding a caber toss, or a 10 mile swim, or a 1000 yard spinning bird kick. Please do, by all means.  I’m simply suggesting here that the woodsman will prepare you.







5 Responses to Training Regimen: The Woodsman

  1. br79

    Good list, the only thing I would add would be some form of Military press. You can use a log for this also. It’s a great exercise for shoulder and arm strength which you will need when you are cutting down trees and carrying them to build yer shelter. And maybe some sort of row to strengthen your back, once again with a log doing a modified T-Bar row.

  2. Viggo

    Hey, very good post.

  3. chance

    Good tip BR76, we can mimic the military press by elevating our pushups to a handstand push up; alternately the t-bar row can be done by varying the incline of your legs during a pull up; however both of these techniques may be too difficult to cold-start – so Yes, I agree that working in some military presses and some t-lifts/bent-over rows with sand bags would be a great benefit to the workout.

  4. Mojave Goddess

    Nice entry, thank you. Do you have a Twitter account?

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