WorstCaseScenario Fitness

By Bryan Krahn, CSCS |

Could you push yourself to do that extra rep in the gym if you believed that someday your life just might depend on it?

What if a few extra sets could help you outrun a predator, climb to safety, or hunt down your dinner?

These questions might seem a bit silly. Nowadays, most of us are more likely to sprint for a closing elevator door than to flee from a grizzly bear. And we throw out our backs picking up our kids, not climbing trees or hurling spears at antelope for dinner.

Still, if the world were suddenly turned upside down and you were forced to fend for yourself in the great outdoors — or survive the great unknown — wouldn’t it be nice to know that you could meet the challenge?

“You need much more than a big bench press to survive these types of worst-case scenarios,” says Nick Tumminello, a strength-and-conditioning coach who has designed programs for Mixed Martial Arts warriors, cage fighters, and other tough customers.

“To survive outdoors, you must be able to climb, jump, crawl, pull, and carry heavy asymmetrical loads over long distances. You also need to be able to cover large amounts of ground.”

In the gym, as you log miles and perform reps, it’s easy to forget there’s plenty of real-life purpose to being fit. Tumminello has designed a demanding, full-body workout to remind you what your body is capable of.

While the scenarios may seem far-fetched, if you embrace the premise behind each move, you’ll have a better sense of what’s in it for your body. And by imagining a worst-case context — stranded in the wilderness, surrounded by hungry predators — you may just attack your workout that much harder and reap the strength gains that go along with it.

Even if the worst never comes to pass (and let’s hope it doesn’t), these exercises will strengthen your entire body and help you get better at movements you perform throughout the day.

So the next time you have to lift your toddler, cram luggage into an overhead compartment, or carry heavy bags of groceries, it’ll be a breeze.

Worse-Case-Scenario Workout

do three sets of eight to 12 reps, with a 60-second rest between sets. Start by finding a weight or variation that allows you to perform about eight reps of each movement, and then focus on doing more reps each time you repeat the workout. Once you can do 12 reps, it’s time to add resistance or try a more challenging variation.

1. Chin-Ups


Back, biceps, forearms, and abdominal muscles.

Pulling yourself up a tree to evade an angrywolverine (or pulling yourself up a tree to rescue your runaway cat).

  1. Contract your shoulder blades at the top of the movement, then lower yourself in a slow, controlled manner until your arms are fully extended.

Make it easier: Do band-assisted chin-ups.

Make it harder: Perform weighted chin-ups, holding a dumbbell between your feet or with a weight plate hanging from a belt.

2. Dips



Chest, shoulders, and triceps muscles.

Lifting your heavy canoe over your head (or pushing a heavy box of holiday decorations onto a high storage shelf).

  1. Pause briefly at the bottom, then squeeze your triceps forcefully to fully extend your arms and return to start.

Make it easier: Bend your knees to bring your feet closer to the box.

Make it harder: Do weighted dips on parallel bars, holding a dumbbell between your feet.

3. Landmine Rotations


Abdominals, obliques, and intercostal muscles.

Lifting and carrying a heavy log for firewood (or moving furniture and doing yardwork).

  1. Keeping your arms straight, reverse direction to rotate the barbell to the opposite side. Use your core muscles to perform the movement. Do not excessively bend your elbows or knees.

Make it easier: Use a lighter barbell, or perform a twisting crunch on the floor instead.

Make it harder: Add weight to the barbell.

4. Double Farmer’s Walk



Core and upper-back muscles, grip, and cardiovascular system.

Carrying containers of fresh water to your shelter (or carrying groceries from your car to the kitchen).

  1. Walk forward about 20 yards, then reverse direction. Repeat three there-and-back rounds, with 60 seconds of rest between rounds.

Make it easier: Carry a lighter weight.

Make it harder: Increase the weight or carry weight in only one hand to challenge your balance. Alternatively, carry a heavy sandbag over one shoulder or extended in front of you with both hands.

5. Sprints



Legs and cardiovascular system.

Outrunning a predator and catching prey (or chasing down a commuter bus).

  1. Walk back to your starting line. (This is your rest period.)

Make it easier: Take a longer rest between sprints, sprint a shorter distance, or run on a soft surface, such as a grassy field.

Make it harder: Sprint up a hill, up a flight of stairs, or on a treadmill set to an incline.

The entire lower body, as well as your cardiovascular system.Prepares you for: Long days spent walking to find food, rummaging for shelter, or outrunning wild animals; long days spent chasing your kids or sprinting to catch the bus.Perform three rounds of the following four-movement complex, doing 12 repetitions of each exercise per leg. Rest 60 seconds between each round. (Note: If any of the following movements cause discomfort in your knees — or pain anywhere — feel free to skip them.)

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