10 Exercises to Make You Harder to Kill (Surviving “The Hunger Games”, part 2)

Last week we talked about the ten general physical skills you need, at baseline, to survive an excursion into a post-apocalyptic death game. This week we’re going to look at ten exercises that build one or more of the ten skills we need to, ya now, not die. For each movement, we’ll look at the muscles worked and the skills we’re building.

Box Jump

Move: Find a sturdy box, bench, or low table. Now jump on it with both feet leaving the ground and then landing on the target object at the same time. That’s it! The box jump uses explosive power in the hips and legs to propel your body away from your starting position.

Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, tibialis anterior

Skills: The box jump is about power, combining the strength of your legs and hips with the speed at which you can extend them together. Secondary skills built include balance in landing the jump correctly, the stamina it takes to string jumps together, and endurance to maintain steady breathing during the movement.

box jump

Sprinting

Move: A sprint is just a run that is taken at the fastest pace you’re capable of hitting without the boost given by outside aid (e.g. going downhill, spring floor, etc). What sets this move apart from running is the intensity at which you complete it. Sprinting should be treated as a short term, as-hard-as-possible movement with little to nothing held back (save what you need to do to avoid injury).

Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, tibialis anterior, external obliques, abdominals

Skills: Sprints are amazing for building endurance and stamina. Studies have shown that high intensity exercise has a strong benefit to both aerobic (long term) and anaerobic (short term) energy/oxygen usage. In addition, you can build overall speed by regularly testing yourself at “red line” levels via sprints. Lastly, sprinting is a test of agility and balance, as moving with a high velocity puts extra emphasis on the body to keep upright and centered so as to avoid injury.

sprinting

Bear Crawl

Move: Also called quadrupedal movement, a bear crawl is moving on four limbs using the hands and feet equally. Generally, we try to keep the elbows and knees at least slightly bent at all times to prevent injury to those joints. Movement is encouraged contralaterally, meaning you move your opposite hand/foot together (right hand & left foot, etc). This helps keep the weight centered and helps prevent falling to the side (which may happen anyway, but that’s a practice thing).

Muscles: All of them. The Bear Crawl is a movement that challenges the whole body.

Skills: You’ll notice on our chart that Bear Crawls are mostly a movement used to build the neuromuscular skills. While the move isn’t terribly taxing on any one muscle group, becoming accustomed to moving on all fours rather than just using the legs can be challenging to your sense of balance. In addition, many people never work on movement where the hips are bent in the 90 degree angle range, so flexibility of the core muscles is drastically increased through proper Crawls. Because limb placement can break balance easily, accuracy becomes very important to ensure the hands/feet are placed appropriate to the direction of travel. Lastly, Bear Crawls are a challenge because they’re different. It is surprisingly difficult for even athletic people to adapt to movement on all fours, building overall endurance in the process.

bear crawl

Running

Move: The long term cousin to sprinting, running is simple the human ability to move at a faster, sustained pace on two legs.

Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, tibialis anterior, external obliques, abdominals

Skills: Running is, first and foremost, an endurance movement. Your ability to run is most often limited more by oxygen usage than by muscle strength or stamina. In order to keep moving, your body needs to be efficient at taking in oxygen, using it to produce energy via aerobic glycolysis, and getting that energy where it needs to go. To a lesser extent, the ability of the lower body muscles to continue contracting over time is improved simply by use, helping your stamina build in those areas. Lastly, overall speed may improve over time as the connections between the brain and the running muscles becomes more practiced; you get faster because you get better at running.

running

Thruster

Move: One of my personal favorites for conditioning work, a Thruster combines the front squat (weight held in front of the neck) with the overhead press. Generally done with a barbell, you can also use kettlebells, dumbbells, and sandbags to do the motion. The move is fairly simple: begin with your chosen weight held at shoulder height, perform a squat holding the weight static, and at the top of the squat explode the weight off your shoulders and overhead. Return the weight to the starting position and repeat!

Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, tibialis anterior, triceps, upper pectorals, deltoids, trapezius, latisimus dorsi/abdominals/obliques (stabilization)

Skills: If you want to train stamina and endurance, the Thruster is a great movement. We’re moving a weight through almost the fullest range of motion the human body is capable of, and generally we’re doing it more than once. Stringing this movement together rep to rep is very taxing at even lower counts. Because we’re stringing two separate movements together, we’re also building agility as we work, training the body to transition smoothly from one move to the next.

thruster

Bear Complex

Move: Imagine a Thruster on steroids, and you’ve got the Bear Complex. There are multiple versions of this movement available, but for our purposes the sequence is:

  1. Deadlift to hang position [pause]
  2. Hang Clean to shoulders
  3. Front Squat to full depth
  4. Shoulder to Overhead (press, push press, or jerk)
  5. Transition bar to behind head on shoulders
  6. Back Squat to full depth
  7. Shoulder to Overhead
  8. Return

Muscles: All of them. The Bear Complex, much like the Bear Crawl, uses the entirety of the body to complete the sequence.

Skills: While you can certainly use this movement to build strength, power, and stamina, where it really shines is in how it forces neuromuscular adaption. You need to coordinate your body in complex single movements like the Clean or Jerk, as well as work on the agility necessary to string those movements together with the Deadlift and Squats. Accuracy becomes absolutely critical, as misplacing the bar at any point can ruin the effectiveness of the sequence. Even with light weights, the Complex is a great challenge.

bear complex

Deadlift

Move: Do you want to lift really, really heavy weight? Then you need to be doing Deadlifts! With the feet shoulder width, the arms just outside that width, and your back nice and straight, proceed to bend at the hips and lift a barbell. Once it gets to your hips and you’re at a full stand, lower the weight back down. Repeat.

Muscles: The posterior chain, including hamstrings, lower back, and calves, with support from the shoulders (deltoids, traps, lats), abdominals, obliques, and quadriceps.

Skills: The Deadlift is a movement that is all about strength and stamina. Strength will determine your capacity for moving the weight, and stamina limits how many times you can lift it. Also of import is the ability to coordinate your hips, legs, and shoulders to make the lift smooth and prevent injury. Everyone who can (i.e. does not have a medical condition which completely prohibits it), should be doing Deadlifts.

deadlift

Squat

Move: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and feel free to turn your toes slightly outward. Proceed to sit back, keeping your torso straight, until your hips travel below the height of your knees. All the weight should be on your heels. If you’re so inclined, hang out at the bottom and play some Backgammon or watch “Game of Thrones”.

Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes.

Skills: Much like the Deadlift, the basic Squat is good for building overall strength. In addition to the benefits to raw strength, though, a proper Squat also encourages increased flexibility in the hips, knees, lower back, and ankles. If we include an overhead barbell hold in the equation, it also improves the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Since remaining upright is a base requirement, balance is improved by default, and accuracy becomes important to know when you’ve hit the correct depth.

squat

Pull-up

Move: There are two versions of the pull-up, with the hands facing away (the namesake version) and with the palms facing the athlete (usually called a chin-up). In either case, you grasp a bar or other object overhead, and pull your weight from a dead hang (elbows straight) to your chin above the level of your hands.

Muscles: Latisiums dorsi, biceps, forearms, deltoids, trapezius, abdominals (stabilization)

Skills: The Pull-up is to upper body strength what the Deadlift is to lower body strength. Doing a Pull-up is hard, plain and simple. The upper body tends to be quite a bit weaker than the lower body, so while moving your body weight through a squat or bend is pretty negligible, moving it through a downward pulling motion is not. We have the added benefit that the taxing motion helps the muscles learn to contract better just from practice, improving stamina. We can build power by attempting to do Pull-ups just a little faster each time. Last and certainly not least: they’re just cool to be able to do!

pull-up

Clean/Snatch

Move: Ending our list, I’ve combined the Clean and the Snatch into a single entry. There is plenty of argument that they could be single entries in their own right, but they have similarities which allow combination here. The Clean takes the weight from below the hips to the shoulder position in one smooth motion, while the Snatch takes the weight from below the hips to fully pressed overhead in one smooth motion. Both movements are highly skill-based, requiring specific sequences of smaller movement to execute them properly.

Muscles: The posterior chain as well as the deltoids, biceps, and trapezius.

Skills: Power, speed, and coordination are not easy skills to combine, but in both these movements they are absolutely critical. There’s no such thing as a properly completed “slow” Clean or Snatch, and you need to be able to generate the power to get the weight from the ground to end at the shoulders or overhead. Locking the weight into place accurately requires not just coordination but also agility, since you’re stringing together multiple smaller movements into one cohesive whole.

clean/snatch

That’s it for today!

Next week, we’ll look at a four week training split that uses all these moves to make you harder to kill.