10 Skills You Need to Survive “The Hunger Games”
Post-war America. The Zombie Apocalypse. Invasion by hostile forces. Black Friday Shopping at the Mall. Whatever the circumstances, you’ve been thrown into a situation where you have to go head to head against 20+ other “contestants” in a live-or-die, no-holds-barred Death Match! You can’t possibly be prepared for everything, so you need to be prepared for anything. What do you do to train for the unknown, unknowable, and possibly deadly?
“Strong People are harder to kill, and more useful in general” – Mark Rippetoe
So what general skills do you need to compete and what are they good for? (Hint: quite a bit more than absolutely nothin’…)
When your body needs oxygen, it needs it as soon as possible. Building good cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory endurance means your lungs will be more efficient at breathing, while your blood stream will be better at transporting what you breathe in to the places it needs to go. So what does this translate to, in the physical experience? You will be better able to keep your breathing under control when stressed, you will fatigue slower in general, and your muscles will recover faster from exertion.
In the Games: you’re being chased by a pack of blood-thirsty competitors that have decided you’re an easy first target before they turn on one another. You can’t out-fight them, so the only option is to run. If you can’t keep your breathing in control, either they catch you or you make it to hiding but the sound of your Stentorian gasps gives away your position.
Many people use stamina and endurance interchangeably to mean the same thing. In our case, stamina refers to your ability to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy. Every muscle in your body needs energy to contract, and you need your muscles to contract in order to move, fight, and survive in general. When you have good stamina, it means you can repeatedly contract your muscles at an athletic level over time.
In the Games: running for your life isn’t just about breathing through it; if your legs can’t keep pumping energy into the muscles of your glutes, calves, quads, and hamstrings then you’re just as dead. Getting your stamina up to par or better will let you run longer without hitting muscle failure.
Your strength is your ability to apply force using your muscles. It’s the driving factor behind your “one rep max” or the maximal weight you can move in a certain direction using only your muscular ability. While you can improve your ability to generate force by using momentum, you won’t always have the option. Building strength is crucial to being able to perform in static tests of muscular ability.
In the Games: one of the pack of thugs caught up to you and tackled you to the ground. They pin your arms and are gloating about something vaguely insulting (your eyebrows, maybe?). Your only option is to apply your strength against theirs to break their hold and fight back. Can you lift them, or not?
Are you able to move every joint through its full range of motion? Can you squat past parallel, press above your head to the tallest position for you, and bend at the hips to reach your toes? These are aspects of flexibility. Being flexible allows you apply strength and power in 360 degrees around your body, allowing you to act in the best way in every situation.
In the Games: some crazy S.O.B. from the pack has you in a headlock. You start to reach behind you to gouge out his eyes with your thumbs… but can you reach far enough to do any damage?
Strength is the ability to contract the muscles to maximal effect. When you add time to the mix, you get Power: the ability to apply maximal force in minimum time. Jumping, sprinting, and other movements that require bursts of muscle movement all fall into the power category. Being able to apply your strength quickly is a foundation of athletic movement.
In the Games: you’ve survived the initial chase, bench pressed your way out of a ground-and-pound pin, and gouged out some eyes with the judicious application of shoulder mobility. As Thug #4 staggers around blind, his friends show and you get cornered. The only way out: a straight vertical leap from floor to ledge. If you’ve got the power for the jump, you’re good to go.
How fast are you? Speed is the measurement of performing the same movement pattern multiple times in succession. This measurement combines with Strength to determine Power, making it one of the major measurements of overall athleticism. The human body gets better at moving by moving, so this skill is equally dependent on training and practice.
In the Games: phew! You made that jump to the ledge and managed to scramble half way up before Thug #7 catches up and grabs your ankle. You land one good kick on his shoulders, stunning him, and figure that if it worked once, it can work again. You repeatedly kick down, not giving Thug #7 enough time to recover, and he drops away.
The first of the mainly practice-oriented skills, coordination lets you combine different movements into a singular, fluid whole. Can you lift one knee to just above your hips while standing? How about extend your lower leg with a pointed toe? Lastly, can you twist your hips and torso to one side? Combine those distinct movements and you’ve just created a Roundhouse Kick, staple fighting strike of Chuck Norris.An unpracticed person will have trouble stringing together movements into a whole, moving with jerky steps that require too much thought. Practiced movements take on the appearance of occurring naturally, requiring less conscious thought.
In the Games: you think Chuck Norris would let some Hunger Games punk take him out? No! You know why? Roundhouse Kick.
The second neuromuscular skill, agility is the ability to apply speed to coordination and minimize the transition time from one distinct movement to another. Most professional fighters are incredibly agile, able to string together punches, kicks, elbows, and knees in varying combinations without much, if any, thought. Outside of combat, being able to perform multistep complexes of movements allows you to perform more athletically inclined movement patterns, like combining front squat and press to get a thruster.
In the Games: other than throwing a flurry of punches and kicks, it would pay to be agile while running or chasing as well. At a full speed run it can be difficult to change directions and avoid obstacles. Being agile allows you to do so most effectively.
The human body moves around a center point located right around the top of the hips. The ability to control how the body moves around this center point is a function of balance, with good balance being indicated by control over the limbs and torso, while bad balance is seen in falling and flailing limbs with little evidenced control. Keep in mind that balance includes bipedal leg movement (walking, running), bipedal arm movement (handstand walks), and tri/quadrupedal movement using 3-4 limbs (bear crawls). Having good balance is necessary for most floor-based gymnastics movements as well, since you need to be aware of your limb-body placement to not fall flat.
In the Games: you’ve got the speed and agility to run like hell and change directions; you’ve even got the power to make effective jumps. The next ingredient is balance, which will let you bound around, over, under and through obstacles (things and people, both) without falling on your face. A good example is the parkour-style Speed Vault, which requires you to jump over something at a full run, using one hand to control your accuracy, and land at the same run, all while tilting almost 90 degrees in mid-air.
Bringing up the end of our survival fitness skills list, accuracy is the last of the primarily practice-based neuromuscular skills. The only thing we haven’t talked about controlling directly is the direction of movement, and the ability to control directionality at a given intensity level. So what does that really mean? Imagine you’re running at full speed and have the need to apply some power to jump over a gap in the floor ahead of you. Agility will let you string together running and jumping, while balance keeps you from tilting to one side too far. Coordination lets you get a good swing on your arms to add boost to your jump, and flexibility lets you land without injuring your hips. Accuracy, though, is the skill that lets you judge the jump and accurately aim for the other side of the gap.
In the Games: you’re running for your life against insane people with the desire to do you severe bodily harm. It would be a real shame if you fell down a hole and died while running. Accuracy lets you judge those leaps and bounds effectively so you only need to contend with the competitors and not the environment.
That’s it for today! Next week we’ll be going over movements and workouts designed to improve one or more of these tens aspects of fitness. Until then…
May the WOD’s be ever in your favor!