Can You Physically Save Yourself? - ITS Tactical

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Can You Physically Save Yourself?

By The ITS Crew

Pull Up

First off, this post is not meant to be discouraging. It’s quite the opposite actually.

Self-sufficiency can mean many different things to many different people. It can mean not only having the skills to know what to do in certain situations, but having the stamina and strength to make those skills work.

That’s what we’ll be discussing today, having the physical strength to overcome adversity in any kind of situation. This article applies to the men as well as the women and children that could potentially be right there with you.

Raising awareness on this topic is something we’re very passionate about.


So let’s start by defining strength. We’re not talking about the superhuman lift up a car kind of strength, or being able to bench press three times your body weight. Save that cosmetic crap for the gym to impress your buddies.

What we’re talking about is functional strength. All the bench press reps in the world aren’t going to help you get over the wall that’s blocking your escape route, nor give you the means to climb a rope to reach safety.

Functional strength comes down to one word. Natural. Take away all those fancy weight machines at the gym that isolate muscle groups and cause more injuries than they prevent, and you have natural.

Natural in this context means that the movements made in functional strength training are movements that your body makes naturally.

Three Anatomical Planes

584px-Human_anatomy_planes.svgWithout turning this into an anatomy lesson, the three anatomical planes are the sagittal, coronal and the transverse plane.

The human body naturally moves within these three planes of motion, so functional strength training emphasizes the body’s movement through these. Weight machines, for example, isolate movement to just one of these planes.

Here’s the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s take on it.

All functional movement patterns involve deceleration, stabilisation and acceleration, which occur at every joint in the kinetic chain and in all three planes of motion.


There’s a great article written by Craig Burton, which offers an analogy comparing functional strength to driving a car.

“There are muscles that are the brakes, while others are the accelerators, and both are supported by the clutch that helps dictate how fast or slow we will go. The core muscles often take on the role of the clutch as they are where the movement begins.

As you know when you are driving a “real” car: to get it moving you need to first push the clutch to put it in first or reverse. (That’s why I don’t enjoy driving automatics like using machine weights — boring and it requires no skill or control). The clutch often sits in the background as it supports the movement, but your effectiveness with it is a big factor in how good a driver you are.

The kinetic chain is merely the link between all the parts if one of the links is broken (e.g. the battery), then you are in trouble and not going anywhere fast.

The three planes of motion are the steering wheel. We can drive backwards and forwards (sagital plane), swerve side to side (frontal plane) and make those circles round the roundabout (transverse plane).”


Since we bring up sports medicine, it may be no surprise that functional strength training has its origins in sports therapy.

In the rehabilitation of muscular injuries, movements are selected by therapists to best match the patient’s desired outcome. Getting back to their vocation or sport is typically what’s desired.

This means that they have to strengthen those injured muscle groups they use for the work or sport, and no way better to do that than with exercises built around their daily movement.

Primal Patterns

Primal PatternsTo take full advantage of the body’s natural movement we need to incorporate exercises that Paul Chek calls “Primal Patterns,” which are functional movement patterns our primitive ancestors used to survive.

These seven movements are Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Bend, Twist and Gait. Just think for a moment at how many of these you’ve already done since you woke up this morning. Unless you’re sedentary, most everyone should have done the majority of these multiple times.

So how can these “Primal Patterns” be incorporated into your exercise regimen? First you have to understand with functional strength training, it’s all about using your body weight as a base resistance.

Functional Strength Exercises

Squatting: Involves bending at the knees and the hips, while keeping the back straight, and lifting a weight from the ground or pushing a weight that is placed on the back or chest. Imagine your primal ancestors squatting down and lifting a heavy rock to dig for grubs, or using the legs and hips to lift a heavy log up onto a primal structure.

Exercise examples: Barbell or Dumbbell Squat, Squat to Press.

Lunging: Involves stepping forward with just one leg, and bending that leg down. This motion would have been used for either traversing terrain (i.e., carrying hunted game over a log), or stepping into a throw (such as hoisting a spear).

Exercise examples: Walking Lunge, Barbell or Dumbbell Weighted Lunge, Medicine Ball Lunge with Twist.

Pushing: Involves using the arms, chest, and shoulders to force a weight out and away or up from the body, an action that might have been used, for example, when herding animals, pushing a plow, or hoisting a weight overhead.

Exercise examples: Standing Cable Press, Push-up, and Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press.

Pulling: Involves using the arms, chest, and shoulders, as well as the legs, to drag or pull a weight towards the body. This type of motion would have been used to pull heavy game animals, row a watercraft, pull a bow, or quickly pull onto a tree branch for safety.

Exercise examples: Standing High, Mid, and Low Cable Rows, Pull-ups.

Bending: involves flexing and extending at the waist, preferably in a standing position. Often this type of movement would have been combined with a squatting, lifting, or rotating motion, such as hoisting a heavy rock out of a field.

Exercise examples: Medicine Ball Overhead or Side Throw, Deadlifts.

Twisting: Involves turning and rotating with the torso to apply a force, and would have usually been combined with most of the other primal movement patterns for actions such as pulling, pushing, or lunging. For instance, a twist combine with a lunge and push would comprise a throwing motion, such as hoisting an object like a spear or heavy rock.

Exercise examples: Medicine Ball Throws, Cable Torso Twists, Medicine Ball Woodchops.

Gait: Involves moving over terrain, whether walking, jogging, or sprinting. This action would often have been interspersed with other movement patterns, such as walking to track a wild animal, sprinting to hunt it down, then twisting, lunging, and pushing to throw or thrust a weapon.

Exercise examples: Sprint to Medicine Ball Throw, Dumbbell Lift and Press to Power Skip.

Functional strength exercises via Jason Hough

Measure of Success

We firmly believe a true measure of physical strength is again not how much weight you can lift, but how many Pull-ups, Push-ups, Squats, Dips and Lunges you can do.

We’d like to encourage everyone to not only prepare the necessary supplies you might need for a disaster, but to also prepare yourself physically.

It’s only through this that you can truly be prepared to save yourself in any situation.

What methods do you use to prepare yourself physically?

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  • Tim S

    Crossfit training is the elements stated above and a great workout.

  • David

    What do you think about programs like P90X?

    • LOST 41 pounds with it… thats what I think about P90X… got me some sweet guns, and I can now do one-arm pull ups.

  • Harry

    Hate to be the guy to do it, I already hear the groans, but I’m going to reference CrossFit…..

    Crossfit is great, although the learning curve is pretty steep. I’ve never been in as good a shape as when I used to do Crossfit on the regular. I’m looking for a local gym for it now. However, the caveat is that Crossfit is meant as a supplement to some other type of physical activity, and for real fitness, you can’t rely solely on it. However, it’s a great reference and/or starting point. I’ve also heard good things about another similar program designed specifically for combat troops. They have a tailored program for deployment to Afghanistan. Can’t think of the name off the top of my head…

  • Cervantes

    I typically use power bands and focus on my arms and shoulders. For the rest, hauling little crumb snatchers seem to engage all my primal patterns. Squatting to lift sandbagging tantrum thrower, lunging to pull toy turned weapon out of little Alexanders hands, pushing day care door open while arms full of baby Cervantes’.

  • Sean

    Great post! Building natural strength is something that I personally have just starting doing instead of turning out crazy reps at the gym. With Crossfit training and even programs like P90X, building your own “survival’ strength can be knocked out in an hour each day.

  • sullivbt

    Good commentary. Push-ups and pull-ups are the key exercises for building upper body strength. It is these kinds of so-called “compound” motions – along with deadlifts, lunges and squats – that activate multiple muscle groups and really build “power”. And that’s what we’re really talking about here – physical power in the truest engineering sense (i.e. the rate at which one can apply physical force, and a key factor in the ability fight and overcome obstacles) and not the somewhat abstract concept of “strength”, as in the ability to move an isolated weight “x” amount of distance.

  • Sean Norton

    Big props for putting out this article.

    Although one thing I like to incorporate into my training that isn’t included in the above is simple grip workouts. Grip can be important at various times in a survival/combat situation.

    • Saul

      I agree, it doesn’t matter how many pull-ups you can do if you can’t hold on to the bar long enough to do them.

  • fastmover

    Maintaining a high level of fitness is hard, so most ignore it. No gear, no gun, no plan is more pivotal to an individuals survivability as a high level of fitness. You are statistically much more survivable if you are fit; this translates across all situations be that a fire fight or a house fire.

    I subscribe to Mark and his boys at Sealfit.

  • Jesse

    To me CrossFit is a great training tool for LEO/Military/EMS/Firefighter personnel. It definitely blurs the lines of what you thought you couldn’t do, taking you out of you physical comfort zone.
    The only problem I see with P90X is that no one is there to tell you your doing things correctly. We had a guy come into our CrossFit gym who said he was doing P90X the elite version. His air squats, push ups, and general form were horrible and he was upset when we’d try to correct him, thinking he was “Elite”.
    My only suggestion with P90X is record yourself and make sure your form is correct. The last thing you want is an injury, otherwise I think P90x isn’t too bad. I’d rather people do something, then nothing.

  • Great Job ITS on broaching this topic! I cringe every time I see an overweight “gun fighter” with the “warrior” mindset who plainly couldn’t pass the ladie’s APFT.

    Crossfit is a really great workout program, but it takes incredible commitment and discipline, not to mention more space than many traditional gyms can spare – at least on a per person basis.

    I’ve personally found that given a busy but sedentary civilian lifestyle properly executed pushups, and sit-ups (right in your office) with some daily cardio can go a very long way towards getting you in decent shape. The rest is DIET.

  • Lyne

    What I like is bouldering or wall climbing. I would add in cardio and the exercice mentionned in this article and voila: Total body workout.

  • Great article. It’s an area often overlooked by those that don’t want to put the work in.

    Love the site, looking forward to more info everyday!

    Crossfit or a similar style are the program for warrior fitness. It may look intimidating, but it’s worth it’s weight.

  • Good stuff.

  • Dustin

    thanks for posting this. This is a topic that everyone should think about…

  • John

    Great article guys.

  • L. Lueck

    Another aspect of daily training that can do wonders is traditional Hatha Yoga. Not the BS gym cycles, but a true teacher or even a couple books out there like from Iyengar and Desikachar.

    Breath and Isometrics would be the technical terms for the what happens.

    Especially if someone is a tracker or a sniper, breath control and muscular isolation is a must.

    Imagine hunting a deer with a knife.

    Stalk, stalk, stalk.

  • ltcomp

    Great work on the article. I can not agree with you more in the fact that the best peron to save you is yourself. I look around often and see that many people can barley do simple day to day tasks. They are the sheep that depend on the sheepdog for saving them. Again great work on the article

  • Al Cerkic

    Another amazing workout concept is military athlete. I do agree that most average gyms do not have nearly enough space, or do they have a place to practice range fitness 🙂 (I can keep dreaming). It is a great way to separate men from boys, and women from girls.

  • Awesome

    I agree that crossfit is great, but you can also use push ups, sit ups, pull ups, lunges, squats etc to stay ready and they can be done almost anywhere with little or no equipment.

  • julio delahuerta

    Great article!

    Your body is you secondary weapon, keep it sharp! (Mind is primary;-)
    Crossfit is the best GPP structure I have come across, and I have looked just about everywhere.
    Now how about some burpees……..

  • So many people do so little because they think they have no time. Watching TV? During commercials, get down and pound up some pushups. A lot of times it’s the simple things. Awesome post! Thorough as always!

  • Jeff A

    Personally guys I have used crossfit and kettlebells since 2000. For me personally, I wish I had found these 30+yrs a go. I have no probelms getting 300+ on the APFT (with pullups) or in the 99% on the Federal Law Enforcement PEB without training for either one specifically. Not selling it. It’s what I like and it works for me. I agree with the above, anything is better than nothing.

  • Josh

    I’m gonna have to second (third, fourth, etc) those endorsing Crossfit. I’d also recommend, for those of you who are interested, Crossfit football. I find the strength emphasis very helpful in my job.

  • Homer J. Simpson

    “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” — Vince Lombardi

  • Let me start by saying that I believe CrossFit to be the best thing going if you are seeking functional fitness. The CrossFit community would be the first to tell you if there was some better method out there, and they would be doing it. That being said, I think anything that gets you up and moving is better than sitting on the couch watching “24” re-runs. The P90X program has some good points. It incorporates some compound movements and introduces some intensity. TRX suspension systems have some cool qualities, namely portability, but so does a set of rings. If anyone is interested, shoot me an email, and I will send you directions how to make your own rings, on the cheap. Bodyweight exercises as found in Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline and Combat Conditioning by Matt Furey are awesome when you are living on the move.

    Back to CrossFit…

    CrossFit is constantly varied functional movement done at high intensity. CrossFit’s ultimate goal is, “To increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” At my first CrossFit cert, I scratched my head when they told me that. So, they provide me a country boy definition, “So you can move more stuff, further and faster.” Work, in any physical form performed more efficiently. I’m for it!

    The link I added above is an excellent place to start. If you have questions about the movements or just want to add some things to what you are doing now, you can check out exercises and demos. I know it must sound like I’m trying to sell Amway or something, but this is all free if you are willing to put in the sweat and effort. The forum/message board is an awesome source of fitness info. I think it is important to recognize that CrossFit is a system that is built on performance. Function over fashion. I think everyone here can appreciate that.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a certified CrossFit instructor and do own an affiliate, but my goal in this comment is not profit or further the company. They can do that on their own merit. I am just passionate about seeing the good guys come home safe.


    • Thank you for your comment Jayson, I’m also a certified CrossFit Instructor myself, but wanted our community to broach the topic before suggesting it to them.

      I’m one of those people that does not actively teach CrossFit, nor profit from it. I simply got certified a few years ago to learn the movements as best I could, and gain the experience to give back to others.

      I think you definitely summed up CrossFit, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. That being said, and even as a die-hard CrossFitter, there are plenty of ways to still increase functional strength without it.
      There are some that feel it’s the be all, end all of exercise, but I tend not to agree. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but I don’t just limit myself to CrossFit for exercise.

      Granted this article is not about exercise, its about Functional Strength, and CrossFit definitely has that covered.

      Thanks for the comment,

  • Jesse

    Well put Jayson.

  • Bryan,

    I could not agree more. I like the flavor of CrossFit’s “Kool-aid”, but often spike it with other workouts and movements. I have been doing a lot of CF Endurance lately, in preparation for an adventure race and have seen performance gains. My personal goal has long been to have some proficiency at any given task or at least the physical and mental prowess to allow me a fighting chance. CrossFit has helped me with that, but I do not believe it to be the “be all, end all” method either. I think that mindset would stiffle the evolution of functional fitness.


  • Chris

    Parkour is a great way to develop functional strength and movement skills, especially in combination with crossfit.

  • A lot of the military community is moving to include weight lifting in their fitness programs. People who do not spend some time at the weight pile can’t usually get there self over a wall while wearing body armor. They almost certainly can’t get their buddy (who is wearing 50lbs or kit) up onto their shoulder to fireman carry him. All sorts of little single muscle exercises and body weight stuff do not fill the role of big multi joint movements such as the dead lift, squat, power clean and shoulder press.

  • Paul

    I can’t believe no one here mentioned Military Athlete or Mountain Athlete. Its kina like crossfit, but with specific goals with a focus towards outdoorsmen, military/leo activity like humping in a-stan or climbing multiple 14ers in Colorado. Check out or

  • ned

    try Marks daily apple and go primal

  • chris

    check out to learn more about functional strength and natural movement discussions.

  • Samantha

    So, I’m totally new to doing regular work outs and crossfit sounds like a good program. But when I went to their website, it was a bit intimidating and I could not find the beginners page. Is there some standard you need to achieve before starting the program or something? Advice anyone? Thanks! Oh and I need to get inshape to pass the ROTC scholarship PT test, if that affects the type of crossfit or something. Thanks!

  • Samantha

    Wow. Looks like I’m the only female here.

  • Francisco

    I use TacFit Warrior.

    Similar to CrossFit.

  • Dunce Cap Aficionado

    Awesome article.

    What are you opinions on KB/DB swings?

  • Hey there, I just thought of an art of manliness article when you mentioned the exercise “medicine ball wood chops”. What about taking a sledge hammer and hitting it into a tire or soft ground?
    also the “Pulling exercises”, what about attaching nylon webbing straps to a large tire and dragging it, and or pulling it towards yourself?
    here is the article link :


    Micaiah Birger

    Tops is Tops

  • Matt

    I do use crossfit from time to time. Unfortunately, many crossfiters think they are somehow elite or better than other gym users. How do you know a fighter pilot is in the room? Because its all they talk about. The same applies to many crossfit users. Train hard and you’ll be fine. It worked for years before crossfit existed and will today. Yut!

  • supergreatfriend

    This is making me feel bad because I’m sick and disabled and I’ll never be able to save myself.
    Eh, at least I’ve saved myself plenty of times in an intelligent but weak lame-ass fuckboy nerd kind of way.

  • DarylDawkins

    “Train harder than you need to”
    Rose Wetzle

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