These days it takes me a little longer to get up off of the floor. When I attempt to sprint, I curse the practical joker who put concrete in my shoes. My shoulders are beginning to feel like my knees, and my knees feel like a migraine. At 42, I’m not an old man, but my body is approaching middle age with an ego that still thinks college dorm life is a real possibility.
I have done a lot to my body over the years. There was a time when I didn’t notice any real consequences from the abuse. I assumed that I had dodged all of the bullets. Turns out that the ramifications of that abuse wake up all at the same time, sometime after 40. Disc compression from high school football. Worn out knees from distance running. Dodgy shoulders from kickboxing. Several years of drug and alcohol dependency. I don’t regret any of it. Even the substance abuse. While I am not proud of that particular decade, I learned a lot of priceless lessons while fighting for sobriety that I may not have learned otherwise. When my clock runs out, the “bucket list” won’t be very long.
Even into my mid-30s, I wanted to be as strong, fast, and powerful as my genetic limits would allow. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. But it’s harder to recover from that kind of training now. At this age, living as healthfully as possible, I’m still not faster than the chain-smoking 23 year old me. My goals had to change. I’ll never be a professional fighter. I’ve injured myself twice while training for powerlifting competitions. My knees won’t allow running on pavement anymore. Most of my goals were about serving me anyway. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, at least in terms of athletic endeavors. Competition can be healthy, particularly if you’re competing with yourself.
Something changed after I became a parent. Anne and I got started late. Parker is 5 and Max is 2. This peculiar sense of mortality and danger emerged in a way that hadn’t existed 20 years ago. I jumped out of small airplanes a few times. Now I won’t get in one. I’m more cautious when I climb ladders. I am continually on the lookout for sharp objects. Everything shifted from a focus on competition, to a focus on surviving an emergency. I don’t obsess about every possible danger in life, lest I become agoraphobic. But there is an awareness about things that simply weren’t on my radar before. Am I fast enough to push one of my kids out of the way of a speeding car? Am I strong enough to lift a store display rack that falls on one of them? Can I catch and overpower a kidnapper? Can my ribs withstand a flying elbow from a 5 year old who attacks me while I’m napping on the floor?
Thankfully, at this point in my life, I can safely answer yes to those hypothetical situations. But I don’t want to take it for granted. I also can’t afford to train like a Navy SEAL to single-handedly stop a Red Dawn (aging myself) that only hits our house. There has to be a realistic balance somewhere. Most possibilities in life exist on a spectrum:
Church Softball <—> The Olympics
A cold <——> Ebola
Ronald McDonald <——> It
It is impossible to prepare for every emergency. But people often lose their lives in emergency situations because they simply aren’t fit enough to remove themselves from the danger:
*Unable to break a window in a submerged car.
*Loss of balance while standing on a roof.
*Unable to move out from under a heavy object.
*Unable to climb to avoid danger on a lower level (flooding, dogs, Ronald McDonald)
So what kind of fitness should we seek to maintain in order to survive emergencies that primarily require fitness as a survival tool? This is not an exhaustive list, and while these are bare minimums, it is a good place to start. If you can achieve any of these standards without much effort, but struggle on others, then spend time on the most difficult movements:
— At least 1 solid chest to floor pushup with a perfectly planked body. 1 perfect pushup is a lot more challenging than 10 sloppy ones. (A 50 lb box has fallen down the attic ladder and you will suffocate if you can’t push it off of you, or squirm your way out from under it).
— At least 1 kipping pull-up. It is very challenging for most women over 40 to do one strict form pull-up. But I’m talking about being able to climb over a fence or wall, in which you’ll be using your feet and legs to assist you. You gotta get over that wall by any means necessary. It doesn’t matter how pretty it looks.
— At least 1 partial range dip. You’ve pulled yourself to the top of that wall, now what?
— A smooth, balanced Turkish get-up on each side of the body using only your bodyweight. If a bookshelf falls on top of you, getting out from under it by maneuvering away from it is a lot easier than trying to bench press it. The get-up is a great way to learn to coordinate the entire body.
— At least 30 bodyweight squats, a little above parallel is fine. Your legs should always be stronger than your arms. If not, you will eventually have a problem.
— Drag yourself across the floor 15 feet using only your elbows. You fell and broke your hip. Nobody can hear you. The phone is in the other room. Incidentally, if you’re over 65, store your phone where you could reach it from the floor.
— Deadlift 45 lbs with perfect form. This is not a heavy deadlift, and it is unlikely that you’ll have to deadlift your way out of an emergency, though you might have to one day lift something off of someone else. However, perfecting deadlift technique by practicing with a light to moderate weight will help prevent future emergencies (throwing out your back while doing yard work).
— Walk for 2 hours. Your car broke down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no signal and you haven’t seen a car since morning.
There are an infinite number of physical standards that you can apply to any potential emergency. Soldiers, firefighters, and police officers obviously have to maintain a more rigorous set of standards. But this list will give you a fighting chance if you’re surprised by something in your day to day life. When was the last time you tried a pushup? Feel free to add to the list.