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PT for the Whole Tribe

January 20, 2016

“...developing a PT program within the tribe and how to develop the tribe and mindset as a part of that..

One of the points I’ve tried to make in past articles on the blog, in Volume Two of The Reluctant Partisan, and in the forthcoming third book, is that the key to building tribe and community for preparedness, during the decline of empire, is being a person that people recognize the importance of having around. It’s about making your presence valuable to them. The same of course, is true of people you would want in your tribal community. You don’t want or need useless people who are succubi, living off the efforts and exertions of those around them.

As I’ve tried to express—ad nauseum—in this blog, one of the best tools we have for this, in both cases, is strenuous, effective physical training. In addition to the basic, inherent value of being strong and fit, and being surrounded by strong, fit people, it develops a necessary “mutual exclusivity” that is necessary to separate “us” from “them” in a world of whining, weak, people who look for shortcuts and easy answers.

One of my favorite one-liners, in life in general, and in PT specifically, is from Texas strength coach Mark Rippetoe: “strong people are harder to kill, and more useful in general.” The idea of HARD, physically strenuous PT is often unpopular in preparedness circles. People seem to believe that they can purchase exemptions to this, relying on technology to solve their problems, by simply stockpiling more “bullets, beans, and band-aids.” They trot out tired, easily invalidated arguments like, “there will always be someone stronger,” (while true for most of us, SOMEONE has to be The Strongest; shouldn’t we strive to be that person? Even if we fail, we’ve increased the number of people we’re stronger than, thus making us more useful than them), “mental strength is more important than physical strength,” (again, inarguably true, until you need to lift something heavy as fuck off someone, or carry and injured person to safety, and you’re just not physically strong enough to do so…all the mental strength in the world isn’t going to help then, urban myths aside. This also conveniently ignores the reality that PT is one of the best tools we have for building actual—versus theoretical—mental discipline and strength), or—one of my personal favorites (*sarcasm*) that I hear a lot–”you’ll be old someday too, and then you’ll understand!” (Hopefully, I will get to be old someday. I already have to work harder to get, and stay, strong, than I did twenty years ago. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just give up. Will I be as strong at 80 as I was at 40? Probably not, but I guarantee you, even at 80, I will be stronger than the 40 year old who doesn’t do PT).

Whether it’s general chores around the homestead, digging or carrying heavy materials around a construction site, carrying bags of livestock feed, humping a heavy ruck on a bug-out to a safe haven, being stronger and more physically fit, is seldom, if ever, going to be detrimental. I cannot think of a single situation in my entire life when being strong has ever been a bad thing…and I can assure you, I spend a lot of time, generally in the moments leading up to a set of heavy squats or deadlifts, trying to think of some example that will be a viable excuse for not doing the set.

Since I’ve had students in classes admit as much, I know it is not true, but I’d like to believe that anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time has embarked on a legitimate, effective strength and conditioning program by now. You know the value and importance of PT. That’s not the point of this article though, is it? This is about developing a PT program for the tribe, and using that as a tool to develop a stronger tribe, physically and mentally.

Be A Fucking Leader

It is my heartfelt belief that the first step in developing your tribe’s ability to survive—and even thrive—during the decline of empire, especially when you feel like you are the only one around with the foresight to recognize that “shit just ain’t right,” in the world (you’d be wrong feeling that way, by the way. I guarantee you, everyone around you recognizes it to, even if they’re still in denial about it), is to step up and be a leader. You may not be The Leader (and who would want that job, anyway?), but you need to be A Leader, even when those around you don’t want to accept that they need guidance. It’s no secret that, in my world, The Ranger Handbook is pretty much The Bible of leadership, so I’m going to turn to that first.

According to my Ranger Handbook, “…leadership provides purpose, direction, and motivation...” It also says that leaders must “...be, know, and do…” I’m not the smartest guy in the world—I’m not even the smartest guy I know—but that seems like a pretty good recipe for guidance on developing a PT program for your tribe, and using it to develop a stronger tribe.

In this case, the above descriptions from the Ranger Handbook are the sine qua non of leadership. You have to provide purpose, direction, and motivation by being an exemplar of the value and importance of being in great physical condition. That means, of course, you need to BE physically fit. You also need to understand the art and science of coaching and strength and conditioning, in order to KNOW how to help others get into great physical condition, within their own physical limitations. Being fit is not the same thing as knowing how to help others get fit. Your grandmother, your wife, your parents, and your children are not going to reach their peak following the same exact program that works for you. Finally, you need to DO, by actually getting out there and helping those others, even at the sacrifice of some of your own desires.

BE! Set An Example, Without Being A Dick

In my experience, no one will ever take you serious about the importance of physical fitness if you are not obviously physically fit. This doesn’t mean you need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, at his Mr. Olympia-winning prime. No one expects 23-inch upper arms, and sub-5% bodyfat is simply not maintainable for any length of time for most people.

However, if you’re suffering from Dunlap Disease (Your belly done lapped over your belt), or you’re walking around shoving your face full of Big Macs and Snickers bars, while preaching the value of physical fitness, strength, and vigor, don’t expect any of us to take you seriously. You need to look like you’re physically fit, you need to live like you’re physically fit, and you need to demonstrate that you’re physically fit. Standing around in your best hero pose, while everyone else is doing physical labor, because you’re “on a rest day,” is not being a leader, or setting an example.

Whether it’s helping your neighbor unload a truckload of lumber for his shed building project, getting a lid off a jar of pickles for your grandmother, cutting and stacking a cord of firewood for your mother, or wrestling around with a bunch of young dudes in their twenties at a party—and not getting gassed in the first thirty seconds—you need to able to demonstrate that being physically fit has as many advantages today as it does in some possible dystopian future.

KNOW! Set Standards and Enforce Them

You cannot develop a conditioning program for yourself—let alone for anyone else—without knowing what the goals are for that program. What are you trying to achieve? What are they trying to achieve? Are they trying to achieve the same things you are? Are those goals realistic for them?

One of the things I’ve discussed in previous articles, generally about firearms training standards, is the importance of performance-focused, or “soft” standards, versus “outcome-focused” hard standards. Setting a 0.95 drawstroke to first shot standard, from concealment is utterly fucking useless for a middle-aged housewife with her very first handgun and a concealed carry permit so new the ink isn’t even dry yet. The same principle applies to telling some scrawny dude wearing hipster skinny jeans that he needs to be able to squat 2x his bodyweight, dead lift 2.5x his bodyweight, and bench press 1.5x his bodyweight. He’s going to—righteously—look at you like you’ve got a dick growing out of your forehead.

My wife knows she needs to be physically fit and strong, in order to be a useful partner in our quest to provide for our children and our tribe of kith-and-kin. She also knows she needs to be physically fit and strong to help me set an example for those around us. Does that mean she needs to be aiming for—let alone actually achieving—the same standards I aim for? No. Expecting her to do so is not only unrealistic, it’s going to do nothing but discourage her attempts to achieve what she can achieve and what she needs to achieve.

Ignoring the physiological differences between men and women (which while real, are not as immense, as important, or as insurmountable as most of the “men are physically superior and stronger than women!” crowd want to believe. I guarantee you, most of that crowd are not half as strong, nor do they possess a quarter of the physical stamina of Annie Thorisdottir—2011 and 2012 Crossfit Games Womens Champion), my wife and I simply have different roles to play, which means we have different needs from our PT. My wife isn’t going to deadlift 400+ pounds for reps during PT any time soon, and I don’t expect her to. My wife isn’t going to carry two five-gallon buckets of concrete mix across a house-building site any time soon, and I don’t expect her to.

Setting performance-driven standards, so people are getting stronger today than they were yesterday, is what matters. We have to set challenging “hard” standards, and they need to be standard, but those standards may be different for different groups of people within the tribe, based on their specific needs. The hard standards you set for people have to be predicated on a couple of different factors including, yes, their age and physical ability to attain them.

My very prim-and-proper, ladylike grandmother, in her nineties, is not going to suddenly going to start flinging her bodyweight overhead in an Olympic Snatch. It just is not going to happen, and I don’t expect her to. Does my 90+ year old grandmother really need to squat her bodyweight on a barbell? Probably not. It doesn’t mean I don’t encourage her to do PT, and encourage her to do PT. Here’s the catch though…my grandmother is not going to pick up a rifle, and run to the sound of the guns. She has more important roles to play in the tribe. She still does her PT every day though. She gets on her little exercise bike every day for 20-30 minutes, she goes for her three-mile walk every other day, and she does weightlifting with her little one- and five-pound weights.

One of my uncles came to me a few months ago, shortly after we moved back South. He’s been a little bit of a prepper-type since Y2K, but has stepped it up a lot over the last few years. He asked me about helping him develop a PT program, because he’d noticed how serious I was about it, and was starting to recognize that, in his 60s now, he wasn’t as fit as he used to be, but felt he needed to be more fit.

I gave him a 35-pound kettlebell, and coached him on a couple of basic programs he could do that would keep challenging him, as he changed them back-and-forth. Now, a 35-pound kettlebell doesn’t seem like much to most of us. I do swings with a 70-pound kettlebell, and will step up to a 100-pounder as soon as I can fit it into my budget. I do snatches with twin 50-pound kettlebells, and will start incorporating the 70-pound within a couple of conditioning cycles. I do Turkish Get-Ups with a 50-pounder, and could do them with the 70-pounder if I wasn’t a chickenshit, worried about dropping it on my skull. That doesn’t matter though. I’m not in my 60s, and coming off a decades-long absence of physical conditioning work. For my uncle, that 35-pound ketttlebell has made a significant difference, in both his strength and his stamina and endurance. The standard set was simply, do more today than you did yesterday, and do more tomorrow than you did today.

How do you enforce standards though? In a kin-group tribe like mine, that can be challenging. Am I going to disown my grandmother or uncle or wife, if they don’t do PT? Of course not. I can only use my own example, of doing the right thing, and be ready to offer guidance, when they are ready.

In an intentional tribe however, where you are intentionally gathering people around you, as in a preparedness group, or a militia, you can most certainly set standards, and enforce them, through ostracism…and you should. If dude is not doing his PT, or is not meeting the standards, why not? If he doesn’t have a legitimate reason, what else is he going to avoid doing when it needs to be done, just because it is inconvenient?

In an intentional tribe, I believe that setting performance-driven “soft” standards, as well as outcome-driven “hard” standards should be written into the by-laws of the organization, whether those by-laws are actually written down in hard-copy, or are simply the “established values, customs, and traditions” that the group feels it shares and has discussed.

In addition to basic PT requirements, incorporating physical strength and vigor into the culture of your tribe can be a useful catalyst for motivation. Having a party, and including physical feats as part of the recreation, may help—through the natural, inherent competitiveness of people—build the mindset of fitness as part of your tribal culture. This is, in fact, an ancient tradition in tribal cultures. From American Indian foot races, to the hugely popular (I love competing in them) Highland Games, to more “mundane” things like stone carrying, or wood splitting competitions, throwing a wager out there, on a lark, or actually planning them into the party festivities, and offering prizes to the winners, while making it a tradition, will go a long way to not only establishing a culture of valuing fitness, but to building frith within the tribe, as people bond over the competition and cheering for favorites.

DO! Be Ready When They Are Ready

One of the things I’ve noticed about preparedness culture, as I’ve written this blog, and taught classes around the country, is that there is a very strong undercurrent of greediness in this community. From people who prepare solely out of a fear of “losing the stuff I’ve worked for,” to people who jump on the “If you show up at my house, when you didn’t prepare before hand, I’m not giving you shit” bandwagon, there is a decided, very noticeable level of greediness. I get it, don’t misunderstand me. My wife and I have worked our asses off for everything we have. We’ve scrimped, scrounged, and saved. We’ve gone without, a lot.

Nevertheless, if someone in my kith-and-kin group showed up, tomorrow, and had lost their job, because of the collapsing economy, and didn’t have a place to stay, because they couldn’t make their rent, and they had no food storage to feed themselves or their kids, what am I going to do? I’m going to make up a bed of blankets on the living room floor, and have the wife throw on a pot of stew, to feed them, and give them a place to sleep. If they’re out looking for a new job the next day, great. I’ll even help them with money for fuel to drive around. If they’re not looking for a new job, that’s fine too, I’ve got plenty of chores to do around the house that they can pitch in with. What I’m not going to do is punish them.

Most people in modern America don’t give a shit about fitness, beyond being able to claim membership in a Planet Fatness (not a typo) type “Health Club” for the social cachet. As Jack Donovan pointed out in a recent article on his blog, while the would-be elitists of the urban chic crowd seem to want to propagate the belief that the waspish, teenage-girl, skinny jeans wearing, scrawny, body type is the “new normal” for American men, the real “new normal” for all Americans seems to be the fat, dough-bodied slovenliness we see all around us.

As more and more people across the political spectrum continue waking up to the realization that “shit just ain’t right” though, a surprising number are also waking up to the fact that being stronger and more fit might actually be useful in facing the challenges they see on their horizons. As leaders within our tribes, whether intentional or kin-group, we need to be ready for this awakening, and be able to set aside our greediness, and be prepared to help. That’s why we need to be the exemplar. If we are obviously fit, then when those around us do wake up, they will—we hope—recognize that perhaps we’re the one they should look to for advice. But, we need to be ready, physically and mentally, to offer them useful, achievable guidance.

Not only do we need to be able to offer them guidance with ideas, we might even have to be ready to offer them material help. This may range from taking time out of our own tasks to actually coach them for a few days or weeks, to giving—or at least loaning—them some of the basic equipment they need to get started on their paths. I have more 35 and 50 pound kettlebells than my wife and I together can use at one time. Why? Because I can loan them out, indefinitely, without missing them. I use two Olympic barbells, a squat rack, and a power cage, but I have an extra barbell, bench and an entire extra power cage sitting in my backyard gym. Why? Because, if it comes down to it, I can loan them out to someone that will use them, but can’t go out and buy one, right this minute.

Am I at risk that they might sell it on Craigslist, or it will disappear into a pile of shit in their garage? Sure. Absolutely. I have to trust someone, at some point though, right? I’m willing to risk that loss, because the people I would loan that equipment out to are people that I need to be able to trust. If I can’t trust them with gym equipment, can I trust them with my life, or the lives of my family? I’d rather learn of their betrayal over a couple hundred dollars worth of gym equipment than over my kids’ lives.

If I just took the typical self-reliant, rugged individualist stand though, I’d say, “If they want to get fit, they’ll go spend the money and buy themselves a gym, just like I had to do!” Ignoring the fact that I was in a position to do so, and they may not be in the same position.

Leadership is all about self-sacrifice. In the last year alone, I’ve taken the time out of my own schedule, and loaned out the equipment, to help at least a dozen people within my kith-and-kin group get started on PT programs and other aspects of training. I didn’t shove it in their face and tell them they needed to be doing any of it. I waited until they came to me, asking for guidance, but when they came, I was ready. Be ready when they are ready.

Why It Works

Previously, we mentioned the importance of establishing a tradition and culture of fitness in your tribe. This is important, in the context above, of building frith through competitiveness, but it goes deeper than that. If you have a tribal culture that values strength and fitness, and demonstrates that value through reward, you will find that the people within your tribe struggle to be stronger and fitter.

More importantly though, once the people within your tribe start seeing results from their PT, they will start to recognize a “mutual exclusivity” within the group, separate from the rest of the world who is not striving to be stronger and fitter. This “mutual exclusivity,” or “Us v. Them” strengthens the bond of the tribe, far more effectively than a bunch of cute little velcro-backed patches will ever do.

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15 Comments
  1. One of my favorite “excuses” for not working out and doing proper PT is “OH, I drink protein and meal replacement shakes – i’ll lose fat and build muscle that way”. Little do they know that excessive protein without enough PT is damaging to your body. In the day and age of convenience, we see more and more of these ridiculous “lose fat NOW”, “freeze off your fat”, “shake your fat off”, etc. ads. UM, how about eating properly and in moderation, and doing PT? I’m definitely not in the shape I need to be in, but I work out 5 – 6 days a week and eat healthily. Once you get into the groove you really start feeling great, and your body just agrees with the more healthy lifestyle. PT is so important – I realize that more and more.

  2. After reading both the books and blog articles- I started doing serious PT late last summer (StongLifts) with some equipment from the thrift store. After a few months my wife noticed the positive difference and joined me late last year. We moved to Starting Strength and in the beginning, she couldn’t squat an 18lb bar. Now she’s squatting 70lbs like a boss and she’s psyched. Today’s article highlights two important aspects for me- to be a leader is to actually do & then encourage and leading is about sacrifice & serving.

  3. I’m slowly building a prowler cult. I give them a taste and then they show up again! No, usually they are never heard from after that. I’m always alone pushing this thing. I’m addicted so I don’t care, more for me!
    People in general need to understand cardio versus conditioning.
    https://www.t-nation.com/training/predator-conditioning

  4. Synths permalink

    Not related to PT specifically, but you write a lot about the tribe-and-brotherhood concept. While I understand that there is a righteous trust that comes from doing tough shit with the same guys over and over again, how do you deal with the fact that, at any time (in a SHTF scenario obviously) that one of your partners may betray you for any number of reasons? Is it as simple as, “Trust but verify,” or is there another aspect of the mental game at play?

    • I’ve written articles on the subject in the past, and I’m in the final stages of writing my third book (which was supposed to have been available already, I know…), which is specific to the topic.

  5. h. in australia permalink

    three suggestions of games that i picked up from a caving group that my then GF’s family was involved with:

    the table game. you started sitting on one end of a large (8/10 seat) strong dining table, the idea is to end up sitting on the other end of the table. you have to go under the table between the end sets of legs and you can’t touch the floor.

    çan’t touch the floor, (basically the typical kids game, the floor is made of lava, if you touch it you die). you started at outside one door and had to move through the room and out another door. it sounds easy, but think grown men spanning several feet of wall hanging by fingertips from picture rails etc

    the phone book game: a team of two people working together. you put a phone book on the floor (the ones we used were about 2″thick and a little smaller than A4), you both have to step up and stand on it, then one person has to reach down and touch the floor with their hand only then stand up again, then the other repeats. finally both step down onto the floor.
    if you fall off/over touch the floor with any part of your body out of sequence or knock the stack over it’s the ends of your teams try.
    once you do one book successfully then you add a second phone book etc. at first it is easy requiring just a little team work and balance, but once it gets above 8 or 10 books, the stack sways with every slight shift of weight and you can’t just squat to reach the floor things get very difficult.
    to set a challenge my then gf and i made it to about a 2′ stack. (the club record, still spoken of with awe was ALOT higher set by a couple who had been climbing and caving together for many years).

  6. Daniel permalink

    John,

    Could you please elaborate on the kettlebell routines you taught your 60 year old uncle? It’s certain there are others in his situation.

    Thanks,
    Daniel

  7. robroysimmons permalink

    Great advice. Thorisdotter, now I would guess takes vitamins that would kill a horse, probably got more synth T coursing thru her body than I had at my peak.

  8. Worker permalink

    Don’t know if this will ever be read but your advise is good and sound however, there are many of us that are a little past your uncles age. Me? Pushing 70 and while still have good upper body strength (working on a ranch – ‘bucking’ hay, cutting wood and all that), knees are going and lately have rotator cuff problems (probably from too much contact sports when younger): all precludes heavy weight training. I walk a lot, work outdoors physically and all that but if push comes to shove, would have a hard time moving a great distance with a load ……. just saying there are cases out there that can not be ‘all there is’ even if the desire is there ,,,,,,,,,,

    • That was the point. It’s not that you need to do what I do, in my 40s. It’s that you need to do what you can do…and tomorrow, you should be able to do more than you can today, regardless of age or perceived infirmities.

  9. Oh, just EXCELLENT. Thanks. PJF (VikingPreparedness on youtube)

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