Are you moving efficiently enough to save your life?

Moving efficiently is the stuff of life.
Moving efficiently is the stuff of life.

A fitness expert named Earle Liederman was famous for many things in his day, but he’s become particularly well-known for his list of “five things that every man should be able to do to save his own life.”  It’s a list that has always resonated with me and is a great starting point for working toward personal fitness.  In addition, it’s a great mindset for simply moving forward on the fitness path.

Let’s look at these five things:

  1. Swim at least a half-mile or more.
  2. Run at top speed two hundred yards or more.
  3. Jump over obstacles higher than his waist.
  4. Pull his body upward by the strength of his arms, until his chin touches his hands, at least fifteen to twenty times
  5. Dip between parallel bars or between two chairs at least twenty-five times or more

That’s a pretty complete list.  Let’s look at them, one at a time.

1.  Swim at least a half-mile or more.   That’s pretty obvious, right?  You should have the skill, strength, and endurance to just get this job done.  That’s a half-mile or more with no stopping – in a pool, that’s about 900 yards or 36 lengths (a length is one time across the pool, not down-and-back).  I don’t care what stroke you use – it can be sidestroke if that’s what gets you from A to B.  Heck, sidestroke might be most efficient as it’s restful but still moves you.  The point is that you should be able to save yourself if you fall off a boat or whatever.

2.  Run at top speed two hundred yards or more.  Also pretty obvious.  You should be able to get away from something or someone who might be trying to do you harm.  Or you might need to run to save someone you love from an imminent danger.

3. Jump over obstacles higher than his waist.  When you’re trying to escape, or you’re trying to save someone, you might have to negotiate an obstacle to get there.  It might be higher than your waist.  You should be able to get over it.  Enough said there.

4.  Pull his body upward by the strength of his arms, until his chin touches his hands, at least fifteen to twenty times. That’s right, we’re talking about pull-ups or chin-ups here.  If you fall off a boat, or into a hole, or off a cliff, or into a manhole, you might need to get out quickly.  Pull-ups will help with that.

5.  Dip between parallel bars or between two chairs at least twenty-five times or more.  Once you’ve pulled yourself up to the edge of that hole or manhole, the muscles involved in dips are the ones that are going to get you over the top.

What do you think of this list?  I’m going to wager that all of us have a couple of tasks on that list that we could work on.  For me, it’s the pull-ups and dips (4 and 5).  I’m fair at them, but I could be better.

Here’s the thing, though: all of these exercises have three things in common:

  1. they’re all functional, meaning they’ll help you get something done
  2. they’re all great for overall health, meaning that attaining and keeping your level of fitness high enough to accomplish these tasks will benefit your whole life
  3. they’re all movement skill-based, meaning that not only will you need to increase your strength and endurance, you’re going to have to practice these particular skills and learn proper form for them.

Let’s focus on that last point here. When I run obstacle races, I see a lot of people wasting energy because they don’t have the proper form to get some of these tasks efficiently.  Sure, they may get past an obstacle,but they do it with so much wasted effort that they are affecting their ability to do following obstacles – or worse, they hurt themselves.

I see people who are climbing a wall or a rope, for example, and they have been cross-fitting so long that they have the muscular power to get through the obstacle through sheer will and strength.  And there’s not any doubt that’s impressive. But if they don’t know how to use their legs, they’re wasting effort and perhaps negatively affecting their finish time by not using their whole body correctly.

Or here’s another example:  my wife is a competitive swimming coach.  The first thing she works on with her swimmers every season is how to start the race (proper technique for diving in) and how to turn (proper technique) for getting to the wall and off it quickly.  She knows through years of experience that races can be won or lost with technique changes on those key portions of the race.  If a person’s turn is slow, they’re giving up time to someone who’s learned the most efficient way to move.  If their dive is inefficient, they’re losing the opportunity to turn the momentum of that dive into momentum in the pool and starting the race quickly.

So the key thing here is that we’re not just looking at doing a bunch of pull-ups, kicking our legs around (sometimes called “kipping”) just to “knock out a rep.”  We’re looking at the most efficient way to complete these reps so that we don’t hurt ourselves or waste energy uselessly.  Instead of just frantically dog-paddling our 900 yards, we want to learn the most efficient way to swim so that we could just go on indefinitely.

I think that’s why I like this list so much – not just because of the Tarzan/Indiana Jones aspect of surviving, but because of the combination of fitness and movement that each task requires.

So as we begin to create our exercise regimens, let’s keep moving properly, function, and efficiency in mind.  It’ll benefit us both body and mind.