Training Unusual Skills for Unexpected Situations – Ready for Anything!

By on October 24, 2020

I used to think, on a semi-unconscious level, that the real test of physical prowess was a physical fight. I would ask myself things like: “what’s the use of being strong if you can’t use it?” And by “use” it, I meant win in a fight if I had to.

Training unusual skills

I think many other people assess the “usefulness” of strength and athleticism the same way. I think for a LOT of people, the reason for training falls into one of three camps:

  • To look better
  • To feel better
  • To win fights

It’s not that these people want to get into fights. They just want the knowledge that they could win, should they need to. And they want to project that to others.

(Which is somewhat ironic, seeing as muscle is not what wins fights.)

I have since challenged this assumption, though. I now believe that the ultimate test of physical prowess is a zombie apocalypse situation. Why? Because it would test you on all fronts. You’d need to be cunning, strong, endurant, mentally resilient, fast…

You’d need to be cunning, strong, endurant, mentally resilient, fast…

Yes, this is a fictional, hypothetical scenario. But it serves as a great thought experiment.

What’s the use of being strong if you can’t use it in a fight, you ask?

Well… what’s the use of being strong if you’re too slow to run from a dangerous situation? What’s the use of being strong if you’re too heavy to pull yourself over a cliff ledge?

The Natural Method

What’s the point of being able to run long distances, if you can’t carry a heavy object with you and still cover the same ground?

What’s the point of being agile, if you can’t swim?

What’s the point of being fast, if you’re too unfocussed to react quickly in an emergency?

From a survival perspective, this cross-modal performance is more useful. And in the 21st century? That’s even more true.

Because you don’t know what kind of challenge you’re going to be faced with. You don’t know when you’re going to need to rise to the occasion, or in what context.

When you can perform in more situations, you have more options.

Let’s take a look at some examples. Examples of unique and unexpected scenarios that demand a diverse skillset.

Lost in a Cave System

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re trekking in the middle of nowhere when the ground gives in. You are swallowed up by the very Earth and fall for what seems like an age, plummeting into complete darkness.

Fortunately, a pool of water breaks your fall and you aren’t hit by any of the debris or rubble that collapses around you.

You pull yourself out onto dry land, feeling rock and mud under foot, and you start trying to get your bearings.

The only problem is that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You have no idea how big the space you’re in is, or even what it looks like. Everything is stifled by the darkness, and the only sound is an incessant dripping.

Training to escape a cave

You eventually find a wall (bashing your head several times on what you assume to be stalactites) and begin to feel your way around. Then your hands fold around an edge: it’s a tunnel!

You push yourself in and squeeze down the narrow, wet, low corridor. On the other side: yet another cavern. This one is dimly lit and you can just about make out the greenish color of the rock. Using your voice and listening for an echo, you notice that this one is slightly larger than the last.

You continue onward and notice that the floor is a slight gradient: it’s moving upwards. You quickly develop a theory: this cave system probably emerges at the surface somewhere. As long as you keep heading in the right direction, keep moving upwards, you might just stand a chance of survival.

Caving skills
blue ice cave covered with snow and flooded with light

But you’ve already lost track of the way you came in. There are at least five tunnels leading out of this space and you don’t know which one you came from.

To be successful, you will be called upon to use all of your skills.

You must:

  • Use your memory to form a mental map of this underground labyrinth
  • Rely on your senses to form the most coherent picture of the space around you possible. This can be trained. And when you use your senses properly, they should work together to create a multisensory image of the world around you.
  • Stay calm and focused – the only way to avoid making stupid mistakes that lead you further underground.
  • Balance on the slippery, sloped surfaces.
  • Use creative problem solving and resourcefulness and find smart ways to track your progress.

These are all things that can be trained. And simply being “strong” in the conventional sense won’t help you all that much.

How likely are you to get lost in a cave system? Maybe not that likely… But I bet everyone reading this has been lost at some point. Many of these skills still apply. This is just an extreme example.

More to the point, I love that this example shows how having certain attributes allows you to safely go where other people can’t.

And anyway, how likely are you to get into a fist fight these days?

Carrying Another Human

Being strong is useful, but limiting that strength to a single big lift in the gym – or even a powerful strike in martial arts – will not necessarily be useful in a real world scenario.

One of the biggest limitations with traditional strength training? It focusses very much on single, impressive feats of strength. This is where bodybuilders – who train with higher rep ranges and thus build impressive work capacity – may actually have an advantage.

Carrying another person - true functional training

Let’s say that you are out walking with a friend when they are bitten by a snake. They collapse and you try to call for help, only to find that there’s no signal. You’re about 4 miles from the nearest village where you can ask for help.

You could leave them here and run for help – an option that would require impressive cardio – but that would could be a potential death sentence. Instead then, you opt to haul them onto your shoulders and carry them all the way back.

This requires a truly functional strength. You’re no longer lifting a perfectly straight barbell. You’re no longer using the precise same form for a technical lift.

Instead, you’re hauling a limp, heavy body a long distance. You’ll need amazing strength endurance, will power, and core stabilization.

Not only that, but you’re crossing over rough terrain. Let’s say it’s wet and raining too, for good measure. And then maybe the bridge is out! So you have to swim with this heavy body, testing your ability to swim and withstand cold temperatures too.

Georges Hebert Functional Training

This isn’t just a question of strength. It’s not just a question of endurance. It’s strength, endurance, mental toughness, and stability, all working together at once.

See also: Mental Toughness: Think Like a Navy SEAL/Spartan Warrior

In this case, a dude’s life is on the line.

This is the perfect example of what Georges Hébert called being “strong to be useful.” Herbert gave us the “Natural Method” which in turn has evolved into parkour, functional training, and even primal workouts.

In 1972, Hébert coordinated the escape of 700+ people during a volcanic eruption in the French Caribbean town of St. Pierre. It was during this crisis that he formed the belief that athletic skill, courage, and altruism together help to form “useful” members of society.


Let’s take a more realistic scenario: you are confronted by an attacker in the street.

You’re out walking with your family at night, when someone appears behind you – Thomas and Martha Wayne style – and pulls out a knife. What do you do?

The thing is, this guy hasn’t even demanded you hand over your wallet.

You might be the toughest guy you know, but if you resort immediately to violence you are putting your entire family’s life at risk for the sake of ego. The assailant only has to make one quick, imperceptible movement, in order to stick you with the knife. Who’s to say that they don’t also have a gun? Or that they don’t have accomplices nearby?

Batman parents killed ready for anything

This is true in any situation like this one. Even if you’re the best fighter in the world: it only takes one mistake for things to go badly wrong. It simply isn’t worth it.

If you were alone, then you could run. In this scenario, being able to run quickly might be the most useful option. If you have coins in your pocket, you could throw them as a distraction and then hope that your sprint training paid off. Add in a little parkour and you might even be able to leap over a fence, buying some time and putting obstacles between the two of you. Get to a lit up area.

Even if you’re the best fighter in the world: it only takes one mistake for things to go badly wrong.

But if you run in this scenario, your family may not be able to follow. What now?

Now you stay calm and you attempt to talk your way out of the situation. This is about emotional intelligence, it’s about correctly reading the situation, and it’s about knowing when and if to act if you are left no other option.

How to be Ready for Anything

Hopefully, you will never find yourself in any of these situations.

But the point is that winning fights is not the ultimate “proof” of successful training. For me, successful training should mean you have the best chance of success, in the largest range of different scenarios. It should mean that you have more options available to you at all times. And it should mean that you can traverse more diverse terrains.

Also read: Zombie Apocalypse Training: Ready for Anything

I believe that in a zombie apocalypse, an all-rounder with general athletic abilities would be more useful than a martial artist or a powerlifter.

So, how do you train to be ready for anything?

Well, that’s kind of what this entire website and my eBook/training program SuperFunctional Training are all about.

The obvious main strategy, is to cross train. Don’t just train for strength. Don’t just train for cardiovascular endurance. Train for both, and for everything else in between.

And don’t forget cognitive training! This is the missing link in many training programs, but it’s so important for all-round performance. This is what ties everything else together.

Keep your training varied and unpredictable. Introduce new movements, and change up the ones you know. Train outdoors where the ground is uneven and the weather is against you.

Don’t just train under the perfect circumstances.

Ready for anything training

Finally, train for attributes and traits rather than training exercises. That means picking the movements and training styles that offer the most diverse benefits to your physical makeup. Everything else you do will be an expression of that physicality.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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