Zombie Apocalypse Training: Ready for Anything

By on April 29, 2018

It’s the zombie apocalypse!

zombie apocalypse outbreak

Hoards of flesh eating monsters are roaming the streets.

You can pick one person to stick with you in the hopes of surviving.

Do you choose the bodybuilder, the martial artist, the free runner, the powerlifter or the CrossFitter?

Or put it another way: do you want Bruce Lee, Arnie, Sebastian Foucan, Mo Farrah or Rich Frohning with you? How about brains? What about Einstein?

einstein vs zombies

There are a lot of awesome reasons to train, but one of my favorite is that one day… there might be an alien invasion or a zombie virus outbreak. When that happens, all the money in the world isn’t going to matter. Neither will social status.

What will matter is how tough you are. How much zombie apocalypse training you have done. And that’s when you get to step forward, save the day, and become the people’s hero. Cue the adulation and the cheering.

(And that’s when I wake up.)

What I’m interested to know is what type of training would be the most useful in this scenario? What actually has the most functional benefit when it comes down to it? What can you pick and choose from all those different styles of training to get the best all-rounder? What is the ideal ‘zombie apocalypse training’?

Which stats do you level up?

When that happens, all the money in the world isn’t going to matter. Neither will social status.

And likewise, this type of zombie apocalypse training could potentially also help us in slightly more ‘real world’ (AKA boring scenarios). Such as if you’re ever in a hostage situation.

Okay that is also not realistic. Or boring.

Just a quick disclaimer though. This discussion is meant as a bit of fun and it is obviously based heavily on my personal opinion. I know I’m inviting some ire in the comments here but that is not my objective!

The Difference Between Training and Exercise

There is actually a difference between training and exercise. Exercise or working out is what most people do. It’s a kind of ‘maintenance’ activity that you do ‘in the moment’ – in a bid to burn calories or build muscle during that workout. You’re not thinking ahead. You’re just trying to get the best workout then and there possible. Which is great in itself for the right kind of person. But to me… it’s not quite as cool as training. Goku doesn’t ‘exercise’, he ‘trains’. That’s what I want to do.

zombie training

Then you have training. Training is exercise that you do while working toward an end point and it is usually much more specific. An athlete trains for a competition. Thus, they will usually train with a periodised program that carefully scales up, that switches the training at the right times, that includes strategic rest phases and that focusses on training for a specific ability.

But what’s interesting is that most athletes will also do something called ‘GPP’ or ‘General Physical Preparedness’. This is all the other little stuff that you have to do in order to supplement your end goal.

Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell defines the term as:

“A degree of fitness, which is an extension of absolute strength.”

In other words, if you’re going to be the best powerlifter in the world, you should still do some cardio to support that general strength. You should still take care of your health. You should consider flexibility.

Cardio vs zombies

For other athletes it might mean any training that isn’t specifically relevant to your sport of activity. For instance, it might mean a darts player choosing to do cardio, or strengthen their arms. It might be a golfer building their leg strength, to help better drive through a swing.

But what if we flip this idea on its head and we train specifically for generality. Is that a contradiction in terms? I don’t think so necessarily…

General Preparedness Training in theory could mean that you are training to be as generally prepared as possible. For say… a zombie apocalypse.

And I’d argue that in an age of functional training and gymnastic fitness… that’s what more and more of us are actually interested in doing. We’re not just in it to burn calories: we want to run faster, jump higher, reduce our risk of injury, keep our brains alert and focused and develop crushing strength.

I also call this ‘Ready For Anything Training’.

And if all this sounds goofy? Keep in mind that the CDC (reference) AND the Department of Defense (reference) both use the zombie outbreak scenario as a way to test their readiness (source). Zombie apocalypse training is a great way to train more like an athlete or a warrior.

The Interference Principle and Zombie Apocalypse Training

So, what is the best kind of training to do in order to be ready for anything… taking the zombie or alien apocalypse as our example (I think aliens are cooler, but I thought that zombie apocalypse training would get more attention…).

The obvious answer might be to train in every modality possible. To be a long-distance-running-martial-artist-powerlifter. The problem with that is a) most of us don’t have enough time in the day to do all this AND we need to make sure we’re getting adequate rest and recovery.

The other problem is something called the interference principle. Or the ‘party pooper principle’. Basically, this is the fact that when you train hard in one domain, it will almost certainly have negative effects on other aspects of your training.

For instance, if you try to be a sprinter and a long distance runner, you won’t be quite as good at either. That’s because each of these activities benefits from a different muscle twitch fiber. Likewise, the biomechanics are different.

the first rule of Zombieland

I even found recently that swimmers have poorer jumping ability as compared to the average person – because they have developed their muscles and muscle memory for a completely different activity (study).

The study found this then:

“Prolonged training in a specific sport will cause the central nervous system to program muscle coordination according to the demands of that sport”

Swimming is not the best type of zombie apocalypse training then. But they’ll be good if ever the planet floods.

So, the first training style that we might want to put under the microscope is CrossFit. The aim here is to train in multiple styles. But is this really a good strategy?

Well that depends. Certain types of training will not interfere with one another but will rather support one another. The best example being the general physical preparedness we just discussed for athletes. Brain training isn’t going to ruin your martial arts – it will enhance it. Likewise, grip training isn’t going to negatively affect your long-distance running potential.

Brain training isn’t going to ruin your martial arts – it will enhance it.

So, the question is whether the combination of training styles seen in CrossFit is optimal for surviving an apocalypse. Is this already zombie apocalypse training?

What It Takes to Survive

The most obvious skill you will need to survive a zombie apocalypse is the ability to run away. And this is something that is probably very useful in a wide variety of scenarios. Being attacked in the street? The smart move is to run!

Cardio is the first rule of Zombie Land for good reason then!

For those who need a little extra motivation while running, there’s actually a very cool app designed around this very concept. Zombies, Run! gamifies your cardio workouts and comes highly recommended. Check it out!

But I would also say that sprinting is pretty important for zombie apocalypse training. The reason for this is that if you find yourself surrounded by a hoard of zombies, you’re not going to want to out-distance them. Especially if these are fast zombies, like the ones in 28 Days Later.

We don’t know what kind of zombies or aliens we’re getting, that’s the whole point of ‘Ready for Anything Training’. So, I think we need to have a decent amount of endurance, as well as some explosive speed.

Which means that HIIT training is going to be very useful for us. And the great thing about HIIT is that it doesn’t interfere with muscle building as much steady state cardio. This is why many bodybuilders will use HIIT ‘finishers’

The type of HIIT I recommend is long distance running with varying speeds including sprints and gentle jogging. Aim to eventually complete four miles as quickly as you can by increasing the ratio of high intensity to low intensity. This way, you’ll still be enlarging the left ventricle for greater endurance while creating more mitochondria, improving your VO2 max and hitting the fast twitch and slow twitch fibers.

But if it’s escape you’re interested in, the I would also argue that parkour has its uses for effective zombie apocalypse training. Being able to climb, jump over things and quickly traverse an urban environment would be crucial in this situation.

In fact, I think that the martial application of free running and parkour is something that doesn’t get enough attention. If you’re being attack, climbing up onto a bus shelter to get away is a great strategy. Even jump jumping over a railing means that whatever is chasing you now needs to jump or climb over too. And when they do: you knock them off. Capture the high ground.

And for this reason, developing powerful grip strength is also important. Grip strength will help you with climbing, fighting and carrying equipment.

Strength Training for Kicking Zombie Ass

When it comes to strength training, we’ll be looking to develop explosive power for fighting, while at the same time, trying to avoid slowing ourselves down too much or adding too much bulk which isn’t energy efficient.

Those who watching this channel will know that there are different ways to develop strength, not all of which will add a lot of bulk. Building supporting muscles to increase your functional power is important. In other words, you want to use your body as a single unit where possible, rather than isolating specific muscle groups. (I actually argue that it’s generally best to combine both these types of training, but for zombie apocalypse training, prioritizing functional strength makes a lot of sense.)

zombie apocalypse training

I’ve argued in the past that the very most ‘functional’ form of training is bodyweight training and calisthenics. While squatting and deadlifting teach important movement patterns, the sheer amount of control that you need to have to perform something like a planchet is unrivalled. That is mastery over your body.

Likewise, training with calisthenics will help to ensure that you maintain a good strength:weight ratio, rather than becoming too heavy and bulky.

In a recent video, I covered Bruce Lee’s workouts. But when people ask me what the best way to train to get a body like Bruce is, I think for the majority of people the answer is going to be calisthenics. Most of us don’t have his body type, or the amount of time he has for training – but calisthenics will give you a similar ripped and functional physique. Was Bruce Lee zombie apocalypse training?

I’d also combine this with explosive plyometrics – things like clapping press ups, box jumps etc. This will give you more explosive power for rapid punches and to support your parkour training.

zombie training jump height

I would also combine this with some strength training for combat – fighting your fellow humans in this scenario is going to be just as important often as fighting off the invaders – and for moving supplies and weaponry.

Lifting compound lifts with high weight, low reps will help to increase muscle fiber recruitment, tendon strength and even bone strength. This will make you

Mind Training and Martial Arts

You know who would really be the most useful person to have with you in this situation though? Probably a special forces operative. Or Jason Bourne.

jason bourne vs zombies

Not only are they trained for actual combat, but they also have the rock solid mindset that will help them to remain calm even in the highest-pressure situations. In my flow state videos and posts, I explained recently how an increased production of DHEA and neuropeptide Y seemed to help elite individuals to be physiologically aroused while remaining mentally calm.

Every zombie movie features at least one person who goes to pieces and loses it. And what always happens to them?

The most useful person to have with you during a zombie outbreak? Jason Bourne.

This is why being able to keep your cool is critical, and the best thing you can do to encourage that, is to practice meditation (which can also help to control the perception of pain). Combine this with some CBT and with exposure to mild stressors. In other words: practice being out of your comfort zone and remaining calm. Techniques like ‘box breathing’ can also help.

Martial arts for zombie training likewise goes without saying – not only to fight off the zombie hordes but also to defend yourself against other survivors who might turn on you and fight over supplies. I’m not going to get into which martial art is better right now (that is opening a whole can of worms) but I think most people can agree that having a striking martial art and a grappling martial art is a good combination.

I actually think that practicing shooting games could have some benefit (especially in VR). Not only can this help to hone your reflexes but it can also improve your visual acuity (ability to spot targets and threats incoming) and even your decision making under pressure (study). It makes sense: as far as your body and brain are concerned you are experiencing combat scenarios here!

The final addition to a good zombie apocalypse training protocol should be ‘skills training’. That means setting some time asside to learn the awesome skills and ‘extra’ abilities like grip strength, like ambidexterity, like flexibility, like lock picking, like rope climbing, like knot tying… all the cool stuff that you just don’t have time for in your regular program. I’ve talked about skills training before, and I’ll be coming back to it in more detail in future.


A hypothetical zombie apocalypse training regime then should incorporate a range of different training styles, chosen primarily to keep your light, alert, powerful and agile. Combine that with the right state of mind and the right skills, and you’ll have the best chances of survival.

But of course the real best way to survive a zombie apocalypse is to stick together and to work as a team. Really then, every type of training has its place and the truly ideal scenario would be for you to be in a group filled with complementary phsyical types: a light runner for scouting for danger and going on supply runs, a powerful tank for carrying the heavy artillery, and a brilliant tactition to put everyone to use.

Many of us are born with a propensity for a certain type of training. A tiny ectomorph isn’t going to be the ideal pick for strength training and so it may be that the best strategy is to lean into what you’re good at. You can think of this as being the character ‘type’ you’re given at the start of an RPG, before you begin levelling up to customize them to your liking.

But MOST of us are going to be generally average. And in that case, it makes most sense to train in as many complementary disciplines as possible.

And I think training for a zombie apocalypse is an ideal way to structure a general cross-model training program and to make the whole concept of training that bit more bad-ass.

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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