SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.


Srah's iconic chin upOkay, this is what you came here for, right? And now you’ve waited far too long. This makes me feel I have to write something definitive and important, but if I waited until I had something like that you’d be waiting far longer. So keep in mind that this won’t give you all the answers. It won’t give you Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor workout, because I don’t have that and because it won’t work for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all workout. And it won’t make you look like Sarah Connor, because it won’t change your genetic structure. What I do hope this will do is help you build a program for yourself or refine one if you’re already lifting that will help you build strength.
As you are likely a diehard member of the Sarah Connor Charm School, I hope that you have already gotten to the point where you are not looking for training to make you smaller and weaker. Sadly, that is still the norm for much of the training aimed at women. We are often told we must train only with light weights and high reps, to avoid becoming bulky. At the same time, sometimes in the same breath, we’re “reassured” that  “women don’t bulk up like men.” Often this part is a favorite of skinny male trainers who we’d never mistake for a T800 Model 101.
The facts are that women have the exact same muscle structure as men. Women should train the same way as men (keeping in mind we all, everyone of us, is going to be different from every other person regardless of sex). Also, most people, male or female, simply do not bulk up hugely. How big someone gets has even more to do with genetics that the magic power that Sarah Iconic chin up bicepso many men want to believe, even when they are not showing evidence themselves, that testosterone gives them. And, of course, women have testosterone too and how much does vary among us. Bulking up is hard for the majority of people, that’s why bodybuilders have to work so hard (and, yes, why some resort to steroids ….an option NOT approved of by the SCCS!). Chances are, if you are here, you hope to get big, so this fact is probably not pleasing, but it’s something some of us have to face. We are all different
The training I am discussing will get you bigger than the usual recommendations for women, meant to appease this fear we’re supposed to have but really do no more than train us to be weaker rather than stronger. There will be muscle growth, you can’t get strong without it despite the fantasies of some who worship thinness, but the real focus will be on developing functional strength. This is training to become more, not less! And while the SCCS is geared towards women’s needs, there is nothing in any of my fitness posts that are not completely appropriate for men as well.
I have often seen people insist that lifting is simple, you pick it up, you put it down; add more reps and more weight as you develop. Simple. Often these people, happily giving advice on Facebook, aren’t serious lifters and if they do workout it’s usually a basic routine sold to them at their gym. Strength training, like all training, is a science. At the very core it is about chemical reactions and nervous system responses which we’re not going to get into heavily here but hopefully I will offer enough to help you  understand why certain things work and others don’t, as well as why things might work differently for one person than another.

A Bit on the Basics

The body has three types of muscle: skeletal, cardiac and smooth organ. Resistance training strengthens the skeletal muscle, while cardiovascular training strengthens the cardiac muscle and overall health maintenance, we hope, helps keep the organ muscles healthy.  Within the skeletal muscle group there are different types of muscle fiber, the number and exact purpose of each being still not conclusively determined. However, when it comes to fitness, there are two basic types that we are aware of: Type I or Slow Twitch which are resistant to fatigue and are most active through low intensity, endurance type activity and Type II or Fast Twitch which are more quickly fatigued and are most active in high intensity, power movement. These do not work exclusively, of course, the body goes through various chemical and energy changes as various fibers kick in throughout any given movement.[1]
Why some people bulk up more than others is due more to whether we tend to have more Type I or Type II muscle. Those with a lot of Type II are going to be gifted with gaining more mass, more easily, but may also not have great endurance as someone who is a “hard gainer” because they have more Type I.  A popular fiction is that certain forms of exercise will give you a certain body type, usually with photos of people who excel in, say, long-distance running and sprinting being compared to each other as if their sports gave them the varied bodies rather than their varied bodies allowing them to excel at their sport.[2] We all have both types and both need to be trained. While strength training is focused mostly on the Fast Twitch and cardio, fight training and some portions of our strength training will be affecting our Slow Twitch we’ll see that our more advanced weigh training will also include higher repetition work along with lower repetition work.  This gets all the muscle fibers in action, over a period of time, creating truly functional strength.
The American College of Sports Medicine’s basic recommendations[3] for a healthy adult resistance program is:
Frequency:  2-3 days a week for each muscle group, with a minimum of 48 hours between sessions. This may, of course, be either 2-3 whole body workouts a week or more days a week splitting up the body for different sessions, as we’ll discuss.
Type:  Multi-joint or compound exercises which affect more than one muscle group. They consider single joint exercises optional.
Volume (repetitions and sets): 8-12 repetitions to failure (which we’ll discuss in detail) are recommended for most muscle groups for healthy adults. They recommend 10-15 for older adults and those who are deconditioned (out of shape to normal people).
The 2010 recommendation for a healthy adult was 2-4 sets per body part, with older and deconditioned adults recommended to do one.  The multi-set debate is currently raging and we’ll discuss that further as well. If you are just beginning, however, one set per body part is a good place to start, you do want to have a place to work up to, after all.
Technique: ACSM recommends everyone receive professional instruction to be sure of proper technique and safety.  Controlled movement in the full range of motion involving concentric (lifting phase) and eccentric (lowering phase).[4]
Progression/Maintenance: As you gain strength, if you wish to continue to build, then continue to increase weight to continue to do no more than 12 repetitions to fatigue, increase sets for each muscle group and increase number of days you work each muscle group (we’ll discuss why this doesn’t work for everyone. We will shortly discuss how this doesn’t actually mean “just keep doing the same thing over and over, just more” it also involved variation, which I recommend starting in on from the beginning

Developing your program

The Sarah Connor Charm School programs (as there is no single one) follows the ACSM guidelines.  We recommend using free weights and body weight primarily, as much as possible, with machines and other resistant systems being alternative options. Exactly how each individual will implement these guidelines is going to vary and will be constantly changing. Change, you will see, is a huge key to long-term success.
Starting out
If you are lifting for the first time or just getting back from it after a long period of time, then I recommend starting with one set of exercises for each body part, of mostly multiple joint exercises so that you are working more than one muscle group at a time. You may wish to do the entire body in one day, to begin, or you may start with a basic upper body/lower body split to start. You should start by working the larger muscle groups first, like chest and back, then the smaller ones, arms and shoulders.
For the first couple of weeks do not worry about lifting to failure, focus on form and getting a full range of movement. During this time you are also learning what weights you’ll need when you do begin to lift to failure, for this is really the best and safest way to find this out. Remember, if you have not been lifting you will be progressing with any activity. You may find that, even with the recommendation to lift a bit lighter, in the first few weeks your strength will progress fairly rapidly, as you are going through both neurological and physical changes at this point.
As you become comfortable with the movement, you should continue the one set and lift for 8-10 repetitions to failure. When you are able to lift a weight for 12 repetitions then move up a weight if you can lift it for at least 6, but at this point preferably 8, repetitions to failure. For some muscles you may need to be able to do more repetitions before you find you can move up safely (there will be other exceptions as well, for some individuals, as we’ll see).  It may be best to start with two times a week, but then work up to three as long as you are doing this level and are doing your entire body at one time. 
Failure is failure. It means that you absolutely cannot lift it next time, at least without jerking or contorting the body.  And you do not want to contort or jerk your body.
Over your first few weeks, find and learn different exercises for each of the body parts. Change what you do frequently; this will be an important step to keeping both the body and the mind fresh for each workout. Not only can doing the same thing every time bore the mind, it also does “bore” the body. Our muscles adapt and find ways to cheat when they know what to expect each time you go in. .’s Muscle and Exercise Directory can give you some ideas if you are stuck and do not have a trainer or experienced exercise partner to work with (do keep in mind that it is advised that you do get some guidance from a professional if possible).
After a few weeks, you may wish to start some single joint exercises, especially for muscle groups that you may find you wish to focus on more. These may, of course, be areas you want to begin to build up more or they may be areas where you are realizing you need more work to build due to them being less used. Upper arms, both biceps and triceps, are in the first category for many of us, while the back of the shoulders may be in the second. 
Progression and Periodization
There is some controversy about adding sets, as studies have shown only a minor increase in improvement in multiple sets vs. single sets, with an increase in injury and a decrease in exerciser adherence. [5] However, these studies have been with those who were previously untrained, therefore indicating that the above recommendations to start do apply.  I do believe that starting with single sets is far better in the beginning, likely for the first several months and might be enough for some exercisers to maintain depending on goals. It allows the body to have somewhere to go with it for those who want to keep pushing things.  If you start with too many sets to begin with, consider how many more you might eventually have to do. That offers a lot of potential for burn out, both physically and mentally. So start with one set, then work up.
However, as suggested in Roy Stevenson’s “Single vs. Multiple Sets: are extra sets really worth it,” we don’t need to do more sets of the same exercise, but rather start doing multiple exercises for each muscle group. This allows you to start hitting the muscles from different angles or in different ways in one workout. As you started by doing and learning a variety already, you will have learned several to work with by this time. You can continue to change things up each work out, by choosing two or three different exercises and doing things in different order.
Keep in mind that while you need to work all your muscle groups, to keep in balance, this doesn’t always mean you are best off doing the same number of sets for each. This is especially true where there may already be imbalances. We do essentially everything in our day-to-day lives with our arms in front of us, in the frontal plane. In fact, reaching behind us can be a recipe for injury; this is how we are designed. Yet this also means that our pectoral and front deltoid muscles are shorter and stronger than our back muscles and our posterior deltoid muscles. And our often very unhappy rear rotator cuff muscles. All this can lead to back pain and the development of a hunched back, known as kyphosis. Therefore, before injury occurs, you may wish to do more sets of varieties of rows which counter pectoral exercises, as well as doing external rotations. And then, because Sarah, you’re probably want to work on doing chin-ups and other pull-ups, which themselves are important but do not do as much to counter the pectoral muscles. Meanwhile, make extra sure to be stretching those pectoral muscles.
Conversely, for many the lower back tightens and the abdominal muscles may be weak, leading to lordosis, or an extreme curving forward of the lower back and, again, pain. In this case lots of core abdominal work is important, again before there is a real medical issue. Frankly, I do not believe that abdominals can be too strong, we need them for everything we do. Even lying down requires them. As theses are endurance muscles, they do best with lots of repetitions, worked with no weight, continuing to increase repetitions to fatigue.  For many, the lower back muscles may do best with less and very careful training and a lot of proper stretching.
If injury does occur, then get it attended to, including physical therapy and go from there. Even some of us (me) who already felt we were doing a lot more back work than chest work find that we might not have evened the balance enough and end up with injuries which leave us doing very little and very light chest work and a lot more back work. So, listen to what your body needs, if that doesn’t work then listen to your physical therapist.
At this point, as you do increase sets/exercises for each body part, you may want to increase splitting your workouts. This keeps workouts shorter and allows more recovery time between sessions for each body part. It can also keep those who feel that “rest is nonproductive” from too many days with no training, although you need some and some of need more.
That variation has been a start in muscle confusion and muscle confusion is the real key to continued strength gains and injury prevention. Without this variety, we end up plateauing, where all progress stops. The body has learned to adapt and “cheat” once it has gotten used to a routine. Even if we try to do more of the same, it will continue to adapt doesn’t work well for our plans or our safety. Some get frustrated and give up at this point. But if we keep pushing on with just more and more of the same with more sets and heavier weights, we start going backwards, losing conditioning and becoming more easily injured.  We end up overtraining.[6]
As I noted in the cardiovascular segment, athletes often change their training in relationship to their competition, and this is Periodization is also used by those who do strength competitions of all kinds. How athletes might change things up varies between sports but also between individuals. When you are “training for life” you end up with a lot of flexibility in how to change things…and that’s really good.  Because the more changes the better, and you can even keep changing how you change things.
There are several varieties of periodization typically used in strength training. The first is the linear or classic periodization. This is a progressive number of sets and weight increases, with small variations within one to four week microcycles. Each cycle would focus on either strength (working in the  8-10 rep zone), endurance (working 12 or more reps or power (working below 8 reps). Then there is an active rest cycle, usually after th others cycle for 12 weeks. I personally find this works great for those who have great genetics and recover well, but is not enough change for others.
Nonlinear periodization involves making changes throughout a shorter period, such as a week. For example (and these are just common examples of how to change things, not set in stone), one workout for power, second workout for power, third workout for endurance for each body part. Again this is usually 12 weeks, followed by one or two weeks of active rest.
“Unplanned” nonlinear periodization as described by ACSM isn’t actually is a planned set of routines decided upon at each session by the personal trainer based on her or his assessment of the client’s physical and emotional state, with each of the routines checked off.[7]
I like to make this latter a bit more unplanned, actually. Once you have a body of exercises you are familiar and comfortable with, once you have a plan for what body parts you work when and how. You can go into the gym, or your living room, on a given day and assess what your body needs on that day to do that.  If you’re tired do lighter work and less of it. If you’re feeling really gung-ho, up the weight and lower the reps and maybe pull off a few more sets. If you’re bored out of your ever loving mind and really stressed and just hate the idea of doing what you feel you’re supposed to do even though it hasn’t been twelve weeks, do something completely different, maybe kettlebells or a Pilates class.
I also am a fan of changing up power/strength/endurance sets within a workout. Classically this is done with “pyramids,” several sets of the same exercise going either from light/high rep to heavy/low rep or the other way around. However, you can mix this up more too, especially if you are doing different exercises each set. Say, do a set of heavy concentrated curls, then the next bicep set might be a high rep hanging curl…and just mix it up different next time you’re doing biceps.
You can also vary by how you order your exercises. When you begin with the whole body or at least half your body for each session, it was recommended that you start with larger muscle groups then smaller. At this point, you are likely splitting things up so that this may not be an issue. When you combine changing order with different exercise, this adds for even more a variety. Anytime you think “I did such and such last time” do something different.
Absolutely, allow yourself plenty of rest. Rest is actually vital to progress, for it is when our muscles recover that they actually gain the strength.  Train too often, you get into overtraining and the muscles actually weaken and get smaller. How much time between sessions for any given body part is individual, but everyone needs at least 48 hours. Some of us, especially those of us who are hard-gainers, need more. A day off completely, even if you break down your body into many splits, is vital. And, again, many of us need more than that to recover fully.
Remember that between sets you should give your body several minutes, say 2 or 3 if you’re doing a light day, but at least 5 if you’re doing a heavy. You can work another or opposing body part for part of that time. Mediation, socializing if appropriate, spotting for another person, it doesn’t have to be boring. Oh, but remember, the old advice to stretch between strength sets has been thrown out the window, save that for after.
And even if you’re going for that totally unplanned periodization, do plan for periodic active rest periods with no more than 12 weeks in between. Remember that doesn’t mean you don’t do anything at all, it just means you don’t do the program you have been doing. You might even keep lifting, but doing so in a very different and easier way.  Perhaps returning to one set of low weight/high repetition. Or doing kettlebell, Pilates or Yoga. You might want to try out Sarah Connor’s Cell Circuits which I do hope to get up soon (no, really, I mean it this time! although you might be able to figure something similar on your own). You would continue your cardio training, perhaps changing that too, and, of course, stretching.  Again, if your activity levels change due to life, you should consider those changes in planning your active rest. If you are a homesteader and suddenly have a major physical workload to deal with, say in the spring or during harvest, those are great times even if it’s not been 12 weeks. If you’re finding yourself hiking through the Amazon, that’s a great time. If you’re on a business trip and lodged where there is a nice pool and you don’t usually get to swim, then do laps between meetings instead of your usual routine. Even if it’s not been 12 weeks. I discussed the importance of rest more thoroughly in Part 1, The Activity Triad.

Rounding it up

As I noted, there is no way to give a fully detailed plan in the scope of this, there is no one size fits all. You need to do the work, need to find what works for, by doing it, with care and consideration. Remember the difference between good soreness that comes with increased activity and bad pain that requires medical care. Be area of your posture. Consider hiring a personal trainer if you are in a position to do so, even for a short time. It is always best to work with a training partner or in a gym with others who you can count on, especially when you lifting heavy. Spotters can save your life! And if you don’t have them, be well aware of your safety situation, choose dumbbells or even machines over barbells you can get caught under. Stay safe!
You may find’s Exercises and Muscle Directory useful in finding a variety of exercises for all body parts.


[1] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg 142-143
[2] This has become a popular comparison to try to dissuade people from long distance running, especially in the “Paleofitness” realms. This is ironic, given what I have noted about the evidence out ancestors were runners in Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobic
[3] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010  pg. 168-171
[4] This seems a no-brainer, but from my own experience, I discovered that a fitness company did make a weight machine that they proudly advertised as being better because you lifted the weight but it became weightless as you lowered it. They felt this was safer and more effective, although the eccentric phase is a part of the development of strength. This company’s current weight machines apparently do not include this feature.
[5] Roy Stevenson, “Single vs. Multiple Sets: are extra sets really worth it”, American Fitness Magazine,  Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, March/April 2012
[6] Symptoms of overtraining include decrease in strength, endurance and coordination, sleep disturbances, headaches, symptoms of depression, fatigue, increased susceptibly to illness, increase injuries and a slowing of healing. Andrew C. Fry, Ph.D, “Overtraining with Resistance Exercise” ACSM Current Comment FactSheet.
[7] ACSM, Resources for the Personal Trainer, pg. 346-348
Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics


ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.


Aerobic or cardiovascular training is vital for over all health, keeping the heart strong enough to endure strenuous weight training. It is also vital for survival, both because you obviously can’t live if you’re heart and lungs are not functioning and because good conditioning can save your life and the life of those depending on you in a crisis.

It’s become rather popular in some trendy “fitness” circles to dismiss the importance of cardio training. I had one strength-only “trainer” from such a “school” try to convince me that because the heart is a muscle it is strengthened by weight lifting. This is ludicrous because not only is cardiac muscle a unique type of muscle fiber, different from both skeletal muscle and smooth organ muscle, there is the small matter that lifting only strengthens the muscles actually doing the lifting. How does one get the heart to lift? The simple fact is, the heart is strengthened by aerobic, that is “in air,” exercise.

I’ve also been told by many weight-training enthusiasts that they feel that all of their time is better spent with the weights, after all it repeatedly “gets me so out of breath and my heart racing so I just can’t see any need more than that.” This does not describe proper aerobic condition, however. When your heart is beating so fast that you’re out of breathe you’re not “aerobic,” you are “anaerobic” or “out of air.” While this training phase is a part of conditioning for a healthy exerciser, it will not build heart strength and can be dangerous for those whose hearts are compromised and unconditioned.

“Cardiovascular” refers to the fact that this training is to condition the heart and respiratory systems. I will use the term “cardio” here because it is shorter and avoid “aerobic” due to it triggering Disco music ear worms for some. However, when I use this term I am still including the entire system.

Getting F.I.T.T.

ACSM uses what they refer to as the F.I.T.T. principal for establishing training referring to Frequency Intensity Time Type. We will break our discussion down the same way.

For cardio training the ACSM Frequency recommendation for healthy adults is moderate intensity at least 5 days a week or high intensity at least 3 days a week or a combination of high and moderate intensity for 3-5 days a week.[i] The SCCS stands by this.

In regards to Intensity the AMCS notes that for basic fitness moderate intensity (64% to 70% of HRR) can help increase conditioning, however they recommend that a combination of moderate to high intensity (94% of HRR)[ii] will achieve the greatest over all benefits for a healthy adult. Again, this is what the SCCS recommends, for both health benefits and the ability to function at various intensities for survival situations. Information on finding heart rate and other ways of determining intensity are at the end of the article.

How much Time, or the duration, of a training session is the next factor. Actually, the ACSM allows for the use of time or calorie expenditure to determine duration,[iii] but as we’re not focusing on weight loss, and we want to build endurance and a high quality of cardiovascular recovery as a survival factor, I find it best to stick to the actual time. The standard recommendations are a minimum of 20 minutes for high intensity, minimum of 30 for moderate, although we are really looking for a mix and I’d recommend a minimum of 30 minutes per training session. However, we should aim to make some sessions longer, building stamina.

Remember, your cardio work out does not need to be the same length of time every time, in fact, it probably shouldn’t be. Varying time, intensity and distance can keep both body and mind fresh, after all. It can also prevent lack of time from being an excuse. If you only have half an hour to work out total, then a 15 minute run with a five minute warm-up and a ten minute cool down/stretch is better than not running. On other days you might want to spend an hour running or even longer hiking, which leads us to our last letter.

What Type of exercise is best? As a personal training I do suggest to my regular clients that there is no “best” cardiovascular exercise, except the ones you will do. This is great if your only goal is to have a healthier cardiovascular system. Keeping it fun is perhaps the number one necessity for keeping up with a fitness program. Cross-training, that is doing several different forms of cardio exercise, can keep the fun fun, as well.

However, actual training does not cross over. That is, you cannot train for foot race by swimming. Both might keep your heart and lungs in shape, but they do not condition the same muscles in the same way. Even riding a bike and running, which use the same muscles differently, do not cross over. However, there are times when your body needs a rest and a change so you can recover from a marathon while keeping your cardiovascular system in shape by swimming and many endurance athletes do this. But what cross-training can do, of course, is keep you in shape for many different things as tri-athletes who might run, swim and bike must do.

Just any cardio exercise wouldn’t work for an athlete who needs to train in the sport tha Sarah escapingt she is doing, likewise it also doesn’t work for those of us in the Sarah Connor Charm School and other survivalist types. What might we need to do, after all? Run. And walk long distances likely while carrying a go-bag, but run. And maybe bike as might be a mode of bugging out, swimming could be useful too. We should be focusing on real movement, with a lot of options. I feel that in order to prepare for post-Judgment Day, we should concentrate on things that will get us from one point to another no matter what way we might need to do that. This doesn’t mean that dancing isn’t useful as a tool of self-expression, we do include war dance in our lessons, however it is supplemental and our dancers stay running fit too.

So let’s talk about running, as I have had a few of our students claim they hate it. Some people have even claimed that “if a Terminator was coming after me I’d be able to run because I’ll be so scared adrenaline will see me through.” Sorry, but no. You’re wrong. You might think that if you are being pursued you can run as fast and as long as someone who conditions as a runner but in all honesty you can’t. Adrenaline will only get you just so far. Adrenaline will get someone who is conditioned running much further much faster. Always.

Importantly, the conditioned runner also will also be able to recover far faster when running ceases to be an option (obviously, with Terminators you need to run to cover or to a vehicle, you won’t be able to out run one long) and she must turn and fight or have the ability to Sarah runningdrive. The non-runner, at that point, should they not already have been Terminated, will undoubtedly be utterly useless; their reserves will have been used up as their adrenaline crashes. Consider if you wish to be Terminator fodder and what you might owe your companions when the shit hit the fan. Are you going to need others to carry you? Are you going to expect them to come back and rescue you? Are you going to have to depend on them to defend you while you lie there gasping like a beached whale; a beached whale that suddenly sprouted mind numbingly painful cramping legs?

Keep in mind that every person who has told me they hate running that I then trained have turned out to be doing it wrong. They have poor running posture, they often start by lifting their legs too high, they’re hitting with their heels (commonly taught as correct, but it is becoming obvious that it is damaging), they are not wearing good shoes (which can include overly structured, inflexible modern running shoes), they’re going into it with a poor attitude. And, usually, they’re expecting themselves to run at their goal to start with rather than ramping up gradually.

Along with those who dismiss cardiovascular training all together, some, including those into preparedness, have been harping on the idea that training to do short sprints is better than long distance running. Usually this is accompanied by photos of a sprinter and an endurance athlete with the former looking buff and the latter looking extremely thin; this is one of those lovely false associations people love to make as you could instead pick a buff distance runner and a skinny sprinter to demonstrate the opposite if everyone who did the same thing all looked alike. They don’t. There is also a difference between a hard-core marathoner or, even more, 100-miler, and what we’re talking about for distance. But the key point is, this isn’t either/or. For survival you need to be able to sprint short distances quickly and do slower long distance miles, as well as be able to hike carrying a pack and any other mode of self-propelled transportation that might be needed in your own situation.

Those who propose that sprinting is the only necessary training note that short sprints are often what get people’s asses out of bad situations. I remember one noting someone they saw on TV getting up a hill when a tsunami struck (I’m not going search or pointing these people out here). This is true. It is also true that as we’ve already noted that we’re not going to outrun a Terminator and are just, yes, sprinting to a vehicle or shelter. So sprinting is important.

But say you’re five miles from where you need to be and you have no other means of transportation but your own feet and some speed is warranted. There are reasons to also need to be able to keep a slower, steady pace over a distance. There is evidence, after all, that this is how we often traveled throughout our evolution.

You also need to be able to go from one speed to the other. Say you’re jogging those 5 miles and you run into some humans who want your shit or otherwise do you harm, you need to be able to out sprint them after already running or hiking and then continue at a slower pace to create more distance from them. Or, you know, the Zombie Apocalypse folk might be right and you’re going to deal with slower zombies, but you might still need to sprint through a gauntlet of them. It’s important to have our body prepared for anything.

SCCS students also nReannn hikingeed to be prepared for the possibility that we might have to bug-out on foot for a longer distance with our packs. So walking, while carrying either our go-bags or something replicating it, is actually vital to any prepper. Taking it for runs isn’t a bad idea either as in the scenario above. It not only gets us in condition for it, but it also allows us to judge in a non-emergency situation if our packs are packed in a way we can properly manage, if our shoes are going to really work for it and how long it actually does take to get to your bug-out locations.

Likewise, if your bug-out might include biking out of the area, biking should also be a training focus. It also again gives you an idea of time and how you can manage your bug-out bag on your bike. If you live on or are often near water, keep in mind that water can be a point of departure, so swimming can be an important part of the training program as might be rowing. If you live where it snows, in the winter you may be looking at snowshoes or cross-country skis as your way and should include this in your winter training. Don’t forget that martial arts drills and heavy bag work are also very cardio when done continually (that is, not when in class when there is a lot of stop-and-go for instruction, but during practice).

Creating Your Program

So this is starting to SiegeRat hikingadd up to a lot. But as I already noted, cross-training can help keep things interesting and can help prevent both physical and mental burn-out, it’s just important that you include all the sorts of training you need to be doing throughout each week (in which it’s seasonable, for instance snowshoeing is limited to winter). Therefore, we’re still looking at doing 3-5 days a week, with those sessions divided into different activities. That division might be either different workouts or within one workout session and this can be constantly changing.

For example, after you’ve gotten your conditioning up, you could try to hit 5 days every week when possible, getting in at least 3 a week when not. You could tend to make at least three of those sessions primarily running, usually dividing that up into slow pace and sprint intervals. Some days you might come home and work the heavy bag for a while after a half an hour or so of running, while another day you might up the time out on a run and do only that. Or you could come back, change shoes and grab a pack and hike a bit. On another day or two you might bike. Perhaps another week you might bike three times, plus hike or bag work, and run only once or twice. On most weeks you might have one day a week that you have a bit more time to do a long bug-out practice hike. Then you take a hiking vacation for a week and just do that, taking a break from running and biking until you come home.

So you don’t have to do the same sequence each and every week, or the same amount of time, or the same intensity. Change things up. If on one day you don’t have a lot of time, it is far better to do a shorter session, perhaps raising the intensity. Same if you have less energy for some reason, doing a shorter session is not a fail nor is deciding to work only a lower intensity, especially if you’ve been ill. It’s a change and change is good.

Remember, if you are not already running, this is not where you start. Obviously, if you try to just jump into that amount of work you’ll become disheartened and quit. If you’re totally deconditioned, then you really need to start slowly.[iv] Perhaps aim for a few weeks of Saigh and Gleann runningdoing 20 minutes three times a week, starting with a combination of running and walking. Don’t expect yourself to run the full 20 minutes. Consider the start of your interval training to be walking and a slow run, rather than a slow run and sprinting. Push yourself as you feel ready, not so much that you’ll get discouraged. As you start running more than you are walking, start adding time and days. Start taking days where you do this same, slow ramp-up, with hiking (perhaps starting without your pack or with it lighter), biking, swimming, snowshoeing, the heavy bag, what ever you intend to become conditioned at as well.

If you’re already aerobically conditioned but doing, say, Zumba, keep in mind that it might seem demoralizing to find that that conditioning, as I noted above, won’t immediately translate to running or hiking. The cardiovascular conditioning might be there, the muscle training isn’t. You might adapt quicker, but you might want to do the above then hit a Zumba class or do it at home as well. Of course, you don’t have to give up Zumba if it’s fun but instead find ways to fit more survival focused stuff in as well. Remember nothing is either/or and the more you can do the fresher and more fun you’ll find it all.

If you find it boring out there, remember to consider survival strategies. Look for alternative routes for bug out, keep in mind whether your routes just for training are too predictable. Getting too routine can, after all, make you easy prey whether to Terminators or more human predators. Although there is none for the Terminator scenario (and I’d imagine licensing would be a problem or I’d try!), there is an app to practice for the Zombie Apocalypse which those with such, um, Machines might find a way to spice your runs up.

When it comes to running form, I do recommend a mid-foot stride with a minimalist running shoe. You may wish to go all the way to barefoot running or use something like FiveFingers shoes, but I like a regular, flexible, low-healed runner. This is especially nice for those of us who are older and might already have foot issues, as some companies like Newton Running make a variety of models which can accommodate various foot types. A running coach is never a bad idea, of course, but you can also learn a great deal on form and program development from books on mid-foot running such as Danny Abshire and Brian Metzler Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running (Boulder Colorado: Velopress, 2010 and Danny and Kathryn Dreyer, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, New York: Fireside – Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Finding Heart

To find your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) conventionally, you first need to determine you resting heart rate. This should be taken when you first wake up, before you really stir, so have your watch handy to time your heart rate (HR). Then calculate your heart rate with the Karvonen Formula:

220-age = estimated maximum HR
estimated maximum HR – resting HR = HRR
You will then calculate the percentages noted above for your target heart rate for moderate intensity (64%) and high intensity (94%) thusly:
HRR x % = % of HRR

% of HRR + resting HR = target HR

It is, of course, far easier to get a HR monitor, often watch-like, which can do this work for you, including getting the resting HR without expecting you to be able to count immediately upon waking. Either way, remember to recheck your resting heart rate periodically, as it may go down as your conditioning improves, changing the numbers you want to hit.

There is also Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, which uses a number system to have the exerciser self-evaluate how hard she is.[v] The biggest problem with this method is that unless you are already truly in touch with your body, your perception may not be completely reliable when first using it. Many people new to exercise may think they are working harder than they are. On the other hand, some hard-core types like many Sarah Connor Charm School students might push themselves too hard, perceiving themselves as lower on the scale than they are. I recommend spending some time using heart rate to become familiar with the varying intensity at first then using the Borg Scale, with occasional check-ins, again rechecking the SiegeRat half marathonresting heart rate as well.

Another quick check that I picked up along the way is speaking test. At a moderate intensity you should be able to talk but not sing. How well one might be able to actually talk can be used to vary intensity. As your intensity increases your ability to speak will diminish. Through a single training you should move from talking (or a military cadence chant, for example) to sprints of being having difficulty speaking and back down again, as we’ll discuss shortly. But only sing on the cool down.


Keep moving, keep changing things up, keep having fun, keep thinking survival and remember to cool down and stretch.

[i] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 155
[ii] Ibid. pg. 155
[iii] ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, pg. 157
[iv] If you are unable to walk at a good pace for more than 20 minutes, then it is important that you consult a doctor and perhaps hire a fitness professional with advanced training.
[v] Gunner Borg, Borg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, USA
 Recommended reading
Danny Abshire and Brian Metzler Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running (Boulder Colorado: Velopress, 2010
Danny and Kathryn Dreyer, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, New York: Fireside – Simon & Schuster, 2004
Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

SCCS Fitness Training Part 2: Flexibility

ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.

See also:
SCCS Fitness Training Intro: This Fitness Program will make you look just like Sarah Connor a Stronger You!
SCCS Fitness Training Part 1: The Activity Triad
SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics
SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

We’ll start with flexibility because it is often the most overlooked part by those looking to gain muscle, although it should be incorporated after strength and cardio workout, as well as any sports activity. It’s not uncommon for people to say “it’s just stretching” when discussing this part, usually with two assumptions, 1) that it’s not an important part of fitness and 2) that it’s a simple no-brainer and you can’t get hurt. Neither is true, maintaining flexibility is vital to functional fitness, which is what the SCCS is about, and you can hurt yourself quite badly doing it.

Stretching was once recommended to decrease injury risk and muscle soreness, there is an ongoing debate as to how true this is. However, it indisputably does increase range of motion (ROM) which is important in itself for the body to be as functional as possible. Therefore it can improve the performance of other activities which require a range of motion. Stretching after working out allows muscles which have been contracted to relax; this over all helps with the continued performance in these activities and, generally, in retaining and gaining better flexibility which is a goal in itself.
Static stretching before working out, formerly commonly recommended, is now seen to be dependent on the exercise or activity and there is much debate about the issue. Activities which require power, such as lifting or running, may or may not be negatively impacted by stretching beforehand (that is some claim to have more strength or power if they do not), but either way it is found to be of no benefit to the performance nor reduce injury, although warming up is still important. For activities such as high-kicking martial arts, gymnastics and other sports which require a great range of motion, however, prior dynamic(see below, this is not bouncing) and static stretching, both, helps with the required flexibility. If you currently stretch before lifting or running you may want to try how you do without, if you find no strength or power increase and wish to go back, there is no one empirically saying not to; however, you may find a few days of not doing it does increase power (and remember you still warm up first!)i
There are three basic types of stretching:
Static Stretching: This is the most common type of stretching and what we’re likely to all be focusing on. It is any of the slow stretches held for, by ACSM recommendations, 10-30 seconds (although they note that there is no agreement on the duration),ii While most are actively done ourselves, passive stretching that a personal trainer or a physical therapist might do are also static stretches as are active-assisted stretches you may do with a partner. In either of these, I do recommend that the former be done by someone with training and good communication and the latter be done with someone you know and trust and do have good communication.iii
Dynamic Stretching: This should not be confused with Ballistic Stretching which is bouncing during what would be more safely done as a static stretch. Dynamic Stretching is the part of a warm up where you might mimic a sports motion, like a punch, though the full ROM. While static stretching is debated prior to power moves, I believe dynamic stretching is still an important part of a pre-sport workout. If nothing else it doesn’t hurt to punch or kick the air, for example, before you do the same to a bag or sparring partner.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): This is a series of both active and passive stretches done with an experienced personal trainer trained in the technique. As I am not and it’s not something that can be taught in this manner, if you are interested I suggest seeking such a trainer out. PNF is believed to greatly improve joint ROM although how and if this is true is still being studied.iv
Stretching is one form of exercise you can do every day, as long as your muscles are warm. ACSM recommends at least 2-3 times a week, but if you are stretching after each workout that should be easily covered. I find that I often stretch after any activity that I’ve been doing for any length of time, such as walking the dogs, heavy chores or riding horseback. Stretch all major muscle groups, at least 2-4 repetitions and you may wish to do more on particularly tight groups. Stretch to the point of tightness, but avoid actual discomfort –when partner or passive stretching be sure to have clear communication. BREATH.
Don’t discount stretching as something too wimpy for a power exerciser and make it an important part of each workout. If you need a resource for finding proper stretches you can go to the Muscle Directory and click on the body part you want to learn to stretch and you’ll find stretches at the end of the list. Or, for an easier guide to some basic stretches, you can go to to this site here.
Stay limber, I don intend to get the next portion, on cardio training, up far sooner than this last gap.
i American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 173
ii American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 394
iii This one is from a bad experience with a fellow student at a MA class.
iv ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, pg. 395-396

Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

Clipart from TopEndSports used as permitted for non-commercial use

SCCS Fitness Training Part 1: The Activity Triad

ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.

See also:
SCCS Fitness Training Intro: This Fitness Program will make you look just like Sarah Connor a Stronger You!
SCCS Fitness Training Part 2: Flexibility
SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics
SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

When people think of fitness they tend to think of it as terms of just how much they work out. Or don’t work out, as the case may be. Many people who spend a half hour to an hour a day exercising hard in the gym become frustrated that this isn’t enough to meet their goals. Others, likewise, figure that it takes “hours and hours” in the gym, time they don’t have, and don’t even bother, perhaps fed by stories, like of Linda Hamilton’s preparation for Terminator 2 or of what athletes they might admire do. When their short workouts, or those of people they know if they don’t work out themselves, do not give them those same results they put it off to not having the immense free time “needed” to work out, often coming up with overblown ideas of how much free time others must have. Like, those who seem to think being drugged up in a mental institution would make it easier to stay in fighting form. (this is from several conversations with people who tried to justify why other actresses playing Sarah Connor should be less muscular, because, after all, she’d not keep in shape unless she was on Thorazine and locked up)

The fact is, that even if you have reasonable goals of being stronger and healthier (as opposed to looking like an ideal person), an hour in the gym is not going to counteract spending the rest of your waking hours sedentary. We’re not just talking about muscle gain or weight loss, but about the actual health benefits as well. We are an animal that evolved to move a lot, yet we are an increasingly sedentary society. Many of us are virtually tied to desks for livelihood, then spending much of our free time in front of either TV or computer screens. Often it’s all many have the energy for because we are just as under slept as we are sedentary. We do not get true rest when sitting, often stressed out, and working or even “relaxing” after work…real rest is an important, and often neglected, element as well.

I like to think of this on terms of a triad, as I like to think in threes generally anyway. But it does come down to the fact that there are three activity phases needed for good fitness levels and health. That would be physical activity, exercise and rest.

Physical Activity
It’s actually fairly common to confuse “physical activity” and “exercise” but they are not the same thing; exercise is a form of physical activity, but not all physical activity is, or at least should be, exercise. And what they mean for different people can be somewhat different as well, for some of what the average person considers exercise might be an athlete or warrior’s physical activity. This is one of the reasons why so many believe that fitness requires hours of working out, when really, it just requires more movement through out the day rather than just in the gym; athletes physical activity would include their training, it’s what they do. In our sedentary world, we often forget that our ancestors moved almost constantly during their waking hours, primarily in the quest for food…not just hundreds of thousands of years ago but just a few decades ago and in some parts of the world, still today. In the Western world now the most we might get is from roaming the grocery story, often in the wrong sections, and plopping something in a microwave for a minute.

“Physical activity” is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as “bodily movement that is produced by contraction of skeletal muscle and that substantially increases energy expenditure.” [i] These are the things we should be doing on an every day basis; regular activity, such as walking throughout the day, doing chores at home or on the farm (traditionally and for some of us again), walking your dog, playing with your children, gardening, social dancing. It would have meant hunting and gathering food, or planting, tending and harvesting food, or herding food. While our society might have evolved to be more sedentary, our bodies have not. And while some might have the notion, as many a Star Trek episode seemed to suggest, that we’ll evolve away from needing our bodies, it’s not a future that looks good to me and I doubt to anyone who would be reading this.

Depending on our jobs, it can be difficult to find ways to increase physical activity during our work hours; today many jobs are inactive and some are seemingly designed to prevent workers from adding any activity. There are the little bits that are commonly suggested, of course, remembering to park further away if you must drive to work, walking or biking to work instead of driving if you can, taking stairs instead of the elevator, getting up from your desk and just doing something any chance you get, going for walks on breaks.

Those who have some control over their work environment can do other things; one that is becoming increasingly popular is standing desks or work stations. These are set higher up so that you stand and move around rather than sit at them. For those with a lot of control and cash, there apparently are even treadmill desks. In places where the desk can’t be changed perhaps the chair can be replaced with a balance or stability ball. This may be sitting, technically, but it’s a far more active sitting, and keeps the core muscles which most of us let slop about with our poor sitting posture working and strong. For those who can change their chair but a ball rolling about the office might be a problem, there are even balance ball chairs, which might not be quite as effective as they don’t roll the same way, but are still better than conventional chairs without being overly noticeable. If you can’t change the chair, then there are “cushions” which work similarly that you can put on your chair and even in you car if you drive. These might not be optimum, but every little bit is something.

Outside of work look for physically active forms of recreation. Go for walks, hike, take a martial arts class. Play, I mean really play as in run and laugh and shriek, with your kids. Gardening, cleaning house, washing the car, do it all with determined activity. Don’t forget to walk your First Line of Defense if it’s a dog and smaller look-out animals will also be mentally stimulated if you take them out, even if it’s best to carry them. See how much movement you can get into the day. At least get up every few minutes from the computer or TV.

And, yes, some of those things, hiking, walking, martial arts, biking, sound like exercise. They may be for the average person, but as SCCS members, we’re trying to optimize our fitness levels, aren’t we? While a martial arts class might be seen as a form of exercise for a sedentary average person replacing other forms, for us it should be seen as part of our physical activity. This is why the “hours and hours in the gym” idea has become so ingrained in people’s minds, because for athletes some of their training really is more defined as physical activity than exercise, so some of their activity might take place in a gym. Many women might take a cardio-kickboxing class to exercise, but a competitive kickboxer likely runs and lifts weights to be able to stay strong in the ring, her fight training is more of a physical activity of her vocation. We of the SCCS need to be less “Average Jane” and more the athlete or warrior who fills our waking time with as much movement as possible every day.

Like at work, especially if you are sedentary at work and then might have limited time for other activity, you can “multi-task” what sitting you do at home. Again, for computer and TV time, you can stand or sit on a balance ball; you have control of your home desk, right? But, also, “multi-task” in more relaxed ways; what time you spend sprawled on the couch should be used to snuggle your significant other, kids and/or pets something to give yourself some restful comfort. That means not just snuggling your laptop. Or a bag, box or carton of fake-food. Or that report you didn’t finish, do that at your at home standing desk. When you sit to rest, really REST, don’t sit and stress instead.


This is what you’re mostSarah's ionic chin uply reading this series for, right? And I will be covering how to build an exercise program in future articles so I’ll stick to bare basics here. The ACSM defines exercise as “planned, structured and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.”[ii] This is your workouts, the components of which are aerobic (or cardiovascular), strength and flexibility all of which must be included. Yes, three again, I can’t help myself…but then there’s no getting away from this triad, these are all required for healthy fitness.

Most of us do find that we are more naturally suited to one or two of these while one or two come to us harder; it’s rare to be naturally really flexible, really strong and have really amazing endurance…and those who do tend to end up competitive athletes. Typically someone very strong is not likely to be real flexible or have cardiovascular stamina and someone very flexible might not be real strong and so forth. And most people love to work their strengths, to do those things that their body naturally is adept to, often neglecting, giving up on really, forms of exercise that might come harder. This even goes so far for some that they actually attack the other components as pointless, wasteful and deny the science behind them; sadly, this includes a growing number of “fitness experts.”

While it can be lovely to revel in what we do best, which ever that is, we can also enjoy the challenge of developing what comes hardest. Striving to find a balance of all three facets is vital and all three feed into the others. Without one of these physical traits being brought to our own personal optimum, the others will fail too.

I know most of you are primarily interested in strength training, so no sales pitch here on that, but without also balancing that with stretching for flexibility the body can become tight and lack range of motion. Without a strong cardiovascular system, well, we can just plain stop if it is weak or damaged enough; and heavy weight lifting can put a strain on the heart with no benefit to it, so we must exercise it too.

The frequency for each of these forms of exercise is different. Stretching can and should, especially if you are not naturally limber, be done at least after cardio or strength training and anytime you wish after warming up the muscles with activity as “cold” muscles can tear more easily It should always be done in a slow, static way with not bouncing movement.

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise can be done from 3 to 5 days a week, and can be done on consecutive days. Doing more per week has not been found to be more beneficial but can increase your chances of injury especially if you do the same activity each time. Remember, this doesn’t include daily physical activities. For general fitness and health the best cardio exercise is the one(s) you will do; for SCCS it is highly recommended that you also consider the survival focused ones, such as running and hiking (preferably with a pack of the weight and style of your go-bag…if not your go-bag itself). While any aerobic exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs, you only get good at the ones you actually do.

Strength training, that which most of you love the most, we might do the least of, depending on how many body parts we work in a session, how intense we are lifting and our bodies’ individual needs. A given body part must be rested (that is from actual strength training, that doesn’t mean skip stretching, cardio or physical activity) for at least 48 hours. For those who have trouble gaining muscle, resting longer, combined with heavy workouts, is far more likely to bring results than lifting more often as counter-intuitive as that may seem. As the primary form of strength training, the SCCS recommends “traditional” weight lifting, combining single joint and multiple joint exercises utilizing free-weights and body weight.

Of course, there are exercises that combine two or more of these fitness components and these can be added in to ones regime. Most Yoga forms, for example, combine stretching and strength training, although the strength aspects can be hard to develop if you’re not already strong and lifting can help you get there. Some involve cardiovascular periods as well. Pilates similarly can combine some stretching with strengthening. Kettlebell work is often very aerobic, some training programs with them are actually more-so than they are strength training (and be careful with these as some create unsafe momentum, be aware of your posture and form). And there is what I refer to as “Sarah’s Cell Circuits” which I use during active rest phases[iii] and for a change at any time. But all forms of “dual” methods should be in combination with focusing on each component. We’ll discuss this more in future segments.

But with the three components, people again start to think “hours and hours in the gym” and few of us have that. Not having the time is the number one excuse people use, but again, it doesn’t have to take that much time. First, unless you are choosing to do a mixed training, there is no reason you have to do both cardio and strength training in one session. For weight training depending on how intense you work out, it could be just half an hour. Depending on how you split your workout and how long your body needs to rest (which does vary as noted above, but is always at least two days for a given body part), this might just be two or three days a week…it might be more but chances are if you’re splitting it that much your sessions are short. A twenty minute to half hour run, especially if you are otherwise physically active, is enough for cardiovascular health, if you have no more time than that (remember to give yourself some time to stretch and cool down). On days you have less time, it’s okay to work out a bit less than on days you have more. It really is. In fact, as you progress, you’ll find that every change you make helps confuse the body and that is important, especially in muscle building but it can also help in cardiovascular work as well.


Okay, now you’re thinking “rest isn’t activity; it’s the opposite of activity.” This is, in fact, probably where a lot of us get in trouble with it. There is so much to do, especially now that we’ve added in all this exercise and physical activity, that rest is just a waste of time. But it isn’t, it’s a key component of our activity. Without enough rest, including enough sleep, our bodies can not perform adequately nor recover properly. And rest must mean rest, as I noted above just because you’re sedentary doesn’t mean you’re resting; being stressed in a seat or prone position is not rest.

Muscle builds during the rest periods, not during exercise. It’s the recovery. So think of sleep and relaxation as an actual part of your training, a time where the activity takes place inside you rather than outside.

When it comes to sleep, this could be one of those things where I could tell you to do what I say and not what I do. Or I could lie and tell you I’ve got a great relationship with sleep. Or admit that I don’t but make excuses about my night time work schedule just making it too hard. But instead I’m going to be honest that I do not and I’m going to take an attitude of “we’re in this together, what can we do about it?” I’m totally a work in progress and recently I have learned a few things about sleep that I think are helpful and that I’m TRYING to use to fix my relationship with it.

First I want to dissuade anyone who has the idea that just because you habitually sleep very few hours and manage to drag yourself through everyday like that, with the help of caffeine and sugar most likely, that you are one of those Short Sleepers. You’re not. Okay, a short sleeper might have bothered to read this for entertainment, what with all the time they have on their hands (although I suspect another motive, as you’ll see), but they no more need suggestions on physical activity or exercise as, well, they not only have the time to do all that but they have a lot of energy. Constantly, and all the time.

I suspect, myself, that there are no such people, that all these so-called Short Sleepers are actually Terminators whose mission is to demoralize the entire human population to the point where we accept the machines. So I also know they’re reading this and I’ve put a target on myself, but it’s my duty to warn you all to beware of them. (but in case I’m wrong, just avoid them…well, they’re annoying so you probably do that anyway…don’t do anything more drastic)

Conventional recommendations regarding sleep for we who are human as been “an average of 8 hours of UNINTERRUPTED sleep.” It’s that uninterrupted part that is usually the problem. So, pretty much all of us wake up in the wee hours of the morning and we know it’s The Insomnia! We will not get enough sleep! We will not be able to do what we need to do during the day! We must now worry over everything that we have to do during the day! OMG! Also we must worry about everything we did yesterday that we messed up because we have The Insomnia! What about that presentation next week! We’ll have The Insomnia and screw it to hell! We must get The Insomnia fixed!

Again, the conventional advice is to not lie in bed tossing and turning and worrying, but to get up and go to another room and do something. This “wisdom” says that you will only toss and turn and worry with The Insomnia if you stay in bed. Well, the problem is, light makes you more awake. Getting up makes you more awake, for that matter. And the tossing and turning might be that because that’s what we’re told is expected, because we’re told that this waking up is The Insomnia. I remember being told as a child when I’d wake up how I would suffer at school for not sleeping through the night. So I’d lie awake listening to the hours tick by (clocks that chime the hours are not your friend). I started this worrying about The Insomnia early. I think many have.

But it may be that while there is real insomnia, and I do not mean to make light of those with a real problem with it (but obviously, that’s outside of my scope of abilities), this may not be it. Sleep studies have shown that it’s normal for people to wake up after a period of sleep and stay awake for a period of time. And that for people who don’t fret about it, it’s not a problem. They drift along in lovely day dreams, meditate, happily plan out a worry-free day, have sex, snuggle, then they drift back to sleep. And awake far more rested than those of us who may simply be convinced that interrupted sleep is The Insomnia!

So what do we do? Well, stop worrying! It’s that simple. Um, yeah…not so much, right? But it’s the goal. We need that rest, we need to learn to accept the waking and not make it worse by getting up, we need to not rely on drugs that make keep us unconscious but don’t usually make us feel rested (note that most sleep aids warn about morning tiredness! So what is the point?). But, obviously, “just get over it” doesn’t really work.

I’m on a mission with this. To make my house darker before I intend to go to sleep and accepting that I won’t fall asleep for awhile and that that’s okay. Then when I wake up, to just accept it and stay there and work on reprogramming my brain. I try to think about good things as my mind willfully tries to make me think of bad things. This will take effort and time. I might listen to relaxing music (such as these Gaelic lullabies –please excuse the plug for a talented friend here) and am considering some meditation tapes. Sometimes, yeah, I resort to watching something a bit boring, but not so boring it doesn’t keep my somewhat distracted, to watch but in bed, despite “conventional wisdom.”

Yes, when any Shit Hits the Fan and we’re in crisis, we might have to go long periods without sleep. However, practicing not sleeping does not make you better at not sleeping. It just can’t, the body doesn’t work that way. It’ll just mean that you’re judgment is always off, that your body is not working at it’s best and therefore that you will not manage in a crisis as you really need to. So forget “you can rest when you’re dead,” that thinking may just make you, or someone you love, dead all the sooner if you maintain it as a constant philosophy. Instead, sleep when there is no crisis, doing what you need to do to do it well, so that your body and mind are ready for when you absolutely must go without. And even during a crisis, get what rest you can when you can to keep yourself able to go for the long haul.

A Note on the Fuel

I mostly do not discuss food in the SCCS as I leave that too the Foodies such as Thistle to do. As a personal trainer, I also do not offer my clients “diets.” “Diet” in our society no longer seems to mean a general term for what foods we eat, but rather a short-term method of eating designed specifically to alter our bodies, most often for weight loss. And I do not believe in them. At all. Instead, I feel we should fix our relationships with food and develop a consistently healthy food lifestyle.

Just as we can’t have a healthy relationship with a fake person, we can’t have one with fake food either. So even if for some reason you prefer a bunker full of MREs over Thistle’s real food storage suggestions, I highly recommend you not eat fake food now. After all, like not sleeping, eating fake food is not something you’ll need, or want to practice. It’ll just make you sick of it faster. We need real, nutrient packed, vital food.

If you have to shop the grocery store, shop the perimeters, but try the farmer’s market or join a Community Supported Agricultural group (CSA) as a first choice. Local produce, grown in good soil, local grass-fed, humanely raised animals may sound pricey and elitist, but it’s often cheaper than the average junk food grocery bill if you. Don’t forget that getting to know your farmers, is an important survival tactic too, farmers are seriously good people to get to know for when the SHTF. If you are in a city, you may be surprised to find how many people are growing food in urban areas and farmer’s markets are growing again in cities.

Because most of us at The Sarah Connor Charm School are focused on strength, on building muscle, it may not be a reduction of calories you are considering but increasing. And many of us do find that we need more fuel as we workout harder. Many bodybuilders and other strength athletes use chemical laden protein drinks or bars to fuel their workouts, using fake food to give more calories as opposed to reducing them. Again, fake food is fake, don’t use them! Instead, if you missed it, Thistle has posted a flexible smoothie recipe that you can modify to your own tastes.

Move more. Sleep. Eat real food. Stay frosty!

[i] American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2009
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Active rest will be discussed in the weight lifting section, for those unfamiliar with the term, it is a “break” taken from one’s weight routine, to avoid plateaus and give muscles a bit of confusion. Often, especially among bodybuilders, this period is totally free of lifting but not of cardio and is typically very short. Alternatively, a far less intensive lifting, such as this circuit, Pilates, kettlebell or Yoga might be continued even though they involve strength training as they may be less intensive and different from the usual routine.

Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

Power Smoothie

Power Smoothie

By Thistle

Since Saigh has been posting some stuff about fitness programs(with more great stuff to come!), I figured it would be nice to include some nourishing and boosting recipes to go along with the workouts. I know when I started getting into heavier workouts and doing a lot of weight lifting, my body began to require more foods, and more of certain food groups – mainly fat and protein.


I make this smoothie usually an hour or so before my workout, or sometimes after my workout, depending on when I am feeling most depleted or in need of a boost. This is a very versatile recipe, and intended that way.

In the food blogging world, I am known as The Leftover Queen, and my philosophy is that making food for yourself should not be difficult. One way to make it simple is to use what you have on hand.

Many times in the past I would post a specific recipe, and then get comments like: “can I substitute Y ingredient for X ingredient?” or “I wish I could make that, but I don’t consume X ingredient” or “I wish I could make this but I don’t know where to get X ingredient” or “I don’t like X ingredient”. You get the gist…

This is your smoothie recipe – easy to tailor to your tastes and needs. I give some suggestions, but feel free to improvise. Like chocolate? Add a TBS or two of fair trade cocoa powder (no sugar added). Don’t do sugar? Try stevia, or fruit sweetened smoothies – dried dates are great for this. Avoiding caffeine? Skip that. Want to make it a greenie? Add a handful of spinach. The possibilities are endless!


INGREDIENTS: per smoothie (@ 16 oz)

1 cup liquid – Kefir, Raw Milk, Coconut Milk are good choices

1 banana – I also like using instead 1 avocado or ¼ cup of pumpkin puree

3 TBS almond butter – you can use any other nut butter

1 TBS virgin coconut oil – macadamia nut oil or hazelnut oil would also be tasty

Handful of soaked nuts – I usually use almonds – click here to understand about the benefits of soaking nuts

1 TBS 100% pure maple syrup (optional)

Dash of cinnamon (optional)

1 shot of espresso or ¼ cup of coffee (optional)




Place all the liquids in your blender first. Then add the fruit, butters, oils and nuts and then the cinnamon. Process on medium speed until well mixed, then start adding ice, a handful at a time, gradually, until the smoothie is at your desired consistency. I usually turn up the speed to high during the ice process. Pour and enjoy!

Power Smoothie w/ Cat

This recipe has been kitty approved.


SCCS Fitness Training Intro: This Fitness Program will make you look just like Sarah Connor a Stronger You!

*ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease. *


Many of our website hits are from people looking for how to get Sarah Connor’s muscle, so I have decided that a series of fitness pieces would be welcome here. For the record, I am a personal fitness trainer, but do keep in mind that the following is never a substitute for consulting with a real-life trainer, which is never a bad idea even if it’s for short term evaluation and program updating. As noted above, it is also your responsibility to make sure you are healthy enough to start an exercise program, if you are currently un- or de-conditioned especially.

So to the title…..the truth is that no, I’m not going to be able to offer you some super-secret-no-sweat-no-work short-cut to looking just like Sarah. I can’t even offer you a super-hard-lots-of-sweat workout to look like her. It’s not going to happen for a number of reasons. The first is that you’re not Linda Hamilton (unless you are, then I would swoon if I found out you were reading this), nor her identical twin, Leslie, nor a clone of either. The only way to look just like that is to have identical genes. Or be a T1000, I suppose.

Linda back
All those sites that promise you’ll look like *CELEBRITYX* with their offered work out are scamming you, for that simple reason. We all look different, we all muscle up different, none of us in the SCCS look just like Sarah; in fact, I’d say we represent a very wide variety from very muscular, possibly bigger than her, to very skinny but with definition to quite plump but with lots of muscle to something sort of in betweenish. What you need to look for is your own optimum strength and conditioning, while being inspired by what Sarah did in going from Waitress to Warrior. But it will look different. No routine is going to magically change your genetic code. Sorry. Thistle back
Saigh back

Just two examples of SCCS members, Thistle and Saigh, who were
inspired by but do not look like “Sarah Connor” but instead themselves, just

Likewise, this means that I can’t give you a “one program fits all” program. Just like you will look different from anyone else, your body will respond differently not only from others but from itself as time goes on. There are basics that will create the strength, endurance and flexibility that you should be striving for, but your exact program is going to be different from that of others and be ever changing, to create muscle confusion. The ever changing part is often the most difficult and I’m likely to dedicate an article just on that.

And it does take work, it really does. There are no short cuts. That being said, it actually doesn’t take the “hours and hours every day” in the gym that some out there claim, for long term fitness (Hamilton did work longer hours, but she had a short term goal…she also could get away with it because she has good muscle genetics, for most of us her schedule would likely have led to overtraining and injury, for some it would work but lead to burn out). That is, of course, if you are otherwise physically active, this will be our discussion in the next segment. It also takes progression and, eventually, muscle confusion (that is, the exercises need to change), the “just do these easy exercise” part in those “look like *CELEBRITYX*” offers may well be a good start, but in a short time, you’ll need to make some changes. If you’re already working out, these workouts may well be giving you less than you’re doing now and might even qualify as “active rest.”[i] So if you’re looking for an easy fix, give it up one way or the other, that is, either decide now if you are willing to work and prove your SCCS material or move on to someone who tells you want you want to hear even if it won’t actually help you. If your mind is going immediately to all the excuses for why you can’t do it “too busy, too poor, too whatever” then go here to be reminded what conditions Sarah Connor had to endure to remain fighting fit. *Of course, if you have actual health issues that counter indicate strenuous exercise that’s a reason not an excuse. Remember you are responsible to making sure you are healthy enough to start a fitness plan, and to get the help you need to develop a safe program if you have health issues.*

What I can do, over the next several weeks, is give you some tools and some path pointers to develop the programs you need to develop serious and functional strength and health.

[i] “Active rest” periods are used by many athletes, including bodybuilders, to give their bodies time to heal from heavy training, allowing for a bit of a “reset.” The “active” part is that you don’t stop exercising and especially don’t stop being physically active, but rather stop the sports related part. For bodybuilders, most will continue cardio work, although perhaps a bit lighter (most alter the amount of cardio work they do by what their body fat needs are at the time, usually upping it before competitions to burn fat, as well), but not lift during this period. For the rest of us, we might switch the sort of lifting we do, for instance someone doing free-weight training with a focus on single joint action might “take a break” by doing powerlifting styled full-body training or kettlebell or Pilates….

See also:
SCCS Fitness Training Part 1: The Activity Triad
SCCS Fitness Training Part 2: Flexibility
SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics
SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

It’s about the pain, or what we want to do with it


Polaroid of Sarah(I know, I’m cheating again, reposting something from a year ago posted in my own blog. But as this is focused on Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton and I want to remind myself that this is to go in the article section, here it is again)

In an interview at the MCM London Expo last May (which tells you how long I have been thinking about this), Linda Hamilton remarked regarding fans wanting to be like her Terminator and Terminator 2 character Sarah Connor, “I was playing a character in a hell of the world’s making. She’s in so much pain. Why would anyone want to be like that?”

My immediate reaction, which I did briefly express in comments on that page, was, “Well, because we’re ALL in pain and we’re looking for a role model to help us figure out how to deal with it.” I don’t know that in all these years of wondering “What Would Sarah Do?” and before and after looking for role models to match her, I really thought of it that way. But, really, isn’t that exactly what it all comes down to?

We all have pain. We may not lose our mother, friends, lover and many surrounding us to a machine from the future, but we do lose those we love to other terminators throughout our lives. We may not face the fact that our child is going to be entering a known dangerous future, where he’ll be burdened with saving humanity, but those who have children (their own or those of others close to them) are faced with, at best, their unknown futures, and sometimes very real and immediate fears for their lives and safety. Our pains might not be quite interesting enough to be a subject of a movie, and when they are they are usually such direly depressing movies that we don’t watch them, but they are real.

“Escapism” really often is about watching someone else have pain that is more interesting than ours. At times perhaps it is escape we are looking for, to see someone go through something that just makes us, for an hour or two not think about our own. But I think many of us “fangirls” and “fanboys” of particular, especially action, characters, often do so because we like the way those characters deal with their pain. And while we would not want their pain as well, certainly do not wish those horrors upon ourselves and our loved ones, we want to be able to deal with what we do face in a similar manner.

This means that the fiction we tend to prefer may well say something about how we wish to cope with or solve the problems and sorrows in our lives. Those who mostly watch comedies might prefer search for laughter to soften the blows of life. We who favor action, horror or science fiction movies probably want to cowgirl up, face things down and carry on. Of course, most of us probably want different coping methods at different times which is why some of us have varied tastes in our fiction.

I think that Sarah Connor is revolutionary in this way, as much as she is for her physique and prowess with arms, in that she gives women that role model to carry on and do what needs doing. And, indeed, that strength and fighting skills were part of her answers is revolutionary as well. The training, the preparation, the choosing to become a warrior, rather than just remain the reactive Final Girl, these things are hard to find in female characters, especially in film.

It’s not hard to realize that the fictional “solution” to pain focused on female audiences has often been, in one way or another, to be saved. Whether it’s the lighter offerings of romantic comedies where the heroine is in a bad relationship or none at all until she meets the right guy who helps her out of her current situation or the darker action where the heroine’s very life is in peril and the hero must risk his to save her, this has been a standard message. It’s been there for a long time, whether the saving of the damsel is the main story or just a side-bar of the hero’s journey. There have, however, long been plucky heroines who have saved themselves in many cultures, sometimes even by taking up arms. Some even trained hard to do so, but this has been rare and still is.

Even when we’re not being taught that we must wait for our Knight in Shining Armor to come sweep us to safety, we may be taught to just wait. Many of our more physically active heroines, after all, are endowed with the power to solve their dilemmas from some outside source. Whether it’s the Bionic Woman’s science fiction enhancement or Buffy’s supernatural vampire slaying powers being awakened or so many comic book heroines who go may run the gambit between “science” and mystical, we may well wish for suddenly being gifted with the power to take on our own problems. Even those heroines born with powers can instill the same desire, their typical “alien” identity often calling out to our own feelings of being alienated, that we might wake up to the realization that we are special and do have powers we never expected (that many do believe this these days, in the Otherkin phenomenon, is a can of worms I probably shouldn’t open). (I’m not going to say there are not similar male characters, just that there does seem to be more of a balance between them and those men who take action for themselves.)

But the truth is, Otherkindred aside, we’re not going to get those powers. So, certainly, we have heroines who have no powers but persevere. Ripley and a parade of Final Girls in horror films never prepare to any real extent. Ripley in Aliens goes through some weapons training after the threat has been established, but that’s about the most we ever see in any of these movies. This gives us hope that any woman could survive, given enough attitude. And so, we can survive our own trials, we’ll face them as they come.

As women we are supposed to constantly fear sexual violence, and so we have “good” examples of women saving themselves with attitude and ingenuity. In fact, we have an entire B-movie genre, the Rape Vengeance movies. I Spit on Your Grave is, of course, the representative of this genre. Like other Final Girls, the heroine doesn’t prepare and her sense of power is continually tainted with terror while her success is often dependent on just plain luck. It gives us a gratifying sense of vengeance, but no real role model.

Similarly, the cinematically superior, but inaccurately (or was it meant to be ironic?) titled, The Brave One, followed a similar formula replacing rape with the death of a loved one (which in a world where women are trained to see men as protectors this alone gives a similar sense of vulnerability) and the hillbilly hell setting with the dangerous urban world that the character had always lived in but seemed to be previously oblivious of. Many women related to Jodie Foster’s character’s fear and her striving to protect herself and avenge her lover, but instead of offering a role model of developed strength we get one of continued fear and powerlessness. She substitutes a gun she never learns how to use for real power, for real preparation, she never really gains control, she remains reactive and in terror to the very end. She is perhaps a good example of how many of us do deal with our day to day trials, scared, unthinking, out of control, nearly hysterical, sometimes getting lucky in our blind actions but never acting with strength. Again, a message society often tells women we are and can never get beyond, irrational, vulnerable, even when we do manage to enact our revenge.

In The Terminator Sarah starts out like Final Girls and those who are gifted with powers as just one of us, someone most of us can relate to. She works a very typically female shit-job, she is in college but there is some sense that she’s not really found her path yet, she’s stood up by a date with someone she apparently barely knows; she’s nowhere and we’ve all been there. Fate intervenes and she does find out she’s special, but instead of getting gifted with a power which will make her tasks easier, she’s given the burden of knowing she’s to bear a son who will be a great leader but in a world of utter hell. She’s a Final Girl, reacting, whining and scrambling in a situation she’s unprepared for, with tragedy after tragedy striking in just one night as her best friend, her mother and her lover, along with many others are killed. But in the end she makes a choice, to stop whining, to stop being reactionary, to prepare her son for what he must face by preparing herself. It might not be a totally independent decision, for she is told that she was the one who trained her son of the future, but for that young woman who “can’t even balance my checkbook” it was a big one.

We don’t see that preparation, but we see the results from the moment Sarah appears in Terminator 2. We see her chinning in a situation where maintaining any fitness level would take such a stronger degree of commitment than any of our own issues with motivation at getting to a gym can compare. She soon is picking locks and taking out orderlies with the skills she learned. These things tell us she prepared. And to those of us whose desire is to face our problems by being prepared, she’s awesome. Hard, inside and out, yes, but there are times this is needed. Hair triggered, but even “out of control” she’s got power because of her training.

It might seem strange that a character who onscreen never faces the threat of serious rape, face licking sexual abuse is as much as we’re shown (even the non-sexual beat down from the same orderly was not shown in the original theatrical release), has become an icon for many to prepare against sexual violence. It’s actually that she never is shown to be so imperiled that is at the very core of why she’s so inspiring. In a world where women are considered constantly at risk of sexual assault, she actually represents a woman who isn’t at the same degree of risk. Even in taking the gross face lick, there’s a strategy, she’s biding her time for what needs to be done, and that insult isn’t that important in the long run. Even taking the orderly out, though there might have been some feelings of rightful revenge, is more about getting him out of the way to deal with real problems. The threat of sexual violence is something to be dealt with efficiently and quickly, not pondered upon, just get the problem man out of the way and move on.

It has been pointed out that her muscle and Krav Maga skills would be pointless against the machines, but that doesn’t mean they were pointless in her training. We can well imagine that in the “man’s world,” a literal jungle, where she sought out paramilitary training, there were men who would have gladly taken out their violence upon a lone woman. She may well have been a rape survivor during the early days, that may indeed be an added pain, one many of us share, that is never revealed. But considering the future she and her son face, there are greater threats. So, the skills needed to deal with those men are acquired with the skills needed to deal with the future threats, again, when the threat is presented, get the problem man out of the way and move on.

Likewise, muscles, guns and hand-to-hand combat skills, which many of have been inspired to pursue (and some of us where before but just found our role model) might not help any of us with most of the problems we face. But the fact is, sexual violence is a threat that women live with everyday, the statistics remain high that we will be assaulted in some way by someone, stranger or “loved one,” at some point in our lives. Many consider it just a fact we have to contend with. It’s not our only problem, it’s not a problem most of us actually face on a daily basis (although some might fear it almost constantly), but the truth is, it’s a major burden lifted from your life when you feel just that much less vulnerable than you did before.

Knowing that should it come up, you have a good chance, that you are prepared, that perhaps that asshole who thinks you are a victim is the one that should be worried more than you, it does change how you handle other things. Living in fear, feeling that at least half of the world could take you out in a moment, does not empower you on any level. Sarah showed us that such threats can be just something to get out of the way should they come up. Until then, you can do what needs to be done to deal with the other shit in your life. So she becomes a symbol of the ultimate preparations against any sort of assault we might face.

This is, as I’ve noted before, the greatest travesty of Terminator Salvation, that the franchise that gave us this ultimate role model of strength, turned around and made the one female character who could have carried on that legacy into just a victim. A victim who needs a big strong Knight to save her. That demonstrates the very thing that Sarah Connor represented our journey away from.

And when it comes to other problems in our lives, Sarah can still offer us hope. We can face the loss of loved ones and still strive towards our goals because she did. If our tasks seem hard and overwhelming, we can stoically strive on, with out whining (or at least not for long), without faltering, because, well, she got through her burdens and, even when there seemed no hope, fought to find a better solution. Certainly she mourned her dead, she went from just conceiving to very pregnant in the last scene of Terminator, but she shows eventually you pack up your dog, gun and Spanish dictionary and head head out to prepare for what’s to come.

Of course, there is another factor in dealing with the sadness issue at hand in what Sarah inspires for us. Moments of sheer joy. It’s the endorphins, baby. Working out, martial arts/self-defense training and defensive shooting training all give us strong endorphin dumps. It might not solve the problems, it might not cure the source of the sad, but it certainly is nice to have those periods of elation.

So, Linda (although I’m sure you’ll never read this) and others who ask this question, this is why we want to be like Sarah. No, we don’t want her burdens added to our own. We just want her strength, which you demonstrated so well, to handle them. Strong and hard, sometimes too alone and shut-off but we can find our way back to love too, sometimes ranting and raving at a world that can’t grasp the hard truths, always prepared, with a plan, getting the small problems out of the way so we can deal with saving the world as best we can.

And it’s kind of nice if we can groove on some endorphins and look our buffist while we do it, too.

Copyright © 2010 Saigh Kym Lambert