I wish I could remember where I was reading it, but basically a question was posed: are you fit enough to save your own life? What does that mean? It means: could you run, jump, swim, or maneuver yourself out of a life threatening situation that a normal fit person could probably navigate easily?
If your plane crash landed in the water and there were no life preservers, could you tread water until help arrives? If your boat sinks in the middle of a lake and you have no option but to swim to shore, could you do it? You should be fit enough to swim a quarter mile or tread water for at least half an hour.
There are two issues here. One, you should be able to swim, so if you can’t you should learn. I was listening to the news the other day and six children drowned in a river because a couple of them went out too far and another four drowned trying to save them. None of them could swim. Their parents stood on the shore horrified, but couldn’t do anything because they couldn’t swim either. I feel like that situation should never happen.
The second thing is: you should be in good enough shape to be able to swim and tread water for an extended period of time. You never know when you’ll find yourself out on a lake or the ocean with no option but to swim for it or wait in the water until help arrives. You don’t need to be Michael Phelps, but you shouldn’t be the first person to drown either. That would be embarrassing.
I know this probably only happens in action movies, but you should probably be able to sprint at full speed for half a mile or so. I mean a solid run at 6mph or so. Let’s get a little out there and consider that a serial killer is chasing you at a dead run. You want to be able to run to the neighbors house or police station, because you know you’ll never be able to get the keys in your car in time. That never works.
Let’s flip it around and pretend you see someone in need. They’re over a half mile away and need CPR. There isn’t anyone else around. Could you save their life?
Are you agile enough to climb a cargo net or jump over some waist-high obstacles without breaking your stride? You never know when you might need to run down an alleyway strewn with debris. You should be able to climb a cargo net at a respectable speed and use monkey bars.
Your balance should also be decent. You might need to climb some thin pillars or cross a 4×4 beam between buildings while you’re running from the aforementioned serial killer. It would be a sad site if you were running to save your life and died trying to get away.
Obstacle courses are great for training your survival fitness – especially when they have a body of water available for you to swim in. You should just try to complete a predetermined course to begin with, but move on to set a personal record every time you attack it. Try adding obstacles when you begin to plateau. Increase the length or difficulty of the course if it gets too easy.
Try to attack an obstacle course at least a few times a year to see how you do. If you’re really into it, set aside one or two visits a month if one is readily available to you. There is a reason that one of the core exercises of the military is obstacle courses. They provide real world obstacles for you to overcome.