Survival of the Fittest

Drew Baye performing trap bar deadlifts“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.”

– Mark Rippetoe

The phrase “survival of the fittest” refers to the process of natural selection – the members of a species best suited to survival in their environment are more likely to live long enough to reproduce and pass along their genes, with each successive generation becoming better suited – more fit – to survive in that environment. Having already been born, there is little we can do to improve our fitness in the genetic/evolutionary sense. That is mostly decided for us at the moment of conception. However, we can and should do everything we can to improve every aspect of our fitness in the physical sense.

In most parts of the world natural selection no longer operates the way it does in the wild due to agricultural and medical advancements and cultural and societal changes. These changes have lowered the genetic bar for survival significantly – have almost gotten rid of the bar altogether. Advancements in labor saving devices and easy access to calorie dense food have compounded this by minimizing the physical effort required for daily survival to practically nothing, resulting in a society that is mostly weak, slow and fat. Most people alive now in developed countries would be incapable of handling the physical demands of the day to day lives of our ancestors, and would have no hope of surviving in such an environment. There would, however, be far fewer hungry bears and lions.

While this may seem irrelevant today with cars and public transportation, a convenience store on every corner, escalators and elevators everywhere, and the lack of large predators in urban and residential areas, all it takes is one emergency where one’s survival or the survival of another depends on their strength or stamina to learn a very hard lesson about how important fitness is.

Could you move a very heavy object off of yourself or someone else trapped under it?

Could you hang on to and pull yourself or someone else up over something fallen off of?

Could you pick up and carry an injured or unconscious person to safety?

Could you run fast enough, climb high enough, and move with enough quickness and agility to evade  some other potential danger?

Can you run or climb at all?

With the exception of athletes and people in physically demanding professions most people don’t give much thought to the need for a high level of strength and stamina. They assume they don’t need it because their day to day lives don’t require it. If they think about exercise at all they are probably more concerned with reducing their waistline or staving off having to go up another pant or dress size than improving their physical capabilities. Few people give much consideration to being physically prepared to successfully cope with anything that isn’t part of their daily routine.

When asked why he always carried a gun, Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones once said,

“A pistol is like a tourniquet. You don’t need one very often, but when you do need one you need it very badly, and very quickly.”

The same can be said of a high level of physical fitness. If your lifestyle and profession does not involve some degree of regular, hard physical challenge you may not need a high level of fitness very often, but if an emergency situation should ever arise where your life or someone else’s depends on it, it’s going to be too late to start thinking about working out. In this respect, developing a high level of physical capability is much like carrying a handgun – it is much better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

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23 Responses to Survival of the Fittest

  1. Danny September 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm #

    Even when at the height of my HIT career, I still maintained that the ability to sprint -and/or in Florida, sprint swim- was a necessary skill. Note that I said, ‘skill’, not exercise. A skill as necessary as knowing CPR, basic first aid, etc. The ability to sprint to or from an emergency situation can be the difference of life and death, and not just your life or death.

    The confidence of knowing you can handle the situations presented in the article give one a sense of independence, self reliance, and makes the person much more attractive to the opposite sex than well fitting clothes.

  2. Neil September 8, 2008 at 9:59 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Some excellent points made. The difference being strong makes to someone’s life cannot be overstated. I notice that you have been reading “Strong Enough?” by Mark Rippetoe. Have you read any of his other books (your recent article about squat technique mirrored some of his advice) and if so, what are your thoughts on his training methodology as a member of the HIT camp?

    Thanks a lot.

  3. Drew Baye September 8, 2008 at 10:16 am #

    I’ve read Strong Enough? and Starting Strength and agree with Rippetoe on most areas. Starting Strength is one of the best books I have read on barbell training and Strong Enough was both insightful and entertaining – I found the part about lifting straps particularly humorous. The only things I disagree with are the criticism of machines and single set programs. They are exceptionally well written, and despite some minor disagreements I highly recommend them.

    I think his training programs are good, although I would organize sets and reps differently. His workouts are actually not much different in terms of volume and frequency than a Nautilus-style high intensity training routine if you compare the total work performed. I agree with the emphasis on hard work on basic, compound movements, although I do not recommend Olympic lifts for anyone other than competitive Olympic lifters.

  4. Steven Turner September 28, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Not always natural selection this is the true meaning of the “survival of the fittest”.

    Teaching fitness courses in maximum secuirity gaols I would see examples of “survival of the fittest” everyday as prisoners worked their bodies to the maximum lifing weights. But when released most would not do any type of physical exercise after a short period out on release many would return to gaol thier bodies now “skinny”. Next you would than see them back lifting weights developing their bodies to survive the jungles of everyday prison life.

  5. james spella September 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    i had a friend who smoked heavily, and later, became very obese. i had a discussion with him once, that if he was ever called upon to act in any way over ADL’S, he may find himself in trouble. he died after falling on the floor of his apartment. he had a heart attack attempting to get up from the floor.

    • Drew Baye September 29, 2012 at 9:16 am #


      I’m sorry to hear about your friend. Sadly, considering the poor physical condition of the majority of people this kind of tragedy is far too common.

  6. Pedro September 28, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    “what a shame for a man never to see the strength and beauty of which his body is capable” -Aristotle-

    • Drew Baye September 29, 2012 at 10:36 am #


      Great quote, but it was Socrates who said, “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training – what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

      It would be incredible if we could transform our culture into one that embraced the ideal of mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a healthy body – and placed the highest value on intellectual and physical improvement instead of the superficial and relatively meaningless nonsense people tend to prioritize.

  7. Neil September 29, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Hi Drew,

    You’re right. I was a long-time HIT trainee before switching to Rippetoe’s methods and there are a number of similarities between the two methodologies, the most obvious being a focus on rapid progression, simplicity and the need for increased recovery as the trainee gets stronger.

    I must say that my strength and size gains were far greater and more prolonged using the Starting Strength and Texas Method approaches than when I used HIT but I eventually became fed up with the lack of conditioning and brutal eating regime required to sustain recovery and progress. As a result I eventually moved on to other things.


  8. char September 29, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    i am telling people all the time about a statement i read from KH or Drew that injuries and x billion dollars could be saved yearly by postponing just one month the time that an elderly person goes into a care facility and loses their independence. One simple task, getting up from the stool/chair/bed is often the line in the sand for your independence. Share a seated BW squeat or a BW floor routine with your loved ones.

  9. Craig October 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.”

    What about strong people with ruined joints?

    I guess that would be my main concern with the Rippetoe approach. They seem to accept injuries as part of the price for being big and strong.

    • Drew Baye October 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm #


      Agreed, however some of his material on basic technique is good if you apply it with a slower movement speed and strict turnarounds.

  10. Steven Turner October 2, 2012 at 6:08 am #

    Hi Drew,

    What many people don’t realise is that to have the required level of strength for survival does not require hours and hours of training in the gym. A few minutes a couple of times per week with a few compound movements is all that is needed.

    One of the most common reasons as to why people don’t exercise is that they don’t have “time”. But the so-called experts of the fitness world want people to engage in wasted “physical activity” hours and hours per week. And they call themselves “experts”.

  11. Gayle Stanfill October 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Hi Drew
    Survival skills/conditioning for optimal fitness, Physical, Mental and Emotional-

    Lazarus Long said (okay Heinlein)”A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects!”

    okay the above is a little much. I sometimes ponder what shoud be on one’s top ten+/- list.

    1. Real Exercise and enjoyable(safe)physical activity.
    2. Brush and floss ones teeth. (I work in health care)
    3. Develop strong emotional relationships – if you are not a people person, don’t just own but learn to really take care of a dog.
    4. Learn to Sprint/Run 200 meters (it used to be a mile for me but knees are a bit hammered – HIT is helping a lot).
    5. Basic First Aid/CPR.

    Thoughts on emotional/mental are on hold as I am going to take the dogs for a walk after reflection on number three. Anyone else with a similar list?


  12. Steven Turner October 11, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    Hi Drew,

    I am applying my survival skills for extended leave for six weeks. I will try to keep up with your posts whilst I am away.

    My wife had a back operation five weeks ago I needed every bit of survival skills whilst I cared for her.

    I just read Gayle’s post above.

    Whilst caring for my wife I could add;

    I could pick up after my wife…..
    I could work 12 hours per day…
    I could …you get the point.

  13. Vanner October 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I find the topic of physical survival skills interesting. We exercise our bodies to be strong for specific functions such as running, jumping, carrying.

    Personally, I find that it gives me confidence to lightly practice specific skills such running, jumping, climbing, in between my exercise sessions.

    Drew – what physical skills do you practice outside of your exercise; and how often?

    • Drew Baye October 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm #


      I practice the Wing Chun form Siu Nim Tao daily, practice various martial arts for anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes a few times a week, and used to go out with a parkour group once or twice weekly but now only do that once or twice a month. I’d do more things more often if my schedule permitted.

  14. James October 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Don’t forget the mental part of strength training which helps tremendously in every day life!

    • Brendan October 24, 2012 at 1:46 am #


      Completely agree with your statement. I think the mental aspect of HIT is one of the most overlooked features/benefits. Mike Mentzer summed it up very well “As your muscles get stronger and stronger, you must exercise your will to get stronger apace. Having been successful in my efforts to become both muscularly massive and very strong, I can assure you that the principle of intensity refers almost exclusively to human will and the ability to command your muscles to contract against the only real resistance – your own mind”

  15. Doug October 24, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    You spoke about martial arts and I was wondering your take on
    how mma fighters train. When I first started, you would train 6
    to 7 days a week. Technical training, weight lifting, circuits, lots of
    explosive movement, running/sprinting, and more. After reading
    a lot of your articles and other material, I have changed my routine
    to 1 to 2 HIT sessions, technical training, and sprinting. This goes
    against what most fighters do, considering my training time is only
    a fraction of what others are doing. Just wanted to know what you
    thought since you practice martial arts as well.

    • Drew Baye October 24, 2012 at 11:25 am #


      My advice to MMA competitors would be to do something very similar although the sprinting may not be necessary if the intensity and pace of your HIT workouts is high enough. Just doing a lot of technical training is going to have a conditioning effect and place demands on the body which must be considered with regards to workout volume and frequency. Greg Kelly has trained a few MMA competitors with HIT with good results and I might be able to talk him into doing an interview on this if there is enough interest.

      • Les November 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

        I’m definitely interested!

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