162- Physical Fitness for Self-Defense Minded People

As Daniel prepares to embark on a fitness journey designed by co-host Varg Freeborn, we thought it would be appropriate to reflect on our own journeys and discuss functional fitness from the perspective of a defense-minded individual. Check out some of the main topics discussed during this episode of the podcast. 

  • 1:30  Varg’s definition of functional fitness
  • 3:15  FF what to focus on
  • 6:32  How to begin cycle training
  • 6:40  What to look for in a coach / trainer
  • 9:45  Daniel’s training focus
  • 12:00  Varg adds one more focus: posture
  • 13:00  Gun-based functional carry examples
  • 18:00  What you need to build a functional training program
  • 22:00  Repetition to muscle failure
  • 30:00  Stress creates adaptation
  • 34:00  Where to find Varg
  • 40:00  Daniel’s training tips

Podcast Host: Daniel Shaw

Co-Host: Varg Freeborn

Producer and Transcriptionist: Leah Ramsden



0:58 DS Asks, When someone says “functional fitness”, we hear that a lot in the military, in law enforcement, around defensive-minded circles… what is your definition? VF says;

“As a coach, I look at the term functional fitness and I’m not fond of that term in the first place. There was this [one] world where we had; people who worked out in the general public, and then we had sports specific athletes. And we got this idea that we should train the average individual for the sport of life. Then you don’t know what to call it, because do you call this person an athlete (well of course that’s what CrossFit does – everyone’s an ‘athlete’ now), But then do you call life a sport? That doesn’t really apply. You can’t say sport-specific, you have to say functional… But in reality, [it’s]:

…Anything you do that has a goal, that has an application and real movement and real tasks that you’ll do, in the course of your daily life, or your work, or your sport has a functional purpose to it. Fitness that should have the goal of increasing your capabilities within the likely demands of whatever job, sport, or tasks you’re going to face.”


3:15 DS Asks, So if we’re looking at self-defense; your average armed citizen who may have to fight, who wants to live longer, wants to get healthy, wants to be able to fight with a handgun, [or] unarmed to defend themselves, the ones they love – the SWAT officer out there, the military guy…What should they [all] be focusing on when it comes to fitness? VR responds,

“To start that out, I’ll point out a common trap or pitfall that most people fall into; They get pocketed into one specific single stimulus and adaptation loop Anything that we train, we are going to introduce a stimulus, to the physiologically demanding tasks – the stimulus is going to promote adaptation in the body to make you stronger, faster…for certain movements. These are all adaptations to training. We [tend to] get stuck on doing one or two things.

Varg Freeborn’s training focuses on functional fitness, preparing it for real-life movements and activities through a variety of approaches. This is the gym where an Olympic Weightlifting Seminar took place in Utah last year.

Ex: “I shoot a lot and I do jujitsu”

But you’re missing strength, speed, and agility, endurance training, etc. So, there are all these other adaptations that you’ll need in a fight that you’re not addressing in your training program.”

What to look for in a professional coach Varg’s advice:

6:40 VR Says, “You can go through an experienced coach who knows both the art and science of programming and should have quite a bit of experience and toolsets outside of just one method. For example; You don’t go to a powerlifting coach to learn how to be a great runner. Someone who’s going to coach GPP (General Physical Preparation) that is someone who’s going to have a broad general skill set and a coach that has experience in multiple methods.”

“Some people are just genetically predisposed to responding to training phenomenally and some [other] people are hard gainers and hard changers. Then you just have to work and work and optimize. You have to optimize, and that’s where coaching knowledge really comes in. …You want them to have a [vast array of knowledge] so that they can look at a cross-section of things and see ways to optimize you outside of just one small toolbox.”  

Apart from full-body-training, what’s the focus? 

Daniel’s Take: 9:45 DS Says, “I’m not a huge guy and I’ve tried to get big a few times in my life, trying different techniques from people who had a lot of size… and I ended up gaining like five pounds in six months…I wasn’t getting enough ROI on it so I ended up stopping. But I’ve always worked hard on having strong legs and really good grip strength.”

11:12 DS continues, “I find that those come across for me whether I’m in a fight that’s unarmed or I’m using a handgun, or I’m using a rifle…whatever I’m doing, the grip strength and leg strength are incredibly important. There’s always something I’m doing that’s using those two things. I’ll have this huge muscle dude that’s been to the gym picking up heavy stuff and putting it down for like…ever. He’ll have some problem with his rifle, and I’ll go fix it in no time. Because I have more grip strength than this monster of a guy.”

Varg’s Take: 

12:00 VF Adds, “I would just add; posture. For me, my big triad is posture, legs, and grip. That’s your foundation for everything. Everything that you do in a fight comes from your legs and your posture; Anytime you lock up with someone – creating the force, absorbing the force, changing directions under load, all of those things have to do with the strength with your foundation which is your posture and your legs. And then, getting a hold of someone and grappling, that is grip strength.”

Tremendous emphasis on postural strength and stamina in postural muscular control is found in Oly lifting. Posture is central to effectiveness in physical combat and more importantly it is central to health and wellness anatomically.

Varg’s Functional Fitness Training Ex: 

“I’m a huge proponent of farmer carries – if your training program doesn’t have heavy carries in it, you’re not doing it properly. Especially unilateral carries…the effect on the hip health and hip strength of having unilateral carry is HUGE. But during that process, your grip is holding that weight. I like to use the rogue carry handle so that I get this big, fat grip and that forces your hand to really work for that grip. It’s your posture, legs and grip all getting hit every time…That and any other barbell workout working on posture that is going to translate into a fight.”  

Build Your FF Program 

18:00 VF Says, “You need to take what specific things that you would like to do and build those into your program technique that you truly own is only gained through skill conditioning You take the skills that you are going to use and you repeat them in such a manner that you incite the body into adaptation…[maybe even to muscle failure] and when you do perform the technique later, you truly earned it and owned it.”  

The necessity for functional fitness is by no means limited to professional athletes.
The beauty of repetition – often witnessed in boxing: When you do a particular movement enough times, your body will begin to find a way to do that movement more efficiently and effectively. Many times this is unintentional.

Daniel’s Experience Training To Failure

“I used to box right before I went into the Marine Corps. I had a 1986 Toyota Pickup, stick shift and this dude would call me, “champ” all the time. He made me do workouts and one day he graduated me up to bags. I was so excited he was gonna show me all these punches and combos – NO…I threw jabs for over an hour straight.

I get back in my truck to leave after I thank him for killing me and I put it in reverse and my left arm just doesn’t work. It is DONE. It does NOT work.

So…I’m trying to run the wheel with my right hand, drive with my knee, but then I can’t hit the accelerator. Then, I have to switch knees… I’m just grinding gears, trying to drive home because I have one [working] hand… I didn’t have a good technique for driving my car, but man…did I get a better jab!”


Welcome The Discomfort

“Many people workout for years without getting the ROI on their time. They’re not challenging themselves or creating enough stress to create the adaptations they’re looking for” -DS

“You don’t adapt unless there’s enough pressure on the body to have to adapt..It has to be enough pressure, enough stress to force the body to adapt, to be able to handle it better. If you don’t do those things there is no adaptation.” -VF

Gunmag Training's Chief Instructor Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles.  Since retirement from the Marine Corps, Daniel teaches Armed Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers weapons, tactics and use of force. Daniel takes his life of training and combat experience and develops as well as presents curriculum to help Law Enforcement, US Military and Responsible Armed Citizens prepare for a deadly force encounter.  When he isn't directing marketing for Gunmag Warehouse, Daniel travels the US teaching and training under Gunmag Training, and discusses all things hoplological and self-defense related on The MagLife Podcast.

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