How the Tactical Population Should Tackle Testing, Keeping Up With Health and Job Performance

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Men and women who work in the tactical professions (military, law enforcement, firefighters and EMT) need general health and wellness programs designed to maximize their job-related performance.

Quite often “tactical athletes” are left to prepare and maintain their fitness levels on their own unless they’re lucky enough to be in a unit that requires regular and mandatory training sessions. Even those group training workouts can only do so much to maintain health and wellness for peak job performance.

One typical training mistake is too much focus on an individual’s preferences and strengths, which leads to avoiding or even neglecting weaknesses.

Strength athletes might hate running, or an endurance athlete might hate lifting weights. There are even non-athletes who have not learned how to train and generally dislike the entire experience.

This dynamic tends to make group training a real challenge, and it can make those in charge just throw up their hands and focus on the PT test as the primary training objective. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially with the recent changes in more tactically-focused Combat Fitness Tests, the philosophy of “training for the test” will leave holes in any large group training program.

The goal for soldiers and first responders should be to build a functioning and more fit body and mind supported by a foundation of strength, general durability and stress mitigation.

The ideal way to help the tactical athlete build and maintain the needed elements and movement for success is a combination of annual medical screenings, a basic fitness test that follows the standard PT tests of calisthenics and running and a job performance test. These will enable the tactical athlete to better understand the medical issues that can arise in high stress professions before they become chronic and affect both body and mind.

Unlike the typical competitive athlete who needs to master the skills necessary for their individual sport, the tactical athlete has to develop skills in all the elements of fitness. The goal is not getting good at specific exercises, but to master movements designed to improve overall human performance both on and off the job.

Tactical athletes should aim to master the following elements of fitness and their corresponding functional movements:

Elements of Fitness   Functional Movements
Strength / Power   Hip Hinge
Speed / Agility   Squat
Muscle Stamina   Lunge
Flexibility / Mobility   Push
Grip (equipment carry, etc)   Pull
Core (from hips to shoulders)   Torso Twist
Endurance (Run, Ruck, Swim)   Gait / Carry (Run, Ruck, Swim, w/ gear)

Tactical athletes can also add more elements and movements including fighting, kicking, punching, throwing and grappling, as well as jumping over equipment and landing onto the ground again. All of these elements of fitness and movement are critical for the tactical athlete to master the job.

Of the two columns, the elements of fitness are the focal points of the training cycles, but the functional movements are the actual exercise categories that are used to improve all of the elements of fitness for the tactical athlete.

Here is how they work together to build the overall human performance that a tactical athlete requires:

Tactical Athlete Venn diagram

When you put everything together, a body can endure the strains of training, missions and the daily grind of work, missing sleep and stress. Building a strong body and mind requires the tactical athlete to actively pursue recovery and stress mitigation techniques.

See the related articles below that address sections of the diagram, elements of fitness and movement exercise options:

Difference Between Tactical Athlete and Athlete – In a nutshell, the tactical athletes need to be good at all the elements of fitness and the sports athlete needs to be great at the chosen elements of fitness, exercises and movements of their sport.

Durability - So you want to be a special operator? Great! You can handle stressful situations. Check. You have a strong mindset. Check. But none of those things will matter if your body breaks. Durability, work capacity, stability and stress mitigation are built up through years of hard work, training and learning how your mind and body perform under stress in your work life, athletics or other situations.

Work Capacity: When you think of preparing yourself physically for any military training program, understand that it will require long days of not just being awake and alert, but actually being in constant movement all day long.

Recovery: Recovery Workouts, and Tools to Aid in Recovery

Mindset: Do you focus on getting stronger, faster, gaining weight and muscle, or learning skills like land navigation, swimming, SCUBA or shooting? Or do you focus on getting mentally tougher and learn how to mitigate stress, both physical and emotional? Learn about Stress Mitigation.

Nutrition: If you are serious, invest in having a nutritionist or dietician evaluate your eating habits.

Sleep: Achieve restorative sleep, our #1 stress reducer

Mobility and Flexibility: These are life-changing movements and workouts added just ONCE a week.

Functional Movements and Exercise Options: Are the movements you do functional? Are they helping you move in your personal and professional life? What exactly is functional training and what are the functional movement patterns of the human body?

There is more to tactical fitness than push-ups and running. You need to learn about tactical fitness periodization and how to develop all the elements of fitness while you maintain your strengths in cycles throughout the year.

Eventually, those weaknesses will become strengths (or at least less of a weakness) and you may find you enjoy a completely different style of training once you start to see progress in workouts that you’ve avoided for years.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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