How You Can Boost Tactical Fitness Before Preparing for Military Service

Ashley Reyes, an instructor of the H2O Boot Camp, observes service members as they tread water during a class aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
Ashley Reyes, an instructor of the H2O Boot Camp, observes service members as they tread water during a class aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., April 16, 2012. (Pfc. Melissa Lee/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

I often get asked about how I introduce students to military-style training. One of my initial go-to workouts is a middle-of-the-week Mobility Day; that's the name I give for a non-impact cardio, stretching, foam rolling, massage and treading workout.

It's not easy, but it is, in essence, a recovery day from high-rep calisthenics and the impact of running. This day is very useful to deal with running progressions and muscle soreness from higher volume/new exercises. It's also beneficial to prepare for pool skills such as treading and drownproofing, where flexibility in the hips, knees, ankles and shoulders matters greatly.

However, there is a difference in how I program these for new students working to build their tactical athletic abilities and those preparing for specific military spec ops selection events. For the student who is working to get good at all of the elements of fitness, aka tactical athletics -- strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina and grip -- the midweek Mobility Day produces better performances in workouts later in the week. (See the link for adding mobility days to your week.)

As the candidate starts to become more well-rounded and gets ready to ship out to endure military training or special ops selection, it is best to get used to five days in a row of physical training, so we have moved the Mobility Day to Saturday. Schools like SEAL, SWCC and dive school typically train five hard days with weekends off. Use the weekends to lick your wounds, stretch, massage, and practice pool skills and techniques like treading water (aka Mobility Day).

For the candidate about to ship, we use the Day 6 (Saturday) workout as extra cardio, plus flexibility, mobility and pool skills/technique day. If you need a day to work on Zone 2 running, add it prior to using the mobility session as a cooldown. If you need a break from running, skip running and just bike or do the elliptical machine for non-impact cardio options.

And for those needing to add in rucking, this is also a great day to put in the miles, followed by a mobility session cooldown like the Day 6 listed below:

Day 6: Run or Ruck, Plus Mobility Day

Long run/ruck or bike of your choice, then Mobility Day.

Repeat three times.

  • 5 minutes of cardio (your choice)
  • 5 minutes of stretching or foam rolling
  • (mix in bike, elliptical, row, etc.)

If pool/water:

Drownproofing Workouts

  • Tread 10-minute test (no hands, if possible)
  • Dynamic stretch in chest-deep water for 10 minutes

PT Reset: (Explained in the full article why this is important.)

If swimming is a weakness, another option is to swim or tread water for 5 minutes during the "cardio of choice" time during the mobility workout. You may find some of your best flexibility/Mobility Day training in the pool, especially if you incorporate dynamic stretches in chest-deep water and treading/aqua-jogging.

Finally, take Day 7 off and rest. If you are going hard for 5-6 days in a row, you need to master your recovery, with serious attention paid to sleep, nutrition, hydration and programming balance. A system I have used to build tactical athletes for more than 20 years is called Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization. You need time to get good at everything. This system offers you the path to do so, leaving any weakness fully developed.

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

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