Setting your ego aside to assess strengths and weaknesses is not as easy as you might think. That's especially true if you are training on your own. It takes some level of maturity to realize that you do not know it all, are not yet tough enough, are not yet fit enough and need to take more time to prepare for challenging and highly physical professions.
In our recent article "Be A Better Recruit" we discuss many of the ways to be a better recruit, but assessing your strengths and weaknesses is something that has to be monitored and tested throughout life.
Whether you are preparing to get To the Training, Through the Training or are Active Duty, staying on top of physical preparation will be different for each phase. That preparation will become even more vital as you become a tactical athlete. Train like your buddy's life depends on it. Your physical ability is that important.
The below is a series of ways to assess progress (or regress) throughout the three phases of being a tactical athlete:
1. To the Training -- Recruit Phase
This phase is simple. You will not get accepted into the training for your choice profession if you do not meet the standard of that profession's physical fitness test. Depending on your career choice, this test can either be pretty basic (push-ups, sit-ups, 1.5 mile run) or rather challenging and competitive if large numbers are trying out for a few slots (swim/ treading, longer runs, pullups, sprints, plank poses, rucking, obstacle courses and new combat fitness tests).
Take the fitness test you are going to have to pass in your future and see how you do. There will be scoring minimum standards and maybe recommendations on advanced, competitive or optimal standards. Never strive for minimum standards. If you are near the minimums, you need more time to train. Be patient with your training so you can perform as an asset to your future community and set yourself up for a better fitness foundation to get through the training.
- You want the fitness test to get easy. You should be able to do two of them back to back. You should be able to do a fitness test on any day of the week, even after a workout or poor night's sleep. When you can build up to a level of fitness that does not require 100% of your effort to max this test, you are there. Getting to that level is NOT enough, being able to endure more than the test is the key.
- If you are noticing that the workouts are getting easier and you are failing later in the workouts, you are moving in the right direction even if your PT scores are staying the same. If you can perform at a high level with less perceived effort, that is a huge win and something to watch out for when assessing yourself.
2. Through the Training -- Student Phase
Once you crush the fitness test required to get into your program, you have to focus on getting through the selection program by understanding the training process used by your future schools. That may mean longer runs, swims and rucks, so practice more cardio! It may also mean other load-bearing activities like gear/equipment carries, fireman carries, lugging logs, boats and other heavy items you need to do your job.
Find out the specifics for your future school. Students in the training pipeline for Army Special Forces need to work their legs and spine for the load-bearing of heavy rucks and extra equipment for long distances. Some of these distances can be 10-20 miles or more, so make sure you have the durability (and know the foot care required) to do this level of activity. Long runs and rucks and high-rep calisthenics and lifting are part of the requirements.
- You also have to maintain your fitness test scores while adding these new and harder events to your training process. One way to do that is to warm up with calisthenics events from your test and then lift and finish with the longer cardio events after the lift. These types of workouts take time, so expect some 2-3 hours training.
- Remember there is no 30-minute gym workout that will prepare you for a day of spec ops training. Put in the time with these longer events.
3. Active Duty -- Maintenance or Growth Phase
This one can be difficult for any current member of the military who is working full time, but seeking to transfer into other programs that require him or her to go back to phase 1 and phase 2 and be focused on getting to and through the training again. Active duty members must also be focused on the training required for their actual job as well as the bi-annual physical fitness assessment test. Those are actually decent standards to strive for as these tests are evolving to become combat-related physical fitness tests for most military branches.
- The added focus of job stress mitigation is also critical for the active duty member. Sometimes, less is more when it comes to physical activity if you're burning the candle at both ends. Being able to know the symptoms when you're over-training or over stressed. If you can recognize them in yourself and others around you, you can improve overall health and wellness and job performance.
- Check your resting heart rate, cholesterols, triglycerides, blood sugar and other health screenings to see if the chronic symptoms of stress are starting to occur.
The military has ways to help the recruit, student and active duty member assess progress on a regular basis. However, we have to do more than the minimum standards to perform the job at our best.
Remember that if the military is a career choice for you, you will be older longer than you are younger in this profession. The longevity needed to maintain your abilities starts when you are in your twenties. Stay on top of the standards and push yourself to do more, but also know when you pull back and rest and recover for overall health, wellness and stress mitigation.
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 starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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