Tactical athletes have a very unique training regiment because of the diverse physical demands of the career. Ranging from needing to have explosive power and a strong anaerobic latic energy source to sprint down a fleeing criminal, all the way to large aerobic capacity to effectively ruck march. Each of these can be quantified and layered from most to least important, which helps us build the ultimate tactical athlete.
What you need to recognize is that every person is different, so each person will need to first assess the general requirements of their specific career. In essence what areas do they consistently utilize and will require training to perform well. Then look at your own specific performance in those areas to gauge where your focus needs to be. As an example if you can bench press an ungodly amount of weight but can't squat your body weight, then you have some serious imbalances in your training. Beyond those there are thousands of minute details that can be examined and tweaked to increase longevity, performance, or reduce injury risk. In this post we will focus on the general physical training side.
Now each career will have different specific requirements for physical fitness with slight focuses on certain aspects but they will almost all share the same general training requirements. So let's dive into the general physical training requirements of tactical athletes.
First I want to begin with the most common energy system we use as tactical athletes; the aerobic system. Aerobic means in the presence of oxygen, it is the standard energy system used for long duration exercises. This can include ruck marches, walking the beat, or running with lower intensity for any period longer than 2 minutes. Due to the long time durations that tactical athletes are required to operate in, this means a majority of their training is required to develop this system. A special operations soldier who is very close to me described it to me this way; “It doesn't matter whether someone has a 400 or 500# Deadlift, if they don't have the aerobic engine to keep them moving from start to finish then they are doomed to fail before they started”.
This isn't to say the other energy systems are worthless. They have their place, but for the tactical athlete the aerobic engine needs to be their primary concern. Beyond that, the aerobic energy system has the ability to influence the phosphogenic, and the anaerobic latic energy systems. This means by increasing your aerobic engine its performance will leak into the others, making them more effective without targeting them.
For the tactical athlete their strength development needs shift through a spectrum of requirements depending on their baseline strength capabilities, their goals, and their careers. As such a police officer requires a bit more power development and upper body hypertrophy while infantry soldiers tend to require more absolute strength. Without a full assessment it is impossible to dictate what each athlete requires, but in general the majority of people need to prioritize their absolute strength development.
Absolute strength is the maximal amount of weight their bodies are able to move, in the gym this can look like developing your 1RM of any exercise or maximum repetitions of body weight exercises such as pull ups or push ups.
For most people your absolute strength development is essential for creating long term success, this is because absolute strength is the foundation of all strength development. Without a proper baseline for absolute strength developing muscular endurance, speed strength, or strength speed becomes a substantial uphill battle. Outside of the ability to develop other portions of the strength continuum it helps reduce injury potential, while being able to develop long term sustainable longevity.
Structural balance is something many clients are in desperate need of, and is the root cause of a lot of long term injury for many athletes. As most people begin to develop their bodies through resistance training and even just living their life, they will begin to develop some imbalances. These can be muscular, flexibility, or in some cases even skeletally based. The ones most people experience are muscular and flexibility.
Muscular imbalances are generally caused by disproportionate strength in each section of the body or by having preferences of right vs left side. Most muscular imbalances will compound over time as you favor those muscles more and more, this can cause injury to the muscles and potentially even cause inability to complete given tasks when in the field. Two common occurrences for those with muscle imbalances is the strain to walk / hike up mountains on one side of the body or a hunching of the back and shoulders from an over-pronounced chest. The more structurally unsound your body is the more it can take your body out of skeletal alignment, which as discussed before can cause physical pain but it can also negatively affect your ability to lift heavy weight. A way to test this is by trying to deadlift with your head tilted to the side or even have your mouth open. test it and you'll see how dramatic a small change can make your lifting capabilities diminish significantly.
Similarly flexibility imbalances are caused by being over flexible or under flexible in certain areas, this is less of an issue of left vs right side and more of where tightness and looseness is located in the body. The tighter you are in certain areas makes you more prone to tears, sprains, strains, and a host of other issues. While excessive looseness can cause twisted ankles, joints to shift out of place, and an inability to develop muscles effectively.
In the beginning these imbalances aren't a big deal, but as you train and develop your body these can be worsened. Each comes with pain but can be fixed with a proper prescription. Muscular imbalances can be mitigated and reversed through single side resistance training, flexibility is done through stretching, and finally skeletal can be fixed through medical intervention although is rarely needed.
Injury & Longevity
Injury is a part of life, but it doesn't mean we need to increase the probability of it happening. As we move further into the space of maximum physical potential we decrease our bodies ability to sustainably recover and maintain that pace. Look at most world class athletes; even being some of the most genetically gifted individuals out there, with the world's top nutrition and fitness coaches, and huge luxuries when it comes to being able to maximize their recovery they still can only maintain it for 3-10 years. With many sports that are especially hard on the body or violent sitting closer to the 3 year mark.
Tactical athletes have fewer luxuries and are required to perform at a high level nearly daily. Because of this their training needs to be both effective for growth and not be too stressful on the body. Otherwise you’ll have the joy of trying to break down the door of a burning building after a painful leg day. The balance between pain and gain is generally set in the structure of the program design, the lifting structure, and the amount lifted compared to your maximal lifting weight. All of which will be shifting based off your time frame, capabilities, and goals.
Longevity needs to be a huge factor in how you dictate your training. Going too far into the performance route can lead to a significantly shorter career with many more aches and pains throughout the journey. You see this frequently with soldiers, especially from those who have deployed into combat zones. Long days, little sleep, and hard work burns away at both ends of the candle leading to complete bodily shut down. Not all tactical athletes will experience the same level of this fatigue but it can be simulated by over training, poor nutrition, and lack of proper recovery.
Overtime you will see these symptoms appear:
-Destroyed endocrine system
-Lack of muscular and aerobic development
-Even PTSD symptoms
The key to combating these factors becomes a multi-front plan which includes: Program Design, Nutrition, Supplementation, Biohacking, & Recovery. With all of these inplace you should have no issues with performing at your peak consistently without suffering from poor results or a short career.
For the tactical athlete there is no one size fits all perfect solution for fitness. Everything shifts depending on the individual athlete, and furthermore where that athlete gets his training beliefs. One coach may believe that group crossfit is the best option, where another will say that for serious athletes individual design is the only way to go. The truth is you the individual needs to research the available resources and services to find what makes sense for them.
Outside of our obvious belief that individual design fitness and nutrition coaching is the best option for maximizing results and longevity. We recommend that your training is able to be progressively developed, targeted to a specific area or goal maximizing the physical potential within that goal while also not hurting the athletes longevity, and most importantly individualized to your specific niche athletic subsection / function.
If you want start training like an elite tactical athlete check out our services page, sign up for our free consultation call and a two week free trial of our unparalleled coaching program.