Specifics and Opposite: Building the Complete Tactical Athlete

tactical fitness

When designing tactical fitness programs for yourself or others and you ask “How do I prepare myself for ________?”  There can only be one answer. Whether the preparation is for the entrance exam (PT Test) or the actual training or selection course, the answer is ALWAYS “It Depends.”

Your program design depends on many factors, most importantly, your weaknesses. However, you cannot focus solely on your weaknesses. Specifically addressing your weakness in one or more of the following elements will drive an effective training regimen:

Strength / Power: Endurance athletes are typically weaker in the upper body, core, and posterior chain (legs, hips, lower back) than athletes that need to be big and strong and spend hours in the weight room through the year.  Being durable requires a foundation of strength that you can build by adding more weight training workouts to your routine.  You will need strength and power as you and your team are under boats, logs, rucks, or other heavy equipment for long periods of time and distances. See Tactical Strength.
Cardiovascular Endurance (run, swim, ruck): Durability also is built by progressing with longer distance and fast cardio on land with running and rucking as well as in the pool depending upon your future training program (SEALs, RECON, EOD, PJ, etc).  Typically, powerlifting football players and bigger athletes have a weakness in the longer distance cardio demands of joining various tactical professions.

Muscle Stamina: Adding higher repetitions mixed with longer cardio events will together build your muscle stamina.  Mixing these two elements together in workouts is an option to train hard and transition from strength / power athlete or endurance athlete at the same time into more of the hybrid athlete.  Try run and PT (upper and lower body PT) as well as swimming mixed with PT options to get your additional repetitions and miles accumulated in for the day’s workout plan.

Specific Skills and Coordination: Skills like swimming, treading, lifesaving, drownproofing, land navigation cannot be over looked.  Spending time each day focused purely on the technique of future tests you will have is not a bad idea especially if any are a weakness. General comfort in the water is critical. 

Mobility / Flexibility: Stretch and work your joints through normal range of motion daily. Typically, after a workout or before bed for 10-15 minutes is a great time to get this ability improved significantly. Even taking a mobility day in the middle of the week is a way to help with recovery and overall energy levels for harder workouts later in the week.

Speed / Agility: Depending upon what unit you are training for, you may have agility tests, obstacle courses that are run at high speed, and shorter, faster runs (shuttle runs, 300-400m sprints). Make sure you do not neglect this training especially if you spent most of your athletic career in a pool and not on a field where speed and agility were needed. 

Dealing with Weaknesses
We all have a weakness depending upon the athletic and sports injury history we have endured through the years prior to you deciding to serve. Now arranging a plan to fit your needs should be considered.

Specifics and Opposite
The meaning of the term “Specific but Opposite” is really balance in muscle groups, planar movements, energy systems, as well as types of workouts. Building a completely well rounded and balance body prior to any challenging military program is the goal.  More specifically consider the following:
:
Upper Body / Lower Body: Too many people skip leg day and some never do.  You may find that you have great amount of leg endurance for running (cross country athletes), but lack strength to squat or lift with the legs or upper body.  Many power athletes maybe too strong in the legs to run several miles fast and may want to lift less heavy weight and run more to correct that imbalance. When creating a workout you can do either full body workouts every other day or split routines of upper body one day and lower body the next for 2-3 times a week each.

Front Side / Back Side / Core: You may have a weakness in your upper body for pushups and situps, but you cannot neglect the back side of your core. When doing pushups, make sure you also work the upper back, rear shoulders by doing exercises like reverse pushups, arm haulers, reverse flies. When doing situps or crunches for the PT test, make sure you balance out the lower back muscles doing plank poses, swimmers, and stretching out the hip flexors as well.

Strength / Muscle endurance: Strength to do one heavy repetition is great, but balancing that out with higher repetitions will be needed in the tactical professions. You can still be strong with muscle endurance and it is good to do both, but with too much strength you may find your endurance suffer and with too much endurance, you may find your strength to suffer. There is a need and a happy medium for both.

Running / Non-impact Options: When progressing with running, make sure you take a day off or two from running and do a non-impact options (bike, swim, elliptical, row) to still get cardio BUT limit your impact on your joints. This applies to bigger athletes new to running or those needing to lose weight as well.

Load Bearing / Body Weight Movements: For many tactical athletes passing bodyweight fitness tests is a requirement and group PT during selection requires you to get good at it. But do not let it cause you to neglect other weighted movements like rucking, equipment carries, body carries or man down drills with stretchers. These require you to work your grip muscles as well as your core and legs to handle running / walking with weight.

Long Distance Cardio / Sprinting / Agility: Running, rucking, and swimming long distance will be something you need to do in training for most spec ops level schools, however adding in sprinting and agility will help you with other events like shuttle runs, obstacle courses, and “pays to be a winner” sprints. A healthy balance of both is needed. Do not get so good at one that it affects the other.

Rest Days and Gut Checks: The balance of pushing hard and taking a rest day is a tough one.  But the saying, “live to fight another day” really needs to be taken into consideration when you are exhausted, in pain from previous workouts. However, workouts that are long and hard and make you dig deep to finish are good for you. Compromise with yourself – after a tough gut check, you give yourself a recovery day and shake it off in the pool with a technique day, mobility, and stretching.

Advice on Over-training
Tactical Fitness is more than being a former athlete great at any one skill.  That is fine and many above average athletes move from the high school, college, even professional / Olympic ranks to become tactical athletes in a variety of military, police, fire, and special ops professions. However, regardless of the skill you are exceptional at performing, you also have to be good (above average) at all the other athletic elements of fitness. The saying, “You do not need to be an A+ at any element of fitness to be a tactical athlete, but you need to be a B/B+ at all of them to be successful.”  Typical athletes only have to master 1-2 of the elements of fitness to be great at their sport.  The tactical athlete does not have to be world class in anything – just good at all of them.

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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