If you are considering a job in your future that requires a certain level of fitness to get TO and THROUGH the training programs such as military, police, and firefighter training (aka Tactical Fitness), you need to assess your athletic and training history. Reviewing the past training programs, sports, events, and especially injuries you experienced will help guide you to also assessing your strengths and weakness along the athletic spectrum. If you are considering a Tactical Profession as listed above, being good at all the elements of fitness is critical to your ability to endure challenging training programs.
You do not need to be great at ANY of them – just good at ALL of them. Typical athletes are great at a few of the elements of fitness, but the tactical athlete needs to be good at all of them. One day the ability to perform optimally will save your life, your buddy's life, or the life of a victim you are trying to rescue. This rescue could require endurance, strength, muscle stamina, grip and, of course, your ability to think under pressure.
The Elements of Tactical Fitness
The elements of fitness include strength, power, endurance, grip, muscle stamina, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, mobility, and flexibility. You may also need to master certain skills like running longer distances, rucking heavily weighted back packs, and swimming long distances and other aquatic skills that include treading, floating, SCUBA, underwater, and general comfortability in stressful situations.
Speed and Endurance – Run and ruck farther and faster. Unless you are an endurance athlete, running anything over 100m may be considered long distance to you. If that is the case, you need to focus on your running progression. For an endurance athlete with no strength training background, rucking 50+ pounds in a backpack may be a great equalizer to someone who weighs 50 pounds more than you. Focusing on lifting to build core and leg strength and muscle stamina for rucking should be a focus.
Strength and Power – Lift equipment, gear, and people too. If you are a powerlifting football player type, it is likely you have all the strength you need, but lack muscle stamina and cardio vascular endurance in running, swimming, and rucking. Focusing on more of an endurance training plan like triathlon training is a good option as the two non-impact cardio events of swimming and biking will help you as you are progressing your running and rucking and enable you to cross-train without overuse pain (tendons, shins, feet, hips). This type of training will likely help you to lose unneeded weight/bulk that you are carrying, as well and aid in faster runs, easier pullups, and more. Do not neglect your core strength for lifting movements. If your history lacks strength training, you need to add to your current training plan.
Flexibility and Mobility – Move easily over uneven terrain and in between obstacles. Unless you stretch daily in your previous and present routines like a gymnast, chances are you not as flexible or mobile as you could be. Yoga based stretching, foam rolling, dynamic and static stretching should be done daily for at least 10-15 minutes -- some days more. See Mobility Day Off.
Muscle Stamina – Move yourself and gear up, over, under, and through space. Athletes like wrestlers, gymnasts, and boxers typically do really well with high repetition bodyweight movements. High repetition calisthenics will likely be a requirement in your testing to get into a training program with a fitness test. The follow-on training may also require hundreds of repetitions of pushups, abdominal exercises, squats, and other calisthenics as well. Focusing on higher repetition calisthenics for the core (sit-ups, flutter kicks, other) is also needed but strength for team log, boat, or heavy equipment carries will also require a combination of strength and muscle stamina. See PT Progressions – Five Part Series for ideas.
Grip Strength – Hold gear, climb rope/mountain, grab things and people without tiring. Holding onto gear, people, and climbing ropes and obstacles requires grip strength and stamina. See Tactical Operator Grip workout ideas for more exercises to add to your routine. Unless you are a rock climber, wrestler, or other athlete where grip is critical to your performance, you need to work on it. Like the elements of endurance and flexibility, grip strength is easily lost without practicing it.
Skills – Swim to save a life, to cross a river, meet up with a ship or submarine for extraction, and to be effective on the other 75 percent of this planet. Swimming well is required in many tactical professions. Swimming like a world-class swimmer is not. Being competent and confident in the water is most important, but being able to swim long distances should be mastered. How Good Do You Have to Be? Like stated in the beginning -- you need to be good, you do not need to be great. You may be strong and fast on land, but if you are incapable of swimming, you could be ineffective at doing your job one day or rescue your family member if they find themselves in a bad situation in the water.
Other Skills – Hand-eye coordination is critical in most athletics and is just as important in the tactical fitness realm as well. Shooting, moving, swinging sledgehammers, and so many other events will require a certain level of hand-eye coordination and athleticism.
Assess the Past
Chances are, you will have a weakness from the list above. Take a hard look at your past athletics. Consider your previous injuries – are they healed and in balance with other muscle groups/joints? Ask yourself hard questions about your own weaknesses. Take a fitness test and see for yourself. The Tactical Fitness Dirty Dozen addresses every element of fitness and will challenge the most capable of tactical athletes. Consider the book series Tactical Fitness and engage all the elements of fitness into one program. Knowing what weaknesses to focus your training on can save you time and undue hardship during your actual tactical training/selection.