7 Ways 'Less is More' When It Comes to Military Fitness Performance

Maj. Gen. Steve Gilland, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, conducts PT with 2ID leadership at Camp Humphreys, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Army/ Pfc. Jillian Hix)

Pulling the reins on a high-performing, highly motivated tactical athlete seems counterproductive, but too many times, athletes will hurt themselves (or their performance) by thinking they must continue to do more training to improve their performance.

You will see this especially in special-ops preparation and among competitive athletes. Countless high performers have benefited from decreasing the frequency, intensity and total time training each week by either adding an easier option or taking a rest day or two.

Here are several ways that you can see improvements in overall performance (and fewer illnesses and injuries) by doing less:

1. Stop Doing Daily Work on the Same Muscle Groups

Instead of doing the same exercises and muscle groups every day (lifting or calisthenics), consider smarter split routines that have recovery built into them.

You can still work out every day, but by designing your workouts to focus on upper body one day and lower body the next (for instance), you can save yourself from everything from nagging tendinitis pains in joints to serious injuries – and even performance losses.

2. Stop Beating Yourself Up with High-Mileage Running Year-Round

Running 40- to 50-plus miles a week for months or even years at a time with no progressions or regressions, in and out of running cycles, is detrimental not only to your health and wellness, but performance in so many other areas that a tactical athlete needs in the military.

These include strength, power, grip, speed, agility, muscle stamina, flexibility, mobility and endurance. Unless you are a competitive runner, spending this much time solely focused on long-distance running and not cross-training other areas of fitness is going to be an issue with your overall effectiveness as a member of your military unit.

3. Stop Doing Daily Gut-Check Workouts (High Intensity)

When you are constantly crushing yourself in a workout every day, you are only working out and not training. Working to get good at working out is not what the tactical athlete needs to focus on while serving or preparing to serve.

Training to get stronger, faster and more durable (fewer injuries), with a greater ability to work long days, is the key to long-term success. There is a time to push perceived physical limitations when training hard and testing mental toughness, but acknowledging the fine line between mental toughness and stupidity will enhance performance more than any gut-check event.

4. Take a Mobility Day

This life-changing addition to a training week will yield results nearly instantly. From the general feeling of accomplishment (with little to no pain) to higher performance in late-week workouts, the mobility day is a great option to add anywhere in your week when needed. See more about when to add a mobility day to your training.

5. Take a Day Off Each Week

Some like to train seven days a week, but even those who do have easier days than others. So many times, those who have taken out a day of training and replaced it with light movement, walking and stretching saw better recovery, performance and longevity than those who prefer to go hard seven days a week.

6. Go for a Walk and Breathe

This is, by far, the most underrated activity you can do for your recovery. Breathing deep can help you get the body, mind and central nervous system back into a "rest/digest" mode by activating the parasympathetic side of our systems. If you are not familiar with the need for this type of training, check out more information with Stress Relief and Parasympathetic Nervous System.

7. Take a Vacation and Do Very Little (Other Than Walk)

Instead of "having more time to train," consider taking a vacation on your vacation, versus needing a vacation after your vacation. If you are having a tough time sitting still for any period, it is likely you have wired yourself to be in a constant state of stress (fight-or-flight mode).

Getting to a relaxed state is going to take work, so take it on as a personal challenge and work to disengage the sympathetic nervous system and engage the parasympathetic nervous system. When you do, you will find that you sleep better, digest food better and be less irritable all the time -- and your immune system works better.

Stress is a killer to us all, and by constantly pushing physical limits with little to no recovery days, you are just stressing your body out even more than life in general will add to it. Overuse injuries happen to athletes at all levels of the fitness spectrum.

By actively pursuing and focusing on proper recovery of the muscles, joints, bones and the hormonal responses to stress, you will see better overall health and wellness, optimal performance and longevity in your military career. Be a better team member and be mission ready by doing less.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to Military.com to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues
Military Fitness