Tactical Fitness: Older Veterans and Challenging Fitness Programs

John Taffe completes Army basic training.

Coach Smith,

A little background on me: I am a 44 year old fire fighter with a good fitness base. I have used both your 12 weeks to BUDS and Tactical Fitness books. The programs have been great for my current job. I have become a true believer in the old adage that the best form of PT is the one you enjoy doing.

I've had 15 yrs of service, but I am going from a small fire department to a large metro department. I will need to go through their nine-month academy to fully transition. I am looking forward to the challenge of two-a-day PT sessions and training in between them. But I understand I'm not 20 anymore. I don't want to just survive this, I want to perform at the top of my game. Staying unbroken is going to be a priority. So here are my questions:

To be effective, does a periodization program need to be a certain length? For example, every two weeks instead of every three months.

There are endless types of periodization training programs. Many will be 4-6 weeks, some will be 8-12 weeks even.  It is really up to you. Progress for four weeks and assess your fitness by testing all elements. If you are solid in some areas and not in others, change it up to incorporate any weaknesses you are seeing (strength, cardio, stamina, mobility, etc).

Should there be a taper before the class starts in June?

Yes – you should have some form of taper. But, not too much, especially on the cardio. I have found over the years that I can take a week off from resistance training and come back stronger, but if I do the same with any cardio, it kills coming back. 

So keep your cardio up during the taper with a combo of running, biking, using the elliptical and stair stepper etc. You will be good to go with running workouts and recovered enough with any high-rep PT or strength work when you get started. Does my age warrant a slower taper and increased recovery time? Should I start tapering three weeks out instead of one?

I do not think you need that long of a taper. Maybe an easier one to two weeks of 50% resistance training prior to your start date. But, it really depends on your body and how you are feeling. You want to be rested going in. If this means one or two weeks of an easier schedule then do it. Sleeping is the best recommendation for recovery and taper. Make sure you are getting enough sleep.  See recovery article.

Would you recommend the last cycle be completed before class up-time?

I would recommend a bodyweight cycle just for the muscle stamina, but add in mobility and flexibility exercises and solid cardio. You will keep your strength even in a 2-3 month PT and run cycle.  

Any other input you have on how to stay unbroken?

I would purchase a foam roller. Learn how to use it, and sleep with it (kidding), but use it all the time. It is a magic recovery and ache removal device for those of us over 40 years old.

Odds are I will be bugging you with more questions as I move forward. Thanks in advance.

 I am happy to assist further if you have more questions, it's no problem. This is a great one.

Some other performance tips:

Learn where to bust a move: during workouts no one wins every race or event. But just as, for instance, the younger kids blow their wad on the first and second sprint, you can come in strong on the third and fourth and kick their butts. Old man wisdom goes a long way. Plus, it takes a few sprints to warm up your hamstrings anyway.

Pace yourself on the longer runs – find your goal pace and muscle memory your longer distance running pace. Younger kids will start off too fast and you will be able to pull them in as the run goes into the first mile to mile and a half zones.

Finally: Stayed Fueled My Friend. Learn the ABDs of Nutrition – after, before, during – with regard to fitness performance.

Good luck and enjoy the new challenge.


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