You may have heard the answer “It depends” in regards to how you should approach building a plan to accomplish a goal. Tactical fitness related goals require a fitness test to get accepted into a program, then a selection program you must endure to achieve the goal to join the ranks of military, special ops, or police and fire fighter programs. A successful candidate has mindset that the selection phase of the training is something you have to do to get to the desired military profession. Successfully navigating through the selection will depend on your preparation that you do 1-2 years prior. Here are ten items you need to consider when preparing yourself for any physically challenging program that boasts high attrition rates:
- What is Your Athletic/Activity History: Did you play sports in high school/college? Did you work a manual labor job during the summers or after school? This question tells a tactical fitness professional that you have or do not have a foundation of teamwork, mission oriented fitness training (team goals), as well as your pure work capacity.
- Fitness Foundation - Strength or Endurance Athlete: Your athletic history will also determine if you were more of a strength or endurance athlete. Did you do sports that required heavy weights, sprinting, and power or were you more endurance oriented with running or swimming sports? Did you do both? This one is important as you will have obvious strengths and weaknesses with future military testing events. An ideal candidate for most special ops programs will have a background in both types of sports.
- Previous year of training: What have you been doing recently? Have you been training hard? If so, how? Running long distance? Lifting heavy weights? Mix of calisthenics and weights? Or have you done no physical activity and just worked and finished school? This answer can determine how long your training program should be. What are your current PT scores to get accepted into the training?
- Current height and weight: You may have to lose significant weight to get into your branch of service or training program just so you can run or do pullups better. You may be small and need some muscle mass to put onto your endurance athlete frame. You may be huge and need to lose some weight off of your powerlifting / football shape body. There is no idea height and weight, just results. You need to be light enough to run, jump, climb, and move your body around, but you need to be strong enough to handle the equipment carry of rucks, boats, logs, and even people when required.
- Strength and weaknesses: Tough selection training programs will reveal your weaknesses within the first few days. Typically, we all have a weakness of one or more of the elements of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, mobility, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, water skills). For instance, the powerlifting football player will typically not have an issue with log PT, but will start the journey thinking anything over 100 yards in long distance running. The endurance guy maybe able to swim or run for miles with no problem, but get crushed under a log during log PT. Focusing on the weakness may take more time than you think especially if you have to learn how to swim and get comfortable in the water at the same time.
- Specifics to get TO your goal: What is the fitness test that you are competing against others to get the opportunity to get to the selection program (SFAS, BUD/S, BRC, RASP, PJ Indoc, SWAT Selection, etc). You have to ace the fitness test first to get to your goal challenge. Your training plan should include workouts that look like your fitness test as well as help you develop a strategy to mastering the events at your optimal level.
- Specifics to get THROUGH your goal: Then, you have to get THROUGH the training. This will require making your body stronger to endure the heavy events and faster to endure the long events. Practicing many of the specific challenges that you have heard of like swimming for miles with fins, weekly four mile timed runs, obstacle courses, rope climbs, soft sand runs, mountain rucks, longer runs, longer rucks, high repetition PT, log PT, carrying heavy equipment for miles on end (boats, weapon systems, people). Building a strong, fast, and capable body that can endure several weeks or months of this type of training is now the goal. This also takes time.
- Running progression: Most training programs require running. Lots of running! Typically, you will run more in the selection phase than you ever will as an active-duty operator. But, that is the hurdle you have to endure. Some says these programs are “running man’s games.” They are but they are much more than that. Do not be scared of losing some of your strength due to high amount of running miles you are doing several months prior to selection. This happens. You can maintain enough strength with calisthenics and occasional lifts. Failing to run fast enough to meet the standard or not having enough running under your belt to endure training without an injury are highly common reasons to an unsuccessful attempt at your dream job.
- Swim skills: You do not have to be a world class swimmer (or anything for that matter) to become a member of a special ops unit. But, you do need to be good in the water, efficient enough, and competent even when the day turns to night and the water is murky and cold. Swimming faster than average, treading water, relaxing when submerged, comfortable with SCUBA diving, and other water skills are essential to any program that is water related (SEAL, RECON, PJ, Diver, Rescue Swimmer).
- Rucking ability: You might be a great runner, but can you put on 50 or more pounds and go for miles? Over 20 miles? Rucking in the military are usually marathon league events that require smart hydration, electrolytes, nutrition, and foot care. First you have to be strong enough to carry a ruck, and then gain the endurance to carry it forever.
So, if you ever ask someone “what should I do to train” or “how long should I prepare”, the answer is IT DEPENDS and ask yourself these questions to consider your next steps. Depending upon your level of fitness and weaknesses, a typical focus on Special Ops training programs can take 1-2 years or as little as 6-9 months. It just depends…