Learning Different Paces for the Varying Phases of Tactical Fitness

Air Force staff sergeant runs with dog.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Galvan, 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, runs in the early morning with his dog, Ritz, July 19, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock/U.S. Air Force photo)

You will learn many ways to pace yourself throughout your military journey. Pacing will be not only a factor during running events, but also swimming, rucking and even some calisthenics in fitness testing or selection training.

Pacing also will be required when you are active duty to help you endure longer days and nights, as well as aiding you in estimating distance when patrolling on land and even during diving operations. When you are training as a recruit or a spec ops candidate, you have to consider the different events and learn different ways to pace yourself to achieve an optimal score.

Here are things to consider when preparing for all phases of tactical profession training:

1. Getting to the Training

This phase is all about PT test preparation. During your preparation for acceptance into military training programs such as boot camp, basic combat training and advanced spec ops recruiting programs, you will be required to take fitness tests. Some are more challenging than others, and some competitive programs require optimal or advanced-level scoring for acceptance, so learning a few things about pacing is critical to the start of your career success.

Pacing for timed runs: Usually these are shorter and faster-paced events in the 1.5- to three-mile distances, depending on your fitness level. Advanced level pacing will push you to a sub-six-minute mile pace in order to be competitive. This requires significant training and learning what six- to seven-minute mile pacing means. See more on goal pace running.

Learning to execute consecutive runs at 1:30 or just a bit faster for 400 meters (a quarter-mile) or three-minute half-miles for multiple sets is a good way to start mastering that six-minute mile pace. The same goes for those who need only an eight-minute mile pace, as you will need to learn how to run two-minute, 400-meter runs and four-minute half-miles for multiple sets until you get good enough to string together the distance for your timed run event.

2. Getting Through the Training

This phase is more focused on your future training challenges. Timed runs may increase in distances. For instance, the Army PT test requires a two-mile run, but the Army Ranger test is a five-mile run. You need to learn a pace for both events.

Pacing for longer timed runs: My personal recommendation is to try to push for a six- or seven-minute mile for the Army two-mile test, but learn a slower pace of a seven- or eight-minute mile for the Army Ranger five-mile test. Be aware that an eight-minute mile is the slowest you can go and pass the 40-minute time limit on the five-mile run, so getting faster than the minimum pace is the wiser move.

Rucking: In order to get through the training, you need to learn rucking paces. Depending on the weight and distance you are going, you will need to maintain certain paces. I call these walking pace (15 to 16 minutes per mile), power walking pace (14 to 15 minutes per mile) and shuffle pace (10 to 12 minutes per mile). "What is Rucking" explains these paces in detail. As you practice rucking through logical progressions for running and load-bearing activities, you may find that your walking pace will improve to less than 15 minutes per mile and your shuffle pace can break 10 minutes per mile. Depending on your training goals, you may need to practice the faster pace, especially on the special ops side of selection programs.

Long days of training: When you have multiple challenging physical events and long days that turn into nights during training, pacing yourself but still performing at a high level to meet and exceed standards of events is critical. Being used to long days of work (manual labor), being on your feet or moving and carrying gear requires a certain amount of durability and work capacity. These critical components of strength, power, speed and agility are combined with muscle stamina and cardiovascular endurance. These elements of fitness are developed in the prepared tactical athlete.

3. Active-Duty Operator

This phase still requires regular pacing of fitness tests (every six months), but the challenges of preparing or enduring selections is over (depending on your career goals). The actual ability to become proficient in job skills is of the utmost importance, with the goal being the maintenance of fitness ability to build a durable body with longevity.

Your ability to perform is largely up to your ability to prepare, maintain, recover and pace yourself properly. Knowing when to go 100% or 75% can be the difference between success or failure during testing, training or operations. Pacing is that important, and you won't learn how to do it without thoroughly preparing yourself for each phase of this journey.

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.

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