Phase Three of Tactical Fitness: Active Duty

Reservists compete in basic fitness tests.
U.S. Army Reserve soldiers participate in the 11 x 10-meter sprint portion of the German basic fitness test during the 2020 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Sept. 5, 2020. (Spc. Trenton Fouche/U.S. Army Reserve photo)

Phase 3 of a tactical athlete’s journey through each of the phases of tactical fitness is the most important for your health, wellness and job performance. Sure, getting to the training (Phase 1) and through the training (Phase 2) are required to get into the tactical professions in the first place, but you will spend more time in phase 3 -- the active-duty phase.

Once you have gotten to and through the challenging training programs to get your job within the military, police or firefighter professions, there are two main goals to consider: 

1. Job performance: Being fit to do your job is easy to understand. Although tactical fitness is relatively new within the last decade, it basically requires people in tactical professions to perform their job fully and be strong enough to save their own life and their partners or a victim’s life in emergency situations on all types of terrain.

If fitness is not part of your daily programming and you are in any of the tactical professions, you could be jeopardizing your own life and the people you protect.

2. Health and wellness. Realize that you will be older for more time than you are younger if you make the military, police or fire departments a career. Your 20s likely will not cause you much issue as you still are training hard, working hard and even playing hard without many negative results from high-stress living. 

However, the long days, sleepless nights, combat deployments, job stress, family stress and poor eating habits will start to take their toll during your 30s, 40s and beyond. Here are requirements to improve your health and wellness:

Sleep -- Number 1: You have to get sleep.  Even if you work night shifts and odd hours, your sleep must be a priority.  Tips for a better night sleep:

  • Set your watch for bedtime.
  • Turn off electronics at least 30-45 minutes before going to bed.
  • Set a cool temperature for when you sleep. Studies show 67-70 temperatures is a good range to fall asleep quickly.
  • Remove as many light sources from the room as possible, even during the day.

Nutrition planning (food and water): As we age, the hard-gainer life of our teens and 20s no longer applies to most people. You can't outwork your diet, so focusing on portion control, even with healthy foods, is a requirement.  Foods rich in protein/amino acids, good carbohydrates (fruit/vegetables), fats, antioxidants, electrolytes, omega 3 and other vitamins and minerals (supplements) are required for a balanced diet. You need water every day – more if you sweat profusely or are in arid environments that leave salt stains on your clothes. If these are not in sync, you will not have the fuel to handle workloads or workouts at a required ability.

If you can get solid sleep (6-7 hours) most days and eat well, you can accomplish a majority of your health, wellness and stress mitigation. The extra benefits in massages, chiropractic, counseling, stretching and recovery gear, like foam rollers/massage tools, can help you get some of the missing benefits if you feel you need more than sleep, fitness and nutrition.

After your tactical career

I believe there is also a Phase 4 to tactical fitness that occurs after your military, police or firefighter career, which helps you still be active, healthy and recover from some of the job-related injuries that very often occur. This phase requires some consideration of current age, weight, injuries, abilities and goals. 

There is no reason why you cannot go back to all the earlier workouts that got you started in fitness and athletics in the first place or challenge yourself with new goals (triathlons, obstacle courses, powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.).

The one thing you should add to your training week is mobility. It will be the key to aging after a lifetime of living hard and working harder. For more information on tactical fitness over 40 and 50, check out the New Rules for Tactical Fitness Over 40 link and programming.

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

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