We all need a break from time to time. For many of us, that break comes during the last two weeks of the year. Whether you are an active-duty tactical athlete in a tough selection training program, a high school or college student training for such challenges, or an active-duty special operator, there comes a point when you can take leave and get away from work for a while.
What do you do with this time? The three types of tactical athletes listed below represent the typical progression of the special operator, but these recommendations can also apply to anyone in regular military, police or firefighter training positions as well.
Take time to rest and visit with family, while watching your alcohol intake.
Here are some suggestions on what you should do and NOT do while on leave:
1. The Civilian Student
Students in high school and college normally get a break of a few weeks (or more) between semesters. As a student in high school and college, these times are best spent relaxing with family and friends and going about your normal workout schedule.
If you have to start training again after a few weeks of studying for exams, focus on eating well, working out again, resting and getting a good night's sleep. This balance will help you burn off stress from previous weeks and prepare you for the next few months as things ramp up again.
2. The Active-Duty Student
Active-duty students who are waiting to get into the training pipeline (or who are already in training) and actually get a 7- to 10-day leave window in the middle of their spec ops training program should focus on eating well, working out again, resting and getting a good night's sleep.
Keep your workouts up, but avoid long training sessions. Do timed events that are already part of your training (4-mile runs, 2-mile swims, calisthenics and lifts). A workout for an hour or so each day with a few days off, combined with mobility days, will help you maintain the level of fitness needed, work off aches and pains of previous months' training, and help you recover.
Take advantage of this time and get GOOD SLEEP and eat GOOD FOOD. That will cover about 80% of your needed recovery. The rest can be done with short workouts, stretching and foam rolling, combined with joint, wound and foot care.
Don't be the guy who needs a vacation after their vacation. Some students (pre-military/active duty) go hard and enjoy themselves a little too much during the break. They jeopardize their future by doing something stupid (like a DUI), missing sleep and doing workouts while recovering from hangovers. Several days of this with added long-distance travel will leave you anything but refreshed as you start training again.
3. Operator on Leave
If you did not spend Christmas overseas on deployment and you actually get to take leave from your command schedule, take it and enjoy it with family and friends. Typically, the stress you are blowing off is significantly different compared to what you experienced as a student. Though both are hormonally similar, work stress with life-and-death components requires you to take your recovery periods even more seriously.
Rest, recovery and hanging out with good friends and family just talking and relaxing is the best medicine for the active-duty operator. Many in these communities will work hard and play hard, but eventually you reach a point of continuous negative results by continuing to go out and drink hard. You should still have fun and work off steam, but choose to be a designated driver for your buddies at least every OTHER night.
Eventually, you will find out that back-to-back days of heavy drinking are not sustainable. If you are drinking heavily every day, consider talking to someone. Seeking to numb your brain that often is a sign that you're not handling the stresses you see every day.
While I was at the Naval Academy, Christmas Leave came after a long semester and exam week. Being brain-fried and physically tired from travel, I took a few days to relax at home with family and some good home cooking. I'd mix in easy workouts in between watching football games. Along with good, long nights of sleep, I came back to the academy refreshed and ready to go for the spring semester.
Once at SEAL training, I was about halfway through Dive Phase, and Christmas break was seven days of leave. I flew cross-country to see family and friends with more flights in between visits. I worked out only a little bit with running and calisthenics. I was able to eat and sleep well, but the travel wore me out. I arrived back at BUDS about six hours before 2nd phase started up again. Though I did not lose much conditioning, I did feel drained and had to suck it up that week.
It is not impossible to jump back into advance training or work cycles after a week or more of travel, late nights and holiday fun, but if you stay in cardiovascular shape by rucking, running, biking or swimming, you can still be fine with training. Rest the joints too by making shorter and faster workouts with longer stretching and mobility sessions during the break.