Ask Stew: Tactical Fitness Training for Special Response Teams

Students are instructed on the basic SWAT course.
A.A. Boone, founder and president of Specialized Realistic Training Inc. (right), instructs students on the basic SWAT course before entering the shoot-house, Aug. 3, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. (Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton/U.S. Air Force photo)

Special-ops selection programs are highly rigorous and require a great deal of advance preparation. Here is an email from a police officer seeking to transfer into a SWAT/special response team program within his city.

Stew, I am a police officer in Michigan and am training to be part of our special response team. I am using your YouTube videos as guidance, but am inquiring if you have the time to further prescribe a training and nutrition/supplementation program to get ready for the physical test.

The test is similar to the Marine Corps PFT, although ours requires us to complete in succession a three-mile run in 18-21 minutes, 60-80 sit-ups, 50-70 push-ups and then 10-20 pull-ups. The sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups are not timed; it is how many can be done consecutively without stopping, then on to the next. If you have the time or any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you, Brad

Brad, that sounds like a challenging test but very common in the tactical fitness world. With tactical fitness in preparation for special-ops programs, you have two things you are looking at doing: getting to and through your training.

Tactical fitness preparation

To get to the training, you have to ace this fitness test, and it is smart that you start focusing on the specifics of that test. Here is a classic sample week of PT programming from the intermediate level to get to the advanced level of scoring.

However, training like the test protocols is something to consider. Workouts like the PT Pyramid, PT Super Sets and Max Rep Set Workouts are ideal to build the muscle stamina required to do back-to-back-to-back, nonstop/no-rest exercises. Running before, during and after these workouts will help you prepare for the three-mile distance by learning the goal pace of six- to seven-minute miles to get that goal of 18-21 minutes.

PFT Bible: This is one of the most popular fitness tests around the world. Just about every type of profession in the military, police and fire category use this fitness test. Practicing these events is critical to getting the job and sometimes maintaining your fitness to keep it. However, your standards are higher than normal. The three-mile run and the higher repetitions required on push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups in a nonstop fashion will take a good 8-10 weeks of solid specific training.

This PFT Bible is a specific program that focuses on push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and the 1.5-mile run. Because you have a three-mile run, you may want to start off with the 1.5-mile run at goal pace (9-10 minutes) and increase the distances weekly so you can do three miles fast easily. This program helps with functional strength of the abs, lower back, hips, upper body and running. The mix of weights and load-bearing exercises will help you prepare for the training after the test, where you likely will be doing training events while wearing body armor. So once you ace the program's fitness test, add a weight vest to much of the exercises and cardio events to prepare for the training after the test.

Nutrition advice

What you eat (and drink) is the one factor affecting all of us multiple times per day and therefore has the greatest impact on a person’s overall physical performance and overall health. Nutrition is the most important factor in your  performance. Do not eat enough, and you will last about 30 minutes before low blood-sugar levels start to catch up to you. Do not drink enough water, and dehydration or heat casualties start to occur.

For the tactical athlete testing or going through a selection program, this fact does not change.

The level of physical preparedness literally translates into life and death in these professions. This fact makes the tactical athlete a combination of strength and endurance. Long hours of high stress from limited sleep and massive physical demands provide very unique nutritional demands. See links below for more food, drink and supplement options.

Related nutrition/supplement articles:

Nutrition and Supplements

Tactical Fitness Testing Nutrition

Before, During and After Testing and Training Nutrition

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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