Here Are the Biggest Problems Confronting Tactical Athletes

A Marine from Alpha Co., Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., conducts kettlebell swings during the high intensity tactical training (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chi Nguyen/Released).

In the world of Tactical Athletics, many mistakes are made by members of the military, police, and firefighting communities on both ends of the fitness spectrum. There are a few different segments within the community that tend to mirror society’s issues. There are those who quit training after boot camp or police/fire academies and start to gain weight and get injured on the job.  There are those who go hardcore everyday with little to no recovery cycles. And there are those find the right balance of workouts to help with job performance, mobility, recovery, longevity, and probably most important – stress mitigation.  With the later being the optimal goal for the tactical athlete, here is a list of ways they are failing to meet that balance:

1 – Go hard all the time – Even after a highly stressful day with both physical, mental, and emotional stresses the tactical professions offer, one thing you may not need is to beat your body up even more with high-intensity workouts. Instead, take a mobility day and do some less intense non-impact cardio activity mixed with stretching and foam rolling for 45-50 minutes. Focus on big inhales in the nose and out the mouth keeping the heart rate moderately lower than typically hardcore workouts. See Stress Article for more info and why this is important.  There are days when HIIT type workouts are required and fine to do – some days should be just the opposite. Listen to your body.

2 – Treat Yourself Like an Athlete – The term “tactical athlete” is relatively new and has grown in popularity and understanding in the last decade mainly out of necessity with multiple combat tours within the military and anti-terrorism taskings within the police and fire/fire responder communities. However, for decades we as a community have not thought of ourselves as athletes. But we are. The athleticism is different. You do not need to be world class in any element of fitness. In fact, it is better to be good at all the elements of fitness vs lacking in any of the following areas:     

  • Speed and Endurance – Run and ruck farther and faster.
  • Strength and Power – Lift equipment, gear, and people too.
  • Flexibility and Mobility – Move easily over uneven terrain and in between obstacles.
  • Muscle Stamina – Move yourself and gear up, over, under, and through space.
  • Old Man Grip – Hold gear, climb rope/mountain, grab things and people without tiring.
  • Skills – Swim to save a life, to cross a river, and to be effective on 75% of this planet.
  • And more – Anything and everything in your job.

3 - Lack of Recovery Methods – You may call it over-training or over-stressed, but actually you can also refer to it as under-recovery.  Sleep, nutrition, breathing, and stretching can all be basic methods to help you recover to nearly 100% even after prolonged periods of high stress / over-training issues.  Do not forget that you can use a variety of gear to help your body recover from the pains of inflammation, over-stress, and hard training/work days. When you feel the candle being burned at both ends, it is time to actively pursue a recovery day and get extra sleep (compared to lack of sleep days), eat well, hydrate, add electrolytes, antioxidants, and other foods or supplements to help you fight the catabolic effects of stress.

4 – Getting Out of Habit – Do not skip workouts. Some days you can write off as a recovery day, but you cannot repeat that excuse day after day after day.  If you do, you will be out of the habit of training and start to find yourself hurting more, sleeping worse, gaining weight, feeling weak, and you will have to force yourself into training again.  It is better to stay in the habit of fitness (or get into it again) by plugging away, one day at a time, doing a variety of training methods that help you maintain or improve in all the elements of fitness above.  Periodization is a great way to do this.  See Tactical Periodization Method article.

5 – Fitness Challenges – Select moderate levels of fitness challenges to help you enhance your overall tactical fitness abilities.  For instance, it is fine to do a cycle of heavy weight training, but do not get so into it that you lift heavy all year as it can jeopardize other elements of fitness like muscle stamina and endurance that you may need for the job. Same for running or triathlons – these are great to a cycle of two in the year, but running hard / high miles month after month/year after year will yield injuries and expose a weakness in strength/power that you may need on the job.  Consider what the job requires. It does not require world class lifting, swimming, running records.  If you want a compromise, lift, run, and do obstacle course races if you like to compete still.  There is nothing wrong with competing in athletic events, just be cautious to not let it affect the job if possible. 

Remember, you will likely be older longer than you are younger in these tactical professions, so start now while you are young in understanding the importance and de-stressing, mobility, and longevity. Sometimes, “less is more” when it comes to training to stay in peak performance shape for the military, police, and fire fighting professions.

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