How Durability is Key to Tactical Athletic Growth


So you want to be special operator? Great! You can handle stressful situations. Check. You have a strong mindset. Check. But none of those things will matter if your body breaks.

Durability, Work capacity, Stability, and Stress Mitigation are the products of years of hard work, training, and learning how your mind and body perform under stress (work life, athletics, or other).  

The below graph describes the elements of fitness important to the tactical athlete.

Having a durable and more resilient body to handle the daily stresses of running many miles, rucking heavyweight, and moving logs and boats for hours, is something that can only come with work.  Often the type of durability is gained through years of persistent and consistent training through sports, martial arts, even manual labor.  

If you are still growing, you can enhance your strength, endurance, speed and other elements of fitness, but your true durability it not quite developed yet.  This is why many college sports programs will offer redshirt years (5th year in college) to their younger players, so they can grow, mature, build their skills, and start to build that foundation of strength that will help to create durable bones, joints, and muscles. It takes time to grow into a durable body.

When the human body has finished growing, the ability for the adaptations to stress (running / lifting/load bearing), will be in the form of stronger bones. The journey may include aches, pains, shins splints, and stress fractures but these are typically from doing too much, too soon, and not progressing over time. Durability comes with time under a variety of stress.  Patience in training is key to develop the type of durability you need.

Durability, by definition, is the ability to withstand wear, pressure, damage, and other stresses. Resiliency, or mental toughness, is similar, but typically focuses on mental strength and how the mind handles the stresses of the work, job, or life.  Often the mind will fail long before the body.  That is the challenge:  Balancing the Strong and Durable body with the Strong and Resilient mind.

Describing durability can be vague unless some objective grading parameters to go by can be discussed. How do you build durability?

1 – Strength Training – Doing calisthenics and making calisthenics harder with weight vests or TRX and progress into lifting weights is a logical progression to building bone, muscle, and joint strength with a wide range of usefulness in a day’s work. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, hang cleans, and push presses will help with the type of strength and durability the body needs under a log or boat.

2 – Working Out and Working Combo – Preparing for a long day of special ops selection training is difficult to mimic in a weight room or long-distance cardio workout. After a long challenging working consisting of calisthenics warmup, weight training, and some form of moderately paced cardio (run, swim, ruck), a candidate needs to keep moving throughout the day.  This can be at work, school, or even better – doing some form of manual labor for the rest of the day. Topping off the day with a second workout some days will help you build the type of durability (and work capacity) needed for success. As the saying goes, “There is no 30 min gym workout that will prepare you for a day of spec ops training.  You have to put in your time.”

3 – Running Progression – The impact forces of running alone will challenge the most durable of legs. Add boots, rough terrain (sand, hills, pavement), and a steep time and distance curve in order to meet the standard of not only speed/pace, but not fall apart is created many months before selection. Your running progression needs to be logical.  If you are running 10 miles a week now, increase the time or distance running each week no more than 10-15% a week. But make sure you are not just running to do only long, slow distance running. Your running should have a purpose.  That purpose is to meet the minimum standard with ease.  For many selection programs, if you can run between a 6-7 minute mile pace, you are solid.  In fact, if you can do 4-5 miles in 28-35 minutes, you will be good to go.  Any faster is more cushion.  So, run with a purpose of pace, but just slow distance.  For most people, it is the running forces that break them.

4 – Load Bearing Progression – Learning how to change your run style so you can do it with a ruck (backpack) of 40-50lbs and fast is critical.  See “What is a Ruck?” Article. Learn your pace, but first, that foundation of strength needs to play a part.  Adding the lower body strength lifts like squats, lunges, deadlifts, farmer walks, sandbag runs, and movements of weight up hills and stairs will help you build the type of leg and lower back durability that will enable you to handle the stresses of time under stress. Whether it is a log, boat, a person, or other pieces of equipment, learning how to move gear from A to B a variety of ways from shoulder carry, chest carry, farmer walks, drags, and pushes will help you build the ability to withstand the stressful forces of both gravity and added weight. 

Durability – “the ability to withstand the stressful forces of gravity and added weight.” Do not leave home and join the military without it.

Related Article:Tactical Athlete – Recruit / Candidate

Work Capacity – What is Yours?

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