How to Train to Be a Tactical Athlete

Marines from Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall demonstrate some of the High Intensity Tactical Training exercises during the opening ceremony of the HITT center in the Cpl. Terry L. Smith Gymnasium (Photo Credit: Rachel Larue)

When you are training to become a member of the tactical population (military, police, fire fighter, etc), the difference in training and maintaining your skills is much different than the average athlete.

The average athlete needs to be great at a few of the elements of fitness in order to be competitive, but the tactical needs to be good at all the elements of fitness.  For instance, a powerlifting football player needs to be strong and powerful and be able to run fast for short periods of time and change direction on a dime.  So, strength, power, speed, and agility are critical to the success of that athlete. 

A tactical athlete needs to be good at strength, power, speed, agility, cardio endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility, and mobility. This question is from a fire fighter who has started a periodization tactical fitness program:

Stew, I have started your Tactical Fitness / Tactical Strength mixed with some of my old triathlon workouts and created a year plan that is what I think is great for me and my job as a firefighter.  What kind of goals do you think I should consider each quarter as I go through the seasonal tactical athlete periodization program you write about? Thanks – It is working by the way! It is nice to have a different focus every so often. Jimmy.

That is great Jimmy! I have always thought athletes and tactical athletes need periodization. Changing your core focus each quarter so you can actually incorporate all the elements of fitness into a multiple cycle periodization program that stretches throughout the year has been a game changer for many still in the business.  I would suggest setting goals each quarter with as many of the elements of fitness as you can. That is why I created the Dirty Dozen Tactical Fitness Test.  This 12-point test allows for everything to be tested.  Even the Tactical Strength program has a 10-point fitness test that pushes the user to prepare for the following:  We also use the Tactical Strength Test featuring the following events:

25-Pound Pull-up, Max 1–2 rep Bench Press, Deadlift (1.5–2 times bodyweight), Squat:  1.5–2 times more than your own bodyweight. Strongman Pull-up hang (grip), 300-Yard Shuttle run: (6 x 50 yard shuttle),  5–10–5 Pro agility Test, 50-Pound ruck: Rucking 4 miles, Kettlebell Swing: 5-minute test, 500 meter Swim with Fins: Any stroke.  Any or all of these events are solid challenges and goal ideas on the strength side.  You can also add in rucking (weight vest walks up/down stairs 50-100 flights), or 4 miles on trails. As a fire fighter (depending on your location), those events could be helpful for your job. Since you like triathlons, I would suggest still getting involved in them – maybe on the Olympic sprint level vs. the Ironman distances as the shorter distances tend to be less time consuming to prepare for.

You may find that the new strength elements of training are fun and a good break from high mile running, swimming, and biking workouts. Setting new standards for yourself in the strength, power, speed categories will not only be a challenge (and make you stronger), but give your joints a rest from long cardio workouts.

Remember, fitness is a journey – not a destination! As the tactical athlete, you can take that phrase and continue progressing in a wide variety of training programs.  From powerlifting, obstacle course racing, triathlons, to yoga and many other type of training that interests you.  The key is to find something that you enjoy doing and then find something that challenges you and get excited about the challenge. Often these challenges force us to work on our weaknesses and the training helps us to create a better, more well-rounded athlete, capable of handling emergency situations and long, hard work days.

Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

Latest Fitness Books:  Navy SEAL Weight Training and Tactical Fitness

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Fitness Tactical Fitness