Every year, new recruits consider starting their adulthood journey by preparing to join one of the tactical professions (military, special ops, police, fire/EMT). Many come to this fork in the road with a history of athletic achievements, some need to build a foundation of fitness in order to endure the training to get TO and THROUGH the programs they seek.
There are different rules, strategies, and training methodologies you should understand before taking your training down the tactical fitness pathway. Traditional athletic training is not that much different, but you should be aware of some subtleties exclusive to tactical training. Here are some of the “rules” that help to describe the differences in training as well as mindset:
1 – Minimum Standards Are Not Goals – There is a saying I use with new recruits, “Do not ask me what the minimum standards are, because I do not know them.” Basically, what is meant by this quote is that the minimum standards in physical fitness, body fat, and body weight are a zone that you want to avoid altogether. However, your journey may take you to the minimums at one point of your training, but exceeding the standard should be the mindset you have to get to and through your future training. If you have a mindset of achieving the higher standards of fitness and lower body fat / body weight, you will never have the added stress of failing these events.
2 – How Important Is Your Fitness? - Your life, your buddy’s life, or the life of someone you are trying to save could depend on your fitness level one day. That is why the minimum standards may not be enough for you to accomplish this requirement in the tactical professions. The rule is – do not let your training and your fitness slip to a level where your ability to do your job is in jeopardy.
3 – Train to Compete – Not Just Survive - Besides, when you train to a higher standard, your mindset changes. You no longer just think about surviving an event, you can think about winning or performing in the top of the class. There is another coaching quote I use, “If you think about winning, you never think about quitting.” This mindset works great for when the days turn into nights in your training and it is cold, dark, and you are alone with your thoughts. Keeping the eye on the prize will keep you moving forward and having the ability to push yourself harder than a majority of your training class will enable you to lead by example and help those behind you.
4 – Team Player - As with any sport, being a good team player is critical. Having the physical fitness ability to lead from the front and help those to mentally push through challenging events is where you want to be not just in your selection training, but when doing your job as well. The days will get long and the nights even longer and you will not be done until you are done with the task. This requires you to take care of yourself in your training to endure, but also be that team player that also pushes others to stay on the top of the game. Being the guy who helps others in the class or unit to “up their game” is needed in the tactical professions.
5 – No Secrets – Just Work - There are no tips, tricks, or secrets to getting prepared for the tactical professions. As with any athletic activity, it takes time, patience, effort, consistency, and in a nutshell – WORK. Prepare yourself through constant work, get smart on recovery techniques, nutrition for energy, and you will build that foundation you need to succeed as well as the mental toughness that comes with it.
6 – Longevity Starts Now - Also realize that you will be older longer than you are younger in the tactical professions should you make it a career. Your longevity to do your job in your thirties, forties, and even fifties, is dependent on how you take care of your body now. Recovery and Maintenance have to be part of the weekly planning for training.
Three Phases of Tactical Fitness – Understanding that the training to get TO the selection is different than the training to get THROUGH the selection and that the training to maintain your fitness as an active duty operator is different than the prior two phases is the key to mastering the multiple levels of tactical fitness training. Know all the elements of fitness and how to engage strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility, and mobility.
Finally, If you do not take the time to properly prepare yourself for the challenges of a tactical fitness profession, prepare to be a patient or fail to meet the standards required to graduate or stay on the job.
About Stew Smith CSCS Stew Smith is a Navy SEAL Veteran who supports the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He also has over 1000 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum and over a 100 Podcasts focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.
As a published fitness author on the topic of tactical fitness, Stew creates training programs to help people prepare for any test, training program, or just lose weight and get fit for duty. See StewSmithFitness.com for more information on his books.