After you complete any basic training program, sports season or even a spec ops selection, take a few days off, work on some mobility if you’re sore and figure out what the next steps are with your training.
Even when you have accomplished a task you have prepared for a long time, the training continues. Depending on your situation, what comes next could vary greatly. It’s time to assess yourself!
When you are rested and ready for that assessment, use a fitness or strength test that’s part of your career path. If there is nothing specific, pick one from the variety of service-branch PT tests available to military members, special ops, law enforcement and firefighter professions.
Assessing The Elements of Tactical Fitness
Take your fitness test. You have to succeed at this test to enter your preferred training pipeline, and scoring better on this “entrance exam” can be a determining factor in your future success. You also should realize that some of these programs are so highly competitive that high scores on a fitness test may be the norm. Meeting the minimum standards may not be good enough for you to qualify.
If you’re an active-duty operator fresh out of training, testing yourself with the same test you took before training will determine just how recovered you are from selection. You may find that you are pretty beat up and may need more recovery and training that’s focused on rebuilding.
Be Honest With Yourself
After you take that first fitness test on your own, the results will not lie to you. You likely will see that you need to perform better in calisthenics or running if you’re taking the standard entry-level fitness test.
Note: Your first test never should be with a recruiter. You should practice this test many times to improve weaknesses as well as create a test-taking strategy that works for you. Are you a weak runner? Get on a running plan and work on your goal pace now. Do you need help with calisthenics? Start doing calisthenics every other day now.
The PT Test Is Not Enough
If you notice, typical PT tests only test you on muscle stamina with calisthenics and on cardio endurance with running, using push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5- to 3-mile run. There are new Tactical Athlete Tests now, including the Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test, the Army Combat Fitness Test, the Rangers, SEALs, Army SF, Air Force Special Warfare and other units.
These units are now implementing new fitness tests to incorporate all the elements of fitness listed above. Take your pick and see where you stand with the grading standards on the linked pages.
Gaining or maintaining “tactical athlete” abilities requires proficiency at all the elements of fitness. My recommendation is to start your first cycle focused on events you enjoy combined with elements of fitness that you consider a weakness.
Here is a list of skills that can be the focus of your next training programs. Shoot for some of the recommended ranges of performance below:
Strength. Exercises such as weighted squats, deadlifts and bench press will help you improve strength. You will be required to lift your body weight (or more) on bench press for max repetitions. You will also be required to lift 1.5- to 2-times your body weight on deadlift tests. Being able to achieve this standard is a good mark to hit during your training. Other strength elements include body carries and drags. Being able to carry your buddy of like weight for a certain distance (50-100 meters) is an important standard to meet.
Power. Power is a component of strength and speed. You can do the weights mentioned above and even calisthenics with an explosive UP phase of the repetition, but the elements in most of these tests include shuttle runs, medicine ball throws and the standing long jump.
Speed and Agility. These elements will often get tested together with shuttle runs, obstacle courses, Pro-Agility Test, Illinois Agility Test and 40- to 400-meter sprints. There’s no need to break records on these. The ability to move your body fast and change directions quickly is the key to this element. Be careful here, as many injuries occur from going too fast too soon and nd not being properly warmed up or prepared for sprinting.
Muscle Stamina. High-repetition calisthenics in fitness tests are standard practice, but some will require weighted pull-ups, bench presses of bodyweight for maximum repetitions, step-ups, ammo can presses and other events that can quickly burn you out. Building up to handling 1-2 minutes of any activity takes time and practice.
Cardio Endurance. Get ready to run, ruck and swim. Depending on your branch of service, you may do all of these options or only one or two of them. But these events are typically longer in duration and include distances from less than 10 minutes (timed runs) to 3+ hour rucks and ocean swims.
These events require a logical training progression to build up mileage, weight for load-bearing, as well as technique and conditioning training for both fast and long swims. Being able to run your timed runs at 6-7 minute mile pace is above average. Rucking at 10-12 minute mile pace with 50+ lbs is also above average. Swimming at a pace of a yard-per-second for various distances with or without fins will give you the above-average scores you need.
Flexibility and Mobility. If you’re going to perform well in any of the above events and avoid unnecessary pain and injury, you need to add stretching and mobility work to your training day. You should also take a full day each week to focus solely on flexibility, mobility and non-impact cardio options. That’s a great way to heal from long workdays and grueling workouts.
Some branches will have toe-touch tests as part of their testing protocol. Passing a Functional Movement Screener is a good start to help determine weaknesses in these areas.
Grip & Operator Grip. A strong grip is required for all jobs in the tactical professions. The exercises tested above will have a grip component: deadlift, rope climbs, pull-ups, hanging knee ups and body drags.
Some tactical fitness tests will test grip using hand dynamometers. I like to test grip by seeing how long you can hang on a pull-up bar or how far you can do a farmer walk with two 45-pound plates using a pinch grip. Practice building a grip, as you will need it no matter what tactical profession you join.
Not many athletes come into the tactical population having developed all of the above fitness elements. We all have strengths and weaknesses on the list above Our job is to make any weaknesses less of a weakness. Your life or your buddy’s life could depend on your physical abilities one day so it is time to get good at everything.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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