Tactical Truths

Let’s be honest and admit that for most people training begins and ends with vanity. These people make up the vast majority of the training population. On one side are those who exercise for health because they were forced to. These people need to lose weight and get their hearts working again to avoid imminent death. And on the other side, but in equally small numbers, are those who exercise for sheer enjoyment or due to their profession.

For those on either end of that curve aesthetics isn’t their prime concern. Of course if you are obese and start to exercise regularly and watch what you eat you’ll look better. And the same goes for the athletes and exercise enthusiasts – they look good but it as a by-product of their training not the goal of it.

For a very small group that consists of law enforcement, military, fire fighters, combat sports athletes, and paramedics the only concern is how well they can execute their job. Unlike most of us if we are slack in the gym it doesn’t have too much bearing on the rest of our lives. However, if a fire fighter is lazy with their training perhaps they cause their own death, or that of a crew member.

The internet is filled with training for tough guys based on what many people believe to be the best path. Mostly they are so wrong I don’t even know where to start. If you have tactical aspirations the following list should help you weed out the useless from the useful.

Running matters

I know running cops a bad rap from a lot of people. They say it’s got a massive injury rate. They tell you that you’ll end up skinny and fat. They say you’ll lose muscle. Personally I have found none of that to be true.

The simple facts about running go like this:

Most tactical groups have some kind of running test so you need to run at least well enough to stay qualified.
Running is the fastest way to get fit.

Running helps you maintain the correct bodyweight.

Maintaining your running once you’re fit is easy and doesn’t require too much work. However, getting fit in the first place can be difficult, which is why I steer people towards the beginner running plan found within Run Strong.

Bodyweight matters

As a side effect of the bodybuilding craze many people still associate bigger with better. When it comes to actually using your body for something that is untrue. Bigger may be better however it may also be detrimental to your performance.

Like with running there are some simple truths about bodyweight that you can keep in mind to help figure out if you need to gain or lose weight.

If you are unable to run fast enough to meet your goal time try losing some weight. Running speed is greatly effected by body mass and a small drop in weight can lead to big gains in speed.

Most tactical groups have testing centered around bodyweight exercises. In particular, pull ups become substantially easier with small decreases in weight.

Correct bodyweight for each person is a very individual thing. Not only that but it can change depending on your goals. For instance, for SEALFit’s Kokoro camp I weighed 88kg. I was running plenty but I also was heavily focused on strength too to cope with workouts like Murph done while extremely fatigued. Yet for the BJJ Masters Worlds I weighed 85kg to make my weight class. That small change in bodyweight while losing no strength actually made me feel stronger and fitter.

In general law enforcement can get away with being a little heavier than those in the military as their work is far more anaerobic. It’s not likely a police officer will need to ruck for ten or twenty miles ever, yet that is common place in the military.

Stand up fighters will benefit from being slightly lighter than grapplers. Bodyweight plays a huge part in fighting but even more so in an environment where the weight can be used completely, like when you’re on the ground and lie on top of someone. Stand up fighting also often features longer matches than grappling based arts so the fitness requirements will be more aerobic.

Cardio matters

I am yet to meet a successful tactical athlete who isn’t insanely fit. While running should be the cornerstone of your fitness training you can also supplement it with circuit training, rowing, riding, and swimming. If you have high aspirations, whether in the ring or on the battlefield, cardio should be performed daily.

Strength matters

Bodybuilding, as in adding muscle mass to your frame, and strength training are not the same thing. If you need to wear body armor and carry a weapon all day on a foot patrol you’ll need to be strong. If you need to wear body armor, carry a weapon, and hump your 30kg pack all day long you’ll need to be even stronger. If you want to be able to grab an opponent and arm drag them or finish a takedown you’ll need to be strong enough to move a resisting opponent. You get the idea – strength matters.

But strength doesn’t require hours and hours to be spent in the gym. In fact, brief sessions can work extremely well for adding strength. Three days per week performing a handful of the most important exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps is a good start. If in doubt try the following three:

  • Bench press
  • Front squat
  • Weighted chin ups or pull ups.
  • On one day of the three substitute deadlifts for squats.

Perform a warm up and a few warm up sets of each exercise. Hit them hard and get out of the gym. Your goal is neither to make yourself tired or sore but to see progress. Quite often that means doing far less than you think you can because your work stress is already so high that your recovery is compromised.

The mind is primary

If you’re the sort of person who hits snooze five times or needs three alarms perhaps you’re not cut out for the tactical lifestyle. If you’re the kind of person who thinks they need a drink to prevent dehydration after a five minute warm up then you’re just not ready.

All of the fighters and first responders I know share one key skill. None of them have any quit in them. I’ve watched SWAT team members vomit halfway through a workout and come back for more while a normal person would call it quits. I’ve seen fighters train with broken limbs, bulged discs, and literally with one hand while the other arm is in a cast. I know an SAS member who stayed on operational duties for eight years while needing an ACL repair.

Laziness and/ or mental softness has no place in those who choose this lifestyle. While I don’t believe you need to go to your limits daily I think you need one workout a week tests your mettle. Like any skill if mental toughness isn’t practiced regularly it will deteriorate.

Train hard, train often, and never accept anything other than your very best. You life, and those of your team mates, may depend upon it.