Modern day military operations can place the tactical athlete under incredible physical strain. The tactical athlete and the traditional athlete have similar demands in that both require well designed physical preparation programs that will optimize their abilities. Tactical athletes often have to perform in austere environments under less than ideal conditions. They must be able to perform physically while sleep deprived, underfed, dehydrated, and under incredible psychological stress. They are also often not afforded the same support amenities as a traditional athlete. In contrast to the traditional athlete the tactical athlete does not know when they must be able to perform at their peak, where they will need to perform, what tasks they will need to accomplish or for how long. For them there is no off season and the cost of failure is much greater. They must always be physically ready to perform.
The US Army defines physical readiness as “The ability to meet the physical demands of any combat or duty position, accomplish the mission, and continue to fight and win.” The National Strength and Conditioning Association evaluated the nine common military tasks (jumping over obstacles, moving with agility, carrying heavy loads, dragging heavy loads, running long distances, moving quickly over short distances, climbing over obstacles, lifting heavy objects, loading equipment) and found that the ability to perform these tasks correlated strongly to aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition and the skill-related fitness components: muscular power, agility, balance, coordination, speed, and reaction time.
Aerobic Capacity allows for you to perform for long periods of time at submaximal intensities, improves recovery between intervals of high intensity activity, and allows to tactical athlete to continue to perform in a fatigued state. Having a higher level of aerobic fitness will allow the tactical athlete to perform at a lower percentage of their VO2 max which will lead to decreased injury rates, illness, better situational awareness and cognitive ability when faced with physical and psychological stressors. Higher levels of aerobic fitness are also associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of certain types of cancers, greater bone health, better lipid profiles, and more effective functioning immune systems
Muscular Strength is the ability to generate a maximal force and is vital for the tactical athlete. It allows them to handle heavy loads during prolonged ruck marches, to drag and injured partner to safety, and to lift and remove debris among other things. This quality can be trained through traditional weight lifting methods or by using various implements like stones, sandbags, and heavy sleds.
Anaerobic Capacity is the ability to perform at a high intensity for a moderate amount of time, usually 30-90 seconds. Examples of this within a tactical environment can be dragging a partner off of the battlefield for an extended distance. In your daily training anaerobic capacity may be trained with the 300 yard shuttle.
Strength Endurance is the ability to perform sub maximal loaded activities for an extended period of time. A good example would be loading heavy equipment or ruck marching up a mountain. This has historically been tested with the push up and sit up maximum repetition tests.
Flexibility doesn’t mean being able to do the splits. To be a flexible tactical athlete just means being flexible to perform your job specific tasks. You need to flexible enough to move over and under obstacles.
Speed is the ability to sprint in any direction as quickly as possible. It is useful when sprinting to cover or between firing positions.
Agility is the ability to move your body and change direction in response to something you see or hear. It can also be changing your running direction in response to enemy fire or maneuvering through narrow passages or around obstacles
Body Composition is the relationship of your lean body mass to your body fat mass. This is sometimes represented as your Body Mass Index. While the BMI isn’t it perfect, it can sometimes be biased against athletes carrying greater muscle mass, it is still a good indicator of longevity, injury risk, and performance in aerobic tasks. It has been shown that a BMI greater than 27.5 and less than 21 can increase your risk of injury. To get and accurate representation of your body composition use your BMI in conjunction with your waist circumference and body fat percentage.
Gone are the days when a soldier could focus all their training on one method. You can no longer merely be an endurance athlete, or someone who is extremely strong with limited endurance. You must be a well-rounded. In future editions of our newsletter we will cover how to optimally train these different physical qualities as well as how to fit them into a weekly, monthly, and yearly training schedule so that you are able to achieve your Peak Performance.