4 Ways Everyday Americans Can (and Should) Harness the Components of Tactical Fitness

Providers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade conduct Tactical PT with Brig. Gen. Brandon Tegtmeier (AA8) on February 16, 2023. (U.S. Army/Spc. Vincent Levelev)

In an ever-expanding fitness landscape, "tactical fitness" provides an approach tailored to military, law enforcement and firefighter readiness, but this diverse training method can extend beyond tactical professions. 

As you consider all exercise options available out there, you may discover the ways tactical fitness can be helpful in rescuing yourself, your loved ones or even bystanders in dangerous situations and other emergencies. There are good reasons why everyday citizens may want to build potentially life-saving capabilities while they increase their own health and wellness.

Are You an Asset or Liability?

Can you save yourself or others, or will you also need help? Your fitness level and how you train throughout the year can determine the success or failure in any life-threatening situation. Tactical fitness isn't just about being in shape; it's about creating lifelong abilities that prepare you for any scenario you might face in the line of duty -- or even random emergencies that can occur every day.

The average American doesn't need to add all the components of tactical fitness to their training plan, but can focus primarily on one or more core areas at a time. For example, you can build your strength while you maintain your muscle stamina and cardio endurance, speed and agility. We call this cycle of training seasonal tactical fitness periodization, a system of budgeting all the elements of tactical fitness that might be necessary to handle basic survival threats, be it through accidents, bad weather or malcontent people.

1. Build Foundational Strength

Strength forms the foundation of tactical fitness. A foundation of strength creates durability, helping to keep you injury-free from moving with loads. Moving with weight (equipment/personnel carries) requires the durability gained from strength training.

To develop total body strength, begin with essential exercises such as squats, deadlifts, push-ups, pull-ups, overhead presses, rows, farmer walks and lunges. To replicate real-world tasks, incorporate load-bearing movements using kettlebells, sandbags and medicine balls. 

Tips for strength training: Integrate 3-5 sets of each exercise into your weekly routine, progressively increasing weights and repetitions (5-10 reps) for continued improvement. Add weight vests to calisthenics and dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags and barbells for the other exercises to build the foundation you need. Depending on your schedule and abilities, you can do upper-/lower-body split routines or full-body training days.

2. Enhance Cardiovascular Endurance and Muscle Stamina

Endurance is vital for sustained operational performance. Long training days demand an advanced aerobic base, but developing a cardiovascular base that includes rucking, running and swimming training requires time. 

Depending on your goals, this time investment can add several hours weekly. For the tactical athlete, that is necessary. For the civilian, it may only include swimming training to be effective when near water. More endurance and stamina activities, including non-impact cardio options (bike, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rower), speed and agility can all improve cardiovascular health. 

Work capacity is a function of endurance training, and muscle stamina gained from the time investment is moderately high, as well as heart-rate training and high-repetition calisthenics training.

Tips for endurance training: Schedule 3-6 weekly cardio sessions, alternating between long-distance events, sprints and walking/running resistance activities (rucking, hills, soft sand) to build aerobic and anaerobic capacity. You can also make every other day a non-impact, cardio-focused training session to limit the impact of running, rucking and load-bearing if needed.

3. Add Flexibility and Mobility

Flexibility and joint mobility will make you feel better, move better and help with activities such as swimming and treading water. Just by adding training days like a mobility day, you may also see a reduction in injuries and an enhancement of overall performance. Regularly practice dynamic stretches and yoga to maintain and improve your range of motion.

Tips for mobility/flexibility training: Dedicate one or two weekly sessions to focus on stretching or yoga routines that address all major muscle groups. See Mobility Day articles at the Military.com Fitness Section, where you can mix non-impact cardio activity with stretches, foam rolling and massage to work out any tightness from previous workouts. You can do miniature versions of the Mobility Day workout daily, as warm-ups and cooldowns take only 10 minutes each.

4. Mental Resilience and Stress Management

Tactical fitness isn't solely about physical preparedness. Building mental resilience through stress management techniques such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and visualization is crucial for enduring high-pressure environments. But there are many ways to build mental toughness.

Tips for mental training and breathing skills: Each day you set a time to train requires a moment to engage mental toughness, as there may be a moment when you have an internal conflict about skipping a workout. This daily battle is a way to gain a scoop of mental toughness when you choose to train and not skip it. Breathing skills can be done throughout the week and help you mitigate stress, allowing you to get out of fight/flight mode and into rest/digest mode.

I recommend this type of fitness training (essentially "functional fitness"), which should replicate the physical demands of tactical jobs and potentially dangerous situations. Examples include carrying a loved one out of the house, saving a drowning victim or running to safety in any circumstance. Exercises that mimic job-specific tasks, such as carrying heavy loads, climbing or obstacle movement, should be incorporated. Training with a sandbag or engaging in fireman carries effectively enhances functional strength and endurance.

Achieving optimal tactical fitness is a diverse training method that strengthens the body and mind while preparing you for unpredictable challenges and dangers. Embrace this approach and commit to each phase -- building foundational strength, enhancing endurance, adding flexibility/mobility and building mental resilience. Equip yourself with the tools and discipline to meet and exceed your role's demands. See more tactical fitness training ideas at the Military.com Fitness Section.

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