Tactical Fitness and Special Ops Training

Tactical Fitness: running with gear.

Hey Stew, I am working on a project and was curious what your opinion on today’s warrior and Special Ops fitness and which training disciplines best achieve this?

Great question! Over the past decade Special Ops Fitness has morphed into a new fitness genre along with military, police, and fire fighter fitness called Tactical Fitness. In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association has created the Tactical Strength and Conditioning Certification Program and hold some of the best conferences I have ever been to. Speakers include those physiologists and athletic trainers who train active duty Special Ops Team such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. But the real progress in training is in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, FBI, Border Patrol, and other federal law enforcement programs. Now many of our nation’s branches of service are hiring sports team trainers to run their indoctrination (boot camp), special operations maintenance and injury /​ rehabilitation programs for instance.

Now back to your specific question about best achieving Special Ops Fitness standards:

The thing most people have to realize is that the fitness requirements for Navy SEAL Training (BUD/​S – Basic Underwater Demolition /​ SEAL) is completely different from being an active duty operating SEAL Team member. The BUDS student must be in peak cardiovascular conditioning for the daily miles of running, swimming, and other endurance races. Also muscle stamina is key for the high repetitions of exercises done in a single day – after day – after day. Having a strong foundation of strength training is helpful when carrying logs, boats, teammates through challenging events as well.

Once operational, the fitness demands change quite a bit. No longer do you have to train like a tri-​​athlete as you did PRE-​​BUDS. Now you can focus on strength building, joint mobility, and decrease the impact of miles and miles of running by 50% or more. SEALs typically get more muscle mass, get stronger, but still maintain a solid cardiovascular training program to better perform their job.

Now – How do you get there? It depends on your athletic history. Some endurance athletes need to add in strength training with weights and calisthenics, where as some of the stronger athletes need to focus more on endurance and drop the weights while they train for the fitness tests to get into training.

This is where the community differs a bit. I am more “old school” and believe in doing a calisthenics, longer running, swimming base program supplemented with weights, full-​​body exercises like Olympic lifts and athletic movements. However, there is a segment of the Spec Ops training population that would recommend reversing that combination. I have seen both ways produce excellent results – and you cannot argue with results.

What equipment is required in a tactical approach to fitness?

The only equipment I use is the following: Running trail or 400m track, swimming pool or lake /​ ocean, pull-​​up bar or playground with monkey bars, and some floor space for the basics. If you are getting into the intermediate and advanced levels of training it is best to add in a barbell /​ weights, dumbbells, and a TRX for suspension training. But you can get creative and add sand bags for carrying, logs for lifting, and a training partner to carry as a “man down.” All are great methods to train and to simulate as much of the tactical events during training as possible.

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