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Fitness Foundations For Tactical Athletes

Fitness Foundations For Tactical Athletes

by Scott McKeel, PT, DPT, CSCS

Sport specialization has become all too common in the twenty-first century. Athletes as young as eight years old will train for a single sport and many times, for a specific position within that sport year-round. They will develop motor patterns and muscular acuity in order to perform the exact task that the sport is asking their body to be able to perform. In contrast, tactical athletes, such as military personnel, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and all those who serve our country couldn’t be more different.

Every day, those who wake up to serve our communities in a service-related career have to be prepared for anything. In order to be able to function at a high level of preparedness, a foundation of well-rounded fitness needs to be developed. Because the job tasks of service people can be so diverse, it is important for these individuals to have a good base of cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, power, speed, agility, and coordination.

Development of the above traits takes several weeks or even months of training to become “adequate” and many years of consistency to master. Individuals in these roles need to be able to run without becoming fatigued quickly, they need to be able to carry a human body over their shoulders and sprint over obstacles, they need to be able to lift, push, pull, and carry heavy amounts of weights through tight spaces or in dangerous territories. On top of the types of tasks these individuals need to be able to perform, they also have to be able to do it at any time, in any environment and at a moment’s notice. In order to be as prepared as possible PHYSICALLY for what situations may lie ahead for individuals in these roles, the following types of training need to be performed.

Cardiovascular Endurance/Aerobic Training

People who have careers in service roles need to have cardiovascular endurance. In other words, it will greatly benefit them to not become physically tired from long periods of sustained exercise. In order to improve cardiovascular endurance, many individuals will run, cycle, swim, or take aerobic based classes. Cardiovascular exercise is typically done for 30 minutes or greater and improves heart and lung stamina.

Muscular Endurance and Strength

It is important to be able to lift, push, pull, carry, and drag objects in different environments. It is important to be able to lift heavy items as well as lighter items repetitively with good form. This requires upper body, lower body, core strength, and endurance. In order to improve muscular strength and endurance, individuals will perform resistance training in the form of lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises.

To develop muscular strength, individuals will lift heavier weights for few repetitions and a longer rest. An example of this may be performing five sets of five repetitions of 85% of the individual’s one repetition maximum on the bench press or deadlifting three sets of eight repetitions of deadlift at a weight that is 80% of the individual’s one repetitions maximum for that particular lift.

To develop muscular endurance, individuals will perform bodyweight exercises or lift lighter weights for high repetitions with minimal rest. Examples of this may be performing 50 push-ups, performing military press with 10 pounds for three sets of 15 repetitions, or performing body squats until the point of fatigue.

Speed and Power

It is important to be able to act quickly with power and explosion in many circumstances. Individuals need to be able to sprint, jump, hurdle or throw with intensity and endurance.

To train this quality, individuals will perform several repetitions of power based exercises with a longer amount of rest. Examples would be performing different lengths of sprints from 40 meters-400 meters. Sprints are typically done in repetitions of different lengths with varying amounts of rest based on heart rate and respiratory rate. Sprints improve speed, power, and anaerobic strength (the ability to perform exercise without the presence of oxygen).

Other examples of improving power would be to perform Olympic style lifts (hang cleans, power cleans, clean-and-snatch) and explosive plyometrics (box jumps, kettlebell swings, resisted sprinting and/or jumping, etc.).

Agility and Coordination

Finally, tactical athletes need to have a high level of precision and coordination. To improve this, training agility and coordination by performing ladder drills or box drills to improve foot speed accuracy, hand-eye coordination with ball tossing with standing on different surfaces, hand-eye reaction timing with programs like the Dynavision, and overall full body coordination and agility with obstacles courses.

As we recognize the tactical athletes that serve as firefighters, police officers, first responders, and military personnel, it is important to know how highly skilled and diversified these individuals have to be at any time of any day throughout their service. Their fitness needs to be maintained at a high level and their skills need to be up-to-speed at all times to be ready and prepared for whatever task or demand they be asked to accomplish or pursue.

Generation Care PROUDLY supports and respects the process and rigors that the service people of our country go through to keep us safe! We are here to help them recover from injuries AND perform at their very best!