Specific Training of the Tactical Athlete

Stew Smith Fitness Trainer

A question posted about the training of the Tactical Athlete this week sparked some debate and with the help of Dr. Steve Erle, we came up with a very thorough answer.  Nutrition will be addressed in a following post:

THE TACTICAL ATHLETE:  How specifically does a tactical athlete train?

Here are some specifics on the physiology of training, example tactical specific exercises, and design of a tactical athletic program.

The tactical specific program is going to revolve around high capacity for muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and elevated cognitive function under high stress, elevated heart rates and often depleted nutrients.

In order to achieve the ability to endure stress and maintain endurance ability, the training and nutrition program requires tactical specifics. The following exercises are a small example which lead to adaptations in muscular endurance. Pushups, situps, dips, lunges, deep squats. Performed at an intensity of 3 sets of 13 or more reps with never more than 30 seconds rest between sets will allow the muscles to adapt to repetitive movements. The following exercises are examples which lead to adaptations in cardiovascular endurance. Running, rowing, burpees, thrusters, biking, swimming, 12 count body builders. Performed within an aerobic threshold they serve the cardiovascular system for aerobic capacity.

It is important to remember you can build the cardiovascular system by doing resistance training like burpees and 12 count body builders if performed in the endurance intensity phase. Distance runners notice they will finish the race stronger and recover quicker if a level of resistance training is part of their program. On the flip side, it is not possible to build up the muscular system by doing cardio like running and swimming.

A tactical athlete must often carry heavy loads quickly over long distances. He may be required to run quickly in rough terrain while wearing a ruck, flack, kevlar, ammo, water and weapons. These types of activities require both a highly adapted cardiovascular system and muscular system. The best exercise prescription for building both together during your workouts is to combine resistance training with high reps, little rest with as much resistance as possible. This will have the effect of simultaneously adapting the muscles and cardiovascular system.

Navy SEAL Officer and author Stew Smith of Heroes of Tomorrow often uses this principle in his training of Spec Ops Candidates. During training with SEAL Training Adventures he often taxes candidates cardio systems anaerobically with very high heart rates and aerobically with lower heart rates by using the principle of muscular endurance. The mental stress component is added by instructor’s attention to detail and sometimes loud commands. The following is an example routine for elevating the cardio both anaerobic and aerobically by using muscular endurance activities.

Pushups x10 with mountain climbers x10 (4x)
sit ups x 50
overhead squat with bar x20
duck hops x20
Run 3 min
dips x20
lateral jump lunge (skaters) x15
16 count body builders x12 (with dumbbell)
row 3 minutes
plyo box jumps x 20
burpees with pullup x15
4 count over heads with 45lb plate
switch jump lunge x15
Perform this circuit 2x in under 60 minutes.

Follow this routine with a 30 minute slow cardio run, ruck or swim depending on your weakest event.

There are numerous physiological results to this 90 minute workout. It will serve to elevate your ability to withstand lactate buildup due to the elevated cardiovascular function. The elevated cardio ability will help keep the heart rate low during combat stress. The positive effect of a lowered heart rate during stress and activity aids fine motor coordination for things like pulling a trigger or rip cord. The heightened cardio ability elevates oxygen levels in the blood for energy production, immune function and cognitive abilities.

Finally, tactical athletes often must often maintain high function despite dehydration, other nutrient depletion and hostile weather environments. The more physically fit the tactical athlete the more resilience he is to such stress, and the more able they are to maintain optimal function for longer periods. For the tactical athlete seeking a military career or preparing to go down range, a dedication to a fitness lifestyle is a must. Combat effectiveness depends on the physical effectiveness.

Dr. Stephen Erle is the training director for civilian program, SEAL Training Adventures, as well as the Strength and Conditioning Coach and team physician for a Virginia University. In addition Dr. Erle instructs tactical athletics, sports medicine, sports nutrition and tactical combat casualty care medicine (TCCC). He can be reached for comment at Steve@​SEALTrainingAdventures.​com.

Check out a new race:  Run /​ Ruck /​ Swim (and PT) that we call the Military Triathlon Monster Mash Edition — March 23, 2013


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Stew Smith

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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