A General Overview of Preparation for Tactical Personnel

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Different from how the term is used in many team sports in which tactical preparation is part of the psychological-technical-biomotor-physiological puzzle, tactical preparation in military and law enforcement is the job itself.

  • Technical- specific movement (fine motor, gross motor)
  • Biomotor- motor task/ability/form
  • Physiological- bioenergy system distribution (fuel sources for muscle contraction)

To enhance the physical attributes of  a person who has a tactical profession, however, is similar to enhancing the physical preparation of any athlete. The framework from which all training load elements must be generated must work backwards from the work technical-biomotor-physiogical structure- the nature of the job itself.

  • What weapons must be mastered and what is the technical nature of operating the weapon
    • Guns (hand guns revolver/semi auto, shot guns, rifles semi auto, full auto, …)
    • Extensions of the arm (baton, ASP, knife, sap, …)
  • What are the general hazards of the job
    • Environmental (climate, terrain)
    • Structural (urban obstacles)
    • Human (small arms combatants, likelihood of hand to hand combat, …)
  • What are the general physical demands of the job
    • Locomotive travel (on foot, motorized vehicle, airborne vehicle, waterborne vehicle, …)
    • If urban will climbing/negotiating obstacles be involved
    • Will foot pursuits be involved
    • Will long duration travel be involved on foot
    • Will the operator have to don heavy back packs/gear
    • Is body armor to be worn

These are the types of questions that must be answered and together these factors characterize the technical-biomotor-physiogical structure of the job requirements.

Working backwards from the job requirements is the direction one must take when generating the plan to prepare that individual physically, for their responsibilities.

Of the biomotor forms (speed/agility, reactive/elastic ability, power, strength, stamina, suppleness, flexibility, …) consider the proportions in which they must be developed- the factors which contribute more towards the job requirements

  • Military Special Operations personnel engage in hand to hand combat much less frequently then Police Officers in high crime areas or many Homeland Security Government Law Enforcement officers
  • Military Special Operations personnel routinely cover long range transits on foot wearing heavy packs and carrying heavier weapons whereas most state and federal law enforcement will spend a far smaller, proportionally, amount of time/distance on foot and with much less load bearing requirements and smaller weapons.

Training Opportunities- the time that the tactical professional has to physically prepare him/herself in a given day, week, month.

Accounting for what is already included in the day to day tasks.

  • If a special operator is deployed it doesn’t make sense to perform long range transit preparation (rucks) as that is more of the same of what they will already be doing
  • If a police officer had a long/fast foot pursuit the night before it doesn’t make sense to perform a demanding running workout the following day

In my professional experience, I have found that the most rational way to physically prepare tactical professionals is to work, in principle and not literally, off of the theme of the block sequence system. In this way, the thought process is simply to consider larger blocks of time (weeks and months) as being associated with areas of primary developmental focus and then, similar to Charlie Francis’ Vertical Integration model, ensure that at any given time the individual is addressing all relevant training qualities and only varying the volume in terms of prioritization.

So, instead of having a training schedule based upon days of the week, you work with a training schedule that accounts for weekly objectives and devise minimum effective dose guidelines to assure that those objectives are met each week.

I developed this strategy while coaching at the University of Pittsburgh and simultaneously consulting for assaulters in SEAL Team 6. I used the same thematic principles for my skill position players as I did for my assaulters.

I have a lecture video covering this exact concept that is available here entitled Military Special Operations- Physical Preparation Concepts:

Limiting the discussion to physical preparation alone I generally utilize training opportunities that are dedicated to one, or a combination of the following:

  • Pure Recovery (no real physical training load stress)
  • Active Recovery (minor training load stress, just promoting mobility and blood flow)
  • Auxiliary Training (relatively low training load stress, low volume and sub-maximal bodybuilding type training just to pump the muscles)
  • Retention Training (loads in the sub-maximal zone which allow for methods of execution higher in intensity then auxiliary training)
  • Developmental Training (this is the training zone/intensity highest in the order that yields the most stress to the organism [body])

When the tactical professional has the freedom to think liberally about a training week and understands that the training is flexible according to their daily readiness they then have multiple scheduling options. Further, via the guidance of their physical preparation instructor or consultant, they know that regardless if they have 2 or 6 training opportunities they will satisfy the minimum effective dose for that training week which ensures steady progress.

The training problem of how to most effectively physically prepare the tactical professional is effectively solved by assuming a global perspective such as what has been presented in this article. I have found great success in applying these principles to SEAL Team 6 assaulters who total more than 300 days a year away from home. I am unaware of a tactical profession that presents more life as well as scheduling challenges than what those brave men are faced with so please take what I have written here under advisement.

James Smith’s past coaching, consulting, and volunteer roles include work for the Portuguese Rugby Federation, United Kingdom Athletics, San Francisco 49ers, Super Rugby, Premiership Ruby, Rabo Direct Pro 12 Rugby, Juggernaut Training Systems, University of Pittsburgh Football, and US Navy SEAL Team 6
James has lectured to international audiences in 5 different countries, including 3 International Rugby Board coaching courses, and his work has been published in UFC Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, and Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Sport Strength Training Methodology. 


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