(The exercises described in this excerpt from "Tactical Strength" are not for everyone. You need to be fit before beginning them. Work yourself up to this level. If you have doubts as to whether you are fit enough for these exercises consult a physician.)
Strength is the component that allows all other elements of fitness to prosper, and for the tactical athlete, tactical strength is an absolute must. Having a stable core (the shoulder girdle, spine, and hips) is critical to your growth in other elements of fitness as well, including your ability to lift and carry your weight. You can build strength a variety of ways, including lifting barbells, kettlebells, and/or sandbags; TRX exercises; calisthenics; and heavy manual labor.
In the tactical professions, it is agreed upon by many involved with tactical training that you do not need to be great in one element of fitness, especially if it results in neglecting other areas of fitness. However, you do need to be good at all the elements of fitness, including strength/power, speed/agility, cardiovascular endurance, muscle stamina, and flexibility/mobility.
We all come from different backgrounds and may have an athletic history that allowed us to excel in certain elements of fitness more than others, but with the proper fitness plan, we can all achieve competency in all areas of fitness.
In Tactical Strength, basic lifting set/rep plans such as drop sets like 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps or 5 x 5 (set/rep) are ways to build strength over time. Find the weight per exercise that will push you to barely achieve these repetitions each set. Over several months, with proper technique, start pushing heavier weights with 2 to 3 repetitions. Give yourself some time before you start lifting heavier 1 rep maxes if you are new to lifting. Remember, you do not need to be a world-class powerlifter to be strong.
Work It Out
Here is a workout from my new book "Tactical Strength" that focuses on the strength of the tactical athlete while touching on other elements as well:
- Jog or bike warm-up 10 minutes; dynamic stretches; light stretch
- Repeat 3 times
- Weighted pull-ups max (15 to 25 pounds or body-armor weight)
- Bench press bodyweight max reps
- Sit-ups or plank pose 1 minute
- 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test (See description on page 60.)
- Repeat 3 times
- Dead Lift 5
- Overhead Plate Carry Lunges 10 per leg
- Kettlebell swings 20 reps
- Fireman carry 50 meters or farmer walks 100 meters
- Run 2 x 300-meter shuttle runs with 1 mile run cool down or…
- Ruck or swim 20 minutes: how far do you get?
- Grip circuit: Add in a set of strongman pull-up hangs, battle ropes, farmer walks, or rice bucket to top off grip workout.
Here's how to do some of these exercises. Rice Bucket: Place a lacrosse ball at the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and fill the bucket with rice. Dig your hand into the bucket and open and close your fist into the rice to grab the lacrosse ball at the bottom. Repeat with both hands for 1 minute each. Farmer Walks: Walk for 1 minute while holding a weight in your left hand. Switch hands and walk again for another minute. Walk as upright as possible while flexing your core muscles to balance yourself. Fireman Carry: Lift a similarly weighted workout partner over your shoulders and walk for as long as you can (can you reach 50 to 100 meters?). Or carry a heavy sandbag over your shoulder and walk for the recommended distance in the workout.
Testing Tactical Strength
Tactical strength is designed to build strength in the upper body, legs, and core to prepare you for any load-bearing activity such as rucking, boat carry, log PT, etc. The program also does not neglect cardiovascular activity and will end workouts with rucking or swimming (or other non-impact options like rowing, biking, or elliptical if needed). The cardio workouts will be quick and fast, focusing more on speed and agility than long and slow for distance.
My new book prepares you for what we call the "Tactical Strength Test." Mastering these events will help prepare you for the rigors of any tactical profession and selection program. This test features the following events:
- 25-Pound Pull-Up: Weighted pull-ups are required. As most gear that a tactical operator wears in the line of duty will weigh anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds (minus the weight of the backpack), testing one's pulling power to get over walls and fences or up ladders is a critical skill in some professions. Max reps
- Max 1- to 2-Rep Bench Press: Testing the pushing power of a tactical athlete requires a combination of upper body strength and moving your bodyweight for multiple repetitions. 1 Rep max effort
- Dead Lift (1.5 to 2 times bodyweight): Can you lift more than your own bodyweight? Practicing this event will help a tactical athlete learn proper lifting techniques and build a stronger foundation to move heavy weight when required. 1 to 2 reps max weight
- Squat: Can you squat 1.5 to 2 times more than your own bodyweight? Practicing this event will build a strong core foundation to move heavy weight with your legs, hips, and back when required. 1 to 2 reps max weight
- Strongman Pull-Up Hang: This will test your grip. Hang from a pull-up bar in the down position using only your hands to keep you off the floor. Keep your shoulders flexed so you do not overstretch the shoulders when in the hanging position. 1-2 minutes is the goal.
- 300-Yard Shuttle Run: Run back and forth quickly (6 x 50-meter shuttle). Minimum of 1 point for 80 seconds and maximum of 10 points for 60 seconds. Additional point added for every 2 seconds under 80 seconds.
- 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test: Zig and zag left and right while running at full speed for only 5 yards, then change direction and run 10 yards, and change direction again, running another 5 yards. Maximum of 5 points if completed in under 5 seconds. Deduct 1 point for every 1/10 second slower than 5 seconds until 5.5 seconds (minimum of 1 point). Slower than 6 seconds is a fail.
- 50-Pound Ruck: Rucking 4 miles with 50 pounds in under 1 hour is the minimum standard for Army rucking times. Can you pace yourself at a perfect 15 minute mile with a 50 pound backpack or weight vest? Faster? 4 mile ruck time?
- Kettlebell Swing: 5 minute test using the kettlebell swing or snatch movement. Just keep it moving for 5 minutes. How many overhead movements do you get?
- 500 Meter Swim with Fins: Any stroke. Swim 500 meters non-stop to pass. What is your best time?
Types of Strength
The elements of tactical fitness include strength, power, endurance, grip, muscle stamina, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, mobility, and flexibility. My new book "Tactical Strength" focuses on strength and power, speed/agility, and mobility/flexibility.
Strength and Power: Lift equipment, gear, and people, too. If you are a powerlifting football player type, it is likely you have all the strength you need, but lack muscle stamina and cardiovascular endurance in running, swimming, and rucking. However, if your history lacks strength training, you need to add to your current training plan.
Flexibility and Mobility: Move easily over uneven terrain and between obstacles. Unless you stretch daily in your previous and present routines like a gymnast, chances are you are not as flexible or mobile as you could be. Yoga-based stretching, foam rolling, dynamic stretches, and static stretching should be done daily for at least 10 to 15 minutes, some days more.
Grip Strength: Hold gear, climb rope/mountain, grab things and people without tiring. Holding onto gear, people, and climbing ropes and obstacles requires grip strength and stamina. Unless you are a rock climber, wrestler, or other athlete where grip is critical to your performance, you need to work on it. Like the elements of endurance and flexibility, grip strength is easily lost without practicing it.
Assess Your Past
Chances are, you will have an element of fitness weakness from the list above. Take a hard look at your past athletics. Consider your previous injuries: are they healed and in balance with other muscle groups/joints? Ask yourself hard questions about your own weaknesses.
It may also be helpful to take a fitness test and see for yourself. Consider the books "Tactical Fitness" and "Tactical Strength" if you need to thoroughly engage all the elements of fitness into your training program. Knowing what weaknesses to focus on in your training can save you time and undue hardship during your actual tactical training/selection.
Stewart "Stew" Smith is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a former Navy SEAL, and author of the fitness books "The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness," "The Special Ops Workout," "S.W.A.T. Fitness," "Tactical Fitness," and now "Tactical Strength." He has trained thousands of students for Navy SEAL, Special Forces, and many other military, law enforcement, and firefighter professions. Smith is currently the Special Ops Team Coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he assists in preparing future candidates for SEAL, EOD, and MARSOC training. He runs a non-profit called Heroes of Tomorrow, which offers free training for people seeking tactical professions.