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Tactical Fitness Training Methodology - Seasonal Periodization

Stew smith

Why Tactical Fitness is Built Different,
But Similar in Many Ways Too...

I recently received a fantastic email from a career firefighter about tactical fitness training.  It was so good I asked him if I could share his 25 years of experience with others seeking (or currently serving) in the tactical professions.  This email applies to all tactical athletes - not just fire fighters,  wildland firefighters and smoke jumpers:  Check out some of the reasons why we train the way we do, using seasonal cycles, and a wide variety of cardio, calisthenics, weights, and more. 

From my friend and longtime user of Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization Training and Tactical Fitness for the Athlete Over 40 states the following: 

Stew, I really appreciate the time you helped me prepare for the smokejumper detail- I learned a lot! Anyway, while doing my workout today a few things became clear to me about why you do what you do and why I appreciate it so much. The young guys don’t necessarily understand but for people who’ve done these tactical jobs for a while it makes so much sense. These are things that YOU know obviously but some of the young folks looking around for workouts don’t understand sometimes. Hope this is helpful to you in some way:

That said, I’ve been working in the tactical arena as a federal wildland firefighter since 1998 and I just wanted to share a few of the things I’ve noticed about Stew Smith’s methodology that DIRECTLY related to how we get things done on the ground. Check out the job related performance parallels to the tactical fitness training (that I’ve noticed) below:

Don't Skip Leg Day - Multiple leg exercises (squats and lunges) add up to burning quads and long rucks up mountainous terrain to get you to the job site. Lunges with weight equates to long travel leg stretches needed to climb over rocks, boulders, trees etc in the field. Mixing these with cardio (Run and Leg PT) is the ideal mix for getting the job done when carrying equipment on any terrain. You need strong legs, legs with endurance, and strong heart and lungs.

Mentally Pushing Through the Pain / Exhaustion - Pushing through when tired in workouts applies to the long days and nights and it happens all the time. Some days you just have to embrace the suck and push through. Those are the shifts everybody talks about though, not the easy days on the job. Making yourself do things when your body is screaming no happens constantly on the job.

- Another Subset of Moving Through Exhaustion is THINKING CLEARLY Through Exhaustion as Well - Keeping cool under stress is built in the gym too as well as training. Resting in between sets with job related skills or flash cards can be valuable for a stressful thinking job. The jobs not going to change so you have to. Thinking clearly when exhausted is absolutely critical and happens a lot. Train the way you work and you will one day be able to rely on your training in serious life or death situations. 

Mixing cardio with strength training - The job is a mixture of moving yourself and your gear around (sometimes in steep rough terrain) and then working, then moving again, then working again. All day long. This is a blend of muscle stamina, work capacity, strength and durability the tactical athlete needs. Most athletes have a weakness in one or the other (strength or endurance). Having both in training and getting good at both is critical to the job.

Off-Season Training - Whether you are working up to deploy in the military or have an upcoming fire season in your region, make training way harder than the real job in the off season.  You’ll save yourself a lot of stress heartache and be able to think and make smart decisions when others can’t. This is what Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization methodology is all about. 

Load Bearing Skills - Whether it is equipment carry or just rucking with a back pack, it is part of the job so practice it. Some type of ruck or distance run at the end of the workout is similar to the time after a long exhausting shift, you still have to hike your butts back to the rigs! Or a helispot or some type of extraction site- very real world. The final part of every mission is getting back home safely.  Be prepared to exfiltrate and extract at the end of the training or mission.

Team Work Training - Get a partner and work together as a team to accomplish your goals both in the gym and in the field.  This is something we constantly harp on when you get hired. You do nothing alone. There is accountability, vulnerability, and cooperation/coordination whether its time to PT or you’re working a piece of active fireline. Help each other out! My bad day today might be yours tomorrow. 

Lift Weights - Get Big? Or Not? It Depends - You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about lifting heavy weights or having big impressive muscles. These things are just products of the training in my opinion. Strength without muscular endurance can actually be a hindrance on the fireline or in the field. I’ve seen plenty of big buff dudes bonk out after a few hours and I’ve also seen little guys literally tip over from the weight we load them up with (100+ pounds) if they haven’t done any strength training at all. I’ve also seen big guys lose a lot of that size in one two week fire assignment just due to the change in activity level. Training for the job is different than body building. You may end up looking and feeling good after doing Stew’s programs, but more importantly you will be prepared for the job.  That is what Tactical Fitness is - being able to do a very dangerous job and come home safely. 
Don't Forget Grip Training- Often grip strength / endurance is the first to go when working hard on the job carrying equipment and pulling. Add hanging, farmer walks, dead lifts, and old school exercises using a weight / rope / stick and even rice buckets to supplement any resistance training workout. 
Avoid Injuries - Build a lifestyle of fitness -  In wildland fire (and other tactical professions) you will have some sort an off season, but if you let your fitness slide during the down times, you will eventually have a difficult time getting back into “fire season shape” and this is where we see a lot of injuries.
Injuries not only make it tough on you, they also take you out of your crew and someone else is going to have to pick up the slack while you recover.
Stew’s Winter Lift Cycle (periodization models) works perfectly for us to take the time to focus on your strength training while maintaining the other aspects of fitness (stamina / endurance). Have a plan for working your way back to endurance calisthenics and cardio BEFORE your start date. You can thank Stew later when you’re at the front of the pack.
Critical and Flexible Thinking - Be flexible and adaptable with your thinking without being lazy. This is something we see all the time on the fireline. We have “turndown procedures” for when an assignment is given but we as module leaders might not feel comfortable with the risk present vs the experience of our crew or predicted weather or any number of other factors. Part of our turndown is to think critically about the situation and offer an alternative solution to the problem. This is not a lazy crew not wanting to do the work- instead this is an intelligent leader looking for a more tolerable risk solution to the problem.
Same goes for a tough training day may call for a stress relieving workout vs a super intense workout day. Be flexible and replace with a mobility day if you need to de-stress.  Part of being a tactical athlete is to mitigate the stresses of the job too.  Mobility Days offer this and should be used when needed.  Another thing - do not skip MOBILITY DAY either!

Check out Seasonal Tactical Fitness Programming 

Who Is The Tactical Fitness Coach / Author Stew Smith?

 I'm the former Navy SEAL that military recruits and special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

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Lifting Cycle Programs For Those Who Need a Strength Focus

You may have seen my Winter Lift Cycle that I discuss in the Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization article and the actual lift programs we have done over the years in the following books.

       and several more...

It is not all just calisthenics and cardio at Stew Smith Fitness

Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout, Weight Vest Workout,  Stew Smith's Fall Winter Cycle, Warrior Workout #2Maximum Fitness

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Need Programming for Fitness Tests and Beyond?  We are all about getting you TO and THROUGH your future training program.  See how that works.  

There is More To than You May Know

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more) 

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks)

Increase Strength & Crush the PST / PAST
3 Weeks Strength - 1 Week PT / Cardio Focus 
(16 weeks)

These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

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Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


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