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Tactical Fitness Training: Old School vs New School? Is That a Thing?

Stew smith

Tactical Fitness Training: Old School vs New School?  Is That a Thing?

I guess when you have been in the business of working out and writing about it for over 20 years, there is an "old school" moniker that can get attached to you - especially by the generation that was not out of diapers when I started writing about military, law enforcement, and fire fighting training programs. Regardless no plan (old or new) will work if you don't!  But things have changed in the world of tactical fitness training - the name "tactical fitness" is one of many:

1 - Tactical Fitness is now a legitimate fitness genre that gets enormous attention (aka funding for research) since I started learning about training. High level training research before the turn of the century was focused primarily on peak performance for top notch professional / Olympic athletes and general health and wellness with the occasional study on mental toughness of military units. In regard to Tactical Fitness, I have A way to train, not THE ONLY way to train and it has been in development for twenty years - see Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization that allows for all the elements of fitness to be addressed and maintained through regular cycles without creating burnout nor neglect of weaknesses we all have:


3 - Tactical Fitness Has Evolved - When I started, there were no pre-training programs for special ops level candidates. Now, there are mentors, spec ops prep training after basic / boot camp training. This forced candidates to realize that there are THREE PHASES to tactical fitness. Understanding that tactical fitness requires three phases of growth that are specific to that training phase is something I have been trying to teach for years as many people confuse workout programming. The three phases are:

Phase 1 - Getting TO the training - Crush a fitness test.  Yes, you may have to train specifically for this test in order to get accepted. If your workout looks different from your PT test for a cycle, you may not be preparing effectively as you should and the process will take longer. 

Phase 2 - Getting THROUGH the training - This is where most fall. They did well getting to the training, but neglected to focus on elements that get them THROUGH the training. This may require rucking, longer runs, longer swims with fins, some weight training depending on the load bearing activities you have in your future and of course your personal weaknesses. All these test - by the way - all OLD SCHOOL tests developed half a century ago. BUD/S for instance:  4 mile timed runs and 2 mile ocean swims with fins (both weekly for 26 weeks, obstacle course each week, high rep PT workouts, logs, boats, longer rucks and runs, on top of countless water confidence challenges. Where most go wrong is they still focus on the PST and get crushed with longer distances, harder swims / tread evolutions, and equipment carry. 

Phase 3 - Active Duty - Maintaining your job related abilities so you have no physical weaknesses is the goal of the active duty operator.  Actively pursuing recovery should be a focus as stress mitigation is also needed. The diagram chart above shows what the tactical athlete needs to develop well - aka be good at all of them vs great at any one thing to the determent of others. Some candidates get caught up in various spec ops workouts that actually neglect many of the harder selection events - with good reason.  

4 - Testing Events are still old school - In the training programs many people want to join, you will be tested in running, calisthenics, obstacle courses, and some will further challenge you with load bearing activities / equipment carry, rucking, swimming, diving and more. Nothing NEW here. Most of the testing in selection programs that will cause failure from the course are events done long before I was born. Preparing for these requires good old fashioned consistency and effort, but balanced with responsible recovery and growth. There are newer tactical fitness / combat fitness tests available that will advance the tactical athlete into a more well rounded professional vs just being good and running and calisthenics.  

5 - We Have Gotten Smarter with Recovery - Even though if you have a good nutrition plan and sleep well, your recovery is nearly 80-90% complete, a balanced training program with logical progressions, useful split routines, and recovery / mobility days will get you to where you need to be ready for the next day of work. We tend to spend most of the time and money focused on recovery tools, supplements, and the easy button for recovery only really to get that missing 10% maybe. 

                                 A non-scientific pie chart on recovery

6 - New Gear Plus Old Gear Uses - TRX, weight vests, sandbags, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, bands, calisthenics, rucks, non-impact cardio options (bike, rower, elliptical, stairstepper, swimming) are a wide variety of training gear options that have fused themselves to many tactical fitness programs - especially mine. Some old / some new but all effective. My advice is to balance out some of the classic activities and programming with some of the newer movements and programming. You may find yourself challenged one day depending on your athletic history and weaknesses you bring to the table. Assess Yourself so you are not surprised during selection. 


7 - Your Consistency and Will - In the end, it comes down to you and how bad you want to serve in these challenging careers. I have seen absolute physical studs make it TO the training, but failed due to every other reason but physical weakness (spouse / family issues, cold, water confidence, negative feedback from instructors, not used to failing anything, and unfortunate accidents like injury requiring surgery or severe illness.) Mindset is everything with this type of training and preparation. Having a program that tests you is one thing, but you doing it even when you don't feel like it will build the mental toughness needed when you are forced to answer that question - "do I really want this?"

8 - Programming - If you have any of my first books, they may appear OLD SCHOOL. However, you may be referring to something as old school even if it has been effective for decades and still is. In programming that helps prepare people for jobs with high attrition rates in selection (special ops, SWAT) and even general weight loss for that matter, if it works - call me "old school" then. Countless special operators have been developed and still serving and new guys still in the spec ops pipeline (Navy, USMC, Army, Air Force) and SWAT (local, state, federal, including HRT) produced through my programming through the years. It is funny because some will say they liked the older workouts I created and many liked the newer programming I am still creating. I guess it is preference as long as they both are working for that individual. 

Both old school and new school work IF YOU do. 

I have heard the term "old school" directed my way as a both a compliment and as a patronizing slam. I take it as feedback - there is no good or bad feedback - it is just feedback and it truly depends on you and how you respond to training. Expose yourself to a variety of training and you may find your answer to what works best for you. 

Older Books 

(all  still being used today with positive results)

Newer Books in the Past 10 Years


ALL New in 2019-2020

NEW:   Calisthenics and Cardio (only) (Spring / Summer Cycle)
NEW:  Stew Smith's Fall / Winter Lift Cycle
NEW:  Stew Smith's Spring / Summer PT / Cardio Cycle
NEW: 101 Best Pyramid Training Workouts (Old School classic reborn)


 Which Program is Right For Me
- Special Ops Candidates

Over 600 hours a year for over 15 years

The Heroes of Tomorrow program was developed by former Navy SEAL Stew Smith, tactical fitness author.  We can help prepare you for ANY profession that requires a Physical Fitness Test and follow on selection program and YOU pay nothing for the training!  Warning - it is rather advanced but we can scale it back a bit and teach running and swimming techniques and help you build up to your goal level of fitness.



Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1 Beginner Weeks 1-9 
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4 Grinder PT - Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SEAL Weight Training Book
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness Book

The Pipeline of Training Options: 


It depends:  The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness is a classic and focuses on high rep calisthenics and running and swimming base.  You will build up your running over 12-18 weeks to 20 miles but very fast paced focus on both the 1.5 mile run for the PST and the 4 mile timed run for weekly run test at BUDS. If you are an athlete with a strong power / strength background in lifting and not running or swimming, Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you. IF you need some place to start Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you as well because a calisthenics base / running / swimming progression is a good place to build a foundation.  Though you will likely need to spend some time in the Navy SEAL Weight Training Book OR if Navy SEAL FItness is too challenging, go with Navy SEAL SWCC, EOD, Diver, PST Phase 1 Workout.  Phase 1 is a good starting point if Navy SEAL Fitness program is too tough. 

Navy SEAL Weight Training - This is part two (winter lifting phase) of my SEAL Prep program. If you have done the Navy SEAL Fitness (12 weeks to BUDS) program a few times and need a break, this is the next program that integrates lifting with the Navy SEAL Prep training. This is ideal for people who have come from an endurance athlete background.  

Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver Program Series - Phase 1 is what I call a beginner guide, but it is still challenging.  It is geared toward those who are scoring minimally or failing their Navy PST test - 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, 1.5 mile run.  It is easier than The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness and a good prep course before attempting it. 

Phase 2 and 3 of the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver program is about the same level of intensity as Navy SEAL Fitness and is also a good follow-up plan after Phase 1

Phase 4 ot the Navy SEAL Key to Mental Toughness is by far my toughest workout ever created.  It resembles a day of BUDS, complete with "wet and sandy", runs after eating, high rep punishment push-ups, 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile swims with fins, log PT simulation, and even a HellWeek Simulator with 3 workouts a day.  

Other EBOOKS (Military, Police, Fire Fighter, Special Ops, General Fitness– Most of my programs tend to focus on getting TO and THROUGH a specific tactical training program.  So you may see a mix of all the seasons in some of these books, but if you are training long term, you can take advantage of Seasonal Periodization and save yourself some of the over-use, long term pains that tend to follow many of the tactical preparations - especially on the spec ops level of training. 

Start training today with workouts that focus on the specifics of getting to and through tactical profession training from firefighter, police, swat, military to special ops. We have programs to help you get TO and THROUGH training. We also have training programs to help you with training as you age in these professions (Tactical Fitness 40+ series).  These ebooks are updated every few years to keep up with changing standards. 


Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility is an ALL-encompassing program that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) Army Ranger / SF, Air Force Special Warfare, SWAT / Federal Law Enforcement, and Navy Special Warfare have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete

Tactical Fitness - At the core of this program is the Tactical Fitness Test which measures 12 standards for your physical capacity, including: cardiovascular conditioning, strength, muscle coordination, and stamina. Tactical fitness means having the skills needed to save lives and extend the limits of your endurance whether you are in the military, police, firefighting professions, or just an everyday hero. Also featured in the Tactical Fitness Test called the Dirty Dozen.

Tactical Strength - Tactical Strength is the lifting program used by Stew Smith and his Military, Police, Fire Fighter fitness program called the Heroes of Tomorrow. It is designed to build strength in the upper body, legs, and core to prepare you better for any load bearing activity (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 (row, bike, elliptical) if needed. The cardio workouts will be quick and fast focusing more on speed and agility than long slow distance. We also use the Tactical Strength Test to test elements of speed, agility, and strength / power.

Tactical Mobility is a comprehensive fitness guide for greater mobility, flexibility, and performance—designed for the men and women serving in military, special ops, law enforcement, emergency services. Tactical Mobility is a perfect fit for any fitness program as a stand alone "Mobility day" supplemented into your regular routine and will help you reach the pain free level of fitness. Gaining flexibility and mobility is the goal of the program and it will help with performance and help reduce injuries.


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