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The Biggest Problems in the Tactical Professions Stem From This...

Stew smith recovery tactical athletes tactical fitness tactical fitness series tactical strength

Military, Police, Fire Fighters…
Learn to Treat Yourself Like an Athlete

Back in the 90’s, before there were terms like “tactical fitness” or “tactical athlete”, I remember stating that one of the biggest problems in the public service (tactical) communities is few consider themselves athletes, nor do they come close to treating their bodies like an athlete would. Obviously, you do not have to be an athlete when serving your country or community. However, taking care of your health, wellness, and ensuring your physical abilities are up to being able to do your job and successfully recover from the personal, professional, and physical stresses that are placed on you everyday is key.

Confusing What the Tactical Athlete Needs

You have to realize that there are stages of training / life of the tactical athlete.  In fact, the three phases of tactical fitness best describe the differences of the training and stressor focus each phase of the journey requires:

Phase 1 - Getting Accepted TO the training

Phase 2 - Getting THROUGH Basic, Boot Camp, Academy, or Spec Ops Selection.

Phase 3 - Active Duty Member in the Tactical Professions

Each phase requires more from the recruit, candidate, and operator as you make your way through the pipeline. Understanding these requirements at each phase will help you realize not only the hard work in your journey that is needed, but also the amount of recovery that is needed as well. 

Phase 1 and 2 will focus primarily on your physical abilities but also push your ability to learn new skills where phase 3 is about maintaining your physical abilities during long work hours, high stress situations, and balancing a personal life at the same time. Another issue with phase 3 is that the active duty operator will be older longer than he/she is younger which will start to create new problems, aches, pains, and stressors. Learning how to balance stress and stress relieving activities will be a daily challenge for the tactical athlete so the more you know about recovery the better. 

The #1 Most Important Piece to the Puzzle - Recovery! 

The term “tactical athlete” is relatively new and has grown in popularity and understanding in the last decade mainly out of necessity with multiple combat engagements within the military and anti-terrorism taskings within the police and fire/first responder communities. However, for decades we as a community have not thought of ourselves as athletes. But we are.

Learning how to recover from a tough workout day as a high level athlete is not unlike how the tactical athlete needs to recover from the daily stresses of life, work, and the physical stresses of the job each day.  It takes careful balance:

See recovery articles/videos for more ideas on stress mitigation for the physical pains, personal (mental / emotional stress), and professional challenges we face each day. 

The Elements of Fitness for the Tactical Athlete

The athleticism is different. You do not need to be world class in any element of fitness. In fact, it is better to be good at all the elements of fitness vs stellar in any on element of fitness only to be lacking in others. The elements of fitness a tactical athlete needs to be able to function well in are the following areas:     

Speed and Agility – Short explosive runs and changes of direction

Cardio Endurance - Run, swim, and ruck farther and faster. Swim to save a life, to cross a river, and to be more effective on 75% of this planet.

Strength and Power – Lift equipment, gear, and people too.

Flexibility and Mobility – General Flexibility and Mobility gained by stretching and full range of motion movements help with pain but also help you move easily over uneven terrain and obstacles.

Muscle Stamina – Move yourself and gear up, over, under, and through space for longer periods of time / higher repetitions.

Old Man Grip – Hold gear, climb rope/mountain, grab things and people without tiring.

Skills –  Work training, learning and maintaining job skills, and the right mindset to accomplish the mission regardless of the physical discomfort of the situation.  

Recovery – Anything and everything in your job requires some form of recovery from days off, better sleep, better breathing skills, better nutrition, proper hydration, better flexibility / mobility, and other forms of stress mitigation activities. 


The end result is to build a healthy operator that has longevity and has not burned out or over-injured themselves during the more physically challenging phases of the journey. However, maintaining reasonable fitness standards so the job itself does not cause career ending injuries requires smart training guidance and understanding that on stressful days - less is more. Having a stressful day at work and topping it off with a butt-kicking high intensity workout may not be the best option today. Burning the stress candle at both ends is not going to help you with overall recovery. Often an easy cardio day filled with deep breathing is sufficient for metabolizing the stresses of the day. 

Think about it...Your Fitness is THAT Important Still...

Tactical Fitness is primarily the training required to get into and remain in the military, police, fire fighter, EMT services. The goal of tactical fitness is to create a strong and capable body to save yourself and others in an emergency situation. But we all should be strong and capable enough to save ourselves and others in such situations (accidents, fire, storms, etc).  Be an asset in an emergency situation.  Do you need to be saved?  Or can you take care of yourself and your loved ones? 

Consider Learning About A Way to Train: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization 

It all started more than 20 years ago, when I realized I needed a break from an aggressive Summer running program.  But to be honest, I had been running similar to this for years - year after year after year.  So I started a downward regression that matched the time of day.  As the days got shorter in the Fall and Winter, my runs did too.  Replaced running with non impact cardio options and lifting weights for the first time in nearly 15 years of training (at age 30).  It was my first winter lift cycle.  It rebuilt me. Increase joint stability, strength, power, and was ready to try running again in the Spring - but this time was a logical progression of about 10-15% volume increase each week.  

This was my first year of training with out injury in a very long time and for the past 20+ years I continued to not only use this method of training myself, but have taught it to thousands of tactical athletes in person and even more through books, ebooks, and online coaching.  (see below for more info). 

Here is the way I arrange my
workouts throughout the year.

I do not have a workout of the day - I have a workout that fits into my year training cycle. I think of the four seasons as a way to challenge ALL of the fitness elements (speed, agility, endurance (run, swim, ruck), strength / power, muscle stamina, mobility and flexibility) – not all at once but spread throughout the year. You will find you can still be above average in ALL the elements of fitness which is invaluable to your success in any Tactical Profession.

Spring - Calisthenics and cardio workouts. Run / Swim Progression.  But there is a mix of weighted regressions, and progression of calisthenics and running.  As the days of the year get longer, so do the workout times and running / calisthenics volume. (Element focus: Hypertrophy, muscle stamina - strength mix, aerobic / anaerobic endurance - fast timed run / swim / ruck pace) 

Summer - Calisthenics and cardio workouts (advanced). Run max / PT Peak, Swim progression. But with supplemental lifts for people who need some strength focus more than a high mileage focus (runners, triathletes, other endurance athletes). (Element focus: endurance (run, swim, other), muscle stamina (high reps) of calisthenics and some load bearing events. 

Fall - Calisthenics and running volume start to decrease. Non-impact cardio workouts start to replace some of the running (bike, swim, row) However, rucking and swim with fins progressive throughout the Fall and Winter to maintain cardio conditioning especially for people who need to lose weight and not focus so much on strength training (powerlifters, football players, strength athletes)
(Element focus: Hypertrophy, muscle stamina - strength mix, aerobic / anaerobic endurance - fast timed run / swim / ruck pace) 

Winter – We still warm-up with calisthenics, but this cycle is heavy weights, weight vest calisthenics, more non-impact cardio workouts. Some rucking / More Swim with fins peak.  Most people put on 10-15 lbs in this cycle (of muscle and gains in strength) but maintain about a 8-10 miles per week of faster paced running. (Element focus:  Hypertrophy, strength/power, speed / agility)

My most recent programs that walk you through these four cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 



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.   

As We Age, Some New Rules to Consider

The following rules are part of the programming used in the 52 week – four part training series: Tactical Fitness 40+.  From Rebuilding the Foundation to getting Ready to Compete, and being an above average fitness level after 40, this series uses the following rules religiously. 

Even well into your 50-60s, you can still do advanced level workouts with these rules, just make sure you actively pursue recovery methods like eating well, sleeping, hydrating, breathing deeply, taking rest days, as well as the following NEW RULES:

 NEW RULES for Fitness Over 40 - Now 50+:

  1. You can no longer out work your diet – Focus on smaller portions, avoid junk food, sugar, even decreasing / eliminating sugar, do not avoid fruits /vegetables as these are good carbs that are high in nutrients you need for energy and recovery, and drink more water. This one takes discipline as the old habits of eating like we were highly active 20-year olds is a tough one to break, even if you are still highly active after 40 years old.

  2. Run every OTHER day - add non impact cardio – Unless you are still competing in races or under 200 lbs. of body weight, consider running every OTHER day instead of daily or 5-6 times a week.  Replace some of the running days with non-impact cardio options (bike, row, elliptical, swim) on the days in between running days.  You can still train hard 5-6 days a week, just give your body a break from the impact by doing challenging non-impact options. You can build up distance or speed as you prefer on your running days to help you maintain abilities in many tactical professions, keep weight down, especially if still taking military fitness tests.  

    When running fast (sprinting) it is good to remember - 80% is the new 100%. Pulled hamstrings, blown Achilles tendons, torn hip flexors have a higher percentage of occurring if you go all out.  Proper warmup is always required when pushing your speed limits and sometimes that takes longer than we are willing to give. Run smarter. 

    See related article on Hating Running for 35 Years - Lessons Learned

  3. Lift But Differently - If you are an easy gainer and can quickly get strong and bulky with a lift cycle, you can still lift, but make sure you follow lift cycles with a good amount of cardio (run, bike, elliptical, swim). If you can keep off the extra weight that comes with increased strength during lift cycles, your next cycle of cardio / calisthenics (periodization) will be much easier.  Face it - losing weight is tough after 40.  Running heavy is even tougher.

  4. GAME CHANGER - Add a mobility day each week – This one is actually life changing for me personally and allows me to be pain free even after 50 years old while still training with a group of 20 year old tactical athlete students (spec ops level). You can either replace a typical challenging workout with this mobility or add it to a day off each week. It is simple but effective.  See routine options below:
  • Repeat 5 times 
    Bike, elliptical, row, or swim 5 minutes
    Foam roll, stretch, car buffer massage 5 minutes

    Regardless of your goals, the mobility day added to mid to late week will enhance the later workouts of the week or weekend and help you walk out of the gym feeling no pain! If you feel you need it, do the mobility day two times in a week.
  • Learn how to foam roll, stretch daily, car buffer – That is right!  A car buffer (small hand car buffer made by Ryobi for $30 at Home Depot) is what I use to get a deep vibration that is soothing to the muscles.  This must be an orbital / vibrating car buffer not a rotary (spinning) car buffer. Apply to joints, muscles, lower back for near immediate soothing effects.  But stretching and a foam roller should be the mandatory parts of this rule – DAILY.

  • New tools for becoming more mobile and in less pain: 
  • In conclusion, LOSE WEIGHT my final piece of advice is to get lighter – try not to gain too much weight, even during heavy lifting cycles. It is easy to gain a pound or two a year and in 5-10 years “suddenly” be 10-20 pounds overweight. Being lighter is just easier to move, less pressure on your joints, and typically means you have a healthy fat to body mass ratio. I have found that the heavier I am the worse my blood screening numbers are and it hurts more to run.   

Part 1 - Foundation Building (12 weeks) (book / ebook)

Part 2 - Taking it to the Next Level (12 weeks) (book / ebook)

Part 3 - Ready to Compete (12 weeks) (book / ebook)

Part 4 – Tactical Fitness For the Athlete Over 40 (16 weeks) (book / ebook)

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).


Check out the Stew Smith Fitness Store for more information on what we have available.


There is More To than You May Know

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more). If books are not the accountability factor you need, consider Online Coaching with Stew:

Online Coaching Programs (Personalized for Your Goals, Time, Equipment, etc..)

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

Questions?  Just email me at

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