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Tactical Fitness: Gut Checks and Building Mental Toughness



Your journey to becoming a tactical athlete will require long days and nights of training and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. When is the right time to test yourself and your ability to “tough it out” and push your limitations?

There is a fine line between mental toughness training and stupidity. If you injure yourself so that you cannot train normally for months due to a “gut check” event, then you crossed the line into being stupid.

The cost of determining whether you are mentally tough cannot be so expensive that you miss training for weeks or months or get so injured that you no longer are qualified to serve.

I see this mistake every year, especially with special ops candidates. There are ways to build mental toughness logically over time with consistent training that do not injure you in the process.

First, consider the definition of tactical fitness. You will see a need to test your gut check abilities, but waiting to do that once you have developed all areas of tactical fitness is the key.

Tactical fitness is a relatively new fitness genre. I define it as the ability to perform military, police, firefighting and other personal survival-related skills. Those skills can include running, rucking, swimming, buddy rescue, crawling, climbing, jumping and equipment carry. Tactical fitness skills may require full-body strength and power, muscle coordination, stamina, speed, agility or cardiovascular conditioning.

No one should attempt an ultra-marathon without first training for it. Stress fractures and injuries to the knees and hips that can require surgery usually follow.

That is just stupid and does you no good in the long term. In fact, running 25 miles per week for the next 3-4 months while working at above-average pace will yield 300-400 miles of training. Runners who push themselves to run 100 miles in a weekend will not match that for an exceptionally long time as they recover from surgery and rebuild again.

When it comes to life-and-death situations, the line between mentally tough and stupid blurs. You must do what it takes to survive, no matter what you put your body through to do it.

Here are some ideas that will build the mental toughness, grit and pure will that will allow you to handle these kinds of situations, both in training and real life-and-death moments:

While Tactical Fitness is a fitness program aimed at military, police, firefighter and special ops training programs, you have to go more in depth if you want to understand its concepts thoroughly.

Those concepts will depend on the person, the branch of service and the current condition of the applicant. You also must prepare for the entrance standards and training requirements of the future selection, basic training or academy goals.

Early Morning Workouts

One of my favorite preparation methods is early morning workouts. Starting to train when you normally would sleep is a tough mental journey for many people. If you played sports growing up, you already have started to build mental toughness and you may not even realize it.

Just getting up early for swimming practice before school is tough on a high school or college athlete. You’re never more comfortable in a day than you are at the moment when your 4:30 a.m. alarm rings. It’s hard to break that moment of comfort and get up to go to a pool in the dark and cold winter months, only to get wet when you arrive. That moment builds a level of mental toughness one day at a time. That’s not to mention another practice later in the day, followed by study the rest of the night. The next day, you wake up and repeat the cycle.

Contact Sports

Playing with bumps, bruises, sprains and jammed fingers in contact sports like football, rugby and hockey can test your mental toughness every day. Combative sports like wrestling, judo and jujitsu require you to go all out to defeat another person one-on-one. These sports also will build mental toughness.

Learning to play with pain and discomfort can approach the line between mentally tough and stupid, so be careful when dealing with injury pain.

These sports and manual labor jobs will build a level of mental toughness and physical grit that will last a lifetime. You do not need to be part of a sports team to get the benefits of cold or hot and wet or arid morning workouts. Start your training first thing in the morning and make workouts before work or school a habit.

I guarantee you that you will feel like not working out some days. That is when you must train. Training when you do not feel like it is critical to building a mental toughness savings account that only allows small daily deposits.

If you want to test yourself with long endurance events, do it. There is nothing wrong with that but take some time to prepare properly. The last thing you want is to miss out on post-event workouts, because you overworked muscles, bones and joints due to lack of preparation. The same can be said for your future selection programs as well. Make sure you prepare properly.

Related articles:

Patience – Prepare Properly

Mental Toughness Defined

Mental Toughness Starts with Motivation – Discipline

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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