Five Important Skills for the Tactical Athlete

There are five things tactical athletes need to develop if they want to operate in the tactical professions. Preparation is the ultimate difference between success or failure, soreness or injury, and whether or not you perform under stress.

In the end, jobs in the tactical professions require physical training to meet and exceed the physical, mental and medical standards. Training also will build strength with flexibility to allow operators to endure the load-bearing and impact stresses required. Proper preparation will prevent operators from being so physically overwhelmed that they cannot focus on the task at hand.

1. Meeting and Exceeding All Physical Standards

If you’re going to be accepted into any tactical profession, there is a physical requirement. You can choose from a wide variety of pre-service assessment fitness tests, including the standard PT test (push-ups, sit-ups, run) to more extensive tests that involve equipment carry, obstacle courses, lifting weights, agility tests and a wide variety of job-related skills.

Depending on your branch of service, future military job, law enforcement agency (local, state, federal), or firefighting and emergency services department, you need to be familiar with your chosen group’s test. Believe it or not, more than 40 different types of fitness tests are spread throughout the tactical professions.

The good news is that the test to get into training is well-documented and should be published on the respective agency’s website. The more difficult preparation occurs when you are trying to prepare specifically for the boot camp, basic training, academy or selection process as the specific details may not be fully available or they just might be changed often.

2. Durability. Stay Strong but Pliable to Reduce Injuries.

If you meet the physical standards, there is still a chance that overuse injuries will occur if you do not have a proper foundation in the specific activities required during your training. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, bad luck can cause traumatic injuries, such as broken bones.

Tight joints and muscles, as well as underdeveloped or weak muscles, also can cause many injuries that would have been completely preventable with strength, flexibility and mobility training added to your preparation time.

The goal is to make it both to and through training without collecting injuries that are serious enough to delay or possibly end your school training. Daily wear and tear can be a chore and will require time when the day is done to “lick your wounds”’ and take care of yourself with a variety of recovery options. These will vary from ice, heat, compression, elevation, foam rolling, massage and stretching.

3. Ability to Learn and Perform Under Stress

While learning in a stressful environment is tough, performing job-related skills under the stress of a life-or-death situation is tougher. Being in the best physical shape possible decreases the physical stress of training, but situational stress during training requires some high-pressure coping skills.

Think about your earlier athletic experiences. When the pressure is on to perform and your team needs a game-winning hit, pass, throw, shot, or kick, you’re experiencing moments that help prepare for future situations by offering what is called a “stress inoculation.”

This process helps to build the resiliency needed not only to recover from these moments but perform at our best by using the skills and techniques we learned in training. Hopefully, one day you will say, “I just went into automatic mode, and my training kicked in.”

Those moments are awesome indicators that the training works, and you worked well to learn your job and were physically, mentally and emotionally capable of dealing with it.

4. Work Through Stress and Breathe Deeply

Start with deep breathing when you get injected into a serious and stressful moment. By simply focusing on four- to five-second inhales, a short hold, four- to five-second exhales and then repeating the process, you will find that you can calm the stress hormones that can hijack your brain and reduce your ability to think through problems.

Think of when you were trained to shoot a weapon. You take a few relaxing breaths and gently pull the trigger. The better you get at breathing when excited, the better you will be when you must apply the training skills to real-life situations.

This must become a habit through repetitions of practice. You can practice this breathing skill when trying to fall asleep faster, experiencing road rage while driving or communicating with someone who says something infuriating. Take a few deep breaths, and the thinking part of your brain will start working again. You will find the ability to sleep better, work through problems and react appropriately in frustrating situations.

5. Sleep, Eat and Hydrate

The heat does not care how in shape and durable you are. Becoming a heat casualty will end the most gifted candidate in any training program.

Do not forget hydration and electrolytes during the day, especially if you are sweating profusely or producing salt stains on your clothes. Being hydrated with electrolytes makes you more durable.

The ultimate recovery tool before and during training is eating, drinking and sleeping well. Go to bed early and wake up refreshed as many days as you can. Sleep in on weekends and eat well. Never go to bed hungry or thirsty. Keep water next to the bed to sip if you wake up in the middle of the night. A bedtime snack high in protein and carbs is a good call, even if it’s just a bowl of cereal and some milk. Eat snacks through the day and evening after the three meals in a day you get during training.

My favorite snack after dinner was beans and rice with chicken or tuna. During the day, I brought honey packets, baby carrot and apple slices with me in a ziplock bag and kept some in my locker to eat between events.

You can develop these important traits and skills over time in conjunction with healthful eating and drinking. Be smart and you will find ways to become durable and stay durable even when tested in the toughest programs and most stressful events.

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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