You can rely on basic fitness modalities for the traditional benefits of working out, like increasing strength, boosting endurance, gaining power, and improving your cardiovascular capabilities. With tactical fitness, a military-bred way of training, you get all of those perks plus the physical and mental stamina that together make you more agile in your everyday life.
Essentially, tactical fitness is functional fitness, but amplified, according to trainer Corey Phelps. “It’s training in real-life movements with real-world equipment, and it’s training that’s focused on true strength in a well-rounded fashion to prepare an individual to be strong and agile while also remaining calm,” she says. So that translates to classic agility exercises mixed with cardio, weights, and pretty much every element of fitness blended into one training philosophy that improves not only your strength, but your overall capabilities in times of stress. And who doesn’t need that?
Keep scrolling for the low-down on why tactical fitness can help everyone, and how to practice it yourself.
What is tactical fitness?
Since tactical fitness is something that originated in the military, strategy (or tactic) is a foundational element of the training. Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL and author of various books on the subject, says that it involves gaining the physical requirements that’d allow you to save your own life or the life of someone else. “It helps people become a better asset to themselves and to others,” he says, noting that he’d dub the method’s tagline “Train like your buddy’s life depended on it.” Examples he points to would be the skills necessary to flee a burning building, outrunning something, or swimming for survival.
For the regular gym-goer, this all boils down to being well-versed in functional movements—aka what’s required of your body in your day-to-day life—executed with ease, even in a high-stress situation.”Usually in tactical fitness, there’s a notion of adrenaline and breathing that’s involved, because when you’re in a scenario of combat or stress, like a fireman that’s rushing into a building to save someone’s life or if someone is trying to hurt you, you’re using both physical and mental preparedness,” says Eric Fleishman, a celebrity fitness trainer. “This training allows you to think about and prepare for those scenarios ahead of time so that they don’t overtake you and you don’t feel overwhelmed in the moment.”
Exercises that fit the tactical training philosophy are common in Crossfit workouts: things like box jumps and pull-ups. There are also a lot of athletic-style training, like ladder drills, battle ropes, and pushing and pulling a weighted sled.
Tactical fitness benefits
Adding tactical fitness training to your sweat sesh forces you to tap into all of the components of a good fitness routine. “Strength is a part of it, but so is cardiovascular training,” says Smith. “A tactical athlete has to be good at everything: strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and mobility.” Seriously—all of these elements add up to having tactical skills that emulate what, say, a fire fighter has to have under his or her belt for the job.
The agility factor benefits your reaction time and ability to be nimble. “It dramatically increases your agility, and so your ability to recover from stumbling or to make split-second decisions because you’re leaping over something,” says Fleishman. “The agility of your body has a lot to do with survival. If you’re agile, you’re less likely to hurt yourself.” Being able to, say, whiz through ladder drills and cone sprints translates to having cat-like reflexes that can save you from a tumble.
This type of training also gets you to stay calm and collected, kind of like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, even in the face of danger. “The mental and physical benefits of tactical training are huge, especially the mental, as it prepares you to deal with situations that are unusual or that can be scary,” Fleishman says. “It’s through conditioning and situational awareness that means you’re no longer shocked—that’s what tactical fitness is all about. You’re preparing for the unusual so that you can maintain that mindset as you deal with the physical and mental processes you’re facing.”
In your workouts, you reap the benefits that come with 3-D training, or non-linear exercises. Fleishman points out that traditional fitness is very linear (think: lunges and running). “When you’re on the battlefield or trying to avoid an attack, you’re cutting the angle and coming up with non-linear movements,” he says. “If your body is only trained in linear movements, you’ll be hurt.” Multiplanar training works to strengthen your muscles and joints, help prevent you from injury, and to improve your overall mind-body connection.
How to incorporate tactical fitness training into your workout
Good news: You don’t need to have an actual life-or-death stimulus to incorporate tactical fitness into your workout. Smith recommends focusing on certain elements at a time. For example, hone in on strength and power for one season, and endurance and agility during another (since, he points out, it’s very difficult to get good at all of them at once). With that said, here are some actual exercises you can sweat through for tactical skills:
1. Pull-up with ropes: This one’s for agility. “Instead of doing a pull-up on a bar, put a piece of rope over the pull-up bar, hold onto it on each end, and pull up on the rope,” says Fleishman.
2. Cone sprints: Also in the agility realm are cone sprints (or you can use a ladder for the same effect). “Instead of doing regular sprints, use an agility ladder or cones to go back and forth,” he says.
3. Box jumps: “Explosive movements can be tactical,” says Fleishman. “Think about springing upon a box or a bench and gently coming down.”
4. Battle rope drills: Fleishman likes battle ropes as a tactical training tool, but don’t just use them in the up and down movement. “Change directions and zig-zag them sideways and back and forth to be more tactical,” he says.
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