Tactical Athlete Training Priorities
What is “tactical athlete fitness” and how does it differ from general fitness? The distinction is simple. A tactical athlete must be capable of performing a wide variety of physical challenges at a high level on a moment’s notice, often with life or death consequences for failure to perform. You can’t afford to walk around with a limp for 5 days because your legs are so sore, or have a strong bench press but lack the ability to pick something up off the floor. You have to be well rounded, and perhaps most importantly, uninjured. Injuries are a risk to yourself and your teammates and should be avoided with vigor. Below are some thoughts about what to prioritize to achieve this kind of fitness:
- Include single arm and single leg work, for example, single arm bench presses or split squats. The single limb versions are inherently less stable and force your whole body to engage to control the weight.
- Include loaded carries. Carry heavy objects (dumbbells, sand bags, stones, logs, workout partners) in a variety of positions. Nothing engages whole body strength and balance like loaded carries. This is perhaps the most tactically specific strength move available in the gym, but it is often the most ignored.
- Include static neck work. Wrestlers have figured out that without a strong neck, you are much more vulnerable to injury.
- Grip strength cannot be over emphasized. Your body will not allow you to pull what your grip cannot handle. Many people will be able to increase their pull-up strength by increasing grip strength. Grip strength is much more tactically relevant than bench press, but it is often prioritized inversely.
- Train your hamstrings. Forget about lying hamstring curls. Use good mornings, stiff legged deadlifts, glute-ham machine, hyper-extensions or hill sprints. Hamstrings are a common site of injury, especially when sprinting under load.
- The most important pressing ability is overhead pressing, not bench pressing. Overhead pressing is balanced about the shoulder and promotes shoulder health, mobility and balance. The same cannot be said for bench presses.
- Do not load bad movement, and never, ever put speed or explosiveness on top of dysfunctional movement. Strength coach Dan John likes to say, “Fundamental movements are well…..fundamental. Strength training is loaded movement and the movement should be graceful.”
- You should consider including the basic barbell lifts at least once per week each, especially if you have not achieved your “strong enough” goals. If you are plenty strong, you can emphasize this less. The bottom line is that until you are “strong enough,” strength trumps everything else.
- Loading is important. You will not achieve meaningful loading with burpees and air squats alone. Load like you mean it. This is especially true of the “odd” lifts (i.e., lifting stones or sand bags).
- Some cross body loading is useful. Exercises like cross body chops, land mines, and heavy sledge hammer work are good choices.
- Do some sprinting, loaded and unloaded. Include some agility drills. Hill sprints are also a good choice. Sprints make a great metabolic conditioning finisher. Be cautious here though.
- Pick things up off the ground. Try sand bags, logs, atlas stones, rocks, dumbbells, kettlebells or any odd object. Variety is the key here.