To be effective, military personnel require a unique blend of physical fitness and mental toughness. Some units are improving these skills by revamping their athletic training programs.

Physical demands of military service hamper recruiting

The physical requirements for military service are intense, particularly for elite teams like the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets. Service members are held to a high standard, but that may limit the pool of candidates available to the military.

According to FierceGovernment, the military struggles to find young recruits who are physically qualified for service. About 75 percent of youths in the country don’t meet physical stipulations. The recession helped the military overcome this weakness and sustain its ranks, but with the economy improving, the number of qualified volunteers interested in a military career is likely to decline.

To compensate, training officers are seeking ways to improve the physical skills of new personnel. Tactical athletes train to combine the physical prowess of professional athletes with the quick analysis and execution needed to succeed in the field.


The military learns by observing athletes

Stew Smith, strength and conditioning specialist and former Navy SEAL, wrote about the connection between military and formal athletic training. Smith noted that refining hand-eye coordination through actions such as hitting a baseball can pay off when it comes to shooting at a moving target. Likewise, running with a football while weighed down with pads is similar to running with military gear.

“We might not think of ourselves as athletes once we are not playing games,” Smith wrote, “but we are athletes—just tactical athletes.”

The Preservation of the Force and Family is an initiative directed by Navy Capt. Tom Chaby to mold service members across all branches of the military into tactical athletes. According to Sports Illustrated, the entire program encompasses physical, mental, social and spiritual pressures. For inspiration, military trainers turn to college and professional athletics for fitness techniques and regimens.

In the past, individuals often provided their own instruction at training facilities. By working with the strength coaches, dieticians and physical therapists serving athletic teams, military leaders learn how to cater workout design to meet their soldiers’ needs. This helps them prevent injuries and better prepare for the physical demands of their specific missions.

Sports Illustrated reported that soldiers hurt in the line of duty are able to rehab more effectively with proper conditioning. Sound training practices may even be able to prevent some injuries from occurring. According to the magazine, more than half of non-battle injuries reported by Army special forces between 2011 and 2013 happened when soldiers were training on their own. By providing education and supervision for service members, the military can reduce the time and money spent on treatment and rehabilitation while also enhancing overall physical fitness.

Improving physical fitness pays off for first responders

A training guide for tactical athletes published by the National Strength and Conditioning Foundation noted that strength, conditioning and nutrition are typically ignored in favor of developing operational skill. These are all key aspects of readiness and must be improved as part of good training practices.

A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that short-term physical training designed to enhance battlefield-related skills can improve strength, power and speed in previously conditioned individuals. Even for elite athletes, implementing training exercises designed to hone tactical skills will enhance a soldier’s battlefield readiness.

“We as tactical athletes should take better care of ourselves, as we do not treat ourselves like athletes,” Smith wrote for “Eat better foods, learn how to rest and recover, [and] create down time in your training schedule.”

Tactical athletes shape their bodies to meet the demands of the battlefield, but their approach and commitment to physical fitness must be continually re-examined. By taking cues from amateur and professional athletes, the military can create more effective training practices, which in turn help first responders at all levels improve their fitness.

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