Tactical training is defined as any sort of training that is designed around a real-world task. That’s our loose and very simplified description of it. Tactical training is the sort of training required by people working in real-life situations where there is a risk of serious injury or death.
This focus of training is vastly different, both physically and psychologically, than training for health or athletic performance. When you train for a sport or for health reasons you can predict the expected demands and plan for them. With real-world work such as law enforcement, military or fire service, there are many more variables and surprising accompanied by increased risk factors.
So often we see police and military training programs that focus on run of the mill fitness and controlled combat training. The technical aspect of the officer’s skills is generally fairly fine-tuned, however when it comes to the crunch and they need to call on their conditioning in the field they are rarely prepared.
Everything we do at Personal Evolution is centred around tactical fitness and psychology. By focussing on the tactical you are better able to deal with situations that invoke unexpected stimuli and emotional responses. This applies primarily to the tasks mentioned such as law enforcement and military, however training this way for all purposes tends to develop a powerful threshold for surprise and adverse situations.
Hoplology is loosely defined as the “study of the development of human combative behaviour and performance“. In other words, it’s the study of why we fight, how we fight and the relationships between cultures in regard to combat and conflict.
Increasingly hoplology input has led to a vastly different tactical approach to training individuals and teams involved in regular combat or the likelihood of experiencing such a thing. This has influenced both the physical fitness components and the mental/psychological ones.
Specificity Through Not Specifying
Fitness training experts and sports scientists are often of the belief that training has to be extremely specific. This is true if the individual has highly specific needs with very little chance of variation. For everyone else, especially those getting fit for dangerous situations, a tactical training approach is required.
When I say specificity I mean training that is highly specific to a particular controlled task or activity. Specific training applies to sports like sprinting, running marathons, high jump etc. These things can be planned for because you know what level is required and the parameters that are likely to be encountered.
This sort of specificity, as it applies to tactical training, is detrimental to performance. If a soldier or police officer is super-fit in one area of performance such as middle distance running in a controlled environment such as a running track, they hold very limited skills that apply to the real-world, life-threatening situations they are likely to encounter in the field.
The first aspect of tactical training is broad and inclusive. This means that all aspects and extremes of physical and psychological conditioning must be trained and developed to the maximum potential possible while coexisting. This, at first glance, may seem a little haphazard and rather easy to program. This is a misconception, the training is still highly structured. The structure of this mode of training is designed so that there are no weak links, no peaking and troughing and continuous readiness through all parameters.
Contextual Training Needs
The problem I see with most training approaches, except athletic, is the lack of contextual preparation. In the real world there are many variables and things need to be prepared for from just about every angle imaginable. Go to any martial arts class and you will generally see a bunch of people in a cosy environment practicing technical aspects of fighting. This gives the practitioner a false sense of security and fools them into believing they are prepared to actually use this stuff should the need arise. The same is true for any sort of training. When something is applied in a high-stress environment the dynamics are different, issues come up such as adrenaline, constant surprise, lack of rules, no opportunity for warm-up etc. This needs to be prepared for and incorporated into the conditioning program.
A soldier is rarely afforded the luxury of predictable terrain, rules and predictable outcomes. The soldier must be prepared for high-stress situations, exhaustion and being taken by surprise while still maintaining mental faculties and the ability to respond rapidly with appropriate tactics.
With this in mind the conditioning programs, both mental and physical, need to be structured so as to be undertaken in the most real way possible. So how do we do this?…
First of all training plans must not be revealed to the trainees prior to a given training session. This provides an element of surprise and does not allow the participant to prepare for the session adequately, just as would occur in a real-life situation. This is not always possible for a person preparing themselves with tactical training. So training sessions must be prepared in a highly varied manner. For the individual creating their own training sessions, I would suggest overestimating their own abilities and then rising to the challenge and meeting it.
Secondly there is always an element of technical skill involved in order to carry out a task properly. A technical skill learned in a controlled environment is only applicable to similar controlled environments. In order to learn a technical skill that is needed in real-world situations the trainee needs to be conditioned in the anticipated states that are likely to occur. With this in mind there needs to be a level of stress and exhaustion added to the technical application of skills. To give you an example, when I trained in Hapkido our black belt gradings were always something to be feared. We would be required to perform physical tasks that would result in complete exhaustion and then we were attacked in numerous ways and required to apply whatever we had at our disposal in an effective and efficient manner.
Next, the environment and actual methodology used in the training needs to more closely resemble that which is expected in the real-world environment. In other words, the ability to perform a lot of push-ups is not always helpful, this only serves as a base to build from. Performing a lot of push-ups only results in an increased ability to perform a lot of push-ups. The training needs to be more real world focused. What’s more specific then? Maybe you need to crawl long distances on your stomach with significant added weight on your body. Then you should practice that. You might need to climb high walls with added weight and do so quickly and efficiently. Pull-ups would help build some base strength, however they would not be a final conditioning exercise. It would be more specific to do muscle-ups on a wall or simply climb high walls repeatedly. Only by direct simulation of the actual expected stimulus can you be sure you possess the ability to perform the required tasks efficiently.
Lastly, and similar to the second point, required fitness aspects must be conditioned throughout a range of exhaustion levels. If you are required to possess the ability to lift large stones or jump over obstacles, you must be able to do it whilst fresh and still be able to do it after some time of physical exertion. For this reason you need to identify the stimuli needed and train under these circumstances. For example, if you need power and agility then you need to train for specific power and agility at various points in your conditioning session and condition these aspects even while extremely exhausted and after much endurance effort.
Psychological Threshold Involvement In Tactical Training
Tactical training requires a level of psychological involvement that is simply not applied in ordinary training approaches. I have trained many people in gyms and my experience is that most people, when faced with a significant physical challenge tend to give up, make excuses or simply break down. The same is true when they are faced with exercises or tasks they find difficult such as anything requiring stability. This is why many people prefer to use machines when comes to fitness training, because they’re easier to control and require less psychological input.
When someone is pushed beyond their usual level of comfort, they tend to find it difficult to go any further. Extreme physical conditioning, when endured, leaves a psychological imprint that stays with a person for some time. I have met people with relatively low fitness levels that perform better on fitness tests than others of higher physical condition. The reason is that the person with the lower fitness level has a higher psychological threshold, either innate or learned at an earlier stage of life or through some other modality.
Knowledge from pushing beyond comfort zones becomes instinctive rather than intellectual. This is useful knowledge and can only be gained from extreme effort. Automatic/instinctive action is always more efficient than well-thought out plans and intellectual thoughts. There is already plenty going through a person’s mind at any given moment. As human beings we only have a certain amount of available energy and attention for focus. Once this is taken up that’s it, we can’t just make more. It’s like RAM on your computer.
In confrontational and high-stress situations any action that occurs on autopilot and occurs much more rapidly as a result spares the available attention for important mental processing and decision-making. An effective tactical training approach is to train yourself to a point where common actions are executed automatically via trained instinct.
The type of training I engage in and use with my clients is tactical training and involves extreme effort whilst being required to perform technical actions or simply use of the psychological will to continue beyond one’s own supposed limitations.
Extreme Physical Conditioning Applied to Tactical Training
As Gym Jones puts it, “The goal of physical conditioning is to become as indestructible as possible”. The harder a man is to kill, the more effective and efficient he will be for longer. This may sound rather extreme, however tactically a person needs to be conditioned to the point of maximum resilience. This means being more difficult to stop and possessing the ability to withstand and excel under extreme variations of conditions.
In order to possess this ability you need to train for it. The kind of fitness you see in gyms and conducted by personal trainers will not do. I see fire fighters going for long jogs and doing bodybuilding type programs in gyms. This is simply not specific and will not prepare them for the extreme conditions they are likely to endure whilst doing their job.
Depending on the tactical training needs, I prefer to take a realistic approach. Quite often this causes fear and hesitation, however it is necessary. A fire fighter may need to carry heavy gear up and down flights of stairs, they need to climb ladders, carry the dead weight of human beings etc. This means they are required to possess adequate levels of strength possibly after hours of enduring gruelling physical labour. There are no rests between sets when they are in the field. The same applies to other professionals responding to emergency situations. Police may be required to chase down a suspect then fight after a lengthy pursuit. A soldier may be required to march or even run up a rough hillside carrying all their gear for several hours then apply technical skills and fine motor control.
This sort of physical conditioning is far different to a controlled gym program and requires tactical training approaches that cater to the “real” demands anticipated. There are several approaches that cater to these needs.
Peripheral Adaptive Endurance Training
Peripheral Adaptive Endurance (PAE) was developed initially as a tactical training modality, however it also applies to athletic conditioning and general fitness training. We have discussed PAE previously on this site, so we won’t go too far into explaining the science behind it. What we will do is provide a basic run-down of this tactical training modality and then look at how it applies.
PAE can be explained as a broad conditioning approach applying varied modalities of fitness throughout a continuous, enduring duration. This means that PAE sessions are generally continuous and require the effective application of modalities such as strength, speed, power, coordination and balance under circumstances where the body may not be at optimal levels of performance.
PAE often requires continuous application of various exercises until almost complete exhaustion whilst maintaining things like strength. In a gym situation it is easy to be strong when you get a rest between maximal efforts. However, in the field and in emergency situations it’s not so easy. You need to possess the ability to be efficient even with high intensity demands when the body is already taxed, depleted and exhausted. It’s like competing in a triathlon then being asked to perform flawless Olympic weight lifting at the finish line. Regular training would simply not prepare a person for this sort of demand.
Peripheral Adaptive Endurance is not just extreme effort over long periods of time though. There is a certain structure to the sessions. PAE uses varied movement patterns over the course of a session, moving from one to the next as opposed to continuous effort such as in a marathon. It is continuous effort, however the nature of that effort varies.
The easiest example is using alternating patterns of upper body and lower body effort. This also caters to another aspect, output. By varying the movement pattern you are sparing one group of muscles while others are working maximally. This allows for a continuity that would be impossible otherwise. The intensity level is always as high as humanly possible. This results in extreme output that never ceases until the end of the session.
PAE is a simulation of expected demands. It is not 100 percent specific, however this is a general, broad and inclusive fitness modality used as a base to launch other, more specific tactical training. Without being used to the extreme output, there is little hope of efficient application of more highly specific training demands. By conditioning the body in this way you are able to cope with high levels of exhaustion and still apply technical skill and strength/power aspects. In the field levels of intensity and effort cannot drop off as the body and mind gets tired.
Another major aspect of Peripheral Adaptive Endurance is the psychological imprint it creates. Generally a person has a threshold that is psychological in nature. This threshold pertains to the will to continue into extreme conditions. The natural reaction is for your mind to tell your body to stop as a protective mechanism. PAE is high intensity over a prolonged period. Gradually the brain begins to increase the psychological threshold for effort so that a person can mentally go beyond that of an average person.
So what does a PAE session look like? There are endless combinations of session structures, it completely up to imagination. However it still needs to be structured intelligently and cater to the broadest range possible. The basic rule is to never put too many similar movement patterns too close together.
Complete 5 rounds of the following for time (race the clock)…
10 metre shuttle sprints x 20
Pull-ups x 20
Push-ups x 30
Back squat x 10 using weight equal to bodyweight
Power-cleans x 5 using weight equal to half bodyweight
Squat jumps x 20
Kettlebell snatch x 10
Specific Tactical Training
This is where things start to get more specific to the expected demands. For instance you may be a soldier, therefore you require demands that are specific to your role as a soldier. This is different from other soldiers, police, fire fighters etc. This is where highly specific tactical training needs to be applied.
We will keep this brief because tactical training that is highly specific is so wide and varied that it is almost impossible to cover every conceivable angle.
First of all you need to work out the specific stimuli that are likely to be present in the real-world situation. Imagine if you were highly trained and extremely fit as running 1500 metres only to find out that your job requires a lot of heavy lifting over long distance with almost zero running over 1500 metres.
Analyse the likely tasks will encounter in your job. What sorts of energy systems and movements will be likely to occur? If you’re a medic in the army you might be carrying a lot of wounded people. You are also likely to have to sprint at full speed across short to mid-length distances to get to an injured soldier. This needs to be simulated so as to prepare for it. Not to mention the psychological aspect that must be trained along with it.
It is likely that in the field you won’t be lifting dumbells or using a chest press machine. There won’t always be flat ground, running shoes, time etc. You may have to perform extreme effort continuously as fast as possible on rough terrain in adverse weather conditions etc. Normal pull-ups will not suffice, neither will running shorts, a singlet and Nike airs.
The environment is likely to be highly irregular. This requires irregular training. By irregular I mean irregular stimuli. Instead of pull-ups you might need to scale walls, climb through windows, run while carrying extra weight or lift heavy items continuously over a given time after walking uphill for several hours.
If this is the environment then this is the environment that must be trained in. If it is likely you will be doing things in extreme heat then you will need to simulate that. Maybe you need to train in frost or snow. A cosy, air-conditioned fitness centre won’t prepare you, only a simulation of the real environment will.
Specific tactical training must closely relate to the real demands you are expected to encounter.
This one gets a special mention because I see so many people in demanding professions such as fire fighters and police that use a training program. There is only so much training you can do in a given week. There is no way you can cover everything over a seven day training cycle. Therefore you are almost certainly missing something. This sort of training comes from the one-size-fits-all dogma of the fitness industry where trainers are a cookie-cutter clone of each other.
Tactical training requires broad, inclusive fitness adaptations. All required aspects need to be conditioned alongside each other. There can be no weak links. So we take the approach of variance. I call this structured chaos. What I mean is that you can expect chaos in the real world, therefore training must be structured to cope with this chaos in the most efficient way possible.
So how do we accomplish this end? Every training session is different and although training demands and fitness aspects are repeated, there is never one session entirely like another. Every day is varied within the specific confines of the expected demands.
This works by using a training schedule that is never structured too far in advance. This may sound haphazard, however it does require a trained person to effectively facilitate such structured chaos.
Repetition and Specificity
Now I’m going to go and contradict everything I just said. Well not really. Although training is varied and extremely broad, it is not a complete mess where nothing is measurable. To the untrained eye it may seem easy to create a tactical training approach that pertains to the parameters we have outlined. The result of this thinking is just a completely random mess of workouts that do not address the needs of the trainee. This approach results in enormous gaps and weak links that never seem to get addressed.
So to counter and control the seemingly chaotic nature of tactical training, there needs to be measures in place that deal with monitoring of weak links and repetition of things that are in need of further development.
This means intermittent testing and assessment and recording of weak and strong points. Then training needs to be structured so that there is a slight focus towards that which is not yet up to standard.
All Training Should be Tactical Training
Although this article is called tactical training, it does not necessarily mean that it is only applicable to soldiers, police, fire fighters etc. Tactical training can somewhat apply to athletes and the general population. Although these people don’t necessarily need tactical conditioning to deal with their day to day activities, there is a benefit to be reaped from such skills.
You see, as human beings we are meant to be animals and all animals, especially predatory ones with eyes in front as opposed to on the sides, are naturally meant to be athletic. The modern lifestyle of humans has led to the dormancy of instinct and primal skills. We are no longer as sharp and efficient as we once were in terms of here and now responses. Sure we invent great technology and come up with astounding ideas, but we are missing that immediate skill and primal survival instinct that kicks in when we need to respond in the here and now.
Tactical training aims at bringing people back to their primal instincts and regaining some of that wild animal aspect. Why would you need that? Well think of it this way; if you are able to respond efficiently to extreme conditions, exhaustion, stress etc, imagine how much more effective you would be in day to day functions or in sport.
Tactical training may sound extreme and a little over the top for some people, however there are varying degrees. I would not necessarily suggest the exact same training for special forces soldiers as for the working mum that works in a call centre.
Tactical training is simply training that deals with demands more likely to be experienced out in the real world. I believe it is time for human beings to get back in touch with their wild animal side and begin sharpening old instincts for more efficient function today’s world.