Tactical athletes in the military, law enforcement and fire/rescue communities can range from part time SWAT officers and volunteer fire rescue personnel up to elite operators in Hazmat teams, full – time SWAT Officers and our military’s finest operators in Special Forces. Testing is a part of this culture. The higher the level of the individual in terms of his/her expertise or the team they are a part of, the greater importance testing takes in the optimal readiness and efficiency of the individual. The lower the level of the team, the more often testing is viewed as a necessary evil of the job, something to be tolerated and passed rather than an opportunity to compete and excel.
Testing for the tactical athlete is challenging to say the least. In the military world, testing is expected and accepted. In law enforcement and fire/rescue testing ranges from accepted, tolerated to even resisted. Regardless, once testing has occurred, what has been measured and how does this relate to the ability of the individual to do the job? In the Olympic sport of weightlifting, the web has been used for many years to compare contrasting physical abilities in order to determine physical abilities and progress between competitions. The web is a spider web configuration with the tests percentiles arrayed along each vector of the web from the center (zero) out to the edge (99th Percentile). The vectors of the web are configured so similar measured parameters are aligned together. When this web is configured for each individual, the optimal web should be circular in shape and above the cutoff percentile for each individual. If the web is not circular, then the “dent” should reflect a lack of ability in a certain area of fitness. It could be strength endurance, aerobic fitness, anaerobic power, even body composition and assessment scores. The individual can then create a training plan in which the emphasis becomes pushing the dent out and raising the score in the deficient area in order to create a more circular web in terms of fitness scores.
Here is an example of a web using the Cooper Age and Gender Base Standards for Law Enforcement as our basis for the percentile rankings. Lets assume our individuals being tested both mid 30’s males and the test battery scores were:
Officer Blue Officer Red
Test Score Percentile Score Percentile
1.5 Mile Run 10:14 85th 11:49 60
300 Meter Run 51 80 54 65
Vertical Jump 19.5 50 26 95
1:00 Push-ups 34 70th 71 95
1:00 Sit-ups 62 100 55 100
Generally, tactical athletes fall into three categories – lifters, runners and those that do just enough to pass the test as fitness is not a part of their lifestyle. As can be inferred from the example, Officer Blue is a runner and Officer Red is a lifter. Both are in good to excellent shape in terms of fitness. However, if body composition is introduced, Officer Blue is 15% body fat at 170 pounds while Officer Red is 22% fat at 200 pounds. Neither is unfit, however, at 22% body fat and in his mid-thirties, Officer Red could be on track to be over fat and under fit by his mid-forties. The mitigating factor is genetics. If Officer Red is a thick, heavy-set football lineman type of build, then maybe he is optimizing his fitness potential.
Regardless, in terms of overall fitness for the job, the recommendations for Officer Blue would be to increase his lower body elastic strength training minutes (plyometrics, jump rope, ladder drills, dot drills, etc.) and his anaerobic power training minutes (intense circuits such as Tabata style (20 seconds work bouts – 20 second recovery bouts for multiple sets), crossfit type training focusing on the 45 – 60 second work bouts, as well as speed endurance training such as 200’s up to 400’s with quality being the guide to volume).
Officer Red is a big, strong lifter that uses weights as his main source of fitness. He does some running, but most of it is moderately, short interval sprints such as repeat 50’s up to repeat 200’s on occasion. His overall ability to utilize oxygen is compromised either by his body composition, choice of fitness training or a combination of both. The idea for Officer Red is to incorporate some longer sessions of fitness either jogging, biking, swimming, elliptical workouts or moderate circuits that go for several stations with multiple rounds keeping the heart rate up in the 140’s for the entire training session. Using heart rate training, the 5 zones of training for both officers are 220 minus their age + or – up to 10 beats per minute either way. The range is due to genetics, body composition and fitness level. A fit officer that spends a great deal of time on a well rounded fitness program who is a lean person with low body fat will be in the lower ranges while the heavier, less fit officer would be in the higher ranges for the same workload or workout. So, the zones for each officer would look like this:
HR Zone Percentage +10 Average -10
Competition – Testing – Arrest Gone Bad
Intense 85-95% 177 167 157
Quality Intervals – Tabata / Crossfit Circuits
Moderate 75-85% 159 149 139
Long Slow Distance – Giant Set Weight Training – Some Circuits
Light 65 – 75% 141 131 121
Warm-up, social weight training
Recovered 55-65% 123 113 103
Daily Activity 50% – Under Under 93 beats per minute
Resting Heart Rate upon waking without moving
Resting heart rate could be as low as in the low to mid 40’s with elite level fitness athletes. With sedentary, unfit people, resting heart rate can be in the 60’s and even 70’s. Anything above 84 is generally regarded as dangerous and should be immediately referred to a physician for examination. The lowest heart rates recorded are in the Tour de France athletes with Indurain at 28 and Armstrong at 32 at peak condition. If we assume max is 30 and illness begins at 85, then average would be 57.5 for fit individuals with a range of 55 – 60 for high fit.
Testing ranges from a necessary evil that is tolerated to an opportunity to compete and excel. Regardless, the key is what is being tested and what is to be taken from the test battery. What can be done to relate testing back to the everyday choices the tactical athlete makes in terms of fitness training. The web is a tool that can be used to track and compare disparate tests and relate them back to the individual tactical athlete in order to coach them to optimal status for the team, themselves, their health and operational status.