Undoubtedly there are few other attributes that contribute the most to an operator’s effectiveness than their physical fitness and mental fortitude.

In this series of articles we’re going to look at building the ‘ideal’ tactical athlete from the ground up. Many of you reading this will already be working within the tactical/military environment, and it is our hope that you’ll draw some use from this and be able to take away principles and ideas to apply directly to your own training.

Over this series of articles we’re going to look at each of these levels of development individually.

Phase One – Structural Balance & Aerobic Base Development

Structural Balance

In this initial phase, we will look to eliminate any imbalances and form a solid foundation upon which we can build with future strength training. This first stage will incorporate movements in every plane of motion (frontal, sagittal and transverse) and in a number of positions, from supine, half-kneeling, and kneeling to standing.


Building The Ultimate Tactical Athlete (Part 1)

We want to ensure flexibility, stability and mobility in fundamental positions and movement patterns to improve performance and substantially reduce the potential for future injury. It’s far more preferable to get this dialed in at an early stage rather than have to take someone back to basics when they are injured, especially when working in the tactical community, as an injury can have catastrophic implications for not only the operator and their team, but also the success of their mission.

Aerobic Base Development

In terms of energy system development, the aerobic system is where we will spend the majority of this phase of development. We’ll be focusing on building in as much low-intensity and sub maximal aerobic volume as possible to create a solid aerobic base upon which to build.

This aerobic work can be integrated as recovery from more intense sessions, which not only helps our athletes to recover but also serves to improve their aerobic capacity.

During this phase we will also look to address correct breathing patterns for optimal performance and movement. Shallow, chest-dominant mouth breathing creates disconnected breathing patterns leading to movement dysfunction, unnecessary bracing and potential injury. Nose breathing, when coupled with deep diaphragmatic breathing patterns, has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, produce alpha brain waves and assist in controlled breathing between bouts of exertion, helping you recover faster.

There are a number of reasons for this initial focus on aerobic base development:

  • the aerobic system supports the anaerobic systems
  • the aerobic system is more responsive to training
  • reductions in resting heart rate – a sign of a well-developed aerobic system with athletes ranging from 40-60BPM (beats per minute) at rest
  • increased stroke volume meaning your heart can move more blood with each beat and so has to beat less often to move the same volume of blood
  • increased regeneration of ATP through oxidation of glycogen
  • increased mitochondria production
  • increased capillary density which allows a more efficient transfer of oxygen in the muscles (i.e. ability to do more work).

In addition to the benefits above, the aerobic system can be optimally developed using low-impact, low-risk, high-reward movements and training protocols. This is ideal for the tactical athlete as the last thing we want is to cause injury, therefore reducing their effectiveness and ability to work.

Depending on the starting point of the individual this phase can last anywhere from 3 – 12 months. It’s also important to note that this process cannot and should not be rushed; the gains made during this phase of training will be at the highest rate than any other time. This lays the foundation for all future training and equips the athlete with the physical capacity and resilience needed to perform at the highest levels.

Considerations for Program Design

Your upper-limit for aerobic adaptation is determined largely by your genetics, and this is also true for anaerobic development. If we look at examples in elite sports such as Olympic swimmers or sprinters, a relatively small gain in performance (as little as 0.05%) may be the difference between a Gold medal and 12th place.

The more developed the athlete becomes, the more monitoring, testing and intelligent program design is required to sufficiently stimulate the system to adapt.

The specific methods use to develop the aerobic system will vary from person to person and will depend upon individual factors such as:

  • Biological age: maximal aerobic power decreases with age in adults
  • Gender: females have a lower hemoglobin count and larger % of body fat. Males have larger hearts and increased blood volume
  • Training age: the more developed the athlete, the more varied and challenging the stimulus needs to be to create adaptation
  • Environmental factors: training at altitude is a consideration for many of our tactical athletes. At altitudes over 1200m physiological adjustments start to occur. An increase in ventilation at rest, and an increase in cardiac output at rest. Within 10-14days at altitude the body will adapt and these should return to normal values, especially a consideration during deployment.
  • Training history: the training background of the athlete will determine the methods and protocols used.

Benefits for the Tactical Athlete

So, for the tactical athlete, the benefits of developing a solid aerobic system and structural balance are many:

  • increased resilience to injury
  • reduction in heart stroke rate is an indicator of longevity and health
  • lower heart rate under stress enabling clearer decision making and retention of fine motor skills
  • increased capacity to undergo physical stress
  • control over breathing patterns to aid movement and improve recovery times
  • increased ability to recover from physical stress

In part two of this series we’ll look at our second phase of development focusing on absolute strength and strength endurance and discuss the part they play in the performance of the tactical athlete.


Åstrand, P. (1952). Experimental studies of physical working capacity in relation to sex and age. Age and Employment, Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard.

Baechle, R. & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed.) United States of America: Human Kinetics.

Buskirk E. R., Hodgson J. L. (1987). Age and aerobic power: the rate of change in men and women. Federation Proc. 46:1824–1829.

Levine, Benjamin D. & Stray-Gundersen, J. (1997). Living high-training low: effect of moderate-altitude acclimatization with low-altitude training on performance, Journal of Applied Physiology, 83(1), 102-112.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I. & Katch, V. L. (1991). Exercise physiology: Energy, nutrition and human performance (3rd ed.). United States of America: Lea & Febiger.

Prud’homme D., Bouchard C., Leblanc C., Landry F, Fontaine E. (1984). Sensitivity of maximal aerobic power to training is genotype-dependent. Med Sci Sports Exerc 16: 489–493.

Robinson S. (1938). Experimental studies of physical fitness in relation to age. Arbeitsphysiologie 10:162–323.

Starcke, K. & Brand M. (2012). Decision making under stress: a selective review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 36(4):1228-48.

Whelton S. P., Chin, A., Xin,X. & He. J. (2012). Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials. Ann Intern Med. 2002;136(7):493-503.


This article was originally published on the Loadout Room and written by