Tactical Fitness Ideas: Why Think and Exercise?

Reserve soldiers handful stressful situation during Best Warrior competition.
Spc. Thomas Kimball III (right) and Sgt. Justin Pickett, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, evaluate potential threats in the area at an dismounted operations event during the 2021 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior/Best Squad Competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 26. (Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez/U.S. Army Reserve photo)

Stew, I recently heard you talk about adding thinking games into your workouts. What do you mean? How is that helpful to me being a better SWAT operator? John

Thinking while stressed is a trait all tactical operators (military, special ops, police, fire, EMS) need to do their jobs. I have been experimenting with workouts over the years and realized that training the brain to think while physically tired or​ stressed can help you when life-or-death situations occur. This can be a simple pyramid workout where you have to do math during your workout or more advanced workouts where you have to get creative and think your way through them. Of course, you also need the required tactical training to help perform your job, but when things are not stressful in “real life,” you can simulate it in training and even your workouts.

For instance: Here is a simple calisthenics pyramid that requires little or no equipment and can be done on a field with a set of monkey bars or pull-up bars. Calisthenics also can be a “gym-free” workout routine and successful mix of upper body (push/pull) with legs, abs and full-body movements. For instance:


PT pyramid

Pull-up/burpee pyramid:

Do one pull-up, run 20 yards, do one burpee, run 20 yards back to the pull-up bar

Do two pull-ups, run 20 yards, do two burpees, run 20 yards back to the pull-up bar

Continue until you fail. However, every five sets, you have to change your method of moving to and from the pullup bar/burpee area. For sets 6–10, add in lunges, fireman carries (with a partner), farmer walks with a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell or sand bag, bear crawls, low crawls, etc. …

Once you reach set 10, repeat in reverse order, changing the method to and ​from every set. There are many options of travel to and from your pull-up area, so get creative and see what you can develop when the glycogen levels are low and the brain wants to stop working optimally.

This workout tires you physically but still requires you to think creatively and cognitively. Why is this important? In the tactical ops world, where you are tired, hungry and stressed out, having the ability to think clearly is a skill that can be enhanced by adding these type of events to your day.

Why a burpee? You also can do this with eight-count push-ups. The burpee and eight-count push-ups are full-body calisthenics exercises made popular recently. They are tough and work everything: chest, shoulders, triceps, hips, thigh, calves and core.

You can get creative and add other exercises, especially when travelling to and from the pullup and​ burpee area. Does your brain work when tired? Give this one a try or check out the standard PT pyramid (pull-ups x 1, push-ups x 2, sit-ups x 5).

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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