In part one of this series, we looked at the needs of building the ultimate tactical athlete in terms of developing a strong foundation in structural balance and aerobic capacity. It’s important to note that although the focus of this phase of training has shifted to developing strength, we will continue to work on structural balance and aerobic base development concurrently.
Alongside all of these phases of training, there is an assumed level of sleep, nutrition, recovery, and hydration habits already in place to support the training program and long-term goals of the individual.
Phase Two – Absolute Strength & Strength Endurance
1.1 Absolute Strength
We define absolute strength as “the maximum force an athlete can exert with his or her whole body, or part of the body, irrespective of body or muscle size”. Absolute strength is key for tactical athletes, and suffice to say, we want our athlete to be as strong as possible*.
*Beyond a certain point, increased absolute strength doesn’t reap as many benefits. If a tactical athlete has a 500lb deadlift, spending months of training to get him to 550lb is not likely to see a performance improvement in real-world terms. This time could be better spent on improving his strength endurance, aerobic capacity, and other attributes.
Regardless the size of the individual, the physical demands placed upon tactical athletes are the same. If you have to lift/carry/drag a 225lb casualty the same distance in the same timeframe, it’s going to be easier for the athlete with a 395lb deadlift than for the 135lb athlete with a 2x/BW (body weight) deadlift.
Although in this example above, the 135lb individual might have greater strength relative to their bodyweight, the 225lb casualty represents 83% of their 1RM (one repetition max). Whereas the athlete with a 395lb deadlift, it’s just 56%, requiring a much lower effort.
1.2 Strength Endurance
We define strength endurance as the “ability to exert force many times over”. While strength endurance is key when working in the tactical arena, we view it as secondary to absolute strength. The greater we can develop absolute strength, the more force the athlete is going to exert during repeated efforts. That said, there are certain areas where we want high levels of strength endurance, such as grip.
Complexes are a favorite method of mine for improving strength endurance, and can be done with a wide variety of equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags and barbells. These should be incorporated into your program in a progressive and intelligent manner to ensure consistent adaptation and advancement of attributes.
Another favored method is moving heavy loads over distance to develop true real-world strength. If you don’t already incorporate these into your training, then you are missing out. Farmers walk, yoke walks, rucking, partner carries, waiter walks, KB (kettlebell) front rack carries, rucking and more will all help to increase your grip, mental fortitude, and breathing under loads.
It’s worth noting that a symptom of overtraining and fatigue is loss of grip strength. Many strength and conditioning facilities as well as weightlifting gyms will use a grip dynamometer as an indicator of training readiness. The last thing we want when you are working long hours under high-stress is for your grip to fatigue or fail. Incorporating grip specific exercises will help to prevent this from happening and pay dividends in the long-term.
Another added benefit is developing the skill of breathing under load, and giving you a greater awareness of body positioning (if you’re trying to walk with a 450lb yoke on your back you will soon find out if you’re not bracing correctly).
One of the main skills I encourage all of my athletes to develop is that of breathing correctly under load. The majority of people I work with come to me as ‘chest breathers’, that is, they breathe using the upper part of their lungs. A good way to see if you are a chest breather is to look in a mirror. Look and see if your shoulders/chest rise and fall as you inhale/exhale, if so, then you are in this category.
The ability to breathe in a controlled manner while under load and stress has a number of benefits:
– rebalance the autonomic nervous system, reduced heart rate – think clearer, retain fine motor skills.
– better gas exchange, meaning more efficient oxygenation of the blood
– less work is done by the shoulders/neck/upper traps that are often overloaded as you can read here
– the improved posture that is key when under load for extended periods
Sometimes called ‘tactical’ or ‘combat’ breathing, it’s more widely known as ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ it was popularized in the military by Ranger Lieutenant General David Grossman in his book “On Combat: The Psychology And Physiology Of Deadly Conflict In War And Peace.”
In essence, the key to diaphragmatic breathing is to breathe from your ‘belly’. To learn this technique try the exercise below:
- Lie flat on your back with your feet up on a chair/wall
- Place a small book (or object) on your belly and another on your chest
- Inhale slowly and imagine filling your belly with air like a balloon, the goal is to lift the book on your belly, not your chest.
- Exhale slowly in a controlled manner and repeat
Over time, aim to increase to 10 minute cycles of this breathing pattern. As this increases, notice what happens to your mood, stress and heart rate. Once you get familiar with this method of breathing, you can use this technique while doing almost anything – from rucking and running, to improving your accuracy on the range.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at building and developing the anaerobic energy systems in line with the demands of the tactical athlete.
(Featured Image Courtesy: fortbenningphotos.com)
Grossman, D. & Christensen, L.W. (2008). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. United States of America: Warrior Science Publications; 3 edition.
Poliquin Group. (2012). Monitoring Central Nervous System Recovery. Retrieved from http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/825/Monitoring_Central_Nervous_System_Recovery.aspx
Shaver, L. (1971). Maximum Dynamic Strength, Relative Dynamic Endurance, and Their Relationships. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. 42(4). Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671188.1971.10615098?journalCode=urqe17#.VlT6t2BhI7c
Stone, M. H. et al. (1991). Overtraining: A Review of the Signs, Symptoms and Possible Causes. Strength Cond Res, 5(1):35-50.
Szivak T.K. & Kraemer W.J. (2015). Physiological Readiness and Resilience: Pillars of Military Preparedness. J Strength Cond Res.11:S34-9.
Voza, L. (2015). Define Strength, Power and Muscular Endurance, Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/115549-define-strength-power-muscular-endurance/