Operator Fitness

What is a tactical athlete?  It’s a really over used term for dudes that carry a gun for a living.  It’s also a cover term for weird training methods, that produce dubious results. Needless to say, the term needs some clarification as to what it means, and what you need to become one.  This article will cover the 6 traits that every tactical athlete needs.  We will also give you detailed strength predictions, and muscular size predictions that will help you accomplish your goals.

The first thing we need to figure out for any athlete, and a tactical athlete is no different, are what exactly are your fitness needs?  These needs are going to be variable depending on the specifics of your job, i.e a patrol officer has different requirements than a SEAL.  Many of these requirements are going to be similar; however, which create a common core of traits that all tactical athletes need to work on.



This is a common trait for all tactical athletes.  I challenge you to find a real world problem that couldn’t better be solved by a stronger person.  I will also point out that, personally during my time in the Marine Corps, or in my current job as a police officer, I’ve never said, “gee if I was a little weaker, I’d be able to do this better.”  Where as I’ve often wished I were a little stronger, whether that was humping a mortar base plate, or pushing a disabled car out of the road.

This needs to be caveated.   I do not think that you should try to achieve your genetic strength potential.  I know you probably think I’ve just contradicted myself, but I promise I haven’t.

You need to be strong, brutally strong, but in trying to reach your strength limits, you will put so much effort into that one area that you will neglect other important fitness requirements.

This excellent article, written by Greg Nuckols, of Stronger by Science has some awesome calculators that show just how strong, and muscular you can become based off of some fairly sophisticated equations.

Example: Adult Male, 28 years of age, 5’8, 7 in wrist, 9 inch ankles

Predicted Maximum Body Weight @ 12% Body Fat: 198 lbs

Ideal Strength Levels (90% x Calculated Maxes)

Squat: 490 lbs

Bench: 325 lbs

Deadlift: 545 lbs

3 Lift Total = 1360 lbs


Based off of your predicted strength levels, I believe that you should shoot for about 90% of those numbers for a simple reason.  Lets say it takes you 7 years of serious lifting to get to these numbers.  To go from these 90th percentile numbers to your 100th percentile might take you another 7 years.  That amount of time is probably not worth neglecting other aspects of your fitness.

If you like this kind of article, and want to get more free info about becoming a better athlete, put your email in on the right to get these articles sent straight to your inbox.  If you don’t, a cool guy with a beard will throw his dip spitter at you. 


Closely related to strength is hypertrophy, in fact it is a great predictor and influencer of overall strength.  There are; however, other serious benefits from hypertrophy that most people don’t think of for tactical Athletes.

Bigger muscles allow you to better protect your joints from injury, and can also protect your skeleton from external trauma.  For example, if you have some serious calves that are big and strong, you are less likely to break an ankle when you take a bad step.

This sounds like no big deal, but when you are infilling to a target, and you go down 3 miles out, well now you need to be medevac’d, and your team mates will have to pick up your slack, because of your dainty ankles.

Strength training also increases bone density, which means you are more resistant to things such as stress fractures, and more severe breaks you might see from fighting, or car crashes.

For muscular hypertrophy, I also recommend trying to attain roughly 90% of your predicted maximum potential.  Dr. Casey Butt has some great calculators to predict your drug free muscular potential.

Because we are shooting for 90% of our genetic max.  Use .9 multiplied by your actual wrist and ankle measurements

Example: 5’8 males with 7 in wrists and 9 inch ankles actual.

These are 90% of actual predicted maxes.


Anaerobic Efficiency 

This is probably the most neglected area of tactical fitness.  Traditionally tactical athletes have trained like bodybuilders, where they focus only on muscular size, adding in some cardio for weight loss.  This is great for your cardio vascular system, but doesn’t really do much for your anaerobic endurance.

This is unfortunate, because often times the most kinetic aspects of the tactical athletes job are almost purely anaerobic.  Closing with the enemy, anaerobic. Sprinting up a stair case to a breach point, anaerobic.  Fighting with an assaultive suspect, anaerobic. Get the point?

For this energy system, I find that general crossfit WODs are the best prescription here.  I further recommend adding in what ever training modality you use most in your job for further training, i.e if you are a Ranger, you can do sprints, or speed rucking.  Here are some good goals to shoot for.


400m in 70 sec or less

Fran: 3 min or less

Aerobic Efficiency 

We can’t have a tactical athlete that can’t doing anything lasting more than 30 min, so we need to work our cardio as well.  This is best accomplished with Running, rowing, swimming or biking.  I recommend that you pick the modality that you most often do during your day job.  Here are some aerobic goals.

Run 10k in 45 min or less

Row 5k in 20 min or less

Swim 500m in 10min or less

Agility and Coordination 

These areas are often times over looked or wrongly trained.  Simple cone drills, 10m sprints, and change of direction drills are all very useful, but I recommend adding in this kind of training in with your firearms training in order to save time.

Pat Macnamara, formerly an Operator with the Unit, does a great job of demonstrating this.

You can see that he is able to train his agility, as well as other aspects of fitness with his firearms training.  This can save a ton of time.


The last attribute we need to train is our grip.  It is key for accurate firearm shooting.  Check this article out, which discusses the physiological factors that affect shooting, and you’ll see that grip, and finger flexor strength are hugely predictive of shooting success.

To train this we only need a few modifications to any well-rounded fitness plan.  For folks that need more grip strength, I always recommend holding a deadlift at the top.  Try 10 seconds at first then gradually increase as necessary.

Towel pull ups are also effective at working your grip, but the most effective training method is to mix the grip you use in your everyday training.  Don’t always used double over hand, or mixed, or neutral.  Use them all!

Training Plans For Tactical Athletes

This article has listed some great long-term goals for tactical athletes, but if you actually want to achieve those goals you are going to need a plan.

I recommend you read some of the other articles on the website, and specifically, this article that breaks down how to program for military and tactical athletes.  

This article covers programming for hypertrophy, and this article covers strength training. I further recommend this article for good general strength and conditioning programming for crossfit.


We’ve discussed a lot of different aspects of tactical athletics, but by no means have we covered everything.  There are ton’s of other relevant fitness and training goals that will positively contribute to your goal of becoming the best tactical athlete you can be.

For a different perspective on tactical fitness take a look at Mountain Tactical Institute. I feel that their programming is very well thought out.  Check this article out and see if you don’t agree.  As always keep training, and hit the comments up with any questions you have.