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Prepare like a tactical athlete

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Editor’s note: If you are reading this article, you are invested in your health. Continue your learning by registering for our webinar on “Peak performance for protectors: How to rebuild, upgrade and sustain your tactical athleticism.”

By Daniel J. Borowick, MS, CSCS

For the men and women of law enforcement to fulfill their duties optimally, they have to prepare as tactical athletes and develop the athletic prowess to perform at a high-level day in and day out.

The law enforcement professions are extremely challenging and come with a myriad of variables. No matter what an officer’s assignment is, training as a tactical athlete will contribute to better performance and career longevity. Strength and conditioning are paramount to driving physical performance. Officers need to exhibit strength, power, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, flexibility, stability and mobility in their everyday movements. The tactical athlete must move their body confidently and precisely in all three anatomical planes of motion.

What does tactical athlete training involve?

How does an individual train like a tactical athlete? It entails a program utilizing the three anatomical planes of human movement. All tactical athletes must be able to efficiently move their bodies in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes. This helps prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

The sagittal plane separates the left and right sides of the body, the frontal plane the anterior and posterior, and the transverse plane the upper (superior) and lower (inferior) halves.

The following is a brief list of how a tactical athlete should center their training to account for all three planes. This is not an inclusive list but rather a representative sample of movement patterns to elicit optimal physical performance.

  • Resistance training exercise techniques: Bench press, dead lift, squat, Romanian dead lift, front squat, goblet squat, farmer’s walk, push press, landmine presses and twists, bicep curls, tricep extensions and Olympic lifts (hang clean, power clean, power snatch).
  • Bodyweight exercises: Pull-ups/chin-ups, straight-arm dead bar hangs, push-ups, planks, TRX bands, plyometrics, running, swimming and unconventional methods such as sandbags, heavy bags and rucksacks.
  • Flexibility and mobility techniques and programming: Mobility is one’s ability to move freely, with coordination and without restriction. Flexibility refers to the range of motion for one’s muscles, ligaments and tendons. Stability is the ability to maintain control of joint movement around its axis. Types of stretching include static, ballistic and dynamic. “Dynamic stretching” is considered one of the premium forms of stretching before exercise, as it raises the body’s core temperature.

Sample workouts

The following is a program of two basic sample workouts, for the upper and lower body, to be conducted for anaerobic conditioning through resistance training. The goal here is building muscle, or “hypertrophy.” For the body to make the physiological adaptations desired in a hypertrophy program, the repetition count and rest periods must be followed closely. Complete the “Access this Police1 resource” box to download a copy for easy reference.


Aerobic endurance exercise techniques and programming

The following is a sample basic weekly workout with the goal of aerobic conditioning. The methods used will be either running, rucking or swimming. The aerobic portion can be divided into the following segments: long, slow distance (LSD) with a frequency of 1–2 times a week; pace/tempo 1–2 times a week; and interval/fartlek runs (where faster running is mixed with periods of easy- or moderate-paced running) 1–2 times a week.

A sample weekly aerobic program could look like the following:

  • Day 1: Fartlek run
  • Day 2: LSD run
  • Day 3: Interval run or rest
  • Day 4: Race pace including flats and hills
  • Day 5: Rest day or 400-meter repeats
  • Day 6: 60-minute LSD run
  • Day 7: Rest

By incorporating a tactical athlete training program, law enforcement providers can prevent musculoskeletal injuries and realize benefits that contribute to career longevity.
About the author

Daniel J. Borowick, MS, CSCS, is a former DEA special agent and physical task test administrator who has over 27 years of tactical experience in state (New Jersey State Police) and federal law enforcement. Currently, he is a strength and conditioning specialist serving the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division’s H2F (health and fitness) program. Reach him at