7 Steps to Tactical Fitness

The instructors at Sheepdog Response know how to make you a better, faster, and stronger.

As Sheepdog Response’s human performance specialist, Matt Devine combines his knowledge of developing tactical athletes for the Department of Defense with his experience as a former athlete, lab tech, and coach with the U.S. Olympic Training Center, to create training programs for individuals from all walks of life.

With the new year just around the corner and the inevitable goals of improving fitness, Matt offers these seven steps to get your tactical fitness programming started on the right foot.

1. Be consistent and get help where you need it. Take ownership of your fitness and preparation. Start with training and eating well most days of the week. Why not every day? If you can’t consistently hit the mark four or five days of the week, then you’re not going to do seven magically. The best fitness program is realistic and one that you are willing to do regularly.

When you become consistent, then refine your practice and methods. To use an analogy, when you are starving any food looks palatable. A hobo will eat from a garbage can, which is fine for short-term survival. Conversely, someone with means probably shops organic food. Once you train more frequently (i.e., the quantity of work), then move to improve the quality of your work. Take care of your short-term needs first, with long-term goals in mind. To quote Dan John, anything can work, but nothing works forever. Start simple and build out. Training doesn’t have to be perfect, just start.

If you feel stuck, then find assets to create a workable fitness and nutrition program. This may include books or consultation with one or more trusted experts who can help individualize training.

The bottom line is that we each have specific stressors, eating habits and sleeping patterns. Those with an outside optic can see things you may not. The best athletes and professionals leverage the expertise of other pros and you should too. Position yourself for success.

2. Eat well.  When it comes to nutrition, focus on quality over quantity. Fewer ingredients are better when looking at food labels. If you can’t pronounce it, then eat less of it or eliminate it from your diet.

Eat greens (cruciferous vegetables, spinach, kale, etc.), moderate protein to support training, and carbohydrates for fuel. Abundant veggie consumption correlates with positive health markers too numerous to list. Just eat them. Protein intake should be proportional to muscle mass and should stay consistent on a daily basis at ~1 gram per pound of lean body mass.

Carbs intake should vary based on the amount of work you do over the day. Online macronutrient calculators can help define a macro ratio that works best for you. A good basic starting point for this profile is 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Counting calories, macronutrients, or portion sizes are all good options to keep you on track. Apps and nutrition coaches can help.

Most of us intuitively know what food is going to move us closer to our goal and what will take us farther away. Eat good food that is plant-based, nutrient-dense, and lean protein abundant. Give yourself room for error to be practical. This may include “comfort food” occasionally but stay on the path forward toward a healthier lifestyle. The 80/20 rule applies: 80% of the time do what is best for your health. Treat yourself 20% of the time to maintain morale or feed the guilt that fuels your workouts, whichever you prefer. Be honest with yourself to meet your intent.

3. Train with specific goals in mind.  Set goals. Write them down. Are your training and lifestyle congruent with them? If this is not the case, then make changes. Start your training plan with an objective look at your deficits. If you have great endurance but lack strength, add more resistance work. If you are strong but stiff, add more mobility work.

Allocate time and resources to improve your training balance, i.e., maintain your strengths and address your weaknesses. Strength, mobility, shooting, and grappling are all examples of specific areas of focus. Your training plan should help you achieve goals that position you for success.

To reiterate my earlier point, pick one “keystone” activity that you enjoy and build out. If you like jiu-jitsu start there, then add weights and cardio. The same holds true for the other disciplines. You can run daily or lift daily as your anchor point, it all works for a start. Consistent work is most important. Start where you are proficient and then broaden your focus to include other activities within your training regimen.

4. Be realistic about your expectations.  While your body type, genetic makeup, and a slew of other factors contributed to who you are today, so have your exercise and eating habits. Managing lifestyle factors is key. You will not get from couch potato to Tim Kennedy in a day. Heck, even Tim Kennedy was not built in a day. It has taken him years of hard work and a lot of mistakes to get where he is today. And it will take him even more years of hard work and plenty of mistakes to be the Sheepdog he wants to be. Aim for small successes every day. Over time, your consistency in the little things will lead to steady progress.

5. Train your mind.  An important tool to your success is mental training. This includes being mindful of yourself and your surroundings. Take inventory of how your body feels, your mood, and other areas. The key to this practice is becoming aware of sensations without excessive judgment that may cloud your perception. Being more objective allows you to clear space for attention on what matters.

Start by learning how to slow down and breathe. Mindfulness training can help with this: focus on the breath as your starting point. Mindfulness training entails managing your energy. Limit exposure to people and influences that drain you.

6. Find a community.  Humans are social beings for a reason. We thrive in communities, where we can share common values and goals. Building your own Sheepdog community is essential to your success. Your friends will be your training partners, your mentors, pick you up off the mat, and your kick-in-the-ass when you need it.

7. Know why you’re training.  Never forget why you are training to be a Sheepdog. You want to be hard to kill so you can be the best protector for your family, friends, and community. Train hard and build relationships with the people that you care about. Work for a better life balance, as this approach yields the most sustainable results.

Take a deep breath.

Close your eyes.

Enjoy a moment of gratitude for being able to train. For being able to have the choice to eat healthily. For having the luxury of a roof over your head and loved ones nearby. Enjoy your freedom to have the choice of working your ass off to be hard to kill.

If you feel overwhelmed by where to start, or need help with a program that is customized to meet your lifestyle and goals, we encourage you to reach out to us. Our network of tactical fitness coaches is available for consultation to members of the Sheepdog Community. Contact dennis@sheepdogresponse.com for more details.  Sometime in 2019, we will be launching our brand new Membership program, which will include our customized fitness programs, and much, much more!

3 Responses



June 04, 2020

I’d love to learn n train this way I’m n Canada n I need this training



June 03, 2020

I learned this yrs ago as a young Jarhead in the back of Ft Bragg!!! Never forgot it! Never be an easy TARGET!!!

Alan Chastain

Alan Chastain

June 03, 2020

Excellent article, I’m going to print and give it to our MEDEVAC guys in my unit. We all work out fairly hard in the gym together this is a great information tool to pass on to them.

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