Fitness as a Weapon

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Fitness as a Weapon: Q&A with Coach Matt Devine

Matt Devine is on a mission to discover what makes the best human possible for operating in stressful environments. How do the conditioning and recovery skills from tier one operational units apply to those who aspire to be Sheepdogs?  Devine, who currently works as a strength coach with the U.S. Department of Defense, has attended a handful of Sheepdog Response courses over the past year. He’s described the experiences as “humbling.”

“It’s painful to have your weaknesses exposed,” said Devine, who holds national titles in weightlifting at the Senior and Masters levels. “A big part of the mindset the instructors are trying to impart to students is learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Those moments are critical to developing two traits that Devine stresses when it comes to Sheepdog fitness:

1) Be the best version of you.
2) Be hard to kill.

Why is fitness important to you?

The pursuit of fitness is a keystone habit that establishes the platform for all of my other endeavors. Fitness allows me to be more engaged, sharper, and to be a better example to the people I care about.

Why should fitness be important to Sheepdogs? Isn’t being able to shoot under stress enough?

Fitness is a state of readiness, and it represents how well you are prepared to deal with the rigors of life and other unpredictable situations. When you need your fitness during an emergency, you will need all of it.  Do you have the strength to pull a 200-lb unconscious person off the street and drag him behind cover?  Do you have the muscular endurance to perform CPR until paramedics arrive?

As far as shooting goes, it’s a fine motor skill. That skill will be one of the first things to fail when you are fatigued. You are not going to stand still during a shooting engagement. You will be moving. Quickly. If you are standing in one spot…well, you won’t be standing for long.  And if you’re in a hands-on self-defense scenario, how can you control the guy who’s trying to kill you if you’re too smoked to lift your own arms?  A Sheepdog’s top priority should be to build this fitness reserve. A substantial base level of fitness allows you to retain your skills and techniques for a more extended period of time.

Is there an expected baseline of fitness a student should have before taking a Sheepdog class?

You are going to be tested no matter how fit you are. It’s better to have a reserve to draw upon than to not have one.  If you can delay exhaustion, or recover from it faster, you will get far more value from the Sheepdog curriculum. The bigger reserve you have, the better you’ll think on the mats and more situational awareness you’ll have on the range.

The question then becomes, how much training is enough? The answer depends on from where an individual is starting. Begin with an objective look at where you are the weakest and prioritize your effort from there. It all goes back to one of the core Sheepdog principles of knowing your assets and liabilities.  We advocate sensible progression over time. As a general guideline for base fitness, I would recommend cardiorespiratory training 2-3 times per week, strength training 2-3 times per week, and rolling/fight training 2-3 times per week.

You don’t have to focus on getting everything better every day. If you’re pressed for time, combine sessions. For example, incorporate cardio and strength or strength with rolling. Calisthenics with jiu-jitsu covers most fitness bases in a relatively short period of time.

How important is mental conditioning as part of a Sheepdog’s overall fitness?

This component of preparation is irreplaceable. Students must recognize the importance of managing lifestyle factors which will help or hurt their progress. They must be honest with themselves about weaknesses and be willing to leverage their strengths.  Students must manage their expectations about the pace of progress and the discomfort required to see long-term gains. They must recognize the discipline needed to push during training and the control necessary to hold back or work around an injury for the sake of long-term health and productivity.  Surround yourself with experts to help navigate some of these challenges. As a Sheepdog, you will be mentally tested in many ways.

If you could design a day for an aspiring Sheepdog whose fitness level is not where it should be, what would you do?

This is an easy answer: Wake up an hour earlier and start the day with basic exercise. This act alone not only helps eliminate the excuses that will pop up during the day, but it also has an incredible compounding and positive effect on your life.  Getting up early may suck, but the other components of preparation will fall into place once this keystone habit is engrained. You will eat better. You may drink less alcohol. You may prioritize sleep and recovery more. That extra hour will allow you to find other training opportunities for shooting and fight training. Just get started and make changes over time.

Treat your fitness preparation like the lifestyle that it is.

Getting started

Being an effective Sheepdog transcends shooting, tactical medicine, and fighting. Those skills could not exist if you do not have a solid foundation of fitness supporting them. We want your strength, mobility, and conditioning to be an asset and not a liability.

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 Matt. He and his network of tactical fitness coaches are available for consultation to members of the Sheepdog Community. Contact us at for more details.

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