Setting Up for Success: Purpose and Practicality in Training

  • 4 min read

Setting Up for Success: Purpose and Practicality in Training

Are you fit?  

More importantly, are you hard to kill?  Can you lift 400 lbs, run a fast 300 meter sprint, clock a sub 4 hour marathon, last multiple 5 minute rounds in jiu jitsu….<insert goal here>…etc?  Can you maintain an accurate shot grouping on the range for long periods? How does your grouping look when your heart rate is spiked and you are smoked?  What ‘numbers’ are relevant to your goals?

What are you training for?

As a Sheepdog responder the answer to this last question should be crystal clear: We train to protect others and neutralize threats.  Fitness is a concept that should be viewed relative to specific demands imposed.  “Weightlifting shape” is different than “wrestler shape”. A track sprinter holds a different fitness qualities than a marathoner or cyclist.  Lifting, running, fighting, and shooting are all instruments used to become more effective as a 1st responder. Our fitness ‘numbers’ within these pursuits do not need to be at the level of a specialist for any one discipline, rather they need to be sufficient to be effective for us as protectors.

Given our unique demands HOW do we best prepare?  The answer depends on where you are starting?  Proper task preparation carries many individual considerations but knowing where you stand allows us to structure training relative to target objectives. Fitness is organized to support and enhance your ability specific to the implied and imposed demands of the job at hand.

The onus is on YOU to create the conditions necessary to improve.  This is a lifestyle decision that will require a critical eye on removing distractions and prioritizing “weak links” in your preparation.  Distractions may include forgoing the next beer (heresy), late night email, or any other lack of discipline that slows progress toward your objectives.  Improving deficits involves correcting any glaring deficiencies in skills and/or fitness qualities. For example, you may be a white belt with limited shooting experience.  This is just a starting point for progression. Train to include the most pressing elements that require attention. Dedicate time to dry firing, fight techniques, range time, shooting courses, and mat work as often as possible.  Apply fitness training that integrates and supports skill practices. The training components are the same for a responder with a more advanced skill set yet the time allocation to specific skills may differ.

Effective preparation as a responder is about training to balance abilities that are relevant to your desired outcome.  Your readiness represents the best combination of strength speed, endurance, and skill training.  What is sufficient to meet our requirements? E.g.- How much strength is enough? How fast should your 5k run be?  Should you even run a 5k? How well does your strength and conditioning transfer to shooting and fighting? Are you spending enough time with tactical and medical training?  Answering these questions is a subject for another article but understand that this evaluation and planning process will involve individual consideration and thoughtful preparation.  Given finite access to resources you will have to compromise some abilities to achieve a better balance. Leverage strengths, train weaknesses, and keep the big picture in mind in seeking this equilibrium.  Apply enough work to progress without exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.

The proper blend of traits puts us in the best position for success.  Again, this will vary between individuals. Below are some general guidelines to becoming more fit as a responder for most adults who work full time.  Keep it simple:

  • Strength train 2-4 days per week.
  • Apply sustained or interval cardiorespiratory exercise 2-3 days per week.
  • Roll 2-3 days per week.

Pick a “keystone” habit and anchor other practices that help you improve.  For example, exercise or roll 4-5 days per week.  This consistency for exercise will allow you to “anchor” other practices like dietary habits that build momentum like a flywheel.  The reverse is also true: eating better makes consistent exercise more likely. Diet and exercise work in tandem to expedite your progress.

The “best” program is one that you can consistently do.  A focusing on being “perfect” in training is unrealistic and often counterproductive.  Train with high quality and discipline but be flexible and creative in your approach. Each day and week presents a unique challenge.  You may be working through an injury or have pressing family or occupational demands. You may not have slept or fueled properly. Meet the requirement to improve and be practical when conditions become difficult.  Prioritize the most important training and apply a long term approach. If you find that you are overloaded then step back and correct course, then move forward.

Consistency in training trumps intensity.  Intensity is still important but must be applied sensibly, especially as we get older.  The key to success is to start conservatively and build over time. Pareto’s 80% rule of economics applies here: 80% of your fitness results comes from 20% of the work.  This is evident to an even greater extent for beginner or intermediate athletes (i.e.-most of us). Prioritize the ‘high payoff’ whole body strength training to maximize your time.  Apply endurance exercise to resist fatigue. Stretch and do core work to create appropriate mobility and stability that keeps you in the fight. Set your schedule to optimize sleep, nutrition, and recovery.

Remember to manage your expectations and recognize that tangible results will require sacrifice and will take time.   An important step that will save you time and wasted effort is to enlist the guidance of experts to clarify any limitations in knowledge, technique or tactics.  Sheepdog Response is dedicated to providing this instruction. Our community is full of people willing to help you progress. Invest in the training process and results will come.  Work hard and train smart.

Matt Devine, MEd, CSCS, LMT

Matt Devine is a strength coach who currently works with the U.S. Department of Defense.  He has worked with Olympic caliber, professional, collegiate, and developmental athletes in power and combative sports along with various elements of the military and federal defense community.  Matt specializes in fitness training, corrective exercise, and sports massage. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia and has won national titles in weightlifting as a Senior and Master’s athlete.  Matt and his network of tactical fitness coaches are available for consultation and exercise programming to members of the Sheepdog Community. Contact him at

Leave a comment (all fields required)