Tactical Fitness: Establishing Your Baseline

Are you ready to improve your fitness but don’t know where to start?

You’re not alone.

Searching online for an effective fitness program can be overwhelming. Type “fitness program” in Google Search and you’ll get a little over 2 million results.

We’re going to help you cut through the noise and find an effective training program based on your needs. The purpose of today’s article is to help you identify the specific physical and mental barriers that may be limiting you. Once your deficits are identified, we can work to help you to develop a plan to overcome these obstacles.

Remember that fitness doesn’t happen overnight. We want you to make small improvements every day, with the understanding that some days will be better than others.

That’s it.

As our founder Tim Kennedy preaches, you need to strive to be one percent better today than you were yesterday.

The first step to creating an effective training plan is understanding where you are starting from. An honest assessment of where are and where you want to get to allows us to determine HOW to proceed with training.

As a coach to top tactical athletes, Matt Devine uses evidence-based measures to establish baseline metrics for developing exercise programming. This practice offers a reliable means to identify and address weaknesses and allows trainees to steadily improve over time.

As a Sheepdog, you are responsible for maintaining a level of fitness that readies you to engage the unpredictable challenges involved with a rescue or fight”, Matt said. “You need to be well-rounded with a balance of strength, power, stamina, and skill. Even if you are not in the military or law enforcement community, you may be called upon to have many of the same physical abilities, such as dragging casualties to safety, moving under fire, and even fighting for your life. Your training practice is developed from these types of demands.”

In creating this assessment, Matt took the most practical elements and best practices from the tactical community, athletics, and combat sports and distilled the battery down to streamlined measures of basic human function. He selected simple exercises that provide the most information at the lowest cost in terms of time or risk to safety. These movements are easily accessible and can be done at most gyms and open areas such as fields or parking lots.
Sheepdog Fitness Standards
Sheepdog’s Fitness Standards were created to provide a well rounded but basic assessment of your strength, stamina, power, mobility, and balance. There are other more comprehensive and specific types of tests relevant and highly valuable to specific job sets within the military and among first responders, but those tests are outside the scope of this article.

Our goal is to collect a general outline of physical abilities in order to “zero” optics on the top one or two training priorities. For those with good baseline fitness, we may seek to sustain some abilities while we try to improve others. Some of you may need to improve across the board and others may need to spend more time in skill development like shooting and hand-to-hand fighting. This calculus will be determined after evaluation.

Let’s start this process with the outline of specific assessments listed below:

#1) PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire)
WHY: the PAR-Q is a tool to protect you from injury before you start any exercise program.
HOW: We recommend you take a few minutes to take the PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) before starting these tests or any exercise regimen. Consult with your physician if you have any known medical issues or have not participated in a regular physical fitness program in the last six months

Once you are cleared to go, plan on taking an hour to complete the assessment.

#2) Body Composition (5 min)
WHY: Having relatively low body fat percentage may boost your strength to weight ratio and is correlated with better health. Basic standards are below.

● Body Fat (Male): 18% or less
● Body Fat (Female): 25% or less

HOW: You may use any of the following measures:
● Visual estimation of body fat (reference material below)
● Skinfold caliper testing (3-site or 7-site)
● Hydrostatic weighing
● Air displacement plethysmography (ADP) (e.g.,Bod Pod)
● Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)
● Vetted electrical impedance measures (e.g.,the ‘InBody’ Machine).

Any means that you choose has to be repeated with the same type of measure at the same time of day to work as a reliable marker for body composition changes over time.

Be aware that some of these methods may require that you be fasted or refrain from drinking water up to two hours before the assessment, so plan accordingly.

For simplicity sake, Matt recommends a 3-site or 7-site skin caliper body composition test with a qualified fitness professional. Ideally, the same person would test you each time at regular intervals.

#3) Mobility (2 min)
WHY: Below are basic movements that are indicators of current mobility restrictions as well as predictors of future joint and muscular pain. They are basic screens for general joint function and muscle length (i.e. “neural tone”). Dedicated flexibility training will be discussed in future articles.

1. Can you touch your toes with straight legs?
2. Can you place your hand on the opposite shoulder and lift the elbow up without pain?
3. Can you kneel and reach forward without pain?
4. Can you lay prone and press up to the “cobra” stretch without pain?

If you have pain during any of these mobility assessments, then talk with a physical therapist or other qualified medical professional.

Each assessment has a “benchmark” minimum standard that Matt recommends for Sheepdogs as well as a “goal” standard for those who want to maximize their personal physical effort. Allocate effort to bringing up areas that are less developed in order to balance your ability to train tactical skill rather than pushing far past any one “goal” standard, otherwise, overspecialization will limit you.

Shoot for a 3- to 5-minute transition between exercises, shading on the longer end of this range for the interval between the aerobic fitness (beep) test and the anaerobic endurance 300-yard shuttle, as these movements are the most taxing.

The components of the assessments are listed below:

#4) Balance (2 min)
WHY: Balance and stability training has many benefits for tactical training and life. Balance is what helps you stay upright during offensive and defensive moves.
HOW: A simple at-home assessment is the Tandem Stance (Sharpened Romberg) test.

Note any balance differences with your eyes open vs. eyes closed. Balance and visual control are trainable skills that we will discuss in future articles. The purpose here is to collect a snapshot of basic ability to highlight areas that may need work.

#5) Power Output

WHY: This value will vary according to the testing population but below are reasonable standards for the Sheepdog members (i.e., this isn’t the NFL combine). That said, power is crucial for a physical escape or attack. The vertical jump is a very simple means to measure this.

Benchmark Goal
● Vertical Jump 19 inches 22 inches

HOW: Stand with your side to a wall and your feet flat on the ground with the arm closest to the wall extended as high as possible. Mark the top of your reach as the jump starting point.

From the same standing position, explode up in a jump to touch the wall at the highest point possible. Measure the distance from the standing reach height to the jumping touch height in order to determine your vertical jump height. You can use sidewalk chalk on a brick wall or have a partner mark your highest jump touch point with a tape measure or other marker.

You may also choose to tape a three-foot measuring tape against the wall from a start point a few inches below your reach position (facing upward) as a simple way to set this drill up.

#6) General Body Strength
WHY: Anyone in combat sports or training cannot deny the utility of body strength in establishing dominant positions or moving people and/or gear. The deadlift is a very basic means to assess strength from your hands to your feet. Using a “trap” or “hex” bar may provide added safety for those will low back, knee, or other orthopedic concerns. As with any ability, there is a point of diminishing returns. For our purposes, we are keeping the standards simple. More detail on the execution and utility of this movement will be the subject of another article.

Benchmark Goal
● Deadlift 3 reps (male) 3 reps at 175 lbs 3 reps at 225 lbs
● Deadlift 3 reps (female) 3 reps at 145 lbs 3 reps at 185 lbs

#7) Upper Body Strength (2 min)
WHY: Can you pull yourself over a wall or other obstacle? Can you collar or control an unwilling opponent. The pull-up is an outstanding means to develop useful strength that transfers to the whole body. Basic standards are highlighted below:

Benchmark Goal
● Pull-Up 6 11+

HOW: Perform the pull-up (palms facing away from you) starting with the arms straight at a “dead hang.” Pull until your chin is over the bar and lower yourself until your arms are fully extended. That is one rep. If you are unable to do a pull-up, then you can start with an inverted row or incline row (more on this in another article).

#8) Aerobic Fitness (10-12 min)
WHY: Breathing is the key to managing stress in any situation. Aerobic capacity allows for sustained performance and general work capacity development. Again, we are not prepping for marathons. The value of aerobic training must be measured against injury risk and other training needs like strength, mobility, and tactical hard skills. Below are a few simple ways to assess this measure.

HOW: The Australian Beep Test involves continuous running between two lines 20 meters apart in time to recorded beeps. Stand behind one line, facing the second line, and run to the second line when instructed by the recording. The speed starts slow and gradually increases each minute (level). If you reach a line before the beep sounds, wait until the next beep sounds before continuing. If you don’t reach the line in time, keep running and try to catch up with the pace within two more beeps. The test is over when you miss the cutoff two times, but you only count your last level completed.

Benchmark Goal
● Australian Beep Test 64 reps/8 min 76 reps /9 min

A substitute for the Australian Beep Test is a 2,000-meter row on a Concept 2 Rower.
Benchmark Goal
● 2,000-Meter Row 9 minutes 8 minutes

#9) Anaerobic Endurance / Agility (5 min)
WHY: If you need to escape, evade, or pursue then anaerobic endurance and agility are crucial qualities to have. Below is our recommendation for assessing these qualities with a 5-minute test.

Benchmark Goal
● 300m Shuttle Run 70 seconds 67 seconds

HOW: The 300-meter Shuttle Run is a sprint back and forth between two lines (or cones) 25 yards apart. Start with a foot on one line and run to the opposite line, touching it with your foot, then turn around and race back to the starting line. Repeat this six times without stopping for a total of 300 yards. Rest for two minutes then repeat the test again. Combine both times and divide by two to get your average score.

Next Steps
Congratulations on taking the first big step toward improving your tactical fitness! You have now established your baseline starting point and have identified your strengths and liabilities.

Complete this test as prescribed. Matt reiterates that the minimums are set as a benchmark to gauge your progress and not that of anyone else.

“This assessment will help you identify areas that are limiting your performance,” he added. “Establishing a good baseline assessment will allow you to attack your weaknesses with sound exercise and lifestyle choices. Eat well, get rest, and connect with trainers and medical professionals who can support your sustained progress.”

As we continue our Tactical Fitness series, we will share programming basics to help you improve in each component of the Sheepdog Fitness Standards (Pre-Screening and Fitness Assessment).

If you would like further guidance on where to start, or need help with a program that is structured 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.

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