As the athlete moves through the cycle from one deployment to the next, the emphasis in all aspects of training (rehabilitative, performance-based, etc.) shifts from Recovery to Transition, to Base Building to Tactical (i.e. sport-specific), and then finally to Deployment.
The initial phase of training following a deployment is focused on re-establishing baselines and rebuilding the operator (. Depending on the nature of the deployment, injuries can range from simple overuse issues to missing limbs, and as such, early-stage reintroduction into the training pipeline can pay huge dividends throughout an athlete’s career.
During the Recovery Phase, strength and endurance progressions are kept relatively basic and linear, metabolic conditioning (i.e. work capacity) tends to be higher volume at lower intensities, and any sort of rehabilitative interventions are reactive in the sense that specialists are usually responding to injuries sustained on the previous deployment. The overall emphasis across all stimuli is base building.
The Transition Phase is a short iteration in which the focus shifts from addressing the previous deployment to preparing for the next one. The training itself may not be much different than the cycles administered during the Recovery Phase, however, the mind-set shift is clear in that the emphasis for all future training is on the upcoming mission set.
The Base Phase of training is by far the largest and most difficult to navigate for tactical strength and conditioning specialists. With the high-operational tempo of tactical athletes, it is imperative that the specialist navigates the fine line between simply maintaining and actively improving performance. Whenever possible, a certain percentage of the programming should start to reflect the nature of the upcoming deployment. This is because the training required for a mountainous deployment will look very different than the training required for, say, a desert operation.
Base Phase programming typically consists of shorter, more aggressive cycles interspersed between longer maintenance cycles employed when tactical athletes are offsite or away from any sort of normal training environment. Strength and endurance progressions tend to be shorter, with intensity playing a key role over volume simply because the time available to train is often brief. In terms of more ‘tactical’ training (e.g. speed, agility, and work capacity), more complex movements and/or circuits are introduced, albeit still in an unweighted and non-fatigued state. Despite the name of the phase, the overall emphasis shifts from base building to deployment preparation, with an increased focus on what could be considered as sport-specific training.
The final phase of training prior to the actual deployment is where programming becomes almost exclusively sport-specific. If the performance team as a whole has been effective, operators should be fully recovered from any injuries sustained on the previous deployment.
In general, as teams move closer to deployments, the operational tempo (or time spent off-site) slows down slightly to allow for more time at their home station. This is an advantage for the tactical strength and conditioning specialist, as the nature of the training itself must become more complex to reflect the inherent complexity of the upcoming deployment. Volume and intensity should both be high, although the focus should remain on generating functional (i.e. working) fitness.
An especially important component of the Tactical Phase of training is the introduction of weighted and pre-fatigued movements. In many cases, this can be as simple as prescribing the use of weighted vests for certain movements, although more complicated pre-fatiguing interventions such as Litvinov Conversions and Mixed Modal Aerobic protocols are also important. This is also a good time to introduce more exotic concepts such as range fitness (i.e. incorporating firearms into training), timed target acquisition within metabolic circuits, fatigued battlefield medicine procedures, etc.
All of the training phases described above should seamlessly integrate to transition a tactical athlete from one ‘season’ to the next. When programmed efficiently, the training will easily complement whatever job-specific tasks are required by the athlete in such a way that injuries are avoided, fitness levels are maintained, and performance as a whole is steadily improved upon throughout the athlete’s career.