Last July on the Cove, James Wright gave us an article called Art Vs Science in Coaching. Today we are please to publish a follow-on article examining the debate around periodisation and the comparison of the elite athlete and the tactical athlete.
Traditional military training has focused on the artistic development of enhancing a soldier’s capability to continue to fight irrespective of external stimuli. The military physical continuum has focused predominantly on aerobic modalities whilst neglecting other facets of physical conditioning which play a critical role in the holistic development of the tactical modern-day war fighter facing the dynamic anaerobic battlefield (Girdler, 2010). Research has shown there are significant benefits to a holistic approach (Naclerio, Moody & Chapman, 2013) but whether or not this is applicable to a defence context is still questioned. The purpose of this review is to identify the benefits of a strategically integrated periodisation program as they apply within a highly functioning, operational Infantry Battalion within the Australian Army.
Why a periodisation program is beneficial to the modern fighter
The optimisation of a tactical athlete requires the assessment of the modern-day battle field. According to Caplan (2018), historically, “the essential goals of warfare have not changed, but the way wars are waged certainly have. A hundred years ago, men marched to battle, lined up against one another, easily identifiable in their uniforms, and used weapons that, for the most part work up close and personal.”
In today’s warfare, soldiers are required to be agile, fast, powerful and strong with a dynamic ability to change modalities at short notice. This highlights the similarities of the tactical and elite athlete, demonstrating the need for training programs for elite athletes to cross over into the training of the tactical war fighter.
Training approaches for integration of strength, speed, power, agility and many other much needed physical capabilities have been shown to require a periodisation model that has flexibility built in for change and is able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances affecting the quality of workouts (Lorenz & Morrison, 2015). Additionally, sequencing of workouts to limit over-reaching and development of overtraining syndromes that end in loss of duty time and injury are paramount to long-term success (Kreaemer & Szivak, 2012). Allowing adequate time for rest and recovery and recognising the negative influences of extreme exercise programs and excessive endurance training will be vital in moving physical training programs into a more modern perspective as used by elite strength-power anaerobic athletes in sport today (Lorenz & Morrison, 2015). Because the war fighter is an elite athlete, it is time that training approaches that are scientifically based are updated within the military to match the functional demands of modern warfare and are given greater credence and value at the command levels. The development of periodised training modules and individualisation of programs are needed to optimise the strength of the modern war fighter. This is now possible with the knowledge, educational pathways, training technologies, and resources that allow this to happen. Ultimately it only takes command decisions and implementation to make this possible (Kraemer & Szivak, 2012).
Similarities between the tactical and elite athlete in superior performance
According to Bompa and Haff (2009) if an athlete expects superior performance, they must be exposed to a systematic and progressive increase in training. This means stimuli thatis designed to elevate the athlete’s physiological and performance capacity (i.e., cross the threshold of adaptation). Therefore, it is of utmost importance that a systematic and well- organised training program be followed to include superior adaptations of the main functions of the body. This highlights the similarities in training requirements between the tactical and elite athlete, although the organisational objectives differ with potentially extremely devastating outcomes. The end state for both domains is the functional adaptation and increase in tactical/elite athletic performance. Regardless of being a tactical or elite athlete both require the increase in stimuli to gain the adaptive edge. The systematic and progressive increase may differ in specificity but the fundamentals are the platform to development (Bompa & Haff, 2009, p.10).
According to Haff & Triplett (2016, p.584), training programs need to be logically designed so that they are structured in a systematic and pre-planned manner, allowing variation of training volume, intensity, frequency, density, foci, mode, and exercise selection in accordance with the athlete’s needs and sport’s requirements. Central to the effective programming of training interventions is the concept of periodisation (Naclerio et al., 2013).
The tactical athlete’s requirement to operate in a dynamic agile battlespace means that the variation cycles discussed in this literature are paramount to the success of the modern war fighter. The needs analysis differs in the tactical athlete requirement to the elite athlete yet the approach is consistent. The similarities between the literature (Bompa & Haff, 2009; Haff & Triplett, 2016) suggest that modern approaches in periodisation have interlocking themes associated with best practise periodisation.
Defining the tactical athlete; what is the difference?
Smith (2018) suggests tactical fitness is not about workouts, it is about work. It is not about working out to get good at working out, it is about creating programs that carry over into real life movements like lifts, carries, crawls, runs, rucks, swims, mobility and even analytical and creative thinking. It uses non-traditional equipment to lift and carry loads that are not equally balanced (Andrew, 2017). Tactical fitness is about choosing a profession where your fitness may one day be the difference between life and death for you, your friend or someone you are trying to help. Not only will your health and fitness be developed, but your ability to react as you have been trained and think clearly under stress is an absolute must. This suggests that the unquantifiable situations and outcomes that the modern war fighter is placed in require the dynamic ability to be fluid yet proficient in modalities of training that relate directly to job specificity (Smith, 2018).
An elite athlete has the workouts that are dedicated to the organisational objectives of win or loss but does not have the emotional/mental stress and connection in decision making that can lead to life or death. The suggested fundamentals follow the same principles but outcomes of an extreme nature are a bi-product at each end of a spectrum. According to the effects of periodisation versus non-periodised resistance training on army specific fitness and skills performance, conducting a form of resistance training within a structured program will enhance and optimise the specific fitness and skills performance of the war fighter (Stone, Heishman, & Campbell, 2017). This research highlights the importance of the implementation of a holistic integrated strategic periodisation program. More evidence is required in detailing the resistance training protocols; however, the fundamentals of incorporation have been justified (Stone et al., 2017). The use of tactical training is described by Bompa and Haff (2009) as the ability to maintain tactical proficiency under conditions of fatigue, which is an important determinant of competitive success. Therefore, the athlete’s tactical training must include sessions that require the athlete to perform under conditions of fatigue. The reverse ideology of elite athlete having to relate to the tactical athlete in this text suggests how relevant the two professions are. Both require systems to integrate a holistic package that is specific to the realms of elite or tactical athlete.
The indirect correlation of periodised models between elite and the tactical athlete have been reviewed. The assessment based on the literature suggest the fact that there is more of a physical relationship than once considered. The themes associated with a periodised program for an elite athlete provide the evidence that a structured continuum with a periodised approach will increase the strength and conditioning and assist the adaptation cycle whilst minimising the risk of injury. The proposition that the tactical athlete would benefit from an integrated periodised approach in the physical strength and conditioning and job specific skills development with the implementation of resistance training has been demonstrated.
This review suggests that the correlation between the elite and tactical athlete is bound by the requirement to have periodisation to enhance specific outcomes. The integration into an Army Infantry unit would be comprehensive in encompassing the elite athletic realm into a tactical setting; however, further analysis is needed to understand the relationship between the implementation of a tactical resistance training program within an integrated strategic periodised approach. This research will enable a holistic bodied approach to developing the skill, task specific strength and conditioning and enhance the adaptive cycle associated with modernising the military approach to physical fitness. As such, it is recommended that further research is carried out in the area as it could lead to the mitigation and/or reduction in military specific injuries. The second order effects of a reduction in injuries enhances the capability which in turn is a force multiplier. Empowerment of the Junior Non-Commissioned Officer in having the ability to guide structured periodised programs in a group setting could lead to optimising outputs associated with leadership. Given the evidence presented that highlights a significant connection between elite and tactical athletes, these fundamentals need to be explored to not only fill this gap in empirical research but enhance the opportunity to develop better military systems to intensify the abilities of the modern war fighter.
Andrew. (2017). Tactical Truths. In Read performance training. Retrieved from https://www.readpt.com/tactical-truths.
Alvar, A.B., Deuster A.P., & Sell, K. (2017). NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength andConditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Bompa, T. O., & Haff, G. (2009). Periodisation: Theory and methodology of training (5th ed.). Human Kinetics: Mitcham, South Australia.
Caplan, L. (2018). How has warfare changed over the past 100 years? In enotes. Retrieved from https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/how-has-warfare-changed-over-last-100- years-82719
Girdhar, M. (2010). Emerging trends in battlefield air strikes. CLAWS Journal, Wnter, pp. 104 – 115.
Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (4th ed.). Human Kinetics: Mitcham, South Australia.
Kraemer, W. J., & Szivak, T. K. (2012). Strength Training For the Warfighter. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2, 104-118.
Lorenz, D., & Morrison, Scot. (2015). Current concepts in the periodisation of strength and conditioning for the Sport Physical Therapist. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 734-747.
Naclerio, F., Moody, J., & Chapman, M. (2013). Applied periodization: a methodological approach. Journal of Human Sports and Exercise, 8(2), pp. 350 – 366.
Smith, S. (2018). What’s the difference between tactical fitness and regular fitness? InMilitary.com. Retrieved from https://www.military.com/military-fitness/general- fitness/whats-the-difference-between-tactical-fitness-and-regular-fitn
Stone, B. L., Heishman, A. D., & Campbell, J. A. (2017). The effects of a personalized vs. traditional military training program on a 2 mile run performance during the Army physical fitness test (APFT). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (in press ahead of print) doi 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002176.
About the author: James Wright is currently posted to 1st Combat Health Battalion as a physical training instructor. He has a passion for the development of human performance in Army.