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Movement Opportunities


Most tactical professionals struggle with movement proficiency. Several factors contribute to the struggle:


  • Limited range of motion and altered movement patterns while wearing gear

  • Traditionally linear, anterior dominant, high volume physical training

  • Decreased activity and athleticism of American youth who sign up to serve

  • Effects of trauma exposure potentially reducing movement efficiency

  • Gravitation toward training modalities that lack sufficient movement diversity


Hybrid Training Tangent

Arguments in favor of “hybrid training” being ideal for tactical professionals are shortsighted if they don’t also develop and maintain multidirectional movement. While 99+% of tactical demands are common tasks that require endurance and less than 1% of tactical demands are critical tasks that require absolute strength and power, 100% of tactical demands require foundational movement proficiency. If the integrity and coordination of positions that comprise dynamic patterns and global movement are not prioritized, then the strength and endurance developed by hybrid training will struggle to healthily, effectively, and sustainably accomplish tactical mission sets. A 405-pound deadlift and a sub 13-minute two-mile run are demonstrative of great output and capacity (for a tactical professional) but are not indicative of sufficient movement competency. In fact, a tactical professional could be extremely limited in their movement qualities, falling far short of operationally prepared, and still accomplish those physical feats. Many can benefit from increased strength and aerobic capacity but ALL can benefit from enhanced movement proficiency.



Movements vs Movement

Output and capacity should reinforce movement proficiency, not replace it. Most educational entities, including our own, emphasize around seven different movement patterns:


  1. Hinge - lifting something off the ground

  2. Squat - sitting down and standing up

  3. Lunge/Step - taking a knee and standing up, or walking up/down stairs

  4. Rotate - twisting part of the body or the whole thing

  5. Push - increasing distance between upper body and something else

  6. Pull - decreasing distance between upper body and something else

  7. Locomote - traveling from point A to point B



Less important are these specific patterns, which are subdivided from global movement as a way to assign targeted training protocols, and more important is their transferability to the complex movements that support tactical life. They rarely occur in isolation. In actuality, locomotion alone represents a number of movements like climbing, swimming, bounding, shuffling, sprinting, crawling, etc. In tactical settings, patterns are often seamlessly and subconsciously intertwined in the presence of challenges like load, fatigue, terrain, cognitive demands, environmental extremes, and much more.


Contextual Competency

In a recent conversation with a seasoned coach who’s fairly new to tactical, he mentioned how he noticed that field of vision narrowed and movement quality suffered when the operators he coaches performed scenario based training that included operationally specific stress. Neither their movement nor their skills held up under realistic conditions. This is not uncommon. Most tactical professionals lack the engrained movement foundation for their maneuverability to be automatic and fluid like we’d typically expect of high level athletes. Some simply don’t have enough historic exposure and most don’t get enough relevant repetitions to achieve or maintain a resilient level of proficiency that withstands the stress of job based scenarios.


Development and maintenance of movement competency cannot be an argument between output (strength, speed, power) and capacity (volume, repeatability) until consistency (frequency) is achieved. Dedicated training days are fewer and further between than many realize. Keep in mind that the job itself likely hinders movement more than helps it so some of the time spent training needs to offset time spent wearing kit and performing job specific tasks.


Opportunities

Waiting for planned physical training as the only window to touch movement patterns will not suffice for enhancing positions and coordination, let alone reinforcing them with occupationally relevant output and capacity. To increase frequency, tactical professionals should proactively seek out and take advantage of “movement opportunities.” Here are a few places we’ve experienced success at sneaking in quality movement:


PT SESSIONS

Let’s start with the obvious - but for good reason. So much of time “invested” in physical training is squandered with exercises and excessive rest periods that serve no higher purpose other than checking a mandatory box. PT sessions provide numerous opportunities for developing movement competency:


Warm-Up - Don’t even get me started on the Army’s Preparation Drill, something I was amazed to see boasted by the fitness instructors at FDNY’s academy a few years back. The incredible team there had made countless upgrades that drastically reduced injuries but I saw the borrowed warm-up as less a solution and more a fool’s gold that could easily be exchanged for actual gold. A thorough warm-up not only prepares you for an impending session but also includes movements that don’t get enough attention already. Most warm-ups for tactical professionals should be multidirectional and touch all major movement patterns, including those not being targeted by the power, strength, and/or energy system training within the actual session. While routine breeds familiarity, it can also breed staleness and complacency so minor tweaks (adjust but don’t overhaul) can keep people engaged.


Warmups can also be extended to encompass a full training session as a reset day.


Resistance Training - Using muscles to move bones and reinforce positions and patterns against resistance is a phenomenal way to achieve strength through a full range of motion. Just be sure to actually hit full range of motion and ensure tension is present, especially when you want nothing more than to rely on passive structures to do the work. If you can’t hit the brakes and hold a particular position then chances are you’re not holding yourself accountable. I’m a fan of eccentrics and isometrics where you spend the most amount of time in the positions where you’d prefer to spend the least amount of time. Add resistance to movements that are relevant to those you need strength in to perform your job. Our general obsession with training the hell out of bilateral powerlifting movements while ignoring unilateral work baffles me.


Between Big Rocks - Unless an upcoming or previous set requires true and total rest or focus to prepare for or recover from, fill your rest periods touching less common movements or addressing shortcomings. As a soldier, I remember being so limited in both hip and thoracic extension that I’d cramp up while bench pressing. A little between set breathing and movement could have alleviated that issue and provided me a better platform to press from. These types of exercises typically address mobility, stability, or coordination issues that may or may not be related to the exercises they’re paired with.


Conditioning - Enter “met con”?? If you know me, you likely know I tend to tease the “metabolic conditioning” term because I think you’re hard pressed to find conditioning that isn’t metabolic… BUT I actually love the concept of incorporating movement variety into conditioning sets. Why does it tend to go awry?

  • Lack of Attention Paid to Intensity (everything is an AMRAP or rounds for time, which typically leads to the heart rate settling somewhere around anaerobic threshold for 10 to 20 minutes)

  • Poor Movement Quality (again related to the “get it done fast” approach)

  • Arbitrary Movement Selection (sometimes even contraindicated movements to perform while fatigued)

  • No Transferable Intent (work for work’s sake)


Time spent developing “energy systems,” whether as a stand alone session or closing out a primarily resistance training focused session, provides an excellent opportunity to diversify movement execution. However, put some thought into it! Predetermine desired intensity, duration, work to rest ratios, and movements (to include amplitude, resistance, speed, and range of motion). They should connect to training goals that enhance general health or job/life performance.


I’m a fan of aerobic capacity work that involves a conversationally paced (heart rate 130-150ish) intensity for fairly extensive durations (20+ minutes) as an effective means of simultaneously training two major needs of most tactical professionals - variable movement competency and a robust aerobic system. Light sled exercises can include pushing, pulling, dragging, twisting, shuffling, marching, skipping, lunging, crawling, etc. with a mostly concentric execution that doesn’t cause too much residual soreness (beware how much constant tension is sometimes place on the calves though). For larger groups especially, consider setting up continuous circuits that achieve a similar intensity for similar durations while also varying movements. I like the use of some low amplitude plyometric exercises for these types of circuits - Jumping rope, ladder drills <gasp>, medicine ball throws, jumps/hops/bounds/skips, low hurdle work, “battle” rope exercises, sledge hammering …the list goes on and on.


Get creative and find useful alternatives to traditionally linear conditioning modalities. We train running less because it’s relevant to occupational needs and more because it’s simple and tactical professionals are typically tested on it. Fortunately, a lot of the benefits from a less traditional approach will still transfer to running performance while better transferring to job performance.


“Cool Down” - Consider taking some time to breathe, meditate, walk, or circle up and foam roll or stretch after a training session. Not necessarily because more movement is needed after a workout but because it can provide an opportunity to socialize and transition your mindset from physical training to whatever the day holds - or it might provide a pause to be present between the two. Some coaches might make it rain research that criticizes the efficacy of things like stretching and foam rolling while those with experience in the tactical community will tell you the value of these activities resides in the connections that can be made and in taking a rare moment to slow life down a touch for professionals who can struggle to “turn off.” As Vernon says, “A foam roller is an opportunity.”


POST MISSION

The last thing a tactical professional wants to do after finally stripping their gear off after a long night out is spend some time mobilizing his or her body. However, the same Ranger I used to make fun of for his post mission stretching routine was the same Ranger who was north of 30 and moving better than most were in their early 20s. Be the weird one who’s knocking out some Reverse Lunges with a Twist before breakfast and after action reviews submit you into a seated position. Missions, patrol shifts, emergency responses - all of these common occurrences contain compounding stressors that hinder movement quality. I’m not claiming that a 5-minute postoperative yoga routine is going to fully restore function after hours of physical and psychological stress but we are looking to accumulate as many movement opportunities as possible to build volume over time because immediate volume is often not available.


MORNING ROUTINE

Starting your day with movement can be a great way to transition from the horizontal world to a vertical one. A quick shot of morning movement to accompany your espresso can do wonders for the state of your mind and body before you begin your day. And it does not need to be an extensive session. Mine lasts only as long as it takes for 6 cups of coffee to brew and looks something like this:


  • Reach high overhead & lean left and right

  • Touch my toes (or try) and stand back up

  • Upward facing dog into a child’s pose

  • Vernon’s shinbox rotations

  • World’s “greatest” stretch w/ rotation

  • Squat to Stand


Usually I’ll perform just 3 to 5 repetitions of each movement. I’ll also often check in with 5 body weight squats before the routine and 5 squats after, helping me feel the difference between where I started and where I finished in terms of fluidity and comfort.


SPORTS & FREE PLAY

The amount of injuries due to participation in sports has been so alarming that many units have even banned them altogether. Talk about putting your baby in a bubble! The real reason for the injuries is a lack of frequency of athletic movement. Tactical professionals tend to train very linearly on a regular basis before aggressively competing in a dynamic multidirectional environment. Add in lack of sleep, alcohol and tobacco use/abuse, mental and emotional stress, and a prevalence of unaddressed injuries, and suddenly sports become a scapegoat for poor training and lifestyle choices.


Sports and free play can and should provide opportunities for displaying and developing movement variability. Just be smart about not diving in too deep too soon. A simpler and less intense, less organized option is hitting the playground with your kids - Play tag, climb things, and roll around in the grass and mud a little bit. Don’t like kids? Play with your dog or borrow someone else’s. Consider more organized options to build in higher frequency into your lifestyle routine - join a climbing gym or, like me, get WAY too competitive playing adult dodgeball against the nerds from Google (who beat us and yes I’m still pissed about it).


An additional thought about sports and free play. When myself and two other American coaches visited the Netherlands to provide education to Dutch Army Coaches, we noticed their classroom breaks not only consisted of an absurd amount of coffee, but also quickly became an engagement in random activities like shooting hoops, throwing a frisbee, or kicking a soccer ball around.


Index

In the often “all or nothing” world of physical training within tactical professions, microdosing movement might sound like a pipe dream. However, a little can go a long way, especially if performed consistently. It’s also easier to maintain movement competency than it is to regain it. Look to utilize morning routines, all the blocks within PT sessions, post mission windows, and sports/free play as opportunities to develop and maintain movement proficiency. Remember - we train movements to train movement - and movement is limitless.


Take the Initiative.



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