Over the 24 years I served in the Army, I noticed a few things about fitness and the people who pursue it. Until the advent of Crossfit, you could basically break down athletes into one of three categories
- The heavy lifter. This is the guy in the gym who is a little fat, and a little strong. He screams a lot before lifting his weights and is generally despised by everyone else in the gym.
- The aerobics guy. This is the guy who has all the newest gym clothing, spends hours in the gym, but you never really know exactly what he is doing. You never see him lift. You might occasionally see him doing something that looks like a warm up blended with yoga, and a few balancing moves.
- The Meat Market King. This guy only works out to see the females in the gym. You can tell who this guy is, because his neck muscles and his tongue are the most developed muscles he has. The neck because he is looking everywhere but at what he is doing. And the tongue because he is always attempting to engage the ladies in conversation, even though they are disgusted.
Well, this is a little funny, and sometimes true, but I seriously developed a philosophy over my years as a tactical athlete preparing for war. I would tell my men, “I don’t necessarily need a Lion, and I don’t necessarily need a Cheetah. What I need are Leopards.”
The significance is that the Lion is the strongest cat in the jungle, but he doesn’t have much endurance. The Cheetah can run faster than anyone else, but if you punched him in the chest, his shoulder blades would click together in the front before he fell to the ground in a heap of sobbing flesh. What I was looking for in my ODA members was a very nice balance between strength and agility. I didn’t want “either or”, I wanted “both and”. I wanted much of the strength the Lion had, and much of the speed the Cheetah had, without the weaknesses those two examples have separately.
The Leopard, although not as strong as the Lion, is still strong enough to kill its prey, and climb 60 feet into a tree and dine on the meal all by itself. The Leopard isn’t as fast as the Cheetah, but it is fast enough to catch its prey, and still strong enough to kill it after the chase. I wasn’t looking for strong or fast, I was looking for strong AND fast!
The translation is this; I wanted fast yet strong men on my team. They needed to be able to move long distances quickly while carrying heavy gear, but if necessary, they needed to be able to carry their team mate for a mile or two at a stretch. Strong yet agile is what a Green Beret, or any tactical athlete, needs to be.
If your fitness regimen is skewed in either direction, you will have weaknesses in your endgame. You may be able to move quickly from place to place, and in some situations, that may be enough. But when you need power, when you absolutely must pick up and carry weight, when your team mates’ lives depend on your ability to push the weight, carry the load, and shoulder the burden, you better have the reserves of strength to pull it off. If running is the primary focus of your regimen and you only occasionally do pushups, you won’t be able to lift or carry the required load when the time comes. If you only lift weights and you are negligent in aerobic fitness, your team will be waiting on you, or worse.
So, check your workouts and make sure you are balanced and focused on a broad spectrum of activities and types of exercise. Don’t forget to add technical skills into your fitness program, particularly at a time when your heart rate is very high. A tactical athlete isn’t just in shape, a tactical athlete is ready!