Improving the Physical Preparedness and Operational longevity of the SWAT Operator
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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in how the tactical community approaches it’s PT training designed to better prepare them for the job. The majority of this change has come from the individual operators looking to improve their general physical preparedness (GPP) for the job via an emphasis on more “functional” training. The term “functional training” or “functional fitness” is all the rage these days in the civilian arena, similar to the overuse of the term “tactical” has been in recent years, but I digress…this positive trend toward training that is more functional and job applicable or “real world” in nature, has recently found some acceptance by various branches of the military and tactical LE community. Everyone and his mother has jumped on the “functional fitness/functional training” bandwagon, and that’s not a bad thing per se. However, let’s just say some do it better then others…
[quote_right author=”Will Brink”]Let’s be honest here, in your twenties, you can beat the snot out of yourself in training and come back for more. By your thirties however, there’s a price to be paid for it, and by your forties, you can have almost total incapacitation due to an accumulation of injuries if the training that was done in past decades caused excessive wear and tear.[/quote_right]
Some of it, simply comes with the business, but much of it can be avoided with ‘smart vs. just hard,’ training, which brings us back to the focus on training that is more balanced by design, “real world” oriented, and job applicable.
So what is “functional” training?
As it relates specifically to the SWAT operator, I define functional Training/functional fitness as a training which emphasizes an improved strength to body weight ratio, the ability to deal with unbalanced loads, an ability to work through different resistance one may face in the “real world,” be it carrying a wounded comrade wearing full tac gear, to going over walls, or pushing stalled vehicles out of the way, and then returning effective fire on target when it counts. It’s one thing to be stud on the range, but it’s another universe from the stress placed on the operator who has just pushed a car that wont start out of the line of fire – due to damage inflicted or the Murphy Factor – that may contain a wounded comrade or civilian, who then needs to return effective fire on target: the musculature responsible for a stable shooting platform, already less stable due to the adrenaline dump experienced.
There’s plenty of fancy terminology that could get thrown around at this point regarding the specifics of such training, but at the end of the day, as it applies to SWAT, those are the “real world” results that need to happen if and when the sh&% hit’s the proverbial fan.
As a general rule, a correctly designed program for tactical LE will lead to improved job specific GPP, will attempt to balance physical capacities, strength, endurance, simulate job specific movement patterns, and do it without (hopefully) adding injuries or over training syndromes to the officer(s) following it. Others may have slightly different definitions and or opinions on what I wrote above, but you get the general idea.
To summarize, the benefits of such training – if applied correctly – will be two fold:
- An improvement in job specific GPP and overall physical performance
- Reduced injury rates, which can lead to an increased operational longevity of the SWAT operator.
Tactical LE and Military Overlap…
Tactical law enforcement and front line military – in particular SOF – have their similarities and clear differences, but many basic issues relating to training and job related GPP and injury prevention are applicable to both groups. A fairly recent article in the Journal of Special Operations Medicine (JSOM)* examined the training related injury patterns/ Musculoskeletal injuries from the 5th Special Forces Group came to some useful conclusions.
This study revealed that physical training caused 50% of all injuries. Injuries resulted in 10-times the number of profile days (lost work days) as illnesses with the leading reason for outpatient visits being musculoskeletal disorders.
[quote_left author=”Journal of Special Operations Medicine”] Finally to focus more on prevention, Special Forces Groups should modify unit physical training programs to incorporate the fitness and performance fundamentals used in today’s top athletic programs. Military researchers have shown that modified physical training programs can result in lower injury rates with improvements in physical fitness.
Training regimens that emphasize core strength and cross-training would likely increase physical readiness while decreasing the incidence of spine and lower extremity injuries.[/quote_left]
As mentioned, training hard and training smart, are not always interchangeable concepts. The latter leading to superior performance and reduced injury rates, with improved operational readiness and (potentially) greater operational longevity for the SWAT operator, soldier, PMC, etc. The top coaches involved in “today’s top athletic programs” follow similar guidelines mentioned above, but programs do need to be modified for the unique requirements of the tactical community. The authors finished their report by summing it up nicely:
“By making these changes to training and resourcing, Special Forces Groups will be investing in our most lethal weapon—the individual Special Forces Soldier.”
A good example of the shift in paradigm, is the Marine Corp., recognizing the need for a more “real world” functional test, developed the Combat Fitness Test (CFT); Marines must pass in addition to the standard Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT). The Marine Corp. Times states:
“Unlike the familiar Physical Fitness Test, the Corps’ new Combat Fitness Test is designed to assess Marines’ physical strength, endurance and agility where it really counts: in battle.” **
The above is a small example of the general trend in the tactical community, military, etc. to gear training and testing to improve job specific GPP which will improve both mission performance and potentially reduce injury rates while (hopefully!) lengthening operational longevity of individual operators. The fact is, we need all the experienced guys we can get, and the longer they can stay in the game the better. They don’t enjoy having to leave the job prematurely due to injuries that might have been avoided, and the country can’t afford to lose them, be they SWAT, SOF, or other.
Practical Applied Stress Training (P.A.S.T) Concepts
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o the above discussion gives a general overview on the potential benefits of training programs and testing, etc that attempts to be more “functional” in nature, and hopefully, will “emphasize core strength and cross-training” that is adjusted for the requirements of the tactical community. So far so good, and if the reader has not already done so, I encourage you to look more into the various programs out there that exist for that type of training.
This brings me to Practical Applied Stress Training (P.A.S.T) concepts. P.A.S.T is not specifically a GPP program for tactical LE per se, but more an adjunct to it. The general concept goes like so: It’s the common practice for the majority of SWAT teams to train diligently on their firearms skills and tactics, while hitting the gym or the road as a separate training rotation. P.A.S.T attempts to bridge that reality and parallel what the “real world” event may demand – which is the simultaneous demands on shooting proficiency, as well as anaerobic and aerobic energy systems – which will greatly impact the operators abilities to perform under pressure. The only way to perform in such a situation is to have experienced the effects of physical and mental stress on marksmanship skills and test whether or not your job specific GPP and shooting skills are up to the task. The only way to prepare for that scenario, is to do it!
Let’s face it, the most advanced shooter in great physical condition will find his marksmanship severely degraded when forced to shoot under intense physical stress. As expected, the operator who is not in adequate physical condition to begin with, can expect to see his marksmanship go completely to hell when put under physical and mental stress no matter how well he shoots under non-stressful conditions at the range.
Per my comments above regarding the essential elements of what makes an effective training program for tactical LE, P.A.S.T focuses on functional strength, improving bodyweight to strength ratios, dealing with unbalanced loads, and overall fitness and conditioning combined with shooting rotations. P.A.S.T prepares the SWAT operator to perform efficiently under worst case scenarios which greatly improves survivability of dynamic situations SWAT is confronted with.
Unfortunately, It’s often the case that PT related training and marksmanship don’t come together until the officer is in the middle of life and death situation, where the ability to perform is tested as never before, and the outcome unsure. Thus, the trend toward more “functional” style training in the tactical community is a positive one to be sure, and should be encouraged, but P.A.S.T adds a dimension to the training of tactical LE not duplicated by other programs. That’s P.A.S.T training in summery, with many details left out due to space limitations, but hopefully the readers gets the gist…
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he intention of this article was to support the current shift toward more functional “real world” job applicable PT training for the tactical community. The benefits of such training – when implemented correctly to the specific requirements of the community – will be improvements in physical preparedness /job specific GPP combined with reduced injury rates, which may lead to an increased operational longevity of the SWAT operator.
Finally, an additional dimension of training – that has the potential to substantially improve job related performance, GPP, and survivability under stress – P.A.S.T style training allows tactical LE to experience an enhanced level of job related stress training that will be another tool in the tool box.
* Clinical Diagnoses in a Special Forces Group: The Musculoskeletal Burden James H. Lynch, MD, MS and Mark P. Pallis, DO, FAAOS. Journal of Special Operations Medicine (JSOM): Volume 8, Edition 2 / Spring 2008, 76-79
** Marine Corp. Times, Nov 11, 2008 20:27:39