Are you a current strength and conditioning professional working in sports? Are you a recent college graduate looking to start your professional career as a strength and conditioning specialist?
Have you considered a career working with tactical athletes?
Tactical athletes are individuals in service occupations with significant physical fitness and performance requirements such as law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders, and military service members.
While sport athletes are trying to get one or two percent better in a specific skill to achieve success in their field, working with tactical athletes often requires instilling a baseline level of physical health.
A February 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine entitled “Optimizing Health, Wellness, and Performance of the Tactical Athlete” outlined some of the broad issues facing tactical athletes.
Tactical athletes also may have specific administrative requirements related to documenting physical injuries. Musculoskeletal injuries are a large burden on the tactical athlete population, with incident rates varying based on the specific profession. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) is difficult to manage in the tactical athlete population due to its limited ability to reduce impact activities and poor surgical outcomes. Botulinum neurotoxin-A and gait retraining show promise as alternative treatments for CECS. Heat injuries are frequent in the tactical athlete populations, and a graduated return to play process helps to prevent morbidity. Management of musculoskeletal injuries in tactical athletes requires consideration of operational schedules and adequate reconditioning, in addition to traditional injury evaluation.
Tactical athletes are generally not on a structured schedule like athletes with a pre-season, regular season, and offseason to consider. They always have to be prepared physically and psychologically to perform their work, oftentimes with little notice.
So, the important thing is to do your research and learn about what it takes to train a tactical athlete.
Wes Kennedy, an ex-Special Forces Operator and founder of Elite Training Programs, suggests reaching out to local police, fire, and military units and offering your services as a volunteer — whether it be assisting with the required fitness testing or another area.
Continuing education is another key component of finding success in the tactical training field. Kennedy points to established associations that aid strength coaches in continuing education, networking, and offer certifications like the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA).
“The NSCA has an established tactical clinic that takes place annually in the spring. Their annual conference is a great opportunity to gain additional tactical strength and conditioning knowledge, and network within the tactical community,” Kennedy said. “They also hold a tactical strength and conditioning specialist certification exam that coaches can take.”
Ingrid Marcum, CSCS, TSCA-F, agreed with Kennedy’s sentiment on the NSCA’s tactical program, which was established in 2005 to provide fitness professionals with evidence-based education and specialized certification to better support the training needs of the tactical personnel population.
“The TSAC-F program focuses on the unique needs of tactical athletes. [They] evaluate the individual and occupational needs of tactical athletes and use science-based, proven training methods to design safe and effective training programs to improve overall health and wellness, job performance and readiness, and decrease injury risk,” Marcum said.
While you don’t need to have prior fitness certifications or a bachelor’s degree to earn the TSAC-F certification through the NSCA, it is important to establish, Marcum says, a solid base of knowledge in the domains that will be assessed on the exam.
In addition, she added it’s important to become familiar with some of the unique needs, risks, and challenges that apply to the different tactical professions.
Functional Movement Screen (FMS), USA Weightlifting (USAW), Dragondoor Kettlebells, TRX, and other companies and organizations offer educational opportunities that may assist you in moving on to that next position. Additionally, if you have had experience working with one tactical group, Kennedy added you may want to volunteer or work part-time for another group to make yourself more diverse as a candidate.
“If you are a current sports strength coach, transitioning into the tactical realm might be intimidating. If you are a new strength coach, you might be just as nervous,” Kennedy said. “Either way, know that there are peers and organizations who are eager to help you by providing support and advice as you move into the tactical community.”