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Rob Orr joined the Australian Army in 1989 as an infantry soldier before transferring to the Defense Force Physical Training Instructor (PTI) stream. Serving for 10 years in this stream, Orr designed, developed, instructed, and audited physical training programs for military personnel and fellow PTIs from both Australian and foreign defense forces. Orr transferred to the physiotherapy stream following completion of his Master’s degree in physiotherapy and, as a military physiotherapist, was responsible for the clinical rehabilitation of defense members and project management of physical conditioning optimization reviews.
Serving as the Human Performance Officer for Special Operations before joining the team at Bond University in 2012, Orr continues to serve in the Army Reserve. With a Doctoral degree in Military Load Carriage, his fields of research includes the injury prevention and tactical strength and conditioning of military and protective services personnel from initial training to specialist selection.
1. What tactical population do you currently work with?
Having spent 23 years serving in the Australian Regular Army, the majority of my time has been within this population. Currently, however, I am working within the Australian Regular Army and Police populations as a reservist, consultant, and researcher.
2. How did you get started in the TSAC (Tactical Strength and Conditioning) field?
As a serving member of the Australian Regular Army, I could elect to undergo training as a Combat Fitness Leader and then a Defence Force Physical Training Instructor with training provided by the Australian Defence Force.
3. What resources do you utilize for continuing education? Are there any sources you would recommend staying away from?
4. If you where hiring someone in your field, what would you look for?
With my primary role now being research in a tactical population, I think traits akin to those expected of tactical operators are vital. These include integrity, self-discipline, teamwork, and professionalism. Knowledge can be taught but some of these character traits cannot.
5. Please describe the regular duties included in your position?
My role at Bond University includes both teaching the Doctor of Physiotherapy course, and conducting and supervising research within my chosen field, being tactical personnel. This research spans injury prevention, occupational load carriage, and conditioning from recruit through special operations personnel. As co-chair of TSAC-Australia, I am assisting the development of the Level 1 and Level 2 TSAC-Australia Courses, which will dovetail with the TSAC-F course provided by the NSCA.
6. What are the two most important things you have learned; that you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
1) Realize that you don’t know everything and that it is ok not to know everything; and 2) Realize that once you start working in a tactical environment your learning truly begins and you must take every opportunity to learn– never say no to a course or a conference.
7. What recommendations would you give someone who is looking to start a career in TSAC?
Get qualified and spend time learning about the tactical environment you wish to enter. This includes their history, culture, standards, and regulations.
8. What do you believe are the top three physical requirements for this population that must be addressed in a proper TSAC program?
1) Strength (both relative and absolute); 2) Intermittent metabolic fitness; and 3) Neuromuscular endurance.
9. What steps do you go through when writing a program for the population you work with?
Firstly, I discuss unit requirements with the commanding officer and determine the commander’s intent. Following this, I plot all key upcoming events for the unit (e.g., MOUT training, Battalion Blood Sports week, etc.) and identify the unit’s force preparation cycle (force generation, pre-deployment training, force regeneration, etc.). Next, I map out all ongoing activities and daily requirements (parade times, CO hours, shift changes, etc.).
During this time period I review the unit’s current fitness levels (which may involve recent test results or new assessments) and the unit’s injury profile. Once the intent, time and space, and demographics of the unit are determined, I begin to populate the program’s macrocycles and progressively work down to mesocycles (if a long duration program) and finally move to microcycles.
10. What are some critical factors in getting tactical athletes to buy into a strength and conditioning program?
The “buy in” requires a two-pronged approach. First is the command element; you must be able to show command that the conditioning program will not leech time but rather, will improve occupational performance and reduce the risk of injury. Then comes the hard sell, the tactical athlete, for whom more than just medals or competition placing are on the line; you must show them personally the value of the training.
As such, objective measures that show the benefits to both occupational performance and personal health are vital. Finally is your intent; no gimmicks or products to sell, just a genuine interest in improving the member’s health and well-being – after all, the tactical athlete you train today could be saving your life tomorrow.