Needs Analysis for a Tactical Athlete

by NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning
Kinetic Select March 2019


Learn the basics of conducting a needs analysis for tactical athletes based on the athlete’s goals and desired outcomes, assessments, limitations on workout frequency and duration, equipment availability, health and injury status, and occupational physiological demands.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

The needs analysis consists of answering questions based on the tactical athlete’s goals and desired outcomes, assessments, limitations on workout frequency and duration, equipment availability, health and injury status, and occupational physiological demands. Tactical occupations are physically demanding. A well-designed, progressive resistance training program can benefit tactical athletes preparing for basic training or maintaining physical conditioning for active duty. The U.S. Army uses a three-phase training system consisting of initial conditioning, toughening, and sustaining phases following principles of precision, progression, and integration (86). During basic training, recruits must be prepared for calisthenics, sprint and distance running, combat training, marching, obstacle course navigation (involving climbing and agility tasks), engagement skills, marksmanship, and load-carriage tasks (23). Current military personnel are often required to carry loads that are heavier than those used in the past (32).

Law enforcement officers need muscle strength, power, endurance, flexibility, speed, and agility during hand-to-hand combat, apprehension and pursuit of suspects, self-defense, weapons carrying and use, and emergency response. Similar to military careers, the occupation involves periodic lifting and handling of heavy objects, dragging, running and sprinting, climbing, overcoming obstacles, jumping, stair-climbing, squatting, kneeling, and crawling. In some cases the events may be prolonged until the situation has been resolved. The restraining of suspects involves all components of self-defense, such as grappling, using joint locks, striking, punching, kicking, blocking, pushing and twisting, using takedowns and throws, carrying, applying handcuffs, and using weapons (13). Similarly, corrections officers require these fitness components to subdue and break up fights between inmates, escort uncooperative prisoners, lift and carry prisoners, search cells, and pursue inmates during escapes (26).

SWAT teams require advanced firearm, physical fitness, and tactical maneuvering skills and are responsible for extended law enforcement duties, such as situations involving hostages, barricaded hostile environments, clearing of dangerous areas, riots and crowd control, illegal drug operations, and terrorist situations where deadly force may be needed (13). SWAT teams typically use tactical gear that adds mass and provides resistance to motion while they secure perimeters, enter structures, and assist in moving injured people. One study showed that SWAT officers ranked high in bench press strength but displayed a wide range of values for core strength, power, and aerobic capacity

(58). Thus, a tactical strength and conditioning program targeting muscle strength, power, endurance, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is needed to meet the occupational tasks and hazards.

Firefighters require muscular strength and endurance, power, flexibility, and aerobic endurance. Commons tasks include carrying equipment; raising ladders; pulling, hoisting, and climbing stairs with hoses; dragging victims; forcibly entering buildings with a sledgehammer or axe; performing ceiling breach and pulls with a pole; and searching for victims (2). Some of these tasks are short (e.g., forcible entry, raising a ladder), and some require extensive endurance because they may be performed for long periods of time (e.g., carrying loads, hoses, or victims). Protective equipment may range in mass to up to 25 kg (55 lb) (69). Some firefighting tasks include lifting and carrying objects up to 36 kg (79 lb) or more, pulling objects up to 62 kg (137 lb), and working with objects in front of the body weighing up to 57 kg (126 lb) (44). Performing firefighting tasks may yield HR values of 150 to 188 beats/min (14) and peak oxygen consumption of 41.5 to 43 ml·kg−1·min−1 (with a mean of 23 ml·kg−1·min−1) (18, 40). HR values can range between 85% and 100% of the maximum predicted HR and remain high throughout the course of fighting the fire (44). Sounding the alarm may increase HR an average of 47 beats/min, and an increase in HR of at least 30 beats/min may be observed while firefighters are on the truck (7). Thus, understanding the occupational requirements is critical to developing a strength and conditioning program for firefighters.

NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning is the ideal preparatory guide for those seeking TSAC-F certification, and a reference for fitness trainers who work with tactical populations such as military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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