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At some time in their lives, everyone begins as a beginner. You might as well start today! This week's question comes from a man who was previously pretty active, a former military member, but hasn't done anything in roughly five years other than the occasional weight lifting session at his gym. The question is, "How can I get back into working out after a five-year sabbatical without killing myself?"

However, the same response may be used to this extremely typical query from teens who want to serve: "I am interested in serving in the military, but I am overweight, out of shape, and need to learn how to train." Where do I begin?

In cases like this, I propose that you start slowly and approach yourself as if you were a novice. That is, begin with walking or bicycling and then go running if necessary. Then, using calisthenics and weights, establish a foundation of strength and muscular stamina.

People frequently begin Day One with a 3-4 mile run because "that's what they used to do." This mindset is also evident in the weight room, where people are lifting large weights than they should initially.

Depending on your goals and your chosen method of exercise.

Push Ups – Starting at zero is where most people start, so don’t let the lack of a pushup stress you out.  You need to focus on two things. Core strength (planks, lower back, abs) and of course upper body strength – specifically the three major muscle groups of the pushup: pectoralis major and minor, deltoids, triceps.

First let's mimic the exercise you want to do then burn out all the auxiliary muscles.

  • Repeat 10 Times:

  • Jumping Jacks – 10 (Full Body movements, working full body, lungs)

  • Knee Push Ups – 5-10 (Use knee version which is about 50% less body weight than regular pushups) Work your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

    • Always start each set testing if you can do a regular pushup, then resort to knee push ups.

Lightweight Shoulders – Works rotator cuff muscles to build stronger shoulder stability when in the pushup position.Repeat 3 times:

  • Bench Press – 10-15 reps (Light weight, more reps if you desire, working chest, shoulders, and triceps.)

  • Rest with plank pose for 1 minute (Works core: abs, lower back to keep back straight during pushup movement.)

  • DB Military press – 10-15 reps (Light weight, working shoulders and triceps.)

  • Rest with reverse pushups – 20-30 (No weight: Works upper back and rear deltoids.)

  • Bench Dips – 15-20 (No weight: Works shoulder, triceps.)

  • Rest with crunches or ab workout of choice (40-50 reps or 1 minute.)

    • You can also use the TRX chest press for bench press. Use dumbbells for military press (heavier than lightweight shoulders though – 10-15lbs).

Lightweight Shoulders – Works rotator cuff muscles to build stronger shoulder stability when in the pushup position.

Do this upper body push workout three days a week (every other day) and see how your pushing skills improve. Do not forget your other workouts that include the pulling muscles, legs, and cardio during the week as well. This is just a supplement workout until you master your first 5-10 pushups.

Treat Yourself Like A Beginner (at least for a few weeks)

Week 1: Add ONLY stretching to your fitness routine. Walking and biking is fine too, but do not run or lift weights during Week 1 IF you are a beginner. Stretching should be done twice daily for about 10-15 minutes each session. Warm up your body and joints with a fast walk, jumping jacks, and jump rope for about 2-3 minutes. Once warm and just about to break a sweat, start stretching your arms, legs, lower back and abdominal region.

Just Add Water -- This week of hydrating will help you prepare for a week of additional caloric burning and keep you cooler during your first exercise day in Week 2. For every 100 lbs of body weight drink a half gallon of water a day. I weigh 200 lbs roughly and I drink at least a gallon a day. This helps curb hunger, but also helps the body burn fat more efficiently. In fact, it takes two things to burn fat as your energy source: WATER + OXYGEN = FAT BURNING. The oxygen comes from either the aerobic exercise of walking or running or anaerobic exercise of calisthenics and weight lifting.

Week 2: If running is your ultimate goal, try a safe running program for a free Beginner Running Plan.

This is a safe way to build up from not running in a while. In fact, it may even be wiser to run a few minutes and walk a few minutes until you get accustomed to the demands on your heart, lungs, and legs. Do not forget to stretch after each run as well. 

If you choose weightlifting, I would recommend using Week 2 as a calisthenics base week. Do push ups, crunches, lower back exercises, or try some pull ups or assisted pull ups. You can add lightweight dumbbells of bicep curls, triceps extensions, and military press with repetitions up to 10-15 times. For your legs, do not do weight squats or half squats if your knees are previously injured. This easy-paced week will help alleviate the pain of working joints and large muscle groups for the first time in several years.

Tactical Fitness

Tactical fitness is the new fitness genre that I define as the ability to perform military, police and firefighter job-related skills such as running, rucking, swimming, buddy rescue and equipment carry. Those skills require upper- and lower-body strength and muscle endurance.

Tactical Fitness Exercise

Push & Core - TRX Atomic Push Ups

The bench press is a great lift, but after a good decade now of adding in suspension training into my program, I had to give the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core exercise to the TRX Pushup. The TRX makes the pushup twice as hard, and with the added knee up in between pushup repetitions completes this hardcore core exercise.

Pull - Pull Ups

The heavy weight exercise of the calisthenics world is the pullup! If you can master this exercise you will build the needed strength for pulling your body weight over walls and up ropes.  This is a great exercise for your grip, biceps, and upper back side of your body. Keeping an ability to do 20+ pullups in one set and do 100 reps in a single workout has always been a goal of my workouts. Grip variations make this exercise near endless as you can go wide, close, alternating, use a rope, and reverser grip to name a few variations.

Full - Deadlift

Lifting things properly is about as functional as you can get. Practicing this exercise regularly will insure your ability to lift and carry equipment and gear when needed.  This also works the grip, legs, glutes, and lower back and works them in motion under strain. Plus, it is fun to get into heavy lifting mode during certain cycles of the year with this exercise. 

Legs & Core - Front Squat

For a true leg workout, I find the front squat more useful than the back squat as it has versatility in helping to improve other lifts like hang clean, power clean, etc.  You might not be able to do as much weight as the back squat, but if moderately heavy lifting is your thing, this will work. Variations include overhead squats for more shoulder girdle and core addition.

Core – Plank

For the king of the isometric exercises, go with the plank. This is a great exercise that works the entire core (not just abs). You will challenge the shoulder girdle, spinal muscles, hips, and legs with this exercise. Build up to 5 minutes or more with dozens of variations. 

Tactical Fitness Training

  1. Push-ups: 20 reps.

  2. Burpees: 10 reps.

  3. Walking lunges (long stride): 20 paces.

  4. Lying ab windshield wipers: 10 reps each side.

  5. Jump squats: 10 reps.

  6. Inverted rows: 10 reps.

  7. Side lunges: 10 reps each side.

Tactical Fitness Workout

The Tactical Physique: A Functional Strength Training & Conditioning Workout. Bodyweight movements, conditioning work, and supersets work together to help you build a stronger foundation for a functionally fit physique.

What is the Difference?

Tactical Fitness is not about workouts, it's about work. It is not about working out to get good at working out, it is about creating programs that carry over into real life movements like lifts, carries, crawls, runs, rucks, swims, and mobility, even analytical and creative thinking. It uses non-traditional equipment to lift and carry loads that are not equally balanced. 

Tactical Fitness is about choosing a profession where your fitness may one day be the difference between life and death for you, your buddy, or someone you are trying to help.  Not only does your health and fitness need to be developed, but your ability to react as you have been trained and think clearly under stress is an absolute must. 

Knowing how to be a team player is critical too.  Find workout buddies with goals and play sports to learn how to be part of a team.  Your workout today must make you better tomorrow at your job.  This means not only having a healthy heart, blood pressure, sugar levels, and weight, but your workout must help you with the following elements of fitness:

  • Speed and Endurance – Run and ruck farther and faster.

  • Strength and Power – Lift equipment, gear, and people too.

  • Flexibility and  Mobility – Move easily over uneven terrain and in between obstacles.

  • Muscle Stamina – Move yourself and gear up, over, under, and through space.

  • Old Man Grip – Hold gear, climb rope / mountain, grab things and people without tiring.

  • Skills – Swim to save a life, to cross a river, meet up with a ship or sub for extraction, and to be effective on 75% of this planet.

  • And more – Anything and everything in your job.

Getting To  and Through Training

There are specific stages for the Tactical Athlete in training.  As a recruit or candidate, you have to score competitively to enter these public service professions on what many refer to as the entrance exam. These are your typical fitness tests of pull-ups, pushups, sit-ups, 1.5 mile runs, and maybe a sprint or swim test depending on the service you are training for. Training to get to these boot camps, academies, or special ops selection programs is one thing, but training to get through them is another. 

The Takeaway

A new fitness genre has emerged during the last decade. Fitness programming comes and goes, but it is unusual that an entirely new genre is developed. Tactical Fitness is the name given to this unique form of fitness training.