Physical Fitness: The Foundation of all First-Responder Training

By: Nick Koldewey and Bill Hannon

(This article is also published at Paul Howe's Combat Shooting and Tactic's blog and Nick's Warrior Trade blog)


For anyone operating as a responder, whether that’s in a military, law enforcement, or civilian capacity, there exists a long list of requirements and competencies needed to do the job well. These competencies can also be arranged in a structure that highlights their order of precedence - a hierarchy of needs, if you will. Any deficiency at any level of the hierarchy has to be addressed via training. A failure to do so will result in gaps in the capabilities and effectiveness of the individual. Further, ignoring deficiencies in the base levels of the responder hierarchy, those pertaining specifically to physical fitness, can nullify competencies in the upper hierarchical levels.

For example, you may classify as Expert while shooting in a clean, climate-controlled, indoor range, but how well do you shoot after a 60-second fistfight and grappling match to gain control of your weapon? Are you ignoring the responder requirements in the realm of physical fitness while spending all of your time training technical and tactical skills? This is a mistake that at best would be considered suboptimal, and at worst, deadly. With that idea in mind, we present a conceptual hierarchy of needs for the responder:




Physical Strength

Physical strength is our ability to produce force against an object. It’s simply how hard we can push or pull on something. Strength determines if you can shoulder your rifle, rack the slide of your pistol, carry a heavy pack, push your truck through an intersection after it runs out of gas, or lift the wounded man off the ground and move him to safety. As the base of the responder hierarchy, physical strength dictates how we’re able to interact with the physical world around us.

Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic conditioning is a measure of cardio-vascular and cellular energy fitness. It determines how well we’re able to use our physical strength to do work. If physical strength determines whether or not we can lift the wounded man off the ground, metabolic conditioning determines how fast and how far we can carry him before becoming exhausted.

Technical Aptitude

Technical aptitude encompasses the individual skill sets that a responder must possess. Shooting proficiency, hand to hand combat skills, and terrain navigation are just a small example of a very large list of required technical aptitudes for a responder.

Tactical Aptitude

Tactical aptitude is the ability to apply technical skill in a meaningful and efficient way to get a job done. Clearing a house, using situational awareness to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, and possessing the leadership ability to use the varied skill sets of multiple team members to complete a complex mission are all examples of tactical aptitude.

Decision-Making & Mental Toughness

Mental aptitude for the responder, or the ability to make decisions under pressure and maintain a level of mental toughness, is at the top of the hierarchy. This skill set will determine how well the individual will be able to capitalize on the lower levels of aptitude and skill to make timely and prudent decisions while under duress.

As mentioned, this is a conceptual hierarchy, much too simplified to be useful in directing specific training recommendations for an individual. However, it is highly relevant in pointing out that while the upper tiers of the hierarchy are of critical importance, they also do not exist in a vacuum. Training for the responder must incorporate training for strength and conditioning so that these physical qualities support and even amplify technical, tactical, and mental aptitude. The opposite condition in which physical training is neglected, resulting in a weak, overweight, and out of shape individual, creates a situation where the base of the hierarchy detracts from the higher tier skills.

Again, what good is your rifle marksmanship if you’re not strong enough to carry the weapon and spare mags? What good are your hand to hand skills if a 30-second scuffle leaves you bent over, hands on knees, gasping for air.

If you find yourself in this position, having prioritized technical and tactical aspects of your training over physical fitness, the good news is that this is easy to fix. Please consider joining us on September 5th & 6th for a CSAT course on Strength and Conditioning for Responders. We’ll cover building a strong base for the responder hierarchy and dive into the best methods for effectively and efficiently bringing your physical fitness levels up to par with the rest of your training.

Click HERE for more info on the Strength and Conditioning for Responders training course.

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