Defining The Culture of Tactical Fitness


By Dr. Kristen Ouellette


Culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.

Culture is something that is hard to define because it is multifactorial and takes time and leadership to develop.  However, at Military Athlete we are in a unique position to evaluate the physical fitness culture of tactical athletes specifically.

To date, there is no valid way to measure physical fitness culture, but we recently devised a questionnaire to help us more fully understand the requirements and feelings towards fitness within the tactical community.


Take-Away Messages from The Culture of Tactical Fitness Questionnaire

  • Out of 221 respondents, only 5 were women.
  • 32% self-reported that they were overweight.  This showed with the average BMI (26.7) confirming that tactical athletes are overweight and some are obese (and these are the ones that train).
  • Regardless of body weight, 87% said they were fit for duty.
  • Our largest volume of responses came from Law Enforcement, then Military, then Firefighters.
  • A mere 9% said their unit/force mandated physical fitness training, while 69% had mandated physical fitness assessments.
  • 85% have a place to train at work and 75% are allowed to train on duty.  The numbers drop to 70% who actually train on duty however and only 52% are encouraged by superiors to do so.
  • 25% responded that their culture dictated that physical fitness was not very important.  Conversely, 22% said that fitness was very important.


Who Was Surveyed

The majority of our respondents were men (men = 212, women = 5).  This may reflect that there is less of a training culture that exists for female tactical athletes than males.

Below is a table showing average demographic information.  For definition purposes, the standard deviation (SD) is the average range of the middle 68% of respondents.  The body mass index (BMI) is a value created to quantify if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.  Normal weight is 18.5-25 and overweight is 25-30.

Screenshot 2015-06-11 17.00.33


The BMI is not an accurate measurement of body composition because overweight can be due to muscle or fat.  However, 32% of respondents reported that they were overweight, so we will assume that this is due to body fat.

About half of people are in leadership roles with the majority (70%) having 1-20 individuals directly reporting to them.  Therefore our survey represents the views of personnel in both authoritative positions and compliant positions.


Individual Practices

Being fit for duty requires training, a healthy diet, and responsibility to the maintenance of your body.

Overwhelmingly, most respondents felt that they were fit for duty (87%).  This is a somewhat skewed report, as we surveyed our database, which includes past and present members of our website.  However, the majority of respondents also report that they eat healthy (80%) and only a small percentage use tobacco products (15%) or drink greater than 7 alcoholic beverages per week (10%).


What’s Their Environment Like

Most respondents said they had required fitness testing (70%) and of the 30% that did not report having a required fitness test, nearly all said they thought fitness testing should be instituted.  This shows that most people value fitness in their profession and want accountability.

Most units have a standard that they are holding people responsible for but are not providing a way for individuals to train for that standard.  85% of workplaces have a facility that is available for guys to train at, but only 9% mandate training.  While 75% of respondents are allowed to train on duty only 52% of respondents report that they are encouraged to train, this means that some are training without encouragement (and possibly some go against office culture and train when others don’t).


What are Individuals and Units Doing for Training

Top 5 methods of training are (1) Running (2) Lifting (3) Following LE, Military Athlete Programming (3) Other Cardio (4) Following CrossFit Programming (5) Boxing and Other Martial Arts.  Most reported to training 5 days per week.

Only 41% responded that they train with their unit (but also often alone), which means most are missing a valuable opportunity to develop camaraderie, motivation, and teamwork through training.  People also tend to undervalue a good training partner or group, but in reality, with help you can train harder and safer and achieve greater improvements.


You Become What You are Surrounded By

To gain insight into the fitness environment within units we looked at 2 components of the environment; (1) how you feel about the other people around you (are they fit for duty) and (2) how much value is placed on physical fitness in your environment.  Responses were highly varied, suggesting that while many people are individually motivated, the culture itself is not established everywhere.

When surveyed regarding what percentage of their unit was fit for duty, only 23% of respondents said that the majority of their unit was fit.  30% said that ½ to ¾ were fit for duty.  If only ½ to ¾ of an NFL team was fit this would be a major problem.  This raises questions about the perceived need for fitness in the tactical community and the potential dangers of working within a team that is only ½ to ¾ fit for duty.

When asked point-blank, what is the value placed on physical fitness in your unit, only 22% said that it was extremely important, while 25% said it was not very important at all. These numbers don’t match up with the 70% physical fitness requirement rate and 50% encouragement to train.

Overall we have observed that physical fitness culture is highly varied and likely a result of tactical affiliation, leadership, convenience of training (some jobs it’s harder to train on the clock than others) and environment from one place to another.  In the near future, we plan on doing more on-site, in-depth research to explore this idea of affiliation specific physical fitness culture starting with firefighters.




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