Roles, Responsibilities and Limitations of a Unit Fitness Leader

By Rob Shaul

We have a distinctly different view of the job description for a Unit Fitness Leader or “Peer Fitness Coordinator/Leader” from what has been traditionally put in place at many tactical units – military, LE and Fire/Rescue:

Below we break down our vision of the role, and responsibilities of Unit Fitness Leaders, as well as limitations.

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Role, Responsibilities


(1) Lead by Example

  • Commit to training – ideally at the duty station – and be seen doing it.
  • Train for your job – not your sport, hobby, or appearance. Stop “working out” and start “training.”
  • Show others how it can be done, with or without command/union support, fancy equipment and within time constraints.

(2) Steadfastly communicate the link between fitness and professionalism.

  • Embrace and celebrate the fact that soldiers/LE officers/Firefighters are professional athletes.
  • Articulate the responsibility Tactical Athletes have to themselves to be fit for duty – it’s linked to survivability.
  • Articulate the responsibility Tactical Athletes have to their families to be fit for duty – their survivability.
  • Articulate the responsibility Tactical Athletes have to their partners and teammates to be fit for duty     tactical performance and survivability.
  • Define fitness as a critical safety issue – not only for the individual but also for the unit and public (if first responder)
  • Fitness Improves Everything.

(3) Be a resource.

  • Training advice. Diet common sense. How to find time to train and make it work.
  • Hold events. Invite observation. Use onramp plans to help newbies get started.
  • Build a “core” group of committed athletes and enlist their help in recruiting others and build the fitness culture.
  • Communicate training times regularly. Train where others can observe.
  • Don’t make training part of a “secret” club. Expect team members to get and remain fit, but also always be open and welcoming for those who show interest. Don’t be righteous. Don’t be exclusive. Be inviting, but ensure the training reflects the deadly and dangerous realities of the job. Make training Mission-Direct and authentic.

(4) Stay focused on Fitness.

Don’t get distracted by “wellness” efforts such as health check-ups, diet, trauma counseling, injury rehab, physical therapy, etc. Soft “Wellness” efforts and issues dilute serious fitness efforts and erode strong fitness cultures. They don’t reflect the dangerous and deadly environment tactical athletes face daily. Respect this environment and work to get your members physically prepared for it. Stay focused on fitness. All else is gravy.

(5) Don’t tolerate unfit unit members or attitudes which quietly accept poor fitness.

Fat tactical athletes aren’t funny. “Legacy” members aren’t “special snowflakes” and experience is no substitute for fitness. No “slow” fires exist for unfit firefighters. No “slow” bullets exist for unfit soldiers and LE officers. Understand the poisonous effect unfit members and a poor fitness culture has on unit morale. Speak with actions and words. Be steadfast and direct, but never righteous or indignant, and never preach. Be a quiet, steadfast, professional.

(6) Make fitness a critical safety issue.

Certainly, an unfit tactical athlete is putting his own safety at risk, but also he is putting at risk the safety of his team members, and if a first responder, the public. These last two groups are never considered.

Unfit tactical athletes selfishly consider the problem only effects them. It doesn’t.

A tactical athlete is a weapon. If your commanding officer knowingly sent you into battle, into an active shooter situation, or into a fire with a poorly maintained piece of critical equipment which could fail at any time, the commanding officer would clearly be derelict in his duty.

How is this any different than knowingly allowing unfit, de-conditioned tactical athletes to remain in tactical service?

Tactical fitness is not in individual “wellness” issue. It’s a critical safety issue for the unit.

(7) Keep the pressure on the Command.

Many unit leaders are “legacy” members for whom Mission-Direct fitness has never been a cultural tradition. Many have had successful careers without training – and will question why it’s needed now. Many are older, and simply, unfit. Sad, but true.

A Unit Fitness Leaders has 3 initial goals with the command

  • Space on station to train
  • Training equipment
  • Paid time on duty to train (first responder).

Focus on these first.

Your role isn’t to please the command or make them comfortable, but be a beacon and resource for the unit members ready to become professional about their fitness and increase the mission-direct performance of the overall unit. Results will speak for themselves.




(1) Time and knowledge constraints

You’re a Unit Fitness Leader, not a full-time strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, wellness counselor or nutritionist. You already have a full-time job and the Unit Fitness Leader work is on top of your other responsibilities. Don’t tolerate or succumb to request for individualized attention.

(2) No individualized coaching/training/attention.

Many athletes think they are special and require individualized training plans and attention. They are not special.  Don’t encourage this self-entitlement, and avoiding hard truths which comes with these requests. You’ll need at most two types of group programming to get started – an OnRamp training plan to get guys spooled up, and daily training for everyone else.

(3) No one can be a parent to grown adults.

No one can force or convince grown adult men and women to fix their diet and start a training program. Don’t let unit commanders force an adult parenting role upon you by sending you unfit, unhealthy members and expecting you to give them self-discipline.

You can be a resource for diet/training info, offer encouragement, and invite them to join the group onramp or regular training group, but you cannot make them attend or train. You want to be a beacon for unit members ready to act and train like the professional athletes they are.

Don’t get pushed into the role of running “fat camps” for the unit. There’s a risk to this – the fit, committed members will consider your services beneath their level and/or seeking your help an admission they are out of shape. Aim to be a resource for the majority of the members of the unit who are reasonably fit and are ready to step it up, not the few outliers on the low end who don’t get it and likely never will.

(4) Fight the battles. Win the war.

Expect entrenched command, union, and cultural resistance. Begin one member at a time. Keep grinding. The ultimate goal is improved tactical performance, survivability, career longevity, and cultural change. 

Keep grinding! This is good work! Your efforts will save lives! 



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