Jason Rice is a tactical strength and conditioning coach who has spent years working with the Army and Air Force to develop human performance programs for tactical athletes.
Freelap USA: As a strength and conditioning professional in the tactical setting, what does a typical day look like for you?
Jason Rice: There really is no typical. My day usually starts by accumulating as much data as I can on the current status of those under my care. For example, if someone is coming back from a training or field exercise, I need to know what they were doing, how much sleep they got, how they recovered, etc., so that I can factor those stressors into that day’s training plan.
The big catch is that in the tactical world, these variables (sleep/stress) fluctuate greatly. I constantly tweak my programs. Some days we train before sunrise. Some days after sunset. My schedule changes frequently, but the goal is to support their development without getting in the way.
Sessions are designed around efficiency. It’s the one thing I’m constantly asking… “How can I get more from less?” Given the high levels of stress, I believe it’s the best philosophy to minimize problems while ensuring that they continue to progress.
Freelap USA: Training demands for college/pro athletes are much different than soldiers. What are the key differences in training focus for those you train in the military?
Jason Rice: Servicemen and women work long days in difficult jobs with limited rest and recovery and must prepare for their wartime demands in addition to these tasks. They must do this for years, with fluctuating schedules, limited sleep, and the possibility of deployments. The combination of these factors places a huge level of importance on choosing efficient training methods and making sure that long-term health is prioritized.
This isn’t really that different from college/pro sports. The big difference is that soldiers must maintain their readiness during periods of time when equipment, nutrition, rest, and recovery methods are far from optimal. Training soldiers involves a lot of teaching so that they have autonomy and self-reliance. Military personnel must be able to maintain readiness at all times, so they don’t become detrained during these periods.
Finally, college/pro athletes may have a combine or some other fitness test that they train for, but in the military, passing or failing the physical readiness tests is a much more important factor, and scores can greatly impact their careers. Training to succeed at these tests is a unique component and something that can’t be overlooked.
Freelap USA: Environment and culture are often mentioned alongside strength and conditioning. How would you describe the environment and culture of training in the tactical setting?
Jason Rice: American military culture is long and storied, and there’s a real sense of purpose and discipline. Whereas on some athletic teams, certain athletes may feel that training isn’t necessary, that’s very rare in military populations. Most recognize that life or death may hinge on their abilities, and they take that responsibility seriously.
The difference is that whereas science and analytics have infiltrated athletics, it’s been a slower process for implementation in the tactical world. Many tactical athletes have developed training philosophies that emphasize effort and fatigue but are often not efficient, well-rounded, or well planned for long-term success.
To answer the question directly, the culture is one of very hard-working people who can really benefit from skilled coaching. The effort is very high; the challenge is to make sure that effort results in increased readiness.
Freelap USA: What challenges are unique to the military that don’t exist in other performance-based organizations?
Jason Rice: In military populations, there is a huge range of backgrounds and abilities. You may have a former college gymnast training directly beside someone who’s never been on a team or had a coach before. Being able to provide diverse options to allow progress across the entire spectrum is a huge challenge and something a tactical coach needs to be very skilled at.
This must be done synchronously, often with limited equipment. Modifying not only exercise selection but volume and intensity for an individual within a group environment is tricky, and injuries are a constantly moving target. The link between poor sleep and injury likelihood is a problem, but increases in education are helping.
The common theme across injury data I focus on is that individuals with high levels of general fitness tend to be more resilient against all injuries, and many injuries occur after periods of detraining. Noting those two, while keeping an eye on the individual’s background coming in and their current levels of stress, goes a long way in keeping them healthy.
Freelap USA: Programming for tactical athletes can appear to be difficult due to the unknowns of demands. Walk us through your process of determining training protocols for soldiers who may not know what is coming next?
Jason Rice: Military populations have certain base demands that apply to everyone. They must run, change direction, climb, carry, crawl, ruck, jump, etc. If I can make someone better at these tasks, then they’ll be better at handling any unknown when the time comes.
Lifting weights, in the traditional sense, is still very important. It’s how we build strength, power, speed, etc. The ability to display strength, power, and speed in these tactical movement patterns means an increased emphasis on movement development. In athletic teams, this happens at sports practice. In the military, it must be efficiently baked into training.
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