In the movie “Remember the Titans,” Coach Boone is the new head football coach of the first integrated school in Virginia. The school staff and parents immediately begin criticizing him. As they are preparing to leave for pre-season camp, Boone is carrying his playbook—a very thin portfolio of plays.
Assistant Coach: “Awful skinny playbook in’t it?”
Coach Boone: “Well, I run six plays, split veer, it’s like Novocaine; just give it time, it always works.”
Similar to Coach Boone’s playbook, Novocaine Training is simply a series of training sessions that can be cycled through as fast as can be recovered from. The benefit is the consistent prioritization of the needs of a tactical athlete.
I was never a gifted athlete. In fact, I was almost always the slowest, heaviest, and weakest relative to other athletes. But what I lacked in talent, I made up for with heart and work ethic. When I first joined the US Navy’s special operations community, I could barely keep up. I was over 200 pounds, slow, and weak. Over time, consistent training made me slightly better than average in the community. While I was only mediocre, the relative improvement was far greater than those who started with more advantage. Fast forward 20 years and I have been from poor fitness to excellent fitness, to injury, back to poor fitness, and back to excellent fitness again enough to significantly exceed the standards for my current role in federal law enforcement. The point is that I have made tremendous relative improvements multiple times. A few lessons have been ever present during all the times of improvement:
Successful training has to be accessible. We don’t all have fully outfitted gyms. We can’t always do a superset of 50 swim sprints with three back squats at 80% of one-rep-max. Days need to be focused on a single location that has the equipment needed. Segregating strength days from track days makes the logistics of accessing the training obtainable.
The schedule of a tactical athlete can be very sporadic. A strict weekly schedule has almost never worked for me. I miss days because of operations, family obligations, stress, etc. A successful program needs to be flexible.
It is also important to be able to modify the intensity of training depending on recovery status and phase of training. For most day-to-day operations, a certain level of fitness is required but at times that need changes. Whether preparing for a fitness test, screening for a specialty job, or preparing for selection course, there are times when the intensity of training needs to increase or, at least, can increase if time allows.
Some attributes are more important than others. Aerobic capacity is hands down the most important attribute for the tactical athlete. As a person paid to be able to perform physically, there are capabilities that I must have to accomplish the mission. The most common need I have encountered as a tactical athlete is the ability to work long days or multiple days in a row. Responding to days on end of a crisis operation requires aerobic capacity to continually fuel and recover. For example, consider those responding to the Boston Marathon bombing. They needed the ability to carry victims to safety repeatedly, recover and then work long hours searching for the subjects. Or 9/11, being able to move debris and carry victims for multiple days and not run out of gas. Operation Phantom Fury required living out of a pack going door to door from dawn to dusk for multiple weeks.
Additional capabilities likely include wearing heavy protective equipment, carrying packs, wrestling subjects, climbing ladders, and more. Lastly, some activities simply require going very hard for as long as possible such as a long dive against a strong current or grappling for your life.
In all these circumstances, I can’t imagine that more strength would not help.
I have sustained multiple shoulder injuries, a fractured pelvis, multiple knee injuries, and multiple herniated discs. The saying, he who lifts the longest gets the strongest is very insightful. Staying injury free allows continued progress. More importantly, staying injury free prevents a person from becoming a liability to their team. Nobody wants to be the person who can’t help because they are broken. Additionally, when a job requires a need for physicality, not being able to perform is a non-starter. As we age, we need more time to recover. As we increase the training difficulty, we need more recovery time too.
By placing the focus on training as a list maximizes the flexibility necessary too. Training could be performed anywhere from three to seven days per week depending on an individual’s logistical constraints. The real advantage to this kind of training is its modular nature. There is a suggested base for the training session and depending on individual needs, add additional training to the appropriate days. One could rotate between strength and endurance focused cycles or follow one exclusively. For something like a screen test or selection prep, performing both supplements might be necessary, and the session may need to be broken up into AM and PM sessions just due to time constraints.
Novocaine Training can be done seven days a week if it works with your schedule and current physical capabilities, but the minimum dose is to train the base sessions three times per week. You can then add either supplement option A or B in cycles or exclusively if desired. For peaking (if time allows) train both supplements. If you’re young and fresh in your career, you can probably train more frequently with more supplementation. If you’re later in your career, you may only want to train the base or train less frequently. Consider the seven sessions defined below as a template to work through in order. If, for example, three training sessions per week is best for you do sessions 1, 2, and 3 this week, 4, 5, and 6 next week, then 7, 1, and 2 the following week, etc.
There is no right or wrong schedule. Some weeks life is busy and we train very little, some weeks are light and we have both the time and motivation to train every day. I have trained seven days per week and I have trained one day per week and all that really matters is that I keep training. Obviously, the more often you are able to train and recover from it, the faster you will progress. As mentioned above, I suggest three times as a minimum per week.
- S&S (swings and get-ups): I’ve found the get-up to be the most valuable movement mainly because of the phenomenal structural integrity it builds to protect against injury. The get-up has been critical to my rehabilitating multiple shoulder injuries and preventing worse or more frequent injury to such a vulnerable yet critical joint. I have also herniated multiple discs in my back and have found the swing to be excellent at building resilience for the back.
- Low Intensity Steady State (LISS): Any form of endurance activity works well for LISS exercise. Personal preference plays a large role for LISS. Some athletes need to ruck more, some need to ocean fin more, some need to run more. If you like recreational running with teammates, perhaps more running is the ticket. I have found the SkiErg to be an excellent fit because I can do it year-round in the basement and its low impact nature was helpful rehabbing multiple knee injuries.
- Q&D 033 (swings and pushups): The Q&D 033 works well if for no other reason than most fitness tests have a pushup element. The four sets of five reps every 30 seconds timing works great long term, and the two sets of ten on the minute timing works well to enhance the pushup portion popular on most employer mandated Physical Fitness Test (PFT) numbers.
- A+A (snatches): I have found that starting a set every 75 seconds balances intensity and recovery well for A+A. Snatches are often the preferred movement for A+A but I prefer to alternate snatches with something else like sprints, Airdyne, rower, SkiErg, etc. The SkiErg provides the most antagonistic movement to the snatch and I’ve found it to be my favorite. When I do snatches and the SkiErg for example, I will do five snatches left, rest the remaining of the 75 seconds, five SkiErg pulls, rest, five snatches right, rest, five SkiErg pulls; which would be four sets out of the 20 to 40 total sets.
- Strength supplementation: Pullups are critical to a tactical athlete whether it be for PFT scores, climbing caving ladders, etc. Any heavy pressing movement works for pressing. The overhead press is probably the most valuable, but I think the bench press has its place due to fitness tests having pushups and some having max rep bench press elements. I think the front squat is important for building leg strength and it is more quad dominant than something like the low bar back squat. And because of all the swings and snatches, I find low bar back squatting and even deadlifting may not be all that critical for supplementing the posterior chain. Accessory day is the day for whatever a person wants. Curls for the girls, whatever. Alternatively, StrongFirst’s Reload program fits the bill very well for strength supplementation. The two-day per week program using A and B sessions and with core and horizontal and vertical pulls for the accessory day.
- Endurance supplementation: Lactic threshold tempo sessions are probably the most valuable to improving performance. For high intensity repeat training (HIRT), the key is long rest. For something like running, repeats are about pace and not just going hard. These days could be shorter faster repeats like 400-600m repeats or longer intervals such as 800-1k. I have found Jack Daniels’ VDot pace calculators to work well for providing target paces. His book, Daniels’ Running Formula, provides recommendations for work to rest intervals depending on pace and total volume based on weekly mileage.
Rotate through a relatively small number of sessions, train as often as possible, and just show up and do the work. This simple approach to training yields profound results. It’s like Novocaine; just give it time, it always works.