Fitness: A Growing Industry
The fitness industry has exploded in recent years, and there are far more career options now than when I was first certified as a personal trainer (CPT) and strength coach (CSCS) in the late 1990’s. Not that long ago, fitness wasn’t considered a career path. Now, you can build an entire business working with a specialized population or using a single fitness tool.
The number of certifications available today can be just as overwhelming for a fitness professional just as the number of training options available might be to someone entering a gym for the first time. It can be difficult to know which certifications to choose, and it’s easy to be distracted by the “latest and greatest” new fad or type of training.
One area of growing popularity is “tactical fitness”. The term “tactical” has been used to describe everything from using tactical-style exercises in group fitness classes for the general population to comprehensive strength and conditioning programs designed for those in actual tactical professions, such as firefighters, law enforcement, and military personnel.
Both have benefits, but it’s important to understand the difference. Training and developing programs for tactical personnel is very similar to working with competitive athletes.
Both focus on building the specific skills needed to improve physical performance.
But instead of preparing for competition, tactical athletes train to be prepared to perform on the job. Their jobs are often physically and mentally demanding, unpredictable, and carry a higher risk than other professions. Training and capability can mean the difference between life and death — for them AND for those they protect.
The Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) program was developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 2005. It’s designed to provide fitness professionals with evidence-based education and a specialized certification to better support the training needs of the tactical personnel population.
How Does it Compare to Other Common Certifications?
Certification exams may focus on general training or a specialized area of training, but all of them require a solid understanding of things like exercise science, technique, program design, and basic nutrition. These exams also test knowledge in areas such as strength, flexibility, speed, agility, and aerobic endurance.
It’s the unique applications of these to each specific population that distinguishes the certifications. Sometimes it makes sense to obtain more than one certification.
Here’s how the TSAC-F compares to other popular fitness certifications:
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the NSCA, ACSM or ACE:
The CPT can be a great option for individuals interested in providing individualized fitness training to the general population. It’s a great entry point for someone getting started in the fitness industry, even if they might want to eventually provide more specialized training. The CPT is also a great complement to other certifications, like the TSAC-F.
CPTs work with people of all ages and abilities to meet their individual health and fitness goals. This certification provides a great foundation, including a broad base of knowledge of exercise science and technique, how to conduct fitness consultations and assessments and how to use the information to design safe, effective, targeted, and individualized training.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA:
The CSCS has long been one of the most respected and sought-after certifications for individuals who want to provide specialized training for athletes. It’s often a job requirement, especially in the NCAA, professional sports, and even with high schools or private organizations. Strength and conditioning coaches evaluate and train athletes in various sports in order to improve athletic performance.
The CSCS is also a great option for those interested in training tactical athletes, and some of the more advanced job positions that work with tactical personnel may require it. However, the CSCS is not generally an entry-level certification — reflected by the lower pass rate (63%) — and a bachelor’s degree is required. Many begin with the CPT or TSAC-F certification before taking the CSCS exam.
Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) through the NSCA
The TSAC-F focuses on the unique needs of tactical athletes. Facilitators (TSAC-F certified individuals) evaluate the individual and occupational needs of tactical athletes and use science-based, proven training methods to design safe and effective training programs to improve overall health and wellness, job performance and readiness, and decrease injury risk.
Although you don’t need to have prior fitness certifications or a bachelor’s degree to earn the TSAC-F certification, it is important to establish a solid base of knowledge in the domains that will be assessed on the exam.
These areas include:
- Exercise science
- Exercise technique
- Program design
- Assessment and evaluation
- Organization and administration
- Wellness intervention
In addition, it’s important to become familiar with some of the unique needs, risks, and challenges that apply to the different tactical professions.
Who Are Tactical Athletes?
Tactical athletes are professionals (volunteers and employees) who work in physically demanding and dangerous occupations, usually to protect and defend people or locations. This includes law enforcement and SWAT teams, firefighters, EMT and other first responders in addition to all branches of the military, including general and special operations forces.
Tactical personnel need training throughout their careers. From new recruits preparing for basic training to tactical athletes who need consistent training support during their active career, and finally to those transitioning out of their role, and/or into retirement.
Just as the training needs of an athlete change over the course of their career, so do the needs of the tactical athlete.
Training should support and enhance their unique occupational demands as well as individual needs. Movement patterns and activities can vary widely between different occupations and even between different positions within the same occupation.
In addition, life on the job can be unpredictable, so tactical athletes need to be as prepared as possible for the unexpected. Understanding and addressing these needs is not only crucial to designing successful training programs but may also be necessary for survival.
Training Environments and Career Options
Facilitators work with tactical athletes in a variety of environments. For example, there are some fire and police departments that have a budget to hire certified coaches as part of their programs, while others may use independent coaches who can offer specialized training. Individual athletes also often seek out independent training at health clubs, general fitness facilities, and private gyms.
Recently, programs such as the U.S. Army Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) Program have increased the need for fitness professionals educated in tactical fitness. Organizations and government contractors have established performance teams that address the performance, health, and wellness needs of military personnel during their years of service and beyond.
Facilitators may often work under the guidance of an individual with more advanced training, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree or the CSCS certification.
Targeted education in any field can develop knowledge and skills that make you more efficient in a specific area. When you’re serious about moving forward in your career, the key to doing that may include earning specialized certifications.
There will always be a need for specialized training for tactical athletes, and fitness professionals who have earned a science-based, accredited, specialized certification such as the TSAC-F can stand out — both to potential clients and when looking for job opportunities.