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Operational Fitness in Executive Protection

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Recently I wrote a piece for EP Wired about the importance of combatives training for the protection professional and how I felt if you couldn’t protect yourself, you had no business protecting others. 

Several months later I was listening to an episode of The Circuit Podcast where combatives trainer and protection specialist Mick Coup from the UK was a guest. Mick spoke about operational fitness as he sees it and I highly recommend everyone give that episode a listen. 

Combatives training and operational fitness go hand in hand so today I’d like to discuss why it is important and how executive protection agents can work to improve their current fitness levels while working in the fast-paced, high-stress world of EP.

Perception is reality. 

If I’m conducting pre-attack surveillance and looking for a soft target, one of the first things I’m looking at is the target’s security detail (or lack thereof). If the agents look like a soup sandwich, I know that it is unlikely that they are tactically proficient or in any way capable of repelling an attack. 

Look at the best of the best in our military and law enforcement sectors. A common trait of both is that the personnel who make up these units are physically fit. Their specific type and level of operational fitness are directly relevant to their job, but you won’t see individuals who are grossly out of shape in any of these special units. 

In the EP/CP world, however, many of our agents are in very poor physical condition and couldn’t run up a few flights of stairs to rescue their principal if the fire alarm went off, much less fight or be bound to cover during a critical incident. 

Yes, I understand that fighting and bounding to cover is rare in the close protection world, especially if you work in corporate executive protection, but once again we are hired to prepare for that less than 1% chance something goes sideways. 

Sure, avoidance is key but at the end of the day we can’t avoid everything, so we need to be ready for the worst-case scenario.

The more physically fit we are, the more capable we are. Our own lack of operational fitness can prevent us from being able to perform tasks that are required or could be required of us during a critical incident.

I am not suggesting that every EP agent needs to be a professional athlete, but they need to be strong enough to pick up a teammate and have enough in the tank to get off the “X”. How far do we have to move to get off the “X”? Who knows, so we better be as prepared as we can be.

I, like most of you, understand that working 16 plus hour days, 7 days a week for weeks on end can make it incredibly challenging to get adequate sleep, let alone get a workout in and I have fallen victim to the “I don’t have the time” mentality myself on occasion. 

The reality is we all have the same 24 hours in the day and how we use it comes down to what our priorities are. As a protector, I take being physically capable very seriously and while there’s always room for improvement, I believe that you need to do something every day to make yourself better both physically and mentally. 

Mentally, that could be listening to a podcast during some downtime or reading a few pages from a book before bed. Physically, that means eating better and exercising, often in the white space of your day.

While working a detail, I may not have an hour to get to the gym at the beginning or end of my day, but I can certainly start my day off with some bodyweight or band exercises in my hotel room and finish the day the same way. 

During the podcast referenced above, Mick mentions how during operations he considers it a time to maintain operational fitness, not necessarily make improvements. He mentions how we can’t go for 10-mile runs because we need to be ready and available for our clients, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do some 20-yard sprints or sprints on the hotel treadmill. 

Jumping rope in your room is another great way to break a sweat while under time constraints. How I train when I am home and off is certainly going to be different than how I train on the road where resources and time are both limited. Personally, while traveling I always bring several bands and a jump rope.

In addition to various bodyweight exercises and calisthenics, I can shadowbox, perform several exercises with the resistance of the various bands in my kit, and get some cardio work in by jumping rope first thing in the AM. My total workout time may be less than 20 minutes, but it’s getting the blood flowing and maintaining that protective mindset.

operational fitness

Exercise & Operational Fitness

As protectors, it’s easy to get bogged down with the administrative responsibilities that we all have, but we must never forget that at the end of the day protecting people is about being physically capable to handle a variety of critical incidents that can arise, from fires and natural disasters to acts of violence

Forgetting this and allowing ourselves to become soft and grossly overweight is a disservice to ourselves and our clients. If we follow a simple formula of eating less and moving more, we can improve our physical health and in turn our mental health

There is a strong connection between exercise and mental health. When I don’t work out or break a sweat, I feel more tired and less sharp mentally. Conversely, while there are days when I don’t feel like going for a run or training BJJ, I always feel better after completing the task. 

We need to create good habits and for most of us, that may mean starting small. 

Waking up and doing sets of a few basic bodyweight exercises is a good start. 10 minutes in the morning just to get yourself going. If you have downtime throughout the day and can break away and get a micro workout in (pushups, squats, lunges, etc.). 

These micro workouts will help you stay alert and focused as well as add to your overall volume for the day. Some days I can’t get to a gym for a proper workout, so I’ll do 2-3 micro sessions where I’ll knock out anywhere from 100-300 reps of various bodyweight or banded exercises. Taking advantage of white space during your day is key to ensuring productivity.

Diet & Operational Fitness

I have been experimenting with intermittent fasting for several years now and I find it great for protectors who are often too busy to eat. Eating fewer meals generally means taking in fewer calories in a day and for most of us, we could afford to miss a meal here or there. 

It’s also convenient because it means we don’t feel compelled to stop what we are doing every couple of hours and eat. Currently, I generally only eat two meals per day. Lunch and dinner. Some days I may break from this but under normal circumstances, this is how I eat, and it has worked well for me. I know some who only eat one meal per day (OMAD) and have reported great results from this method as well. 

This allows for a prolonged fasting period which has numerous health benefits as well. Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been thinking about trying it, I would encourage everyone to give it a shot and see how you feel after a couple of weeks of adjusting. 

For me, I generally feel better during periods of prolonged fasting and I notice how different foods affect me after breaking my fast. The other issue for many of us is drinking sugary drinks like energy drinks, coffee (special coffees), and soda, all of which are high in calories and can be problematic.

Sugar is a drug, and we should strive to minimize or eliminate our intake of sugar as much as possible.

I too enjoy a sugary coffee drink, but usually feel terrible after consuming it. Black coffee and water are what I recommend when it comes to beverages. If I’m looking to add a little flavor, I’ll pour an electrolyte packet into my water to both change up the taste, and give my body the electrolytes it needs to function at the highest levels.

There are many “diets” and they all work when followed religiously. I’m not suggesting that you pick one and try it on. What I am suggesting is a lifestyle change where you make small changes to turn your health around and improve your overall capability. 

Eating less and moving more is a simple start. Choosing water over soda or your favorite sugar-filled beverage is another. Changes that you can implement today and that are small enough that you won’t miss your old habits. Changes that you can maintain as consistency is the key to anything. The best diet followed for two weeks isn’t going to outweigh the benefits of making several smaller changes that last a lifetime.

As a protector, you owe it to yourself and your clients to maintain a higher standard of physical preparedness. 

Your job requires that you be capable of handling a myriad of unlikely scenarios, all of which require you to be physically capable. Prioritize your own physical preparedness and the benefits will speak for themselves. Strive for improvement every day. Small efforts added up over time make a significant overall difference. 

You are either an asset or a liability, choose wisely and let your actions back up your words.

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