They Lead

Evolution Of The Tactical Athlete: A Soldier In The Making

DeWayne Scott
"If we don't begin to weave physical activity and improved physical fitness back into the fabric of our culture, we do it at our own peril." - Dr. Daniel Bornstein

Fitness, health, and national security are three things that Dr. Daniel Bornstein knows all too well. Despite never serving in the United States military, Dr. Bornstein has continued to serve his nation in many other ways. In all, Bornstein has over 20 years of combined experience as a researcher, professor, and industry leader.  

The foundation of Dr. Bornstein’s interest in fitness began while he was attending Hobart College, and it was there that he served as the athletic trainer for the football and lacrosse teams. Before, during, and after college, Dr. Bornstein served 8 years as a volunteer and on-call firefighter. As a firefighter, Dr. Bornstein came to fully understand the demands of a “tactical athlete,” a term often used to describe military personnel and first responders. 

“As a firefighter I got my first taste of the importance of being ‘fit for duty,’ having to be physically and mentally fit enough to try and ensure my own safety and that of my fellow firefighters when dealing with hazardous situations, such as severe automobile crashes and entering burning buildings.” Dr. Bornstein said. 

Dr. Bornstein’s fitness career began in Tucson, Ariz., where he worked as a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor at a health spa. Dr. Bornstein then went on to create his own company called the Proactive Performance Institute, where he developed a team of subject matter experts across different domains of human performance, using what is now often called a  “high-performance model” as its blueprint for success. After 10 years of running his own performance company, Dr. Bornstein went back to school to obtain his Ph.D. in exercise science at the University of South Carolina, shifting his attention from individual-level human performance to population-level physical activity and health. 

Upon graduating from the University of South Carolina, Dr. Bornstein joined the faculty in the Department of Health and Human Performance at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.  Here, Dr. Bornstein noticed a national stumbling block while studying the relationship between physical activity, military readiness, and subsequently, national security. He teamed up with the American Heart Association and the U.S. Army Public Health Center to conduct research centered around the challenges facing the U.S. Armed Forces in finding young American who qualify for the military and who can successfully complete initial military training, also known as boot camp. 

"What the results from that initial study showed was that physical inactivity and low physical fitness pose a very serious and immediate threat to our national security.” 

In addition to his research and recognition of the problems facing the military, Dr. Bornstein led development and launch of the first-ever undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in tactical strength and conditioning coaching at The Citadel in an effort to help solve the problems. Through his continued research and teaching Dr. Bornstein became recognized as one of the preeminent leaders in the field and was then asked to lead the development of the Military Settings Sector for the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, a comprehensive set of policies, programs, and initiatives designed to increase physical activity in all segments of the population. 

The health crisis isn’t a problem that is solely on the government to solve however and Dr. Bornstein urges non-profit and elite sports organizations to promote more physical activity in addition to healthy nutrition. In turn, this effort can help encourage a more healthy lifestyle in the communities and populations that the organizations serve. As the Chair of the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan’s Military Settings Sector, Dr. Bornstein continues to research and develop ways to solve the everlasting puzzle that plagues this nation, including issues of obesity, lack of physical activity, and musculoskeletal injuries, all of which lead to shortfalls in soldier readiness.

Photo credits: Courtesy of The Citadel’s Website, Dr. Dan Bornstein’s Facebook, Physical Activity Alliance’s Twitter