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As the tactical strength and conditioning disciplines expand, coaches are challenged with many obstacles when starting a program. Typical obstacles within the community involve programming variations due to the wide range of ages, personalities, injuries, and needs of athletes along with the physical capabilities of a facility. In this article, we will cover:
In strength and conditioning research, it has been well documented that a football player needs to have enough size to play their position, a high level of power output, the ability to sustain a high level of sprinting capabilities, and the ability to be agile relative to position. However, on the other end of the spectrum, marathon runners need high aerobic capacity, sustained aerobic power over long durations, and high levels of cardiovascular endurance. Athletes on either side of this wide spectrum are masters of very specific sets of skills/physiological components that complement each other. However, the tactical athlete cannot afford to be a master of one, he or she must be a “jack of all trades” due to the variable nature of the work environment.
Unlike sport athletes, the tactical athlete has no offseason. This factor complicates programming for their development. After months of research, reading, listening to lectures, and talking to other coaches in the profession--I was able to let go of my old habits in programming and focus on training seven different qualities constructed together in a manner that produces results. Each quality will be paired with other complementing qualities in a daily undulating model that can produce results in the constant “in-season’ of the tactical athlete.
Tactical athletes traditionally will need speed to move from cover to cover or run down an enemy operator quickly. Parameters around speed development traditionally revolve around a 1:12-13 work to rest ratio. However, while this long rest duration can cause boredom in a session, it can be used to work on other factors like mobility. In an ideal world, we want to see 8-12 sets with 8-10 seconds at max intensity followed by 1 minute and 15 seconds -1 minute and 30 second rest.
For example, in the past I have used sprints or sled work below 20% of the athlete’s body weight. If form is compromised, then revert back to building up running mechanics and coordination before increasing speed and load. Note: some tactical athletes may get bored during the rest period so now is a great time to sneak in some mobility work if needed. Generally when doing something like sprints, I try to compliment the movement with an area that will not hinder performance. In this case, the T-Spine would be a great plate to start.
The need to produce maximal outputs of force is a major component for the tactical setting. Traditionally this can be seen as lifting a friendly counterpart over a high wall, throwing a punch in close quarters combat, or even breaching a door in a combative scenario. This quality can be enhanced through plyometric, ballistic, contrast/complex set or Olympic-based movement. Intensities range from 70-90% of 1 RM depending on the movement, and repetitions range from 1-5 reps.
For example, I have used plyometrics, ballistics, Olympic movements, medicine balls, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even trap bar variations to enhance this specific quality. Please note that if mobility is not present or established for the Olympic movements, then revert to regressions if need be.
Having a general strength base is a needed quality to not only perform, but to become durable and prevent injury. Strength helps enhance all the other qualities by increasing force outputs--developing more resilient tissue in the muscles, and increasing tendon/ligament durability. For programming purposes, I prefer to stay between 3-10 repetitions with intensity ranging from 7-9 RPE/ 70-90% of a 1 rep max for 3-10 repetitions.
For example, I used strength circuits like the one below along with a mobility, core or posterior chain accessory in the third section (A3.):
This quality is needed to sustain certain levels of physical activity for longer periods of time where strength is needed to complete an objective or task at hand. For programming purposes, I prefer to stay between 3-10 repetitions with intensity ranging from 7-9 RPE/ 60-75% of a 1 rep max for 8-12 repetitions, or any heavier based conditioning that takes greater than 30 seconds.
For example, I used strength endurance circuits like the one below along with a mobility, core or posterior chain accessory in the third section (A3.):
If you cannot recover, you cannot perform when needed. Having a wide aerobic base allows us to enhance the performance of the tactical athlete for the future. While aerobic capacity is important for performance in the field, it is also beneficial in scenarios such as rucking, fighting a massive wild life fire for hours on end, and recovering to do either of the pervious scenarios again with little recovery in a micro-cycle. For programming, I prefer to utilize metabolic conditioning, AMRAPS, and specific timed intervals on a 1:1 work to rest ratio at moderate intensities.
The ability to engage in highly intense activities within multiple spans of time can make or break the success of a mission. Commonly, this quality is seen as dragging a wounded solider or injured person out of a dangerous environment, or running at high intensity for durations longer that 30 seconds in the field. We can build this quality in multiple ways. The first is pushing the anaerobic threshold through activities that involve high cardiac output around a 2-3:1 work to rest ratio. The second is to utilize resistance training between 50-80% 1RM/5-8 RPE at reps ranging from 8-20 with 30-60 seconds of rest in between. Lastly, the we can utilize more intensive metabolic conditioning such as rounds for time, circuit training, or supersets at higher rep ranges to complete this goal.Example: 30 seconds on/15 seconds off x 6 time through this circuit below:
Just like a football player feels fatigued or beat up after a game, our athletes experience the same thing on the job. The need to implement prehab/rehab related exercises should be mandatory within an organization. Recovery workouts can help bring the athlete back into a parasympathetic state and bring nutrients/blood flow back to areas of need to promote recovery as well.
Examples: Normatec boots, Ex-Wife roller, foam rolling, belly breathing, mobility work, etc.
Traditionally in a macrocycle we are able to build qualities that are enhanced in different training blocks that progress the athlete all at once. However, with the tactical population, we often do not have the same structure or time. Tackling this problem caused many headaches. I eventually found research on daily undulating periodization that concentrates stimuli on a specific day. If the programming can be adjusted and concentrated within a micro-cycle, we can enhance several qualities at once. Remember, our goal is not to make better lifters or sprinters; our goal is to develop a tactical athlete capable of being a “jack of all trades.” Also, remember that if certain individuals need specific work, we must alter our concentration on certain stimuli/adaptations, while also maintaining the other qualities. However, if the training stimulus is not varied, plateaus in training progress are inevitable. Each of the training qualities in the template below is an example of a training block within a session of training. These qualities are not absolute and can be combined, adjusted and modified, if need be.
Examples per needs of the Tactical Athlete:
You’ll notice in Template 1 that Days 1 & 2 are concentrated with the heavier loading relative to Days 3 & 4. The only difference is that Day 3 will build on the strength endurance quality with higher volume and lower intensity, while the aerobic capacity stimulus is more intensive than that of Day 4 which can also serve as a recovery day if needed. Template 1’s overall objective is to increase muscle size, decrease body fat percentage, and build a base to tolerate higher volumes for phases to come.
Template 2 is for the tactical athlete that needs increased development with Days 1 & 2 having heavier relative loading and being more intensive than that of Days 3, 4, & 5. Day 3 will serve as a full rest day to recover and adapt from the stress from Days 1 & 2. The difference between Day 4 and 5 is that we will have Day 4 be more intensive relative to day 5, which is why the anaerobic capacity is placed there as opposed to Day 5. The aerobic capacity from Day 5 can serve as recovery, circuit training, or long slow distance work. Rehab can be substituted in if needed.
Template 3 is simply how most tactical programs should be structured once individuals need more general training, and is more efficient if scheduling issues are present. Building on the two previous templates, Template 3 is great because it can be adjusted in so many ways if changes arise. Day 1 and Day 4 serve as the most intensive due to their power & strength adaptations that are generated. Day 2 & Day 5 are still building a base of strength endurance and will be augmented by building anaerobic capacity as well. Day 3 and Day 5 will serve as lower intensity days with higher volume. Please note for more advanced individuals’ day 3 will either be more or less intensive than day 6 if needed based on response to the stress and rest days scheduled in.
While this article is focused more on programming, I would like to point out that none of this programming works without the trust of the individuals in the tactical setting who risk their lives to protect and serve us as citizens of this great nation. Get to know them and talk with them-- not at them. Hopefully, this article will help serve as the building blocks for multiple TSAC programs to come as the decade progresses. If any coaches who read this want to connect, talk programming, or culture building, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Biagioli, B. (2015). Advanced Concepts of Strength and Conditioning
Bondarchuk, A. (2007). Transfer of Training in Sports
Dietz, C. Petereson, B. (2012). Triphasic Training: A Systematic Approach to Elite Speed and Explosive Strength Performance
Dietz, C. Van Dyke, M. (2016). Triphasic Training Tactical Manual
Verkoshansky, Y. (2003). Supertraining
Zatsiorsky, V. Kraemer, W. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training
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