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Tactical strength: What if your life depended on it?

It’s one thing to get in shape to look better, to feel better, or to play a sport better. But what if your life or another person’s life depended on your level of strength and conditioning?

An “industrial” athlete does not compete for a pro contract or a seven-figure endorsement deal but rather competes in an arena where bodily harm and sometimes life or death determines the final score.

Military, law enforcement, firefighters, first responder and emergency service personnel define the concept of the industrial athlete. Tactical strength combines the science of applied research and elite training to deliver injury prevention, strength, power, speed and agility to those who require a high level of “operational fitness” for the demands of their profession. The foundation of a tactical strength program is to increase durability and protect against injury.



By the way, this approach should also be the standard protocol for athletic and sports conditioning.

During the past six weeks, I have had the opportunity to work with Grass Valley SWAT to implement a Tactical Strength program at the South Yuba Clubhouse Training Center.




A tactical strength and conditioning (TSC) program isn’t your standard bodybuilding-muscle isolation routine. In this type of program size doesn’t matter, but performance does.

Durability is king in the world of the industrial athlete – especially for those athletes 35 and older. This means joint mobility, stability and muscle flexibility is paramount. Unless a joint is able to move freely through a full range of motion, the ligaments and tendons and even the joint capsule can end up taking extra abuse as it tries to control the force of a moving body.

Every tissue has a structural limit and once damaged it never fully returns to normal. When connective tissue and muscle is damaged, it becomes scarred, weaker, less flexible more likely to be injured again.

Now, as important as all this sounds, it is not easy to get these athletes, or any athlete for that matter, to focus on mobility and flexibility drills. The problem is that when you see a guy snatching a 32 kilogram Kettlebell for multiple repetitions or deadlifting 400 pounds it looks cool. It feels cool. And it’s just plain fun.

Rolling around on a foam roller, however, is not something most guys want to do on the main floor of the gym at 5:30 p.m. So mobilize joints in the privacy of your own home if you are uncomfortable with it. But make sure you do it.

Next comes strength – full body functional strength. Things like explosive lung-searing kettlebell swings, Turkish get-ups, deadlifts, barbell complexes, box jumps, weighted pull-ups and battling rope tabatas are just a few of the functional drills that make up a good TSC program.

The goal is to load big full body movements to develop outstanding strength and cardiovascular work capacity. That means no muscle isolation exercises like bicep curls or tricep extensions.

So how strong can this type of training make an athlete? The tactical strength challenge is a good measure and is based on the special forces training of the former Soviet Union. The intention of the tactical strength challenge is to test the skills of the industrial athlete in several functional movement patterns required for a high level of “operational fitness.”

The tactical strength challenge consists of three drills: A power lifting deadlift, pull-ups for maximum repetitions, and kettlebell snatches for maximum repetitions in a 5-minute time period. A strong male athlete under 50 years of age, at 175 pounds of body weight would deadlift 435-500 pounds, complete 25-30 pull-ups, and snatch a 24-28 kilogram kettlebell between 110-135 times. A strong female athlete at 135 pounds of body weight would deadlift 225-300 pounds, complete 12-20 pull-ups and do 100-125 snatches with a 12-16 kilogram Kettlebell.

Remember, for the kettlebell snatch that’s more than one snatch every 3 seconds for five minutes straight. Even if you’re strong, you better have some serious cardiovascular work capacity and mental toughness to complete the snatch test.

If you have a good strength base, then try the tactical strength challenge once every 30 days and see how you rate. Start slow and build up. You’ll discover a whole new realm of strength and conditioning.

Mike Carville is a personal trainer and co-owner of South Yuba Club in Nevada City and Monster Gym in Grass Valley.


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