If you've ever trained a tactical athlete, you know how challenging program design can be. Many of these challenges may differ in the quality of fitness that is called upon when a tactical athlete is operating, so there are certainly several considerations a strength and conditioning professional should consider when designing a program for a tactical athlete. 

To keep things simple, I'm going to boil down the program design for the tactical athlete into five main categories that will lay the foundation for the needs of tactical athletes. Of course, individualization will always provide the ultimate roadmap, so know that this article is intended to serve as a resource for tactical programming. How you tailor each of these categories to the individual is arguably the most important step.

Before delving into the specific nuances of this programming, it's important to address a few key areas related to stress management, central fatigue, and managing multiple demands (in and outside of the training session) within a given week. While there is more supported research now to point to the fact that central fatigue is less of an issue, peripheral fatigue is still very real, and separating specific modalities is still prudent. 

RECENT: Conjugate for the Everyday Athlete

It's also important to consider that a tactical athlete has quite different stress levels than the individuals they've used for many studies on central fatigue. I incurred the most drastic losses in lean tissue and strength when I was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom. These days, more and more fitness professionals are relying on research for making their programming decisions, and while this isn't a bad thing, it is not the end-all-be-all. Relying on your 'in the trenches' knowledge is of the utmost importance. For example, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I have been overtrained at various times. After returning home from my deployment, I had extensive bloodwork, saliva, and urine tests done, all to reveal severe adrenal fatigue. To quote my functional medical doctor, "I don't even know how you're getting out of bed in the morning." 

Now, that was certainly an extreme case. Still, it's important to remember that every individual is fighting their own battle regardless of what they do for a living. So it's impossible to know just how resilient someone is behind the scenes when it comes to handling stress (this is why additional strategies like HRV are important to consider.) With that said, using strategies to separate higher threshold modalities has always worked; this is something Louie Simmons talked about ad nauseum and why Max Effort and Dynamic Effort training sessions are separated by 72 hours. Moreover, using a concurrent approach allows us to strategically and continuously improve recoverability via an improved aerobic function, which we know has a cascade of benefits, while also providing a bridge between higher-intensity training sessions.

Now that we have that out of the way, onto the good stuff!

Conjugate x Conditioning Tactical Athlete Programming

When designing any training program, all listed categories are important, but knowing why each is important will be instrumental in viewing your programming through an objective lens. So, what I highlight is important for the tactical athlete. Still, one could argue that these categories can span multiple populations (i.e., they are just as important for the everyday athletes I work with.) The true differences lie in the delivery (e.g., what methods will be used to advance the tactical athletes' goals and needs)—more on that in the coming points. 

#1 Peak Sustainability

My college strength coach always used to say, "It's not the one gust of wind that breaks the branch on the tree–it's the years of wind. Eventually, there is a breaking point."

He couldn't be more right, and sustainability is one of the biggest missing pieces in training programs. The reality is that individuals do NOT have to feel broken or rundown to make great progress, and this couldn't be more relevant for the tactical athlete that needs to be their best, at a moment's notice, 365 days a year. Instead of chasing metrics or their best physique, individuals should be chasing peak sustainability—the best results one can sustain over a longer period of time. 

Here's a likely scenario a tactical athlete could face. Stay with me for a second; this will make more sense in a moment:

  • Chase an individual for 400 meters.
  • Wrestle that individual to the ground while trying to put handcuffs on that individual. That individual also outweighs them by 25 pounds.

All anaerobic, right? Wrong. 

Highly anaerobic, yes, but the ability to use your anaerobic ability will come from an intact aerobic system (more on this later.)

My point is that focusing on one quality of fitness (in this case, anaerobic performance) or chasing one goal will likely leave holes in your game. That individual you're chasing (or insert a long list of much worse and life-threatening situations that a tactical athlete may face) isn't going to wait. 

Tactical athletes need to be at their best all the time. 

And their best equates to what they can realistically sustain year-round (we'll talk more about how to do this in point #4.)

#2 Stress Management 

The design of any program should consider the stress response (programming itself is a stressor, but outside of the training setting stressors is incredibly important and must be considered.)

We manage stress by:

  • Ensuring proper recovery between high-intensity training sessions. For example, anaerobic power work should be separated by a minimum of 72 hours to recover the peripheral nervous system.
  • Knowing when to drive the sympathetic nervous system vs. the parasympathetic nervous system and using strategies that facilitate both.
  • Using low-skill methods to drive high-skill methods. It'll will act as a bridge between higher-demand training sessions.
  • Building recoverability through aerobic function. More aerobic fitness equates to an enhanced ability to recover both in and outside the training session and improved tolerance to stress.

#3 Aerobic Conditioning

Methods to develop both aerobic and anaerobic systems will be part of the tactical athletes' program to develop both aerobic and anaerobic systems. However, utilizing the former is akin to building the base of the tactical athletes' fitness. 

Caveat: If a tactical athlete has a poor aerobic base, I will forgo any anaerobic work mentioned in point #5. 

Aerobic fitness means:

  • If you have better aerobic fitness, your ability to bring more oxygen and nutrients to skeletal muscle will be higher. That happens because we develop more capillaries, like having more roads to reach more surface area.
  • Recovery and tissue repair require oxygen and nutrients to fuel that process. Someone with more roads can cover more ground faster and improve muscle function.
  • By having more capillaries or "roads," there is a greater ability for waste products, such as lactate, to leave muscle and not impair the recovery process. The whole goal is better delivery and better clearance.
  • More aerobic fitness also means more mitochondria and, therefore, more factories to process the oxygen to generate more energy for repair.
  • The tactical athlete will have a higher chance of success in the aforementioned scenario of chasing an individual 400 meters than grappling with them. Their ability to replenish ATP will be faster with a better aerobic system.
  • The three primary methods I use in programming are: Cardiac Output Method, Strongman Style Conditioning, and Mixed Modality Conditioning.

#4 A Concurrent Approach

It's no mystery that having a requisite level of strength is key for the tactical athlete, but let's discuss what this means and how it's done. First, don't forget point #3. A tactical athlete with sound aerobic conditioning will be better suited to call upon their strength.

The three primary methods I use in my programming are:

  • Repeated Effort Method: An incredible method of improving muscular imbalance and hypertrophy, and providing rehabilitative or prehabilitative work to ensure we're constantly improving symmetry. This work is typically done through single-joint exercises and isolation work to target musculature limitations, but it is not limited to solely single-joint exercises. ⁣
  • Dynamic Effort (DE) Method: The DE Method works the velocity portion of the force-velocity curve and is a high-intensity method used to build speed-strength, improve rate of force development (RFD), and add novelty to strength programming. The goal is to use non-maximal loads with the highest attainable velocity. The primary objective is to improve RFD and increasee the corridor of recruited and trained motor units (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). 
  • Maximal Effort (ME) Method: The ME Method is considered the superior method of improving intramuscular and intermuscular coordination; the muscles and CNS adapt only to the load placed upon them, which brings forth the greatest strength gains (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). The adaptations occur in both intermuscular and intramuscular coordination—in essence, improving both the ability of muscles to fire in synchronicity with one another and motor patterns. The ME Method brings forth the greatest gains in maximal strength with the most amount of motor units activated.
  • Submaximal Effort (SE) Method: The SE Method differs from the ME Method in the number of repetitions executed, not necessarily the level of effort. While the ME Method results in the highest levels of motor-unit recruitment, the SE Method still results in high levels of motor-unit recruitment that correspond with the size principle. Recruitment order is determined by the load placed upon the body; as the relative load increases across multiple repetitions, large motor units will be recruited (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006).⁣

These methods utilized on alternate days with aerobic conditioning work will give you a huge bang for your buck and ensure no stone is left unturned regarding strength development. 

#5 Anaerobic Conditioning

Anaerobic conditioning is important, but it's important to know large improvements in anaerobic performance are limited and largely based on genetics. Of course, the conversion of Type 1 to Type 2 muscle fiber types is possible, but to what degree is almost impossible to quantify without invasive muscle biopsies. Even still, anaerobic work fits well into the training template of a tactical athlete near the end of a strength session. 

It's also important to say again that if an individual has poor aerobic fitness, they should strive to make aerobic development a key point in their training plan. Moreover, during times of high stress, I'd likely forgo anaerobic work as well. As you can tell, anaerobic work may make appearances in a tactical program, but this would NOT occur on a yearly basis. My best practices have been during 8-week schedules (i.e., eight weeks on and eight weeks off). 

Here are the two main methods I use for anaerobic work:

  • ATP-PC Power Work: Power of the phosphagen system with sets lasting between 7-10 seconds followed by 15-20 times the amount of work to rest. 
  • ATP-PC Capacity Work: Capacity of the phosphagen system with sets lasting between 10-15 seconds followed by 5-10 times the amount of work to rest. 

Note: If I'm working with an individual one-on-one, I may opt for a method that targets the Glycolytic system, but for context, these are the TWO main anaerobic conditioning methods used in my Conjugate X Conditioning Tactical Program.


Now that we have reviewed all the nuts and bolts and what makes a tactical program unique and different from most other programs, let us unpack how to put this puzzle together. 

Instead of sample programming, I've organized four templates for you. This allows you to easily plug in your own variations using the structure provided. It will also ensure proper nervous system recovery and allow you to optimally train multiple qualities of fitness without experiencing the interference effect. 

Phase #1
4 Weeks

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
Submax Effort LowerStrongman EnduranceSubmax Effort UpperCardiac Output MethodDynamic Effort LowerDynamic Effort UpperCardiac Output Method
Repeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortUpper Biased Mixed Modality ConditioningPrehab Work

Phase #2
4 Weeks

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
Submax Effort LowerStrongman EnduranceSubmax Effort UpperCardiac Output MethodDynamic Effort LowerDynamic Effort UpperCardiac Output Method
Repeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortUpper Biased Mixed Modality Conditioning
ATP-PC Power WorkUpper Sled FinisherATP-PC Power Work

Phase #3
4 Weeks

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
Submax Effort LowerMixed Modality ConditioningSubmax Effort UpperCardiac Output MethodDynamic Effort LowerDynamic Effort UpperCardiac Output Method
Repeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortRepeated EffortPrehab Work
ATP-PC Capacity WorkUpper Sled FinisherATP-PC Capacity Work

Phase #4
4 Weeks

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
Max Effort LowerMixed Modality ConditioningMax Effort UpperCardiac Output MethodDynamic Effort LowerDynamic Effort UpperCardiac Output Method
Repeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortPrehab WorkRepeated EffortRepeated EffortPrehab Work
Lower Sled FinisherUpper Sled Finisher


A well-rounded tactical athlete must possess a spectrum of fitness qualities at all times. Since we're not trying to peak tactical athletes like a powerlifter, running a concurrent training style makes sense. Just remember, stress management is the base layer of our programming, and individualization is still required. No two tactical athletes are the same. Your coaching and fine-tuning of the program will bring about the best results possible. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps bring clarity to your tactical athlete programming!

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Jason has been involved with the fitness industry for close to 17 years working with individuals and coaches. He is the owner of Jason Brown Coaching specializing in working with 35+ guys as well as providing education for strength and conditioning coaches to improve their programming. He has a Master's of Science degree in Exercise Science, is a CSCS, and is a Certified Special Strengths Coach through Westside Barbell.

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