Any discussion about the fittest men and women in the world has to include "tactical athletes" at some point. From special operations warriors to SWAT officers, these operatives have to maintain elite fitness not as an option, but as a necessity. For them, being out of shape doesn't result in failing to set a PR or bailing on a squat. It could be a matter of life and death—theirs or someone else's.

The training required to be a 24/7-fit tactical athlete is as unique and unpredictable as their duties and schedules, which makes it tough to make any generalizations about how they should train. However, there's no doubt about the types of qualities that make these men and women effective.

8 Weeks To Tactical Fitness

If you're preparing for a career in a tactical field, or just want to train like hell for anything and everything, the field can throw at you, this is your plan.

But make no mistake: This style of training isn’t just for special operators. “We can all can benefit from training in a tactical style,” says Steve Weatherford, NFL player and True Grit athlete. “Balancing strategic strength work, power training, and running intervals has been a game changer for me—literally! It leaves me lean, conditioned, and packing more strength per pound than ever. But just as importantly, it trains the sort of undefinable grit that serves helps our fighting men and women accomplish any grueling and unpredictable physical task. Who doesn’t want that?”

If you're preparing for a career in a tactical field, are a soldier or officer in need of a plan, or just want to train like hell for anything and everything the field can throw at you, this is your plan. This is the gritty world of tactical fitness.

The Operative Word

Depending on the specific needs of his or her job, individual demands for any tactical athlete will vary. There are a few principles that are universally present, however. An effective training program for any tactical operator needs to focus on:

  • Injury prevention
  • Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning
  • Strength
  • Power

Injury prevention tops the list of priorities because an injured operator is a liability to themselves and their team, plain and simple.

8 Weeks To Tactical Fitness

Strength and power are important for any type of combat athlete.

Aerobic conditioning is also paramount, for several reasons. First and foremost, aerobic conditioning is vital to the job itself. Tactical operators need conditioning that goes beyond the anaerobic system. Whether it's chasing a suspect, running up 15 flights of stairs to a fellow officer calling for help, or wrestling with someone who refuses to go quietly, eventually the aerobic system plays a significant part.

In addition, many organizations still measure aerobic capacity in some form as a job requirement. Anaerobic training comes into play at those times, when shorter bursts of conditioning are necessary.

Strength and power are also important for any type of combat athlete. When overcoming resistance from hostile opposition, if all other things are equal, the stronger and more explosive person will win. In addition to raw power, there are also more specific strength demands for the tactical athlete, such as grip and neck strength.

How to have it all

Even with all the varying qualities a tactical athlete needs, having an effective program isn't enough. The program also needs to be an efficient one that doesn't present needlessly complicated daily demands. For that reason, the program I've presented below can be arranged a couple of different ways.

Perform the warm-up before each workout, followed by strength training. As for the conditioning workouts, you can perform them either directly after the strength training or as independent workouts. The former option will help you learn to keep going when your muscles want to stop. The latter will allow more intensity.

8 Weeks To Tactical Fitness

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You'll notice a strong emphasis on unilateral movements to develop balance and prevent injury. The strength-training portion is designed to build strength and explosiveness, and is broken into a higher-volume initial phase to develop a strong base, followed by a higher-intensity phase focused on raw strength and power.

The burning sensation you'll soon feel in your forearms is a sign that you're also developing grip strength. For the tactical athlete, grip strength is immensely important, whether for controlling an unruly suspect, climbing, or weapon retention. Using thick grips is a great way to develop hand strength, so expect to use them in a range of lifts.

The conditioning portion of this program follows a similar pattern to the strength training. The first four weeks are designed to develop a strong aerobic base, followed by a higher-intensity block with a higher focus on anaerobic development.

Two Months to Tactical Strength

Warm-up

Warm-Up
1
Kneeling Hip Flexor
1 set, 20 sec. (each side)
Pushups
1 set, 20 reps
Band Pull Apart
1 set, 20 reps
Knee Across The Body
1 set, 15 sec. (per leg)
Squat Isometric Hold
1 set, 10 reps
Lower Back-SMR
1 set, 1 min.

Strength training

Month 1, Week 1

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Hang Clean
3 sets, 6 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Ab Roller
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Split Squats
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Standing Alternating Dumbbell Press
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Dumbbell Bench Press
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
3 sets, 10 reps
Hanging Leg Raise
3 sets, 15 reps
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Barbell Row
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Circuit
Face Pull
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Curl
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Weighted Crunches
3 sets, 25 reps (rest 30 sec.)

Month 1, Week 2

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Hang Clean
4 sets, 4 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
4 sets, 6 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Ab Roller
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Split Squats
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
4 sets, 6 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Standing Alternating Dumbbell Press
4 sets, 6 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Dumbbell Bench Press
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
4 sets, 8 reps
Hanging Leg Raise
3 sets, 15 reps
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
4 sets, 6 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Circuit
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Curl
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Weighted Crunches
4 sets, 25 reps (rest 30 sec.)

Month 1, Week 3

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Hang Clean
4 sets, 6 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Ab Roller
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Split Squats
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Standing Alternating Dumbbell Press
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Dumbbell Bench Press
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
4 sets, 10-12 reps
Hanging Leg Raise
3 sets, 15 reps
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Circuit
Face Pull
4 sets, 20 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
4 sets, 20 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Curl
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Weighted Crunches
4 sets, 30 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Month 1, Week 4

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Hang Clean
3 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Ab Roller
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Split Squats
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Standing Alternating Dumbbell Press
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Dumbbell Bench Press
2 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
2 sets, 10 reps
Hanging Leg Raise
2 sets, 15 reps
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Barbell Row
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Circuit
Face Pull
4 sets, 20 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Curl
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Weighted Crunches
2 sets, 25 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Month 2, Week 1

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Hang Clean
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
3 sets, 6-8 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Lunge
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Pallof Press
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Push Press
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Incline Dumbbell Press
3 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
3 sets, 10-12 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spell Caster
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row
3 sets, 10-12 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Triset
Face Pull
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spider Curl
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
4
Superset
Ab Roller
3 sets, 15 reps (no rest)
Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise
3 sets, 25 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Month 2, Week 2

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Snatch Pull
4 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
4 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 5 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Lunge
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Pallof Press
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Push Press
4 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
4 sets, 3 rep (rest 90 sec.)
3
Incline Dumbbell Press
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
3 sets, 10-12 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spell Caster
3 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
4 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row
4 sets, 8-10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Triset
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spider Curl
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
4
Superset
Ab Roller
4 sets, 15 reps (no rest)
Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise
4 sets, 25 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Month 2, Week 3

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Snatch Pull
5 sets, 4 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
5 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 8 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Lunge
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Pallof Press
3 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
3 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Push Press
5 sets, 4 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
5 sets, 4 rep (rest 90 sec.)
3
Incline Dumbbell Press
4 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spell Caster
4 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
5 sets, 4 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row
4 sets, 10-12 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Triset
Face Pull
4 sets, 20 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
4 sets, 20 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spider Curl
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
4
Superset
Ab Roller
4 sets, 20 reps (no rest)
Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise
4 sets, 25 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Month 2, Week 4

Day 1: Lower Body
1
Snatch Pull
3 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Front Squat (Bodybuilder)
3 sets, 5 reps (rest 90 sec.)
3
Superset
Romanian Deadlift
2 sets, 8 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Barbell Lunge
4 sets, 15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Triset
Pallof Press
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Chin To Chest Stretch
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Isometric Neck Exercise - Front And Back
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Day 2: Upper Body Push
1
Push Press
3 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
3 sets, 3 rep (rest 90 sec.)
3
Incline Dumbbell Press
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 60 sec.)
4
Superset
EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
2 sets, 10 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spell Caster
2 sets, 12-15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
Day 3: Upper Body Pull
1
Weighted Pull Ups
3 sets, 3 reps (rest 90 sec.)
2
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 60 sec.)
3
Triset
Face Pull
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
Spider Curl
2 sets, 15 reps (rest 30 sec.)
4
Superset
Ab Roller
2 sets, 20 reps (no rest)
Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise
2 sets, 25 reps (rest 60 sec.)

Conditioning

Weeks 1-4 (After strength work or on separate day)

Day 1 

2 miles as fast as you can 

Day 2 

4 intervals of 1/4 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Day 3 

Slow jog 20 min. 

Week 5

Day 1 

4 sprints of 30 sec., rest 2 min. 

Day 2 

4 intervals of 1/4 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Day 3 

2 reps of 1 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Week 6

Day 1 

5 sprints of 30 sec., rest 2 min. 

Day 2 

5 intervals of 1/4 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Day 3 

2 reps of 1 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Week 7

Day 1 

6 sprints of 30 sec., rest 2 min. 

Day 2 

6 intervals of 1/4 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Day 3 

Interval run

2 reps of 1 mile fast, 1/4 mile slow 

Week 8

Day 1 

Slow jog 20 min. 

Day 2:  Slow jog 20 min. 

Day 3: Rest 

Strength and athleticism for any challenge

The end result of this program is a stronger, fitter, grittier athlete or combatant—no matter what type of uniform he or she wears. When you're done, you can repeat the plan again, building on the progress you've made, or you can begin a different program with different goals.

What you pick is up to you, because you'll be—and feel—ready for anything after this!

About the Author

Christopher Smith, CSCS

Christopher Smith, CSCS

Chris Smith is a strength coach from New York City and the founder of Train Better Fitness.

View all articles by this author