Conjugate X Conditioning Tactical

Oct 03, 2022

Being a tactical athlete presents a number of challenges with regard to program design. 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 a number of considerations a strength & 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 help 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 to use for tactical programming and 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 as it relates 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 in my humble opinion.

It’s also important to consider that a tactical athlete has stress levels that are quite different than the individuals they’ve used for many studies on central fatigue. I myself incurred the most drastic losses in lean tissue & strength when I was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom. These days it seems more and more fitness professionals are relying on research for making their programming decisions and while this certainly isn’t a bad thing, it is not the end-all-be-all, and 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 in life. 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, but it’s important to remember that every individual, regardless of what they do for a living is fighting their own battle meaning 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 & dynamic effort training sessions are separated by 72 hours) and is something that remains a mainstay in my programming regardless of what any study may say. Moreover, using a concurrent approach allows us to strategically and continuously improve recoverability via an improved aerobic function which we know as a cascade of benefits while also providing a bridge between higher-intensity training sessions - double win.

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

When designing any training program all of the listed categories are important, but knowing ‘why’ each of these categories is important will be instrumental in being able to view your programming through an objective lens. So, what I’m going to highlight is certainly important for the tactical athlete, but one could make the argument that these categories can span multiple populations (they are just as important for the everyday athletes I work with.) The true differences though lie in the delivery ie. what methods will be used to advance the tactical athletes' goals & 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 I see in training programs. The reality is that individuals do NOT have to feel broken or rundown to make great progress and this couldn’t 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 result 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 second:

  • 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 lbs.

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 and 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 take 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 for recovery of the peripheral nervous system.
  • Knowing when to drive the sympathetic nervous system vs. the parasympathetic nervous and using strategies that facilitate both.
  • Using low-skill methods to drive high-skill methods - this 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 of the training session (more on this in the coming slides) and improved tolerance to stress.

#3 Aerobic Conditioning

Methods to develop both aerobic & anaerobic systems will be part of the tactical athletes' program, but 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’d forgo any anaerobic work that is mentioned in point #5). Aerobic fitness means:

  • If you have better aerobic fitness your ability to bring more oxygen and nutrients to skeletal muscle (we develop more capillaries which are like having more roads to reach more surface area) will be higher.
  • Recovery and repair need oxygen and nutrients to fuel that process. Someone who has more roads can cover more ground faster and improve the whole muscle function.
  • By having more capillaries “roads” there is a higher 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 well as 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 Using A Concurrent Approach

It’s no mystery that having a requisite level of strength is key for the tactical athlete, but let's discuss further what this means and how it’s done. Also, keep in mind point #3 and having great aerobic fitness ensures that the tactical athlete will be able to use their strength when it’s called upon, especially if using their strength comes after a highly anaerobic event ie. sprint 400 meters and then tackle and handcuff an individual that outweighs you by 25 lbs like I mentioned early.

The three primary methods I use in my programming are:

  • Repeated Effort Method: An incredible method of improving muscular imbalance and muscular hypertrophy and providing rehabilitative or prehabilitative work to ensure you’re constantly improving symmetry. This work is typically done through single-joint exercises and isolation work to target musculature limitations but is not limited to solely single-joint exercises. ⁣
  • Dynamic Effort 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 RFD, and add novelty to strength programming. This method of using non-maximal loads with the highest attainable velocity. The primary objective is to improve RFD and increase the corridor of recruited and trained motor units (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). 
  • Maximal Effort Method: The ME method is considered the superior method of improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination; the muscles and CNS adapt only to the load placed upon them, and this method brings forth the greatest strength gains (Zatsiorsky and 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 (Zatsiorsky 2006) and has the highest-intensity strength measure (maximum load/resistance for one repetition) but the lowest-volume bilateral training measure (intensity and volume should not intersect with this method) (Simmons 2004).
  • Submaximal Effort Method: The submaximal effort 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 submaximal effort 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 and Kraemer 2006).⁣

These methods utilized on alternate days as your aerobic conditioning work will give you a huge bang for the buck and ensure no stone is left unturned with regards to 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’d be better served 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 to run an 8-week schedule (8 weeks on/8 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 15-20x amount of work to rest.
  • ATP-PC Capacity Work: Capacity of the phosphagen system with sets lasting between 10-15 seconds followed by 5-10x amount of work to rest.

Note: If I’m working with an individual 1:1 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’ve reviewed all of the nuts & bolts and what makes a tactical program both unique and different than that of someone training for a powerlifting meet, let's unpack how to put this puzzle together. Instead of just giving you sample programming, I’m going to organize 4 templates for you. This will allow you to easily plug in your own variations using the structure provided. This 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 1: Submaximal Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 2: Strongman Endurance
Day 3: Submaximal Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 4: Cardiac Output Method
Day 5: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 6: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & Mixed Modality Conditioning
Dat 7: Cardiac Output Method

Phase #2 4 Weeks

Day 1: Submaximal Effort & ATP-PC Power Work
Day 2: Strongman Endurance
Day 3: Submaximal Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 4: Cardiac Output Method
Day 5: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & ATP-PC Power Work
Day 6: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & Mixed Modality Conditioning
Dat 7: Cardiac Output Method

Phase #3 4 Weeks

Day 1: Submaximal Effort & ATP-PC Capacity Work
Day 2: Mixed Modality Conditioning
Day 3: Submaximal Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 4: Tempo Intervals
Day 5: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & ATP-PC Capacity Work
Day 6: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Dat 7: Cardiac Output Method

Phase #4 4 Weeks

Day 1: Maximal Effort Method & Repeated Effort Method
Day 2: Mixed Modality Conditioning
Day 3: Maximal Effort & Repeated Effort Method
Day 4: Tempo Intervals
Day 5: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort, Repeated Effort
Day 6: Explosive Strength, Dynamic Effort, Repeated Effort
Dat 7: Cardiac Output Method

**To view a sample week of programming check out my CXC Tactical Program here



A well-rounded tactical program will live under the rules that a tactical athlete needs to possess high qualities of differing levels of fitness at all times (remember the peak sustainability principle is key here.) Because the levels of fitness may differ considerably, it makes sense to follow a concurrent style approach to training as the idea of ‘peaking’ is not reasonable for the tactical athlete as they need to be prepared and ready 365 days a year. At the forefront of all programming, stress management is the underpinning of all my programs. What’s been mentioned in this article may or may not apply to you or a client you work with if, but how you customize this approach (or any approach for that matter) to an individual is where the real magic takes place.

Thanks for reading & hope this helps bring clarity to your tactical athlete programming!