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Tactical training is a buzzword that’s loosely thrown around on the internet these days, for anything that challenges you, or forces you to get out of your comfort zone. Picture doing a set of heavy squats at 80% of your 1RM and then following it up with 20-burpees. Then without resting, you hop straight into a set of overhead presses. I am sure you get the gist.
The question is, do these type of training programs yield any measurable results? If you ask most Instagram influencers and trainers, they won’t have a definitive answer. That’s because they don’t know. There are too many variables that come into play for anyone to be able to find an answer to this.
Tactical Barbell though is one of the few programs aims to answer this question. It’s the most, well-thought out tactical training program that I’ve seen in a long time. No wonder that it’s wildly popular amongst elite, strength training athletes and people who seek military-level fitness. But there are also a lot of fitness buffs (like me) who’d like to know how effective it is.
Unfortunately, there’s very little discussion about it.
That’s what this blog post aims to address. I have reviewed the Tactical Barbell Training programs and e-books. This is my experience and results with it. As always, I have tried to link it to relevant sources and citations where possible. I hope that this helps you get a fair idea of how the program works and whether or not, it’s worth your time and money.
What Is the Tactical Barbell Program?
The Tactical Barbell Program is a complete strength training program designed to club the two most important aspects of fitness that are often considered to be mutually exclusive. That’s strength and conditioning.
Most strength training programs place an additional emphasis on strength development, but fail to address physical conditioning. Even if they do, it’s a cookie cutter approach. Similarly, if you are training for conditioning, which means anaerobic strength, endurance and capacity, you will discover that it does little to make you stronger.
Tactical Barbell aims to do both. It’s based on a training principle that originated in the Eastern Bloc, called Waved Periodization. What most of us follow traditionally is Linear Progression. Waved Periodization, also called undulating periodization, is a training method that manipulates training variables such as weights, intensity, exercises, the order of exercises, the timing of exercises and rep speeds in alternating waves or periods.
Typically, there will be a wave of high volume/low intensity training followed by low volume/high intensity.
The Science Behind It
For a rookie lifter, that may sound like a bunch of technical gibberish. What they’d rather know is how it positively changes their fitness in the gym or in a real life situation. To be able to understand this, it’s critical that you understand how Waved Periodization works.
Waved Periodization is based on the ‘General adaptation syndrome (GAS)’, a concept that describes the three stages that every athlete goes through when exposed to stress, such as weight training.
- Alarm – This is the first stage that the body experiences when exposed to stress. Think of it like being exposed to shock. Typically, strength reduces during this phase.
- Adaptation – This is the second stage where the body adapts to the stress when continually exposed to it. This is when your strength goes up and the workouts start to get progressively easier.
- Exhaustion – If you repeatedly continue to expose the body to stressors, such as the leniar progressive model of lifting, you are likely to get exhausted at some point. This starts to reduce the adaptation to the stress.
That’s why the Tactical Barbell program relies on alternate phases of training. Stagnation never sets in. You train in a wave only long enough to adapt to it and maximize the benefits. Once you do, you shift to a new training program or wave, which reintroduces the stress phase. This can continue in a loop for as long as you want to.
The Different Books in The Tactical Barbell Program
The Tactical Barbell Program has multiple books or templates that you can consider. Each one serves a different purpose which is pretty self-explanatory.
Tactical Barbell I
TB I is the most advanced strength training guide that you’ll ever come across. It’s designed for elite athletes and individuals in physically demanding professions that requires them to be at their A-Game 24/7. Picture law enforcement agents, paramilitary, firefighters, SWAT teams. But it can also be used by anyone who wishes to step up from conventional strength training programs. TB I is currently in its third edition and is priced at $7.82.
Tactical Barbell II
TB II is the most definitive conditioning training guide that does not compromise on strength development. Once again, the focus is on developing an optimum balance. You can still lift that 600 lb. squat for bro-club boasting rights. But TB II ensures that when you rack that bar, you can jump straight into a 10-mile run without batting an eyelid. That’s the kind of conditioning this aims for. TB II is currently priced at $7.82.
TB training for the middle-aged athlete. It’s not as brutal as the other versions and focusses slightly more on functional fitness and overall well-being. That said, it still ticks all the boxes that one looks for from a program like this. It’s incredibly challenging and continues to be so for as long as you do it. Ageless Athlete is currently priced at $7.87.
We all like to be big and swole. Unfortunately, the first two programs are not designed to maximize muscle hypertrophy. This does not mean that you won’t come out of it with a muscle growth story to tell. It’s just not created to pack on the maximum amount of muscle in the shortest time span. Mass Protocol is the most recent release that addresses this problem. If you have been following a bro-science protocol, this is what you’ve been missing. It’s priced at $7.79.
Physical Prep for Law Enforcement
12-week training camp designed especially for law-enforcement guys. Currently priced at $7.82.
The Different Templates in The Program
Now that you have an idea of the different books, here’s a quick look at the different templates or blocks in each one. Each one of these books will use one or more of these blocks in alternating waves/phases of 3-6-weeks.
This is a strength training program where you lift three times a week at70% to 90% of the 1RM. The primary exercises are squats and bench presses for all three days, weighted pull ups for two days and the deadlift on one day.
This is a four-day per week training program and comprises of two phases that you alternate between. So it’s like an A/B/A/B training model. You lift at 70% to 90% of your 1RM again. The biggest difference is that you will train all your main lifts on all four days. There’s squats, bench presses, Overhead Presses & deadlifts.
This is a two-day per week training template that’s best suited for people who are too busy to train 3-4 days a week. Don’t let the number of days fool you. This is a grueling template where you lift at 90% of your 1RM. The exercises are squat, bench, overhead press, and deadlift.
All four lifts like the Fighter. But you train three times per week instead of two. Again, the intensity is at 90% of the 1RM and increases to
Picture the Gladiator program with a higher rep count range. As implied by the name, this is designed for hypertrophy. One advantage is that it does not ramp up the intensity as fast as some of the other programs do. So, you have more time to adapt to it.
3-day program where the volume is slightly lower than the rest of the programs. Also, this is a 12-week program as opposed to the rest, which are 6-week programs.
What Is the Training Philosophy of The Tactical Barbell Program?
Tactical Barbell is based on the philosophy that every athlete can train to become a maximal athlete with elite strength levels and the physical conditioning of a marathon runner. To this end, it uses both periodization and progression. Your program will be based on one or more of the templates that we’ve mentioned. But you will rarely spend more than 6-weeks on one program.
At the end of every 6-week phase, you’ll switch to another program bumping up your intensity slightly.
- These smaller cycles of training determine your programming in the long run. It makes you a better, stronger and faster athlete.
- Every program has a defined attribute or goal to work towards. This provides you with a definitive metric that you can gauge your progress against.
- You never lose conditioning. This allows you to train at your max intensity for brief bursts, after which you back down a little and recover. Reset again.
One of the ways in which this differs from traditional progressive lifting, is that you are never away from lifting at maximal strength for a long time.
What Is a Tactical Strength Challenge?
A tactical strength challenge or TSC is a strength building competition that was developed by Pavel Tsatsouline in 2002 to test an athlete’s strength in real life situations. Since then, it’s become the go-to program for athletes looking to test their strength and endurance.
It’s a non-technical event, which makes it accessible to a much broader demographic within the athletic community. At the same time, the exercises are quite varied and functional too.
There are three exercises in the Tactical Strength Challenge.
- Maximum Powerlifts – You get three attempts at this
- Max Pull Ups – You do a full pull up with your arms facing forward and the neck touching the bar at the top of the rep. Kipping is disallowed.
- Max Kettlebell Snatches in a 5:00 time frame. – You can switch your hands as many times as you want to. The weights differ according to the competitor category.
A heavier or a bigger athlete might have the upper hand in the powerlifting challenge. But the smaller or thinner athlete will have the edge in the pull up challenge. The Kettlebell snatch is equally challenging for both weight groups.
How Do You Train for A Tactical Strength Challenge?
What makes the TSC a benchmark for elite athletes is the sheer diversity that these three seemingly-simple exercises offer. There’s the deadlift which is maximal strength. There’s the pull up which is more like a relative strength move. Lastly, there’s kettlebell snatches which is pure conditioning.
It’s an incredible blend to test your preparedness. But it’s also one of the best programs to lose fat, build muscle or do both.
The question is, what’s the best way to train for a challenge like the TSC?
What most athletes do is begin training for the deadlift. Because that’s undoubtedly the most difficult challenge of the three, right?
Wrong. Start by training for the kettlebell snatch.
Why the Kettlebell Snatch First
Kettlebells are quite effective for muscle toning workouts, I once did 100 kettlebell swings a day with fantastic results. The snatch too is definitely worth going for. This will help you develop your aerobic system, which in turn will increase your efficiency at producing energy.
In time, your conditioning improves to an extent that your anaerobic system is always primed and in reserve mode. A great template to train for the kettlebell snatch is Strongfirst’s Simple & Sinister. Keep your heart rate consistently at 120-130, when you train. You will be able to last much longer doing those bad ass swings. (1)
The Pull Ups
Follow this with the maximal pull ups training. Once again, your progress and training will depend on your starting point. Some might be looking to amp their pull-up total. Others might be looking to do their first unassisted pull-up. In either scenarios, check out the Fighter Pull Up template from Strongfirst. (2)
Deadlifts at The End
By the time you are done with these two programs, you will have gained a sizeable amount of strength and conditioning. This puts you in the right space for deadlift training. For beginners, I'd advise against doing squats and deadlifts on the same day, and if possible, get the deadlift bar weight right.
TSC offers a phenomenal training program for those resuming training sessions after having stopped woking out for several months, beginners, novices and experienced deadlifters that you can check out over here. (3)
What Results Can You Expect with A Tactical Barbell Program?
The Tactical Barbell Program is developed to help you become a tactical athlete. How does one define a tactical athlete? Picture yourself as a firefighter who has to rush up a flight of stairs with 200 lb. on his back. That’s the ideal definition of a tactical athlete. One that has strength and conditioning at his disposal when the situation demands.
That’s exactly the results that you can expect from the program.
Irrespective of which template you choose to run and the duration that you run it for, you will make sizeable strength gains. The actual gains will depend on a lot of variables of course. But most athletes who run, even the Operator template, which is like the foundational one, add at least 40-50 lb. to their 1RM on the squat and deadlift. That’s a ballpark number, but a reasonably close estimate.
I highly recommend the Tactical Barbell II conditioning program for athletes looking to improve their overall cardiovascular fitness as well as body conditioning. There’s a ton of exercises for you to choose from. But unlike most fitness programs, they don’t throw a bunch of HIIT programs at you right off the bat. It’s more of LISS, which progresses into HIIT. You will be able to run a 5K without even batting an eyelid.
Oh you are going to lose fat. You may or may not gain muscle depending on your diet (eating healthy foods and safe meal replacement products) and your intensity. As long as you won't be doing this workout 7 days a week, you can slot in a day or two of cardio to build muscle. Other easier exercises you can do to help you lose weight by putting enough pressure on your body include T-bar rows or shrimp squats.
Your confidence will skyrocket. You will be a fitter and better athlete ready to not only take on more rigorous workouts like smith machine squat, out of the gym bouts like arm wrestling, or just about anything that comes your way.
Recommended Equipment You Will Need to Get Started
If you plan to run TB 1 for strength, it is highly recommended that you have a rack, a bench, a pull up bar, a full-sized barbell and enough weight to consistently stay at 90-95% of your 1RM.
That’s the bare minimum essentials. You can also add Kettlebells, TRX, a sit-up anchor and mobility accessories like a jump rope to it. As you advance, you might start to crave for a beginner exercise bike or a heavy duty rower. But the beauty of the program is that you can complete it even with a beginner home gym with the basic equipment.
Tactical Barbell Reviews – Is It Worth It?
I highly recommend the Tactical Barbell program and I will explain the reasons for it.
All five books and the multiple templates are top rated on most online retailers, as well as bodybuilding communities. If you look at the reviews, there are tons from people in the military and law enforcement that talk about how it’s improved all aspects of their fitness.
My Personal Opinionated Review After Testing It / Going Through It
I ran three blocks of the TB program back to back and I feel that it is one of the best high frequency & intensity but low volume programs out there. It helped me break my previous best 1RM lifts. That’s not all. It’s made my lifts more efficient. My strength base has improved by a fair bit. For those who are wondering, I ran the Operator and the Zulu.
It’s also one of the most well-received programs amongst elite fitness trainers. It’s hard to go wrong with it in my opinion. The only possible gripe that someone could have with it is that the programs tend to stretch really long. A lot of people hop on to it expecting it to be a 30-min thing. But you are doing five grueling sets with long periods of rest.
It might stretch to 90-mins or more.
Manage your Expectations
All said and done, you’ve got to have realistic expectations when you sign up for the Tactical Barbell program. It’s terrific for strength, stamina, endurance, conditioning and even muscle hypertrophy (Mass Protocol). But you are not going to turn into a mass monster with this. If that’s your goal, then you are better off with something much simpler, like PHAT, or other training programs and you might want to get a home gym or a full body workout exercise machine like a rowing machine.
FAQ about Tactical Barbell Program
If you still have doubts in your mind about the Tactical Barbell program, then here’s a brief FAQ that aims to clear some of these.
Q. What Does Tactical Athlete Mean?
A. A tactical athlete is someone who’s able to strike a balance between strength and conditioning. Have you seen the athletes who do the Iron Man fitness circuit? These are guys who are able to lift 500 lb. and then do a 15-mile swim and follow it up with a 10-mile run. That’s the ideal definition of a tactical athlete.
You’ve got to be strong, functional and at your peak performance at all times.
Q. What Is Tactical Fitness?
A. Tactical Fitness is the new buzzword in fitness circles. It’s pretty much what I just described and is considered a prerequisite if you are involved in any physically demanding job. Running, swimming, rescuing, carrying your buddy or a victim. You need to have incredible strength and endurance in both, the upper and lower bodies.
Q. What Is Tactical Strength?
A. Tactical strength is the kind of strength you need to perform the above mentioned activities without breaking a sweat. Think explosive moves where you need a burst of power to lift someone off the ground, push them above your shoulders and carry them up a flight of stairs.
Follow this up with consistent strength that you need to maintain. It’s a blend of endurance, power, stamina & flexibility.
Q. How Is Tactical Barbell Conditioning?
A. The tactical barbell conditioning program is incredibly effective, no matter what your fitness goal is. It’s a blend of aerobic and anaerobic training that works in combination with the other blocks in the program. What I like the most about it is that there’s so much variety. Track intervals, LISS, Hill sprints, heavy bag work & the sledgehammer.
Q. Can I Ask for Help in The Tactical Barbell Forum?
A. Absolutely. The Tactical Barbell forum is one of the best places to share your training logs, analyze and critique your custom programs, as well as seek help. The members are quite helpful and friendly, unlike some Reddit subs that I am a part of.
Q. Is Maintaining a Tactical Barbell Spreadsheet Helpful?
A. Yes. It is. Be it TB1 or TB2, you will have to test your maxes every two blocks to ensure that you are using submaximal loading. The spreadsheet takes guesswork out of it. The other way would be to memorize your numbers, which is just ineffective. Why rely on guesswork when you can just rely on technology instead?
Besides, there are some great spreadsheet templates that you can download on the TB forum.
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