Test your Tactical Fitness with the “Q” Challenge

October 31, 2011 – 12:03 pm

Test your Tactical Fitness with the “Q”

To understand program design from a tactical fitness perspective, we must consider the evolution of movement from a social science standpoint. As our scientific understanding of movement evolved, so too did our movement capacity in sports and athletics.

Functional fitness took the 1 and 2 dimensional movements (and energy systems) or prior exercise perspectives, such as Victorian calisthenics and selectorized isolatory bodybuilding, and added the angular/diagonal aspect of movement through the 3 standard planes. Instead of moving between the front/back, right/left, up/down planes, functional fitness took you through two or more planes: three-dimensional movement.

Functional fitness means to restore and refine the balance of the human physique in operation. For example, too much over-specialization on pullups, pushups or squats creates a complementary imbalance in the functionally opposite direction which must be addressed, or we face first diminishing returns, then plateau, then regress, followed by pain and eventually injury. “Functional” program design varies the exercise to address the specifically-opposite movements of the prior program trained. Only this ever-evolving homeostatic approach to fitness allows us to be functionally capable to perform at prime output without impediments or restrictions.

Tactical fitness intends to develop the motor patterns and energy systems directly impacting your ability to respond to a crisis: in the fight against the elements or opponents; to resist rotation against collision, to absorb detonation and retranslate that force into the ground or back into the opponent.

Tactical fitness takes the three-dimensional movement of functional training and added the rotational aspects of pitching, yawing and rolling to the translational elements of swaying, heaving and surging. Instead of viewing the body as locked to the ground, tactical fitness views the body as free in space to move as a jet fighter, rather than as a tank.

The late USAF Colonel John Boyd introduced in the realm of jet fighting, that the bigger, heavier or even faster jets cannot perform with the successful operational tempo compared to a lighter, more agile counterpart. The agile jet can observe, orient, decide and act faster than a more heavily armed and armored one, than even a much faster jet.

How then do you keep the ability to change energy state rapidly; turn, rotate, or twist faster than your opponent; and most importantly, to restore, after repeated collision, mental awareness and emotional control during the grueling turns that rapidly bleed out an opponent’s size, strength and speed advantages? The ideal fighter accelerates in rotation the quickest, and moves the fight into this rotation where he holds distinctly superior virtues.

Combative engagements are characterized not by sustained tempo, but by repeated collisions and retranslations with periods of brief recovery and reorientation. Colonel John Boyd described this as a “loop” of Observing the threat, Orienting upon an opportunity, Deciding what to how to respond to the op, and Acting out that strategy (OODA). If you truly want to be “fit” for “tac” then you need to include protocols which focus upon:

  • moving through waves of intensity from 100mph to a dead stop and then back to 100.
  • moving the body through multiple planes (retranslating)
  • recovering as fast and fully as possible during the brief respites;
  • and visualizing the goal clearly before and during performance (how smooth of an operator are you in your technique: are you king or crap?)

Tactical fitness, as a result, addresses the physiological phenomena which occur as we approach and transcend heart rate maximum events under the extreme duress of imminent jeopardy. Whoever recovers fastest wins.

We must train this way, for we do not rise to the heights of our expectations and combative needs, but fall to the level of our preparation and training. Worse still, the best we can hope for in combat, is the worst we’ve performed in training. Therefore, if we’re training with suboptimal form, lack the ability to hold technique, maintain awareness and concentrate on rapidly changing goals (attentional switching), our fitness is not merely lacking contribution to our tactical performance, it’s hindering it. We are producing “training scars”.

As we approach and exceed heart rate maximum (HRmax), fine motor skills deteriorate, as well as cognitive function, and a host of psychotropic phenomena occur: tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, tachipsychia (time warp), short term memory loss, speech impairment, fumbling, feinting, and others.

For the tactical athlete, how fast we recover from HRmax is more important than our power output during it. Please review this critical sentence in this piece. Recovery is the most important attribute in tactical fitness, for our goal is to endure the suck, but toughness alone is insufficient, since toughness is merely resistance to stress. Recovery from excessive combative stress determines who gets to go home.

“TACFIT Prequalifier” or “Q”

The following course, the “TACFIT Prequalifier” or “Q” is used by several federal law enforcement agencies and special operations teams such as the US Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, US Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center, and the US Army 3/160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. This example uses bodyweight resistance only, though there are portable, alternative, external resistance tools which can be substituted. It is also the preliminary qualification examination in order to be eligible to become a TACFIT Instructor, such as depicted in this certification video:

Data recording involves “heart rate recovery” - how fast does your heart rate recover from approaching HRmax, and how much power output can you achieve while maintaining moderate intensity. (See illustration #3: Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge, Bruce Siddle).

Moderate intensity allows you to still keep your combative skills accessible, as well as keeps your cognitive functions online - the absolutely critical barometer of a successful tactical fitness course, as without the skills and wherewithal to access and apply them with reasonable and sufficient force, fitness means nothing, zero, zilch.

Moderate intensity = 60-80%HRmax. HRmax for general purposes can be calculated as 220-age. [A more accurate formula is 205.8 - (0.685 x AGE).] For example, if you’re 40, then your HRmax is 180. That means that you must perform the following program between a heart rate of 108 and 144 to know what you’re capable of performing efficiently in a tactical environment. This assumes that you can recover from approaching and exceeding HRmax. Those techniques - mental, emotional and physical - are not within the scope of this article. And can be discussed in a future installment of this introductory piece.

A reasonable score on the “Q” is 40. Six exercises are performed for 8 sets of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, with 1 minute recovery in between each exercise: a total of 30 minutes workout. Right/left alternating exercises (Front Lunge, Sit-Thru Knee and Overhead Vertical) score 0.5 for a right/left performance of 1 point total; Plank Pull, Pushup and Spinal Rock equal 1 point per repetition. The lowest set of each of the 6 exercises is then added together for the total score. They must be performed in the order listed.

1. Front Lunge Step: Stand tall, spine perpendicular to the ground. Forearms parallel to chest and to each other. Pinch your elbows to your ribs. Step forward on railroad tracks, feet parallel to each other and shoulders width. Land quietly midfoot, exhaling through the mouth as you land. Get two 90 degree angles on both legs. Drive back to standing from midfoot push.

2. Plank Pull Knee: Begin on balls of feet, hips pushed back to heels, belly to thighs and elbows locked. Palms push back. Pinch elbows tight. Exhale through the mouth as you pull from your palms and press your forearms onto the ground to pull your body forward. Keep pulling until forearms lift off the ground forearms pinched to ribs, palms at floating rib height. Squeeze your gut tight. Tuck your tailbone. Keep your chin down. Move your spine parallel with the mat. Arch your tailbone and lift your hips back to return to beginning with an inhale through the nose. Avoid pushing back, or you won’t survive #4.

3. Sit Thru Knee: Begin on hands and knees. Spine parallel to ground. Push your knee through. Drop your hip until thigh parallel to groun. Lock your elbow on planted arm. Keep scapula depressed, flairing lat, with no scap elevation. Pinch opposite forearm to your chest, elbow to ribs.  Exhale through your mouth as you sit through for a strong core activation. Switch to alternate sides with no knee touch.

4. Tactical Pushup: Pinch your elbows to your ribs, no space between your upper arms and lats. Tuck your tailbone and slightly round your mid-back to create the “hollow-body” (from gymnastics). Tighten your gut. Squeeze your glutes. Pinch off the pelvic wall. Lock your quads. Pull your toes to your shins and kick your heels away. Exhale through the mouth and press elbow-pits away to locked position. Inhale through the nose as you lower delts to hands.

5. Spinal Rock Knee: Begin on your back, knees to your chest. Tuck your tail. Exhale your navel to spine. Tuck your chin. Kick your hips over your nose. Kick your knees over an imaginary bar to extend and snap your hips locked. Exhale your knees back to your chest. Pull with your hands as you roll toward sitting. Lift your chest up and inhale through the nose. Straighten your spine, crown up, feet down. Roll backward until lower back stabilizes against ground, and only then pull knees to chest for next repetition.

6. Tripod Vertical: Pull your elbow in to your hips in crab position. Opposite arm should be straight arm but elbow unlocked supported by tricep. Flair lat to prevent scapula elevation. Exhale and lift your hips. Drive mid foot, knees pinching to keep lower legs parallel to each other, and heels down. Sight down the barrel of your arm. Flex your tricep to lock your lifting elbow. Lift both shoulders until they’re in one line perpendicular to the ground. Flair your lat; keep your shoulder packed. Squeeze your glutes to full hip extension. Inhale elbow to back down to ribs. Bring your hips down. Switch hands fingers pointed away from body.

- Scott Sonnon, TACFIT Founding Director, is a Master of Sport, 5X World Champion Martial Artist, a contracting consultant for the US Federal Government and allied nations, an instructor for the US Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), and a subject matter expert consultant for Tier 1 special operations in the US Department of Defense

Photo Credits:

  • TACFIT Athlete: Aaron Cruz of Wolf Fitness Systems
  • Photographer: Erik ‘Esik’ Melland

Copyright 2011, RMAX International

  1. 4 Responses to “Test your Tactical Fitness with the “Q” Challenge”

  2. A great explanation of “why” Tacfit! I want to see this system go viral.

    By Kevin Dougherty on Oct 31, 2011

  3. Thank’s for the explanation, owesome article!

    By Raul Rivera on Nov 1, 2011

  4. Question: Are you supposed to keep your HR within the moderate intensity range when doing this test? Or do you go all out and try to recover as best as possible during the rest periods, keeping an eye on how well you get back to moderate intensity?

    Thanks for posting this–it was a fun challenge (Going all out I scored a 56, but I was definitely above moderate intensity so I am not sure if I was cheating).


    By Peter Peterson on Nov 7, 2011

  5. I am wondering if there is a way to modify the “Q” for specific programs, such as Mass Assault or Warrior. The core goal of scoring a 40 makes sense but what level, roughly, would be the one to target with Warrior: Recruit, Grunt or Warrior?

    By FItz on Jun 10, 2012

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