Training for the Tactical Professional - Taking Weighted Complexes to the Next Level
Gym training that simulates real-life
Tactical professionals (Firefighters, police, military, and paramedics, among others) are athletes in their own right. No matter what sport the athlete participates in, there is very specific training for the event (or occupation) and then there is “off-season” training that supports event-specific training.
The Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) report, Issue # 48 USING COMPLEXES TO HELP IMPROVE TACTICAL JOB PERFORMANCE is an excellent review of the rationale behind using weighted complexes for conditioning and offers some sample workouts.
A “Complex” can be a superset of mulitple repetitions of multiple movements consecutively or it can be stringing together multiple movements in a single repetition (Ex - 1 power clean, 1 push press, 1 front squat = 1 repetition of the complex). The major benefit of training with complexes is that they target multiple muscle groups utilizing pushing and pulling movements together with core strength, stability, and muscle power to move the weight. Much like what a tactical professional may encounter in the field. Building on this concept, we can take training with complexes to another level - CrossFit style!
The Next Level of Tactical Training
The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movement at high intensity”. There are 10 physical skills that CrossFit training targets: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. The “constantly varied” component creates versatility in training for any type of physical encounter - training for the “unknown” which is critical for tactical professionals.
Another key element of CrossFit methodology is targeting multiple “energy systems” within a given training session. These metabolic energy systems vary depending on the movement duration and primary source of energy for that movement.
Three Metabolic Energy Systems
There are 3 metabolic pathways that provide energy for every type of human activity:
Phosphocreatine Pathway: Utilizes creatine phosphate to fuel movements lasting < 10 seconds (ex - a 1 rep maximum deadlift). Does not require oxygen (anaerobic).
Glycolytic Pathway: Utilizes glucose stored in the muscles (predominantly anaerobic) to fuel moderately powered movements lasting up to several minutes (ex- a 1-2 min high-intensity running interval).
Oxidative Pathway: Utilizes carbohydrates, fatty acids, and protein to fuel low-powered, longer-duration activities lasting several minutes. Requires oxygen (aerobic). (ex - long endurance run).
Building competency with movements in all three pathways sets the stage for developing the adaptive ability to move among these pathways in short periods of time.
An example of how this applies to action in the field would be a firefighter needing to quickly climb multiple flights of stairs stimulating the glycolytic and oxidative systems and then encountering an unconscious victim who needs to be quickly lifted (utilizing the phosphagen system) and removed from the scene. To successfully execute this occupational task, the professional must physically adapt very quickly to the change in physical stimulus.
We can train this “adaptive skill” of moving among the energy systems in the gym when we are off-duty or in the off-season. Here’s an example of a very simple, highly efficient, 20-minute workout that toggles between the oxidative and phosphagen systems:
AMRAP 20 (As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes). Perform these movements consecutively for as many rounds as you can on a 20-minute clock.
800m (1/2 mile) run
3 heavy deadlifts (quick singles)
Adding another layer to this, we can substitute a barbell or sandbag complex for the deadlift:
2 repetitions of this complex: 1 -Barbell or sandbag power clean - 1 - push press overhead - 1 -front squat
The magic of this type of workout is that one can achieve the stimulus of an endurance segment alternating with a strength/power segment with many different exercises. For the cardio segment, you can sub a row, burpees, or ski-erg for the run. For the power segment, you can do 3-5 rope climbs or create other complexes. One of my personal favorites is a CrossFit Benchmark movement called the “Bear Complex”:
1 Power Clean
1 Front Squat
1 Push Press
1 Back Squat
1 Push Press
** For an extra challenge use a sandbag or other irregular object (backpack, other heavy equipment, weighted vest, etc)
For a workout focusing on just muscle power, without the cardio stimulus, let’s omit the cardio segment, but add some time pressure instead! Perform one Bear complex every 2:00 for 12 minutes. Alternatively, alternate one of these complexes with a 400-800m run or row. You get the idea! Mix and match these movements for an array of varied training that will take your fitness to the next level!
How Women Benefit from Training with Complexes
Builds a “base” of functional muscle strength, power, and mass: As females age, there is a dramatic decline in bone mass, muscle strength, and power - particularly after menopause (typically age 50-52). Building this “base” during the younger years will pay huge dividends for the longevity of physical performance - in occupation, athletic pursuit later in life, and general vitality and longevity.
Grip Strength: Training with weighted complexes builds grip strength for both male and female athletes. For females, like general muscle strength, grip strength also declines with age. Again, building a base of strength earlier in life helps to preserve it during later years.
Core Strength/Joint stability: Due to cycling monthly hormones and the hormonal changes of mid-life, joints can become more unstable. These power complexes help to develop core strength and a foundation of stability that stabilizes the joints. This is similar to how the foundation of a house lends stability to the structures that emanate from it.
Bone Health: One of the leading causes of loss of independence and vitality later in life is osteoporosis and fracture. Early in life up to age 32, peak bone mass is developing, which is a major determinant of fracture risk later in life. Once beyond age 32, weight training helps to maintain bone density and thus reduces fracture risk after menopause, when bone mineral density declines significantly.
For the Non-Tactical Athlete
Athletes who are not rescuing victims from burning buildings and chasing bad guys over fences can also benefit from training with weighted complexes! This type of training is an excellent addition to any athlete’s off-season training because these movements are functional and involve the simultaneous recruitment of multiple muscle groups, all of which are foundational elements for any sport.
If you are not an athlete but instead someone who wants to live their best life, training with complexes is a great way to add variety to your resistance training routine for all the benefits noted above! If you are a beginner, dumbbells offer a great introduction to these movements. Optimally, spending some time with a trainer to gain proficiency in these movements is the best option for beginners not accustomed to these movements. Whatever your fitness level, sport, or longevity goal, complexes have their place!