TACFIT Q: Test Your Tactical Fitness

This article is re-written by Daniel Markert with permission of Scott Sonnon. Originally posted October 31, 2011 at RMAX International blog by Scott Sonnon the creator of TACFIT. We are posting this at the Mission Command: An Anthology website as an example of one aspect of the training described in the chapter “Operationally Fit for Mission Command” and discussed in Daniel’s blog post “Transformation to Maneuver Fitness“.

TACFIT Qualifier: The “Q”


The fitness industry has been using the term “functional fitness” for a few years and the military has introduced phrases like “combat fitness”, “warrior athlete”, etc. For simplicity sake we use the term tactical fitness to mean fit for the performance of tactical tasks over the short and long term durations of operations and deployments. Tactical fitness implies sustained readiness to respond immediately and repeatedly to both the physical and the cognitive occupational tasks inherent to military, law enforcement, and first responder duties.

TACFIT is an evolution from the one and two dimensional aspects of earlier calisthenic and body building cultures and then beyond the three dimensional movement of “functional fitness”. Tactical fitness develops the motor patterns and energy systems needed for responding to crisis: in the fight against the elements or an opponent; to resist rotation in a 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 adds 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 fighter jet, 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, or even more than a much faster jet. It is the speed of transition in orientation that is more important than the speed of distance transited.

How then do you keep the ability to change orientation and energy state rapidly; to 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.This is a true whether in hand to hand combat, a gunfight, or commanding a tank or infantry company.

Combative engagements are characterized by repeated collisions and retranslations with periods of brief recovery and reorientation. There is no sustained tempo. Colonel John Boyd described this as a “loop” of Observing the threat, Orienting upon an opportunity, Deciding what to do or how to respond to the opportunity, and Acting out that response (OODA). If you truly want to be “fit” for “tac” then you need to include protocols which focus upon:

  • awareness and sense making
  • moving through waves of intensity from full speed to a dead stop and then back to full speed.
  • 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?)

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 threat. Whoever recovers and reorients 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 is hindering it. We are producing “training scars” and restrictions to accessing our skills when we need them most.

As we approach maximum stress arousal, 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. This due to the deleterious effects of adrenaline and cortisol as they prepare the body for coping with the perceived disadvantage to the threat and impending injuries.

For the tactical operator, how fast we recover from maximum stress arousal 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 not to just endure the suck, for toughness alone is insufficient, since toughness is merely resistance to stress. Our goal is to return to an arousal state of optimum awareness, decision making, and skill performance. Recovery from excessive combative stress determines who gets to go home. TACFIT is designed to improve the rate and quality of recovery while restoring the range of motion and improving expressible power.

“TACFIT Pre-Qualifier” or “The Q”

The following course, the “TACFIT Prequalifier” or “Q”, is used by several US federal and local law enforcement agencies and US and international special operations teams . 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 certified TACFIT Instructor.

The most important scoring factor is tracking heart rate recovery. How fast does your heart rate recover from approaching your maximum, and how much power output can you achieve while maintaining moderate intensity.

Moderate intensity allows you to retain access to combative skills, 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% of heart rate maximum. Heart Rate Maximum (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 and effectively 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.

Scoring the tacfit q

A reasonable score on the “Q” is 40. To qualify as a TACFIT instructor requires a score of 50. Elite units using the “Q” routinely score in the 60s. 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 set: a total of 30 minutes for the 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. The 20/10 time protocol is one of several time protocols used within TACFIT and is the most fundamental. The burst-recover-burst of 20 seconds of hard effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery conditions the nervous system over time to recover as fast as possible. This is also very characteristic of combative engagements: short bouts of maximum effort followed by brief recovery before applying max effort again. The ability to perform this way repeatedly and maintain cognitive function and access to skill at moderate heart rate is the sin qua non of tactical fitness.

The six exercises cover all six degrees the body moves and the motor patterns transfer to tactical mobility and combative skills.

lungeFront Lunge

Tactical Purpose

To move with mid-foot balance, whether running or ruck marching. This is crucial to navigating uneven terrain like gravel, ice, mud, grass etc. Trains to exhale on absorption, which stabilizes stride, critical while moving under fighting or approach march load. Also allows redirection when encountering the unexpected. This establishes one of several stable firing platforms from the knee.

Performance Cues

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.

Pull Plank Knee

Tactical Purpose

Trains to tie arm motion to core activation. When skirting under barbed wire or netted obstacles, it’s not the shoulders but the core that pulls you through with strength and security. Same for pulling the body up and over obstacles such as walls, fences, or window sills or climbing ropes. You must fully incorporate this skill in order to access the more complex movement variations.

Performance Cues

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.

Sit Thru Knee

Tactical Purpose

Builds important skills for all reversals, for escaping from the ground, and for removing your structure underneath collision. Hands and arms are also trained to pull back to close guard position to avoid hooks and snags.

Performance Cues

Begin on hands and knees. Spine parallel to ground. Push your knee through. Drop your hip until thigh parallel to ground. Lock your elbow on planted arm. Keep scapula depressed, flaring lat, with no scapular 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.

Tactical Pushup

Tactical Purpose

Ingrains the motor patterns and conditioning the strength for the most safe and efficient method of absorbing and delivering forward force using the core and the lats. The series progresses to train forearm (or guard) – hand contact, which helps to translate power from the core out through the arms and legs asymmetrically.

Performance Cues

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.

Spinal Rock

Tactical Purpose

Trains the entire core “canister,” which translates to stability in mobility, fine motor control, controlled ground engagement, and the ability to keep your arms or your weapon free and steady while engaging the ground to the rear. This movement also unloads the tension from pressing, pulling, and carrying loads such as rucks and body armor.

Performance Cues

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.

Tripod Overhead

Tactical Purpose

Trains to maintain cognitive awareness of surroundings when changing physical orientation to the rear and from vertical to horizontal. The success of the mission and the health of your spine are both directly related to the ability to recover from backward flexion: the state of your body during collision at high speed. This movement also unloads the tension from running, ruck marching, and the first three exercises.

Performance Cues

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.

Video example of the basic exercises and the advanced progressions.


TACFIT is scheduled in order to wave the intensity from none, to low, to moderate, to high. This can be done on the optimal four day intensity wave or a more traditional seven day intensity wave. Customized programs for government agencies and military units can be developed for the five day work week. Typical progression in movement complexity and/or resistance occurs after each 28 day training cycle. For the full story on programing physical fitness to support Mission Command, get your copy of the book at Amazon. For more information on TACFIT go to www.tacfit26.com. To get the TACFIT “Q” in PDF format with the supporting mobility warm up and compensatory cool down fill out the contact form below and get the PDF emailed to you.

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