Head Fakes and the Tactical Strength Challenge

I'm a fan of head fakes.  Not in a sleazy way.  Only in a training way.

For example, my quest to deadlift 500 pounds in 2014 may have seemed arbitrary, if not wholly brotastic.  But actually, it was an exercise in conquering persistent back pain and increasing my confidence when lifting heavy things.  And, well, it helped build my "gym cred" too.

My current goal to become a Beast Tamer is more of the same.  It may appear as if I'm trying to join an elite fraternity, but the real goal is to continue learning the skill of strength and being able to accomplish what I've set my mind to. 

So when it comes to training and setting goals for others, it's no surprise that I employ the same strategy.  If someone wants to get leaner or more muscular - and really, that's the heart of most people's goals - I tend to recommend training for the Tactical Strength Challenge.  Its blend of maximal strength (deadlift), relative strength (pull-ups), and conditioning (kettlebell snatches) is a great way to test your physical preparedness.  But really, it's one of the best fat loss and mass building programs I've ever encountered.

The reason it's so effective is simple: it doesn't focus on the results (losing weight or aesthetics), but instead focuses on the process.  Changes to someone's body composition can sneak up on them if they're truly giving it their all.  Here's why.  

Kettlebell Snatches

It may be the last event of every TSC, but it's the exercise that has the most impact on body composition.  Some have even suggested that snatches can burn up to 20 calories/minute  which provides evidence of the potential.

But before we even get to snatches, we need to make sure we have a suitable aerobic base.  And that's where the extra conditioning starts to add up.

Train for the TSC. Then use this meme frequently.

Train for the TSC. Then use this meme frequently.

As I've written here, the more robust we can make our aerobic system, the better our conditioning will be.  That's because our aerobic system is much more efficient when it comes to producing energy, and it allows our more powerful but less efficient anaerobic system to be in reserve.  All too often, however, most people tax out their anaerobic system way too fast.  

If you slowly increase the amount of work you can do while keeping your heart rate between 120-130, it will enable you to last longer during the snatch test. After that, I'd highly recommend using the same kettlebell swing and snatch protocol I've previously recommended here.  You could also use the famous Simple & Sinister template, which are all variants on the same theme.  As with everything I recommend, it's simple but not easy.

When you add up the long slow cardio, as well as all the kettlebell swings and snatches you do in a week, it's easy to see how body changes can sneak up.


I've often heard pull-ups referred to as a "squat for the upper body."  After finally completing 21 consecutive pull-ups last weekend - and being somewhat astounded that my arms were still attached to my body - I'd have to agree.



If you'd like to increase your pull-ups, here's something I wrote last year on the topic.  It's based off the popular Fighter Pull-up Plan, and I've had a lot of success with it.  If you can't yet do a pull-up, this article explains how you should progress flexed arm hangs and controlled eccentrics.

If it's not clear how pull-ups lead to changes in body composition, the reasoning is simple - the more pull-ups you can do, the leaner and more muscular you will be.  For example, if a guy can do 20 pull-ups, he WILL have dem abz.  Because 1) you can't have excess body fat in order to complete that many, 2) you're using some of the largest muscles in the human body, and 3) the abdominal recruitment for 20 pull-ups is intense.  And remember: when you start getting bored of pull-ups, consider it a good thing.  It means you're finally making progress!

Of course, the elephant in the room is that if you're trying to increase your pull-up total, one of the easiest ways is to lose weight.  And sometimes just having that in the back of your mind can alter your decision making.

The Deadlift

Besides squatting, the deadlift is one of the top exercises for losing weight and building muscle.  Deadlifting uses almost every muscle in the human body, and if it's heavy enough, it does use every muscle.  I jest, but you get the point: when it comes to bang-for-your-buck exercises, the deadlift is at the top of the list.

While many people may have a strong deadlift, the ability to complete all three events of the TSC is no easy task.  And if you can do them well?  That's one dangerous individual, likely with gainz to follow suit.