TSC Training Plans for Athletes of All Levels

If you decide to test your mettle in the Tactical Strength Challenge, you better have a plan. There are an infinite number of options in preparing for such a challenge, including not preparing at all and using it purely as a barometer for progress in your current training plan. To give a greater chance of success and improvement, the best option is one that addresses the specific nature of the events contested. The best approach for you could be one consisting of a progressive, consistent plan that waves volume, density, and intensity while taking into consideration your current abilities and foundation of strength.

Below, I have outlined a couple of training approaches based on the ability level of the competitor. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of the Tactical Strength Challenge, please check out this link. For technical instruction on the lifts contested, or to join a group to train with, seek out a StrongFirst instructor here.

TSC Training Plans for Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Levels

Beginner TSC Plan for Novice Competitors

  • Deadlift
    • “Off Season” – Easy Strength
    • 8 Weeks Prior to Competition
      • Linear Peaking Cycle
  • Pull-up
    • Ability Level:
      • Multiple Pull-ups
      • One or Close to One Pull-up
        • Isometric Holds
        • FAH
        • Negatives
        • Assists
        • Ring Rows
    • FAH
      • Assists
      • Ring Rows
      • For Time
  • Snatch
    • At Least One Day per Week
      • SSST (Secret Service Snatch Test) Progression – Light
    • 2-3 Days per Week
      • Heavy Swings and Get-ups
    • Simple & Sinister (S&S) Style

Example Cycle – 4 Days/Week

  • Day 1
    • Deadlift
      • 75% – 3,3,2,2
      • After each set of deadlifts:
        • Superset pull-up progression based on ability level
        • Ex. no pull+ups yet: palms forward, hollow position, elbows pulled back, neck to bar, isometric hold for time, lower under control
    • S&S Swings and Get-ups
      • 10 sets of 10 swings – at least snatch sized kettlebell, preferable one size heavier
        • Work up to one-arm swings – 100 total reps per training session.
      • 10 get-ups following swings – preferably same kettlebell used for swings
        • 5 right, 5 left, alternating each rep for 10 total reps
  • Day 2
    • Goblet Squat or Double Kettlebell Front Squat
      • 5×5
    • Pull-up Progressions
      • After each set of deadlifts:
        • Superset pull-up progression based on ability level
        • Ex. no pull-ups yet: palms forward, hollow position, elbows pulled back, neck to bar, hold for a moment, then slow negative
    • Snatches
      • Practice rhythm; find the optimal groove or arc path of the bell, full pause at the top of each rep.
        • Start with 6 right, 6 left at the top of the minute for 7 minutes
        • You might have to use a bell lighter than the bell you’ll test with, but will soon progress to the snatch test sized bell when your form improves
  • Day 3
    • Deadlift
      • 80% – 5×2
      • After each set of deadlifts:
        • Superset pull-up progression based on ability level
        • Ex. no pull-ups yet: palms forward, hollow position, elbows pulled back, neck to bar, isometric hold for time, lower under control
    • S&S Swings and Get-ups
      • 10 sets of 10 swings – at least snatch sized kettlebell, preferable one size heavier
        • Work up to one-arm swings – 100 total reps per training session.
      • 10 Get-ups following swings – preferably same kettlebell used for swings
        • 5 right, 5 left, alternating each rep for 10 total reps
  • Day 4
    • Goblet Squat or Double Kettlebell Front Squat
      • 5×5
    • Pull-up Progressions
      • After each set of deadlifts:
        • Superset pull-up progression based on ability level
        • Ex. no pull-ups yet: palms forward, hollow position, elbows pulled back, neck to bar, hold for a moment, then slow negative
    • Snatches
      • Practice rhythm; find the optimal groove or arc path of the bell, full pause at the top of each rep.
        • Try 5 right, 5 left at the top of the minute for 7 minutes for today.

Deadlift Notes

During the off-season phase, add 10-20 pounds each week to your 75% and 80% deadlifts and keep the reps the same. After four weeks, start back with your week two bar weight.

When you reach eight weeks from the competition, you’ll need to rework your deadlift training. I suggest a linear peaking cycle. Pick a realistic goal for the weight you’d like to pull during the challenge. Work backward for eight weeks in increments of 10-20 pounds.

Here’s an example for a lady looking to pull 250lbs starting her first week of the linear peak:

  • Week 1 – 5×5 – 180
  • Week 2 – 5×5 – 190
  • Week 3 – 5×5 – 200
  • Week 4 – 3×3 – 210
  • Week 5 – 3×3 – 220
  • Week 6 – 2×2 – 230
  • Week 7 – 2,1,1 – 240
  • Week 8 – No training, TSC on Saturday
  • 1st Attempt – 225
  • 2nd Attempt – 240
  • 3rd Attempt – 250 – PR!

Pull-up Notes

Try to hold your isometric-hold pull-ups for longer periods of time with a stronger hollow position as well as lowering your negative for longer periods each week. Example cycle progression with back-off days below for a lady with a max of 30 seconds in the flexed-arm hang. Close to a tactical pull-up, but not quite there yet:

  • Week 1
    • Day 1 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :25, :20, :15, :10, :05
    • Day 2 – Palms forward, slow negatives (No need to physically time these on a clock. A good way to count your way down on the negative is by number of “hissing” power breathes or count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.)
      • :10, :09, :08, :07, :06
    • Day 3 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :25, :20, :15, :10, :10
    • Day 4 – Palms forward, slow negatives
      • :10, :09, :08, :07, :07
  • Week 2
    • Day 1 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :30, :25, :20, :15, :10
    • Day 2 – Palms forward, slow negatives
      • :11, :10, :09, :08, :07
    • Day 3 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :30, :25, :20, :15, :15
    • Day 4 – Palms forward, slow negatives
      • :11, :10, :09, :08, :08
  • Week 3
    • Day 1 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :35, :30, :25, :20, :15
    • Day 2 – Palms forward, slow negatives
      • :12, :11, :10, :09, :08
    • Day 3 – Palms forward, neck over the bar, hold for time
      • :35, :30, :25, :20, :20
    • Day 4 – Palms forward, slow negatives
      • :12, :11, :10, :09, :09

Squat Notes

On week two, use a heavier bell or pair of bells for the 1st set of your squats on days two and four. Use the heavier bells for the first and second set on week three until you’re using the heavier bell or pair of bells for all five sets. You won’t always progress as pretty as it sounds, so use your intuition and listen to your body when it comes to progressing to heavier bells.

Here’s an example of a pretty progression with no snags to a heavier pair of bells.

  • Week 1 – 5×5 – 2-16kg
  • Week 2 – 1×5 – 2-20kg, 4×5 – 2-16kg
  • Week 3 – 2×5 – 2-20kg, 3×5 – 2-16kg
  • Week 4 – 3×5 – 2-20kg, 2×5 – 2-16kg
  • Week 5 – 4×5 – 2-20kg, 1×5 – 2-16kg
  • Week 6 – 5×5 – 2-20kg
  • Week 7 – 1×5 – 2-24kg, 4×5 – 2-20kg

Back-off weeks or sessions can be used based on feel. Listen to your body. If you’re not ready to progress, don’t. If progress is stalling toward a heavier bell or pair of bells, stick with same sizes and try to complete the sets in less time, with less rest between sets.

Snatch Notes

Start your snatches on day two with 7/7 at the top of the minute and 6/6 on day four. Each week, you’ll ratchet this up until you reach 10/10. When that’s achieved, you’ll go up a bell size and go back down to 5/5, or add a minute to the duration and repeat the entire progression with same bell.

Here’s an example of a gentleman looking to compete in the novice division with a 20kg, but he hasn’t quite mastered the 20kg yet, so he’s using the progression with a 16kg.

  • Example of Cycle Progression
    • Week 1
      • Day 2 – 16kg – 7/7 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 16kg – 6/6 – 7 minutes
    • Week 2
      • Day 2 – 16kg – 8/8 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 16kg – 7/7 – 7 minutes
    • Week 3
      • Day 2 – 16kg – 9/9 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 16kg – 8/8 – 7 minutes
    • Week 4
      • Day 2 – 16kg – 10/10 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 16kg – 9/9 – 7 minutes
    • Week 5
      • Option 1 – ready to give the 20kg a ride
        • Day 2 – 20kg – 5/5 – 7 minutes
        • Day 4 – 20kg – 4/4 – 7 minutes
      • Option 2 – not feeling it, so let’s take the 16kg back up through the progression, but start one step higher.
        • Day 2 – 16kg – 7/7 – 8 minutes
        • Day 4 – 16kg – 6/6 – 8 minutes

Swing and Get-up Notes

Keep the S&S swings and get-ups above your snatch sized bell if possible and use it as a “tonic” training session. Keep the pace high, but not as a high as a “smoker.”

An example for a lady in the Novice division would look like this:

  • Week 1
    • Swings – 10×10 – two-hand swings – 20kg
    • Get-up – 5×1/1 – 12kg
      • 10 total get-ups, alternating left and right
  • Week 2
    • Swings –
      • 1×10 one-arm swing, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 8×10 – two-hand swing – 20kg
    • Get-up –
      • 1/1 – 16kg
      • 4/4 – 12kg
  • Week 3
    • Swings –
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 6×10 – two-hand swing – 20kg
    • Get-up –
      • 2/2 – 16kg
      • 3/3 – 12kg
  • Week 4
    • Swings –
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 4×10 – two-hand swing – 20kg
    • Get-up –
      • 3/3 – 16kg
      • 2/2 – 12kg
  • Week 5
    • Swings –
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, right  – 20kg
      • 1×10 one-arm swings, left  – 20kg
      • 2×10 – two-hand swing – 20kg
    • Get-up –
      • 4/4 – 16kg
      • 1/1 – 12kg
  • Week 6
    • Swings –
      • 5×10/10 one-arm swings – 20kg
    • Get-up –
      • 5/5 – 16kg

TSC Plan for Intermediate to Advanced Competitors

  • Deadlift
    • “Off Season” – Easy Strength
    • 8 Weeks prior to competition
      • Linear peaking cycle
  • Pull-up
    • Ability Level:
      • Multiple pull-ups
      • One or close to one pull-up
        • Isometric Holds
        • FAH
        • Negatives
        • Assists
        • Ring Rows
      • FAH
        • Assists
        • Ring Rows
        • For Time
  • Snatch
    • At least one day per week –
      • SSST progression – light
    • 2-3 days per week
      • Heavy swings and get-ups
        • S&S style

Example Cycle – 4-5 Days/Week

  • Day 1
    • Deadlift
      • 75% – 3,3,2,2
    • Fighter Pull-up
      • 10,9,8,7,6
    • S&S Swings and Get-ups
      • 10 single-arm swings – 5 sets each arm – at least snatch sized kettlebell, preferable one size heavier
      • Followed by 10 total get-ups – 5 reps each arm, alternating arms each rep  – preferably same kettlebell used for swings
  • Day 2
    • Close Grip Bench (I used this to build up some lagging triceps at the time). Pick an exercise to build up your weak links.
      • 75% – 3,3,2,2
    • Fighter Pull-up
      • 10,9,8,7,7
    • Snatches
      • 14 rpm – 7/7 for 7 minutes
  • Day 3
    • Kettlebell Front Squat
      • 5×5
    • Fighter Pull-up
      • 10,9,8,8,7
    • S&S Swings and Get-ups
      • 10 single-arm swings – 5 sets each arm – at least snatch sized kettlebell, preferable one size heavier
      • Followed by 10 total get-ups – 5 reps each arm, alternating arms each rep  – preferably same kettlebell used for swings
  • Day 4
    • Light Deficit Deadlifts (standing a pair of 45lb plates or slightly higher to elevate your starting position by 1-3 inches) – 50%-60% of Day 1 Bar Weight
      • 8×2 at the top of the minute
    • Fighter Pull-up
      • 10,9,9,8,7
    • Snatches
      • 12 rpm – 6/6 for 7 minutes
  • Day 5
    • Fighter Pull-up Only
      • 10,10,9,8,7

Deadlift Notes

Next week add 10-20 pounds to your 75% and 80% deadlifts and keep the reps the same. After four weeks, start back with your week two bar weight and work your way up each week 10-20 pounds at a time.

When you reach eight weeks from the competition, you’ll need to rework your deadlift training. I suggest a linear peaking cycle. Pick a realistic goal for the weight you’d like to pull during the challenge. Work backward for eight weeks in increments of 10-20 pounds. The eight-week time frame for the peaking cycle isn’t set in stone. It just makes it easy if you plan your training in four-week blocks. Over time, you’ll figure out the optimal number of weeks it takes to peak. Sometimes it’s longer, say ten weeks, or shorter, like six weeks.

Here’s an example for a gentleman who has pulled 380, but is looking to pull 400lbs starting his first week of the linear peak.

  • Week 1 – 5×5 – 270
  • Week 2 – 5×5 – 285
  • Week 3 – 5×5 – 300
  • Week 4 – 3×3 – 320
  • Week 5 – 3×3 – 340
  • Week 6 – 2×2 – 360
  • Week 7 – 2×2 – 380
  • Week 8 – No training, TSC on Saturday
  • 1st Attempt – 365
  • 2nd Attempt – 385 – PR!
  • 3rd Attempt – 400 – PR and goal!

Pull-up Notes

The second week you will add one rep to your first set of pull-ups and work your way down the ladder and progress each day as the pattern above. You will add one rep to the last set and sequentially each training day. If the increase in pull-up volume is too much too soon, add a back-off day rather than a progress day. A back-off day would be 50% of the volume of the previous day. An easy way to figure it up is to start with the number of the third set and work back for three sets. Using the example week above, if you needed a back-off on day three, the sets would be 8,7,6, or 21 total reps. Day two (10,9,8,7,7) totaled 41 reps. Start day four where you should’ve been on day three. Add the back-off days in as needed.

Example cycle progression with back-off days for a gentleman with a max of 6-7 tactical pull-ups:

  • Week 1
    • Day 1 – 5,4,3,2,1
    • Day 2 – 5,4,3,2,2
    • Day 3 – 5,4,3,3,2
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 3,3,2
    • Day 5 – 5,4,4,3,2
  • Week 2
    • Day 1 – 6,5,4,3,2
    • Day 2 – 6,5,4,3,3
    • Day 3 – 6,5,4,4,3
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 4,4,3
    • Day 5 – 6,5,5,4,3
  • Week 3
    • Day 1 – 7,6,5,4,3
    • Day 2 – Back Off Day – 5,4,3
    • Day 3 – 7,6,5,5,4
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 5,5,4
    • Day 5 – 7,6,6,5,4

Another example for a gentleman with upwards of 20 tactical pull-ups:

  • Week 1
    • Day 1 – 14,12,10,8,6
    • Day 2 – Back Off Day – 10,8,6
    • Day 3 – 14,12,10,10,8
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 10,10,8
    • Day 5 – 14,12,12,10,8
  • Week 2
    • Day 1 – 15,13,11,9,7
    • Day 2 – Back Off Day – 11,9,7
    • Day 3 – 15,13,11,11,9
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 11,11,9
    • Day 5 – 15,13,13,11,9
  • Week 3
    • Day 1 – 16,14,12,10,8
    • Day 2 – Back Off Day – 12,10,8
    • Day 3 – 16,14,12,12,10
    • Day 4 – Back Off Day – 12,12,10
    • Day 5 – 16,14,14,12,10

Squat Notes

On week two, use a heavier bell or pair of bells for the first set of your squats on days two and four. Use the heavier bells for the first and second set on week three until you’re using the heavier bell or pair of bells for all five sets. You won’t always progress as pretty as it sounds, so use your intuition and listen to your body when it comes to progressing to heavier bells. A good goal for gentlemen is to use a pair of bells equal to 80% of your bodyweight or 50-60% of bodyweight for ladies—or heavier, of course!

Here’s an example of a pretty progression with no snags to a heavier pair of bells.

  • Week 1 – 5×5 – 2-24kg
  • Week 2 – 1×5 – 2-32kg, 4×5 – 2-24kg
  • Week 3 – 2×5 – 2-32kg, 3×5 – 2-24kg
  • Week 4 – 3×5 – 2-32kg, 2×5 – 2-24kg
  • Week 5 – 4×5 – 2-32kg, 1×5 – 2-24kg
  • Week 6 – 5×5 – 2-32kg
  • Week 7 – 1×5 – 2-40kg, 4×5 – 2-32kg

Back-off weeks or sessions can be used based on feel. Listen to your body. If you’re not ready to progress, don’t. Just repeat the previous week’s numbers, or take a break and do half the number of sets  If progress is stalling toward a heavier bell or pair of bells, stick with same sizes and try to complete the sets in less time, with less rest between sets.

Snatch Notes

Start your snatches on day two of the second week with 8/8 at the top of the minute and 7/7 on day four. Each week, you’ll ratchet this up until you reach 10/10. When that’s achieved with the snatch sized bell, add a minute to the progression and start back over at 5/5 at the top of the minute, or you can keep the duration the same and increase a bell size for the first minute until you’ve completed all sets with the heavier bell.

  • Example of Cycle Progression
    • Week 1
      • Day 2 – 20kg – 7/7 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 20kg – 6/6 – 7 minutes
    • Week 2
      • Day 2 – 20kg – 8/8 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 20kg – 7/7 – 7 minutes
    • Week 3
      • Day 2 – 20kg – 9/9 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 20kg – 8/8 – 7 minutes
    • Week 4
      • Day 2 – 20kg – 10/10 – 7 minutes
      • Day 4 – 20kg – 9/9 – 7 minutes
    • Week 5 (2 Options, depending if you’re ready to increase the kettlebell size)
      • Option 1
        • Day 2 – 24kg – 5/5 – 7 minutes
        • Day 4 – 24kg – 4/4 – 7 minutes
      • Option 2
        • Day 2 – 20kg – 7/7 – 8 minutes
        • Day 4 – 20kg – 6/6 – 8 minutes

Swing and Get-up Notes

Keep the S&S swings and getups above your snatch sized bell if possible and use it as a “tonic” training session. Keep the pace high, but not as a high as a “smoker.”

An example for a gentleman in the open division would look like this:

  • Week 1
    • Swings –
      • 5×10/10 one-arm swings – 32kg
    • Get-up –
      • 5/5 – 24kg
  • Week 2
    • Swings –
      • 1×10/10 – 40kg
      • 4×10/10 – 32kg
    • Get-up –
      • 1/1 – 32kg
      • 4/4 – 24kg
  • Week 3
    • Swings –
      • 2×10/10 – 40kg
      • 3×10/10 – 32kg
    • Get-up –
      • 2/2 – 32kg
      • 3/3 – 24kg
  • Week 4
    • Swings –
      • 3×10/10 – 40kg
      • 2×10/10 – 32kg
    • Get-up –
      • 3/3 – 32kg
      • 2/2 – 24kg
  • Week 5
    • Swings –
      • 4×10/10 – 40kg
      • 1×10/10 – 32kg
    • Get-up –
      • 4/4 – 32kg
      • 1/1 – 24kg
  • Week 6
    • Swings –
      • 5×10/10 one-arm swings – 40kg
    • Get-up –
      • 5/5 – 32kg

The TSC Training Plans

These plans are simple, but not easy. The gains are in the volume and steady progress made each week. The consistency is maintained through deliberate mini de-load weeks and/or training sessions.

As you mature in your journey toward mastering the skill of strength, an intuitive approach to training will develop. It boils down to listening to that inner-voice that’s telling you to slow down, take a day off, or get after it, but not losing sight of the goal—which is putting up a great number during the competition.

A pull-up, snatch or deadlift personal record is awesome, but a personal record during a Tactical Strength Challenge is that much better, because it was done when it counted—in front of your peers, having your technique scrutinized, and finally recorded in the annals of TSC history.

Jason Marshall
Master SFG, SFL, SFB
Jason Marshall is the owner of a performance training studio in Lubbock, Texas called Lone Star Kettlebell. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sport Science from Texas Tech University in 2001. He is currently a Master Instructor with the StrongFirst organization. He also holds a Certified Personal Trainer designation from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Jason trains athletes and students of strength from all walks of life ranging from many different populations for fat loss to improvement in movement quality for a better life. Jason has been involved with competitive athletics via many sports since his childhood. He is still competitive as a drug-free, unequipped powerlifter, with competition bests in the 181lb weight class of: 463 squat, 319 bench, and 617 deadlift.

Jason can be contacted by email for coaching and consultation via email at lonestarkettlebell@gmail.com.
Jason Marshall on FacebookJason Marshall on Youtube

9 thoughts on “TSC Training Plans for Athletes of All Levels

  • This is an wonderfully detailed template. I have a question about the percentages relative to the deadlift. Is the percentage based on your current PR or what you would like to pull at the TSC? Thank you.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Elle! Use your current 1RM numbers to base your percentages. Expectations are just assumptions. Good luck in your training!

  • Enjoying the plan so far! Once you have reached the 8 week cycle, do we still deadlift twice a week? One day is 5×5 and the other day still work deficits at 50-60%? Thanks for your time!

    • Thanks Eric, and sorry I haven’t checked this page in quite a while, obviously.

      Yes, you can go back to a building cycle of 5×5 or something more complex, but effective. Find an SFG with a PlanStrong background if you can or email me directly. Thanks!

  • Thank you for the kind words, Rick!

    Carlos, rest as much as necessary and as little as possible. Strength takes time, so rest enough that your heart rate comes down and you can attack your next set.

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