Tactical Strength Challenge Rules

The Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC) is a strength competition consisting of three events:

  • A three-attempt powerlifting deadlift
  • Pullups for max reps
  • Kettlebell snatches for max reps in a 5:00 time period

See a video review of the rules.

The Tactical Strength Challenge tests different types of strength and endurance—as demanded by real life’s challenges—with three lifts, the deadlift, the pullup, and the kettlebell snatch. The three events test a unique trade-off between these abilities. While larger participants may have an advantage in the deadlift, lighter participants have an advantage in pullups, and the kettlebell snatch tests all participants equally.

The rules are simple, the training is hard, but the opportunity to say you faced the Tactical Strength Challenge and survived makes it all worthwhile.

Classes of competition

Women’s Novice Division1
A max deadlift, flexed arm hang, and snatches with a 12kg kettlebell.

Women’s Classic Division1
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 16kg kettlebell.

Women’s Pre-competition/Competition Division2
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 16kg kettlebell (bodyweight up to & including 60kg) or 20kg (bodyweight more than 60kg).

Women’s Masters Division
A max deadlift, bodyweight pull-ups, and snatches with a 12kg kettlebell.

Men’s Novice Division
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 20kg kettlebell.

Men’s Classic Division
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 24kg kettlebell.

Men’s Pre-competition/Competition Division2
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 24kg kettlebell (bodyweight up to & including 65kg), 28kg kettlebell (bodyweight 65.1–85 kg), or 32kg kettlebell (bodyweight more than 85kg).

Men’s Masters Division
A max deadlift, bodyweight pullups, and snatches with a 20kg kettlebell.

1 In order to eliminate redundancy and focus participants within the categories, we have eliminated the Women’s Novice 16kg and Women’s Classic 12kg divisions. Please direct your training toward the time-honored Women’s Novice or Women’s Classic divisions. Strength has a greater purpose.

2 A “Pre-Competition” division will be held each year in April/May while the “Competition” division will be held the last Saturday in October. The top place finisher in the April event’s Classic division and the top three place finishers in the April event’s Pre-Competition division will be able to enter the October event’s Competition division at no charge.

Event duration

The TSC must be held and completed in a single day. Masters competitors will be over 50, not the more common over 40. Masters lifters should lift in the same flights as other competitors. The weights used for pullups and snatches vary by competition class as described below.

The events are performed in the following order: deadlift, pullups, snatches. Each competitor must be given at least 15 minutes of rest between events but 30-60 minutes is recommended.

Any competitor that places in the top 3 in the Novice division is no longer eligible to compete in the Novice division and must register in the Classic or Pre-Competition/Competition division.

How each event is scored

Deadlift The competitor who successfully lifts the most weight wins.

Pullups The competitor who does the most repetitions wins. Flexed-Arm Hang The competitor who maintains position above the bar for the longest wins.

Snatches The competitor who successfully performs the most repetitions wins.

Scoring is based on participation. 1 point for 1st place and 2 for 2nd and so on. In the event of a tie, the pull-up goes to the heaviest person and the deadlift will go to the lightest. A tie in the snatch test will stand.

Event Rules

Deadlift (Event 1)

The competitor will lift the barbell and stand erect at the finish of the lift with the hips extended, knees locked, and shoulders above the hips.

  1. Either conventional (grip outside the thighs) or sumo (inside) stance is acceptable.
  2. Any type of grip is allowed. Chalk is the only grip aid allowed.
  3. There will be no downward movement of the bar during the ascent.
  4. No ramping (resting the barbell on the thighs during the lift) is allowed.
  5. No hitching (re-bending the knees on the ascent) is allowed.
  6. Upon the instructor’s “Down” command, the student will set the barbell down under control, the hands staying in contact with the barbell until it touches the ground.

Equipment allowed: Belt, knee sleeves (no knee wraps), wrist wraps (not wrist straps), and shoes are the only equipment allowed.

Equipment not allowed: No knee wraps, wrist straps, or powerlifting suits.

Pullups (Event 2)

Strict pullup form and grip is required. A chin-up grip (palms facing the competitor) is not allowed.

With a palms-forward, thumb-less grip (thumbs on the same side of the bar as the fingers) the competitor will pull up from a dead hang until his/her neck or upper chest touches the bar.

  1. Use pure strength; no swinging, kipping, or other use of momentum is allowed.
  2. The neck (or upper chest) must touch the bar below the jawline. Touching the bar with the underside of the chin does not count.
  3. A dead hang must be maintained for a minimum of 0.5 seconds before every repetition, including the first one. The body must be motionless, the arms and legs straight. (If a mobility issue limits the elbows straightening, then the competitor must notify “tsc [at] strongfirst [dot] com” to get a medical clearance if he or she wants to be considered as a potential winner.)

For each successful rep, the referee will issue a count indicating a successful rep has been completed. The event is terminated when the competitor quits or fails to make three successive attempts.

The judge/camera should be about eye level with the bar to make sure the jawline clears the bar.

Flexed-Arm Hang

The goal of the flexed-arm hang event is for a competitor to hang with the jawline above the bar for as long as possible. To begin, the athlete will get into position with assistance to the bar with a step up, being lifted up, or jumping up to the start position. The bar must be grasped with both palms facing either forward or to the rear. The correct starting position begins when the competitor’s arms are flexed at the elbow, the jawline is held above the bar and not touching it, and the body is motionless. At no time during the execution of this event can a competitor rest her chin on the bar. The clock stops as soon as the jawline is no longer above the bar.

The judge/camera should be about eye level with the bar to make sure the jawline clears the bar.

Equipment: A pullup bar tall enough so that all competitors can use it without bending their legs and sturdy enough to handle heavier competitors and additional weight of kettlebells.

Equipment not allowed: No lifting aids or gloves

Kettlebell Snatches (Event 3)

A snatch is executed by swinging a single kettlebell between the legs with one arm, bringing the kettlebell overhead in a single motion, and locking it out overhead (vertically so the bell is over the heels) with a straight arm. After each rep, the competitor will let the kettlebell fall in a single motion (without dropping the kettlebell to the chest or shoulder) and perform another rep. The knees must be locked out at the completion of the snatch for the rep to count. The competitor may not place the non-lifting arm on the thigh or allow it to assist in any way. If the competitor allows the hand to rest on the thigh, assist the lift in any other way, a no count is called and the repetition is not counted. Speed switches are allowed where the competitor switches arms in the middle of the snatch motion.

The competitor has five minutes to perform as many repetitions as possible. The judge will use a timer or stopwatch and will instruct the competitor when to begin. Once the timer starts, the competitor may begin using either arm and switch arms as many times as desired during the five minutes. The competitor may also set the kettlebell on the ground, rest, or pace on or around the platform provided he or she does not disturb other competitors. The event is terminated when the time reaches five minutes or when the competitor quits. The event is not terminated if the competitor violates a technical rule, but the rep preceding the violation does not count. After notification of a no count or a rule violation, the competitor may resume performing repetitions.

Equipment: A 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, 28kg or 32kg kettlebell and a timer or stopwatch. Competitors may use chalk to improve their grip and can reapply as often as needed. Tape can be used only if a pre-existing injury is noted to the judge.

Equipment not allowed: Competitors may not use gloves or wrist guards (wrist guards can only be used if a previous medical condition exists).

Referee’s discretion

The rules of the TSC are basic and straightforward. A brief rules meeting must precede each event.
Competitors must ask any relevant questions at this time. The referee may, at his/her discretion disallow any practice that he/she deems unsafe.