Paving Your Personal Road to TSC Victory

I’m certain no one would be surprised to hear me say the Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC) events are very much in my wheelhouse. However, this fact is not simply a matter of my training for the TSC, but the result of every activity I experimented with, and trained in, up to this point in my life.

I believe if you try a variety of things in your life, you will eventually find the things you’re good at. Once you find these things, you will do them more often because, well, if you’re good at something, chances are you will find enjoyment in doing it. This process makes you even stronger in the areas where you already show promise, and can bring you to an elite level.

Derek Toshner Deadlift TSC
My 625lb pull from the fall 2015 TSC.

The TSC isn’t just for the elite, though. It’s a competition against your previous self – a chance to learn and work toward improving yourself. At TNT, we encourage everyone to try the TSC, and we’ve trained many people for it. For the new person, the goal is to set a baseline for future TSCs. For others, the goal becomes to improve those baseline scores. Yet for others, the goal is to reach the top ten, and there’s a variety of background experiences that can make these people “elite” in the TSC.

The following is my story on how the TSC events became my strengths, but as you read it I want you to think of your story. What are some strengths or experiences that might make you an elite TSC competitor?

How Wrestling Primed Me for the TSC

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin that was dominant in the sport of wrestling. As a result, we had a strong youth program that I became involved with in the second grade. I was not a very good wrestler at first, but my angry redheaded nature needed an outlet. Our coaches instilled in us tenacity and mental toughness – two qualities needed for any sport, but particularly kettlebell snatching.

Grip strength was also emphasized by our coaches, and ironically my dad kept a wrist roller (you know, the kind with a rope attached to a dowel and a 4kg weight that you roll up and down while holding your arms straight out) in the living room. This exercise challenges grip, traps, posterior delts, and, again, mental toughness.

My dad had taped a note to the roller that read, “Master 10 reps.” These reps were strict: arms straight out and staying between chest and eye level, rolling all the way up and down—no letting the dowel slide through your hands! I took my dad’s challenge, and by age sixteen could perform sixteen reps in a row, a feat that few I train today can reach. (My dad, though, can outperform me with twenty-plus reps. He’s in his late sixties, and he’s still in a league of his own with this exercise.)

The other piece of equipment in the living room was a power wheel. We would often do roll-outs from our knees during TV commercial breaks. This taught me how to create core pressure (or brace) and built strong lats. On the topic of lats, when I was eight, my dad bought my brother and me a universal home gym. He emphasized performing lots of lat pull-downs, straight-arm pull-downs, and seated rows.

Running, Rock Climbing, and Snatching

As I improved as a wrestler, I imagined that I would continue the sport in college, but as a junior in high school, I discovered I was an exceptional runner and hurdler. As a result, I ran the 400m hurdles in college and a few years beyond. Our strength coach emphasized posterior chain movements, so we performed a lot of Olympic lifts, single-leg deadlifts, and glute/ham raises.

My training was heavy in the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems, which optimized my performance for most anything within a sub-2.5-minute duration. I believe the dynamic running also helped with the repetitive nature of snatching. When I was introduced to kettlebells by my brother, Ryan, I didn’t experience any type of hamstring or glute soreness nor fatigue from snatching due to the endurance those body parts had gained from running.

Still having a strong grip from the training I did as a child, I found the sport of rock climbing to be a fun challenge, and one which my brother and I have continued for twelve years now. Climbing continues to improve my grip and my pulling abilities.

Climbing to train for TSC
Climbing improves both my grip and my pull strength.

I believe all of these things that I began as a child and continued through my early twenties set me up for success in the TSC. Given my training history and aptitudes, I immediately found I had a talent for snatching kettlebells. Mastering the SSST (Secret Service Snatch Test) and UST (Ultimate SSST) became goals of mine. In training for those tests, snatching has become my best event in the TSC.

I also went to college for exercise science and applied my schooling to my own training. Using my body as a test subject for the last fifteen years has resulted in a great understanding of how to train. I periodize my program to peak at an optimal time by starting with a base, building volume, and tapering that volume appropriately at the end of the training cycle. Tapering involves intense, short-duration exercises, with long bouts of recovery between few amounts of sets.

My Training for the Next TSC

I am grateful my brother introduced me to kettlebells. When they came into my life, I was tired of the routines I had been doing for so long. Kettlebells offer a fun and unique challenge that reminds me of being an athlete, and I enjoy the efficiency of kettlebell training for staying in shape.

Derek and Ryan Toshner Training for TSC
Training kettlebells with my brother.

I take a few weeks off after each TSC before beginning my training again for the next one. I’ve found that if I’m not training for a competition, I exercise randomly, which produces poor fitness results. Ryan has convinced me to do an “Even Easier Strength” from December to February. Then in February I will begin the program I have specifically written for the TSC.

This year I plan to compete in the Spring TSC, and then pick up obstacle course racing from summer through fall. I have a feeling this will have a negative impact on my deadlift for the Fall TSC, but I still believe I will achieve a 700lb deadlift within the next two to five years.

The 12-Week TNT TSC Program

Every training day do:

  • Passive Leg Lowers – 20/20
  • FMS Wall Sit Shoulder Drill – 7 minutes
  • Swing Warm-Up – 10 swings + 5/5 snatch—light + TGU 1/1. Add weight, repeat. Add weight, repeat. Then, 5 heavy swings and 5 heavy double-kettlebell snatches.

Exercise notes:

  • Reset your deadlift as if to do each rep as an individual rep
  • Begin ab training with hollow position and hollow rocking. Progress to recommended abs once mastering hollow rocking and suspension trainer body saws.
  • % of max for deadlifts: 6 means you could do 8. 4 means you could do 5. 2 means you get 1 and hopefully 2.

W1D1 (Week 1 Day 1)

  1. Deadlift 2×5, 1×3, 1×2, 3×1
  2. Power Wheel Roll Outs 5×5
  3. 10-minute Finger Board Workout

W1D2

  1. Snatch Test Size Bell Every Minute on the Minute (EMOTM) 12-min between 5/5 to 8/8
  2. Dragon Flags 3×5
  3. 10-minute Finger Board Workout including 3 rounds of Pull-Ups to 80%

W1D3

  1. 50-70 Pull-Ups in as few of sets as possible
  2. Snatch Test Size Bell EMOTM 10-min between 5/5 to 6/6

W2D1

  1. Accelerated Eccentric (AE) Swings 2×8
  2. Heavy Swings 3×5
  3. AE Swings 1×8
  4. Deadlift 5×8
  5. Wrist Rolls x 16 @ 4kg for men and 2kg for women

W2D2

  1. Snatch Test Size Bell EMOTM 14-min between 5/5 to 8/8
  2. Standing Power Wheel Roll Outs 5×5

W2D3

  1. 20 sets of 20% Max Reps Pull-Ups as fast as possible
  2. Snatch Rest Size Bell EMOTM 10-min between 5/5 to 6/6
  3. 10-minute Finger Board Workout

W3D1

  1. AE swings 2×8
  2. Heavy Swings 2×5
  3. AE Swings 1×8
  4. Deadlift 5×8
  5. Dragon Flags 2×10 1×5
  6. 10-minute Finger Board Workout

W3D2

  1. Snatch Test Size Bell EMOTM 16-min 5/5 to 8/8
  2. Standing Power Wheel Roll Outs 5 sets of 5

W3D3

  1. 60-80 Pull-Ups in as few of sets as possible
  2. Snatch +1 or +2 bells above snatch test size EMOTM 10-min 5/5

W4D1

  1. Deadlift 3x6RM
  2. Wrist Rolls x 16 – 2kg women and 4kg men
  3. Practice Front Levers

W4D2

  1. Snatch Test Size Bell EMOTM 18-min 5/5 to 8/8
  2. Power Wheel Crawl for maximal distance 1 set
  3. 10-minute Finger Board Workout

W4D3

  1. Ladder 80% max Pull-Ups and decrease 1 rep each set to 0 as fast as possible
  2. Snatch +1 or +2 bells above snatch test size EMOTM 10-min 5/5
  3. Farmer carry something heavy for a distance that makes you say, “Why did we do that?”

W5D1

  1. AE Swings 2×8
  2. Heavy Swings (((1×1 + 1×2) x 3)) x 3))) – basically 3 rounds of 9 swings
  3. AE Swings 1×8
  4. Deadlift 3x6RM
  5. Alternate Heavy Bent Press 1/1 W/Heavy Pull-ups x 1-3 (or full range pull ups with personal assistance if needed) 3 sets

W5D2

  1. Snatch Test Size Bell EMOTM 5/5 to 8/8 20-min
  2. Front Levers 3 sets of 4 with 2 second hold each rep

W5D3

  1. 70-90 Pull-Ups in as few of sets as possible
  2. Snatch +1 or +2 bells above snatch test size EMOTM 10-min 5/5

W6D1

  1. AE Swings 2×8
  2. Heavy Swings (((1×1 + 1×2) x 3)) x 3))) – basically 3 rounds of 9 swings
  3. AE Swings 1×8
  4. Deadlift 3x6RM
  5. Front Levers 3 sets of 4 with 2 second hold at top

W6D2

  1. 5-minute Snatch Test; rest then hit cadence work of what you want on competition day
  2. 5×10 Dragon Flags
  3. 10-min finger board workout

W6D3

  1. 20 sets of 20% Max Reps Pull-Ups as fast as possible
  2. Snatch +1 or +2 bells above snatch test size EMOTM 10-min 5/5

W7D1

  1. Deadlift 3×10 (Deloaded and pull for speed and technique)
  2. Power Wheel Body Saws 3×6
  3. Snatch Test Size Bell 100 Reps AFAP + 5-min rest + 100 reps AFAP

W7D2

  1. Snatch Test Size +2 10/10 for 4-7min EMOTM
  2. Bent Press 1/1 to 3/3 with Heavy Pull-Ups 1/1 to 3/3 for 3 sets
  3. Front Levers 3×4 with 2 second hold
  4. Finger Board Workout

W7D3

  1. 80-100 Pull-Ups in as few of sets as possible
  2. Power Wheel Crawl for Maximal Distance 1 set
  3. Repeat Farmer Carry Workout

NOTE: At this point you should stop all other exercises you may be doing. Do only this program from here through competition day.

W8D1

  1. Deadlift 1×6, 1×4, 1×2
  2. Bent Press 1/1 to 3/3 with Heavy Pull-Ups 1/1 to 3/3 for 3 sets
  3. Snatch Test Size Bell 10/10 for 10-min
  4. Dragon Flags as many as possible with good form

W8D2

  1. Test size bell (2-min snatch, 2-min rest) x 5
  2. 10-minute Finger Board Workout

W8D3

  1. Ladder 80% max Pull-Ups and decrease 1 rep each set to 0 as fast as possible
  2. Wrist Rolls ‘Heavy’ 2×6

W9D1

  1. AE Swings 2×6
  2. Heavy Swing 2×3
  3. AE Swings 1×6
  4. Deadlift 1×6, 1×4, 1×2
  5. Bent Press 1/1 to 3/3 with Heavy Pull-Ups 1/1 to 3/3 for 3 sets
  6. Wrist Rolls 16 reps

W9D2

  1. Snatch Test Bell 200 reps AFAP or 100 reps AFAP + 5-min rest + 100 reps AFAP
  2. Ab of Choice GTG

W9D3

  1. 20 sets of 20% Max Reps Pull-Ups w/added weight as fast as possible

W10D1

  1. Deadlift 1×6, 1×4, 1×2
  2. Snatch Test Size -2 16/16 3-min Straight
  3. Standing Roll Outs 1 set as many reps as possible with good form

W10D2

  1. Snatch Test Bell 5-min + 5min rest; +1 bell for 3-min + 3-min rest; +2 bell for 2-min
  2. Pull-Ups 2 sets to 85% effort

W10D3

  1. 10-min Finger Board Workout
  2. Wrist Rolls Gym Jones FYF style i.e. Find a new level of mental fortitude

W11D1

  1. Deadlift 1×5, 1×3, 1×1
    Ab of Choice GTG

W11D2

  1. Snatch Test Bell -2 12/12 to 16/16 EMOTM for 10-min

W12D1

Speed Deadlift for 100 single reps at 18-22% 1RM with full rest every 10 reps. Take 90-min to complete

W12D2

  1. No Warm-Up; 80% Max Pull-Ups x 2 sets throughout the day (i.e. 1 morning and 1 night)

W12D3

  1. Snatch Test Bell for Cadence for 3-min

W12D6

  • TSC DAY!

If you have any questions about my training, my nutrition plan, or how to do any of the movements in this program, please feel free to post them to the comments below.

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Derek Toshner
SFG Team Leader
Derek Toshner is the Co-Founder, with his brother Ryan, of TNT Fitness Results. TNT is a group of four gyms and one sister gym in Wisconsin. TNT in Fond du Lac, where Derek is most often, has a military-style obstacle course on 8.7 acres of land.

Besides being a TSC division champion, Derek was a 5x NCAA national champion in track and field (3x 400m hurdles and 2x 4x400m relay) and competed at the USA World and Olympic Team Trials from '03 to '05. He is also a consultant for Nike as a member of the Nike Trainer's Network.
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10 thoughts on “Paving Your Personal Road to TSC Victory

  • Thank you for this plan. I just signed up to do the fall TSC and I wanted a program to follow until the date. I plan on doing the spring as well, and making this a yearly tradition.

  • This is really helpful information and very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your program. Are there any ways to substitute fingerboard work if you don’t own a board? Thank you!

  • Just wanted to say great article. Would you modify the plan for a fifty year old? Thanks and I too wanted your nutrition advice.

    • Hey Brandon,
      We do the 10-min EMOTM programs that come with the board when you purchase it. The exercises usually last between 5-40seconds each

  • Derek, you are a freak of nature (in the best possible way). Thanks so much for sharing this plan. While I certainly cannot compete on the same level as you I aspire to beat my last PRs in the TSC. You mention after week 7 to cease any other workout program and just stick to the plan you lay out. What else are you doing in weeks 1-7 to prepare?
    Also, any brief comments on a training diet? Are you keeping a higher protein/fat to carb ratio or the other way around?
    Thanks again for sharing. The plan you laid out is obviously a proven path to excellence, now to motivate myself to stick to it.

    • Hi Kyle,
      We will do 90-min steady state cardio once a week, which usually entails something fun like hiking, obstacle course racing, or biking. We will also do some extra back squats, fool around with bottom up work, or jump in a yoga class or something. Last six weeks of the program, it’s program only. Send me an email, and I will send you the TNT 10 Commandments of nutrition that we follow at TNT. Derek@tntfr.com

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