TACFIT for Life

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This tactical fitness methodology from world-champ MMA fighter Scott Sonnon emphasizes precision over power, recovery over exhaustion.

Peer into some fitness classes and you’ll see knees caving toward each other, elbows flailing and backs rounding as participants struggle to keep up with the instructor.

And yet they just keep going.

You know the type — you might even be the type: valuing effort over technique; doing workouts more than a little beyond your limits; adhering to the well-tread, often wrong-headed maxim No pain, no gain.

“That whole you-gotta-push-through mentality is destroying people,” says Scott Sonnon, world-champion mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter and creator of the TACFIT (tactical fitness) training system, which takes a gentler approach to circuit training. “People think they should get their butt kicked and feel awful the next day. But we should feel better at the end of the workout than at the beginning.”

In his career as a martial artist and trainer of U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, Sonnon has discovered that the ability to move precisely during exercises and to recover quickly is more important than how much weight is lifted. Beyond that, focusing on technique and recovery minimizes injury and maximizes performance. So he created TACFIT to emphasize people’s exercise form and technique to help them deal with physically challenging, high-stress situations.

You don’t need to be involved in hand-to-hand combat to benefit, says Sonnon. The challenges you face outside of the gym can include anything from chasing your 5-year-old in the park to carrying groceries to your third-floor condo.

All TACFIT workouts incorporate high-intensity interval training and proactive periods of recovery. Workouts consist of strength and mobility drills, often done in circuit style, and include heart-rate recovery strategies between exercises. (See “Heart-Rate Recovery How-To,” below.) This makes the system challenging, but not so grueling that you wake up the next morning feeling as though you’ve been hit by a bus. On the contrary, you’ll notice that you’re moving, feeling and looking better day by day.

Get TACFIT 

The structure of this workout involves 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times per exercise (for a total of four minutes). You cap each four-minute round with one minute of recovery. During each round you’ll focus on one exercise only. Between rounds, you’ll practice recovery strategies to slow your heart rate. Perform this workout two to three times a week, taking 24 to 48 hours to recover between workouts.

  1. Set a timer for four minutes.
  2. Perform the first exercise for 20 seconds, working at a steady pace you can maintain. Your focus should be on technique. If you are unable to complete the exercise with perfect form, stand up to recover until it is time to begin the next set. Take a controlled inhale, followed by a deep exhale. Shake out your arms, legs and torso.
  3. Rest 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the same exercise, continuing for eight sets (four minutes total).
  5. Record the total number of repetitions completed (it helps to jot down reps after each set during your 10-second break). You will use this number to measure progress as you repeat this TACFIT workout in the future.
  6. Rest 60 seconds or until your heart rate recovers to below 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. (See “Heart-Rate Recovery How-To,” next page.)
  7. Begin the next exercise. Repeat steps 1 through 6.

Score Yourself

Add up the lowest number of repetitions completed in a set for each of the six exercises. For example, if your reps for an exercise look like this: 8/8/8/6/6/7/5/5, add only the 5. You will be adding six numbers (one for each exercise). The final total will be your score for the workout. Strive to increase your score over time.

TIP: Make sure you’re not trading reps for recovery. See “Heart-Rate Recovery How-To,” below.

Workout

1. Suitcase Deadlift

  
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms extended at your sides. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, palm facing inward.
  • Push your hips backward as you bend your knees to lower the kettlebell toward the ground. Your back should stay in its natural arch.
  • Drive your weight through your midfoot and slowly rise to standing, exhaling as you rise.
  • Switch arms each 20-second interval.

2. Plank Pull

  
  • Kneel with your toes gripping the ground. Fold forward and push your hips back. Extend your arms and place your palms and forearms on the ground at shoulder width.
  • Keeping your elbows in, pull forward with your forearms.
  • Tuck your tailbone and lift your elbows, moving your body as far forward as you can while maintaining a strong core and shoulders. Exhale.
  • Place your elbows down and sit back to the starting position.
  • Continue in 20-second intervals.

3. Sit-Through

  
  • Start on all fours, weight balanced between your hands and feet with your hands on
  • the ground directly below your shoulders.
  • Lift your left hand, pulling your elbow straight up, and rotate your left shoulder back. Keep your right shoulder stable and press your right hand into the ground.
  • With your right knee bent, bring your right leg between your right hand and left leg so that your right glute touches the ground and right thigh comes parallel to the ground. Keep both feet on the ground and keep your gaze downward. Exhale as you sit through.
  • Rotate back to the starting position, placing your left palm down.
  • Switch sides each 20-second interval.

4: Kettlebell Bench Press

  
  • Lie flat on your back with knees bent.
  • Hold the kettlebell an inch above the middle of your chest, cupping the bell portion with your hands. Keep your elbows as close to your ribs as possible.
  • Press the kettlebell upward until your arms are straight.
  • Slowly lower the kettlebell to the starting position.
  • Continue in 20-second intervals.

5. Spinal Rock

  
  • Sit on a mat with your arms at your sides. Tuck your tailbone and roll backward so your lower back comes in contact with the ground.
  • Lift your hips and extend your lower legs toward the ceiling. Exhale. Keep the weight of your body on your shoulders. There should be no tension in your neck. Ideally, your spine should be perpendicular to the ground and your knees and toes should be above your head, but don’t worry if you can’t get your legs this high.
  • Grab the outsides of your knees and inhale as you roll back to a seated position, bringing your ribs to your inner thighs.
  • Continue in 20-second intervals.

6. Table Lift

  
  • Start seated with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Position your hands below your shoulders, just outside of your hips, fingers facing your heels.
  • Press down into your palms to extend your elbows and drive through the middle of your feet to lift your hips. Exhale as you extend. Your hips should be as high as possible, knees directly over your feet. Keep your shoulders pulled down. Gaze skyward.
  • Pull in your navel to lower your hips between your hands and come to a seated position, legs extended.
  • Continue in 20-second intervals.
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The Warmup

Perform 10 repetitions of the following, on both sides of the body and in both directions.

  • Hip circles: Stand and rotate your hips in a circular motion, as if you are hula-hooping.
  • Shoulder back strokes: Rotate your shoulders in a backward motion, as if you are swimming the backstroke.
  • Chest arch and cave: Alternate between pushing your chest forward and pulling your chest inward.
  • Elbow rotations: Hold your arms in front of you, parallel to ground, and rotate your elbows and forearms toward you in a circular motion.
  • Spinal Twists: Stand tall with your arms extended at shoulder height. Rotate your torso as far you can to the right, keeping your arms straight and hips squared. Rotate back to center.
  • Ankle rolls: Stand with weight on your right leg and rotate your left ankle in a circular motion.

Make It Harder: Exercise Progressions

A true TACFIT workout, however, also includes the principle of progression and regression. What this means is that every exercise has two versions, allowing you to switch to the easier version when you can no longer complete an exercise with perfect technique.

What you see above are the easier versions of each exercise, so if you are able to complete all of them with good form, you may be ready to try the more challenging version of this workout. When replacing the exercises with their progressions, follow these instructions:

  • Start each round with 20 seconds of the progression. If, at any time, you find you are unable to complete the exercise with perfect technique, switch to its regression (the version shown in this article).
  • If you are unable to complete the regression, rest until the next interval begins.
  • When recording repetitions completed, include only repetitions of the progression. Do not count the regression toward your score.

1) One-legged Romanian Deadlift

  • Start with a kettlebell in your right hand, with your right arm extended at your side.
  • Lift your left foot to stand on your right leg, keeping your right knee soft and weight in the midfoot.
  • Push your right hip backward as you extend your left leg directly behind you. Maintain a straight line from your shoulder to your right foot. Lower the kettlebell toward ground.
  • Drive your weight through your right midfoot and slowly rise to standing as you bring your left leg forward, exhaling as you rise.
  • Alternate legs for each 20-second interval.

2) Plank Pull Half-Knee

  • Kneel with your toes gripping the ground. Fold forward and push your hips back. Extend your arms and place palms on the ground at shoulder width. Bend your elbows and place them on the ground, directly behind your hands.
  • Keep your elbows pinched to your ribs. Pull forward with your forearms, keeping forearms down.
  • Tuck your tailbone and lift your elbows. Lift your knees and contract your quads to come to a plank. Drive your heels backward to lengthen your spine and keep your tailbone tucked.
  • Lower your knees to ground. Release your tailbone. Place your elbows down and sit back to relax.

3) Sit-Through Extension

  • Start in a squat position and place your hands on the ground directly below shoulders.
  • Lift your left hand, pulling your elbow straight up, and rotate your left shoulder back. Keep your right shoulder stable and press your right hand into the ground
  • With your right knee bent, bring your right leg between your right hand and left leg so that your right glute approaches the ground. Extend your right leg and point your toes, bringing your right leg parallel to the ground. Keep your left foot on the ground and keep gaze downward. Exhale as you sit through.
  • Rotate back to the starting position, placing your left palm down.
  • Repeat on the right side. Continue alternating sides.

4) Kettlebell Bridge Press

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Bring your feet under your knees and push your feet into the ground to lift your hips and lower back. Avoid arching your lower back.
  • Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, just outside your chest, with your palm facing forward. Keep your elbows as close to your ribs as possible
  • Press the kettlebell up and toward the middle of your chest, as you rotate your palm inward.
  • Slowly lower the kettlebell to the starting position, rotating your palm forward.
  • Alternate arms for each 20-second interval.

5) Spinal rock Pike

  • Start seated on a mat with your arms at sides. Tuck your tailbone and roll back so that your lower back comes in contact with the ground. Keep your arms extended with your hands pressed flat on ground.
  • Lift your hips to drive them toward your head and extend your legs directly behind you. Squeeze your quads, pull your toes toward shins and kick your heels away. Exhale. Keep the weight of your body on your shoulders. There should be no tension in your neck, allowing you to breathe.
  • Inhale as you lower your legs to extend them in front of you and rise to a seated position. Keep your chest up and resist forward motion from your torso.

6) Tripod Vertical

  • Start seated with your knees bent and feet at hip width on the ground. Position your right hand directly below your right shoulder with fingers facing to the outside. Keep your left arm bent with your elbow just over the middle of your chest and fingers pointing upward.
  • Drive your right palm into the ground to straighten your right arm, and reach your left arm straight up, keeping shoulders in one line. Simultaneously drive through the middle of your feet to lift your hips. Exhale as you extend. Your hips should be as high as possible, directly over the middle of your feet. Gaze skyward.
  • Drive off your midfoot on the posting side (right) and lower your hips to come to a seated position. Simultaneously lower your left elbow toward the starting position in front of your chest.
  • Pull and grip with your heels to press the middle of your feet down and lift your hips, repeating from step 2.

The Cool-Down

Practice each of the following stretches for 30 seconds or four six-second exhales.

Standing quad stretch: Stand on your right leg and grab your left foot to pull it toward your buttocks. Avoid arching your back.

Downward facing dog against wall: Stand with your heels touching the wall and lower your hands to the floor in front of you. Walk out your hands, keeping your legs straight and pushing your hips backward.

Shoulder bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms extended at your sides. Press the backs of your arms into the ground. Press your feet into the ground to lift your hips, keeping your hips, knees and shoulders in one line.

Arms clasped overhead elbow extension: Raise your right arm overhead and bend at the elbow. Use your left arm to gently stretch your right elbow back and toward your head.

Seated spinal twist: Sit with your legs extended. Bend your left knee and cross your left leg over your right leg. Place your left hand behind you and cross your right arm over your left leg. Rotate your torso to your left and gaze backward

Knees to chest baby pose: Lie on your back and draw your knees toward chest.

TACFIT Resources

For additional TACFIT resources, including workshops and DVD programs specific to your fitness goals, visit www.rmaxi.com/tacfit.

 

Nicole Radziszewski is a writer and personal trainer in River Forest, Ill. She blogs at www.nicolewritesfitness.com.

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