Reviewing the 2015 Tactical Strength and Conditioning Conference

Marines perform a total body resistance exercise push-up during the high intensity tactical training (HITT) Small Unit Leaders course.
U.S. Marines perform a total body resistance exercise push-up during the high intensity tactical training (HITT) Small Unit Leaders course at Gunners’ Gym on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 19, 2020. (Cpl. Karis Mattingly/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The 2015 Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) annual training event delivered a comprehensive learning experience. The TSAC is a program under the National Strength and Conditioning Association that solely focuses on the mental, physical and tactical performance of military, law enforcement, firefighter and EMT professions. The term tactical athlete originated with the people who form the backbone of the program.

The annual training gathers some of the best tactical athlete trainers in the world, as well as many Tactical Fitness equipment suppliers for a three-day training program. The trainers who present and offer fitness training to participants work for various groups, but all have the same goal of creating a better equipped, physically and mentally stronger, and healthier performer at work and home.

Many presenters at the 2015 TSAC conference spoke about a common theme: mental toughness. Defining mental toughness has been an interesting project for many of these trainers over the last decade. 

The spectrum of mental toughness is broad for the tactical athlete; you have to consider the type of mental toughness to get to and through challenging training and selection programs. But you also must consider the mental toughness and resilience required to endure traumatic events during and after your military, police or firefighter career.  This topic is a major concern for all involved with tactical human performance.

The keynote speaker, Mike Asken, psychologist with the Pennsylvania State Police, emphasized the importance of the mind-body connection with his presentation on the first day.  Asken co-authored "Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation's Peacekeepers" with Col. Dave Grossman of "On Killing" fame.

As a participant in the conference, you can choose from several presentations and hands-on training programs or walk around the exhibitor hall to see the latest in tactical strength and conditioning innovations in gear and equipment. The presentations were represented by nearly every tactical fitness group in the business. 

Representatives from numerous groups joined the event: Navy SEALs, Rangers, U.S. Army Special Forces, Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), local fire departments, state and local law enforcement, SWAT teams, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.  These experts are the actual developers of training programs used by all of our tactical athletes in the United States, Canada and Australia.  

Here are some highlights from this year's conference:

Beyond Push-ups by Nick Tumminello of Performance University:  I actually went into this presentation with an open mind but thought there was not much I could learn on the push-up. I was wrong. I learned a dozen new push-up variations as well as a better way to teach the proper push-up. Check out the videos in the link for a thorough understanding of the new exercises.

Performance of SWAT operators: In a presentation called Demands, Training and Research Advances, Brian Schilling and Jay Dawes discussed the current demands of SWAT callouts, physical tasks, training procedures and future research on SWAT performance.

Training firefighters on duty -- recommended or irresponsible? This presentation by Mark Abel reviewed research on whether exercise decreases a firefighter's physical ability when on the job. Both the benefits and consequences of exercise while working were discussed among the presenters and group.

First responder mobility -- the pain connection: Brian Fass discusses improving mobility among the military, police, firefighter and EMT population is critical, and a simple, tested and proven process was taught in this program.

Muscular endurance with kettlebells: This class by Nico Rithner used the six lifts of the Bolt kettlebell competition to reduce running injuries.

Speed, agility and quickness of the special operator: This presentation by Mason Baggett focused on how to add the required skills of speed, agility and quickness properly to a population of special ops that often do not practice these events during team workouts. Reteaching the biomechanics of acceleration, deceleration and body positioning is key to building a healthy special operator.   

Some of the most interesting equipment designs were built by Sorinex and TRX. Those companies teamed together to create the coolest, deployable training systems to date.

The event closed with a final question-and-answer session with many of the top trainers in their fields. During the three-day event, more than 60 presentations and hands-on training programs were held. Between meeting and discussing the latest in tactical training and conditioning with some of the world's best trainers and equipment makers, it is difficult to see even half of the presenters.  

But the education, connections and workouts gained from the TSAC training is priceless. Look for more information regarding online training opportunities on the National Strength and Conditioning Association's website.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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