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Lift Big Eat Big & the Tactical Athlete

 As the mantra of Lift Big Eat Big spreads to the masses I have noticed more and more Military and Law Enforcement members jumping on board. This subset or community is often referred to as Tactical Athletes (TA). For years this community lifted like body builders, and there is nothing wrong with that, except you are a Tactical Athlete and not a body builder. Some of you are already clued in to this so skim the details if you want, for those of you who still lift the way your high school gym teacher showed you, listen the F up. 
When you are wearing fifty plus pounds of gear, plus a rifle and maybe a ruck you need a strong posterior chain. Your hams, glutes and your entire back need to be as strong as possible. How do you fix that? You start by getting off the hip sled and hack squat machine and picking up your man card. Deadlift and deep squats are going to be the first thing you had better start taking seriously. I realize that being a TA can be tough on your knees, this is not an excuse not to squat. Instead I would recommend you go deeper on your squats and supplement accordingly. Wallowing around on the hamstring curl machine is not going to functionally strengthen the hamstrings and glutes. When do you ever pull something up to your butt with your heal? Instead, start deadlifting like a beast. Lift Big Eat Big programming is about as close to real functional strength building as you are going to get. 
As we build our posterior chain we also need to look at another aspect of training as a TA and that is explosive power. Burpees are great for soccer moms and people that don’t have to wear body armor. Other than the conditioning aspect they are not going to build the amount of raw explosive strength you need to perform many of the actions you perform in hostile situations. Instead look at the Olympic lifts. The snatch is a great example of moving a lot of weight quickly through a plain of motion. If you have ever tried to get a wounded buddy up off the ground and into a fireman’s carry you know all too well how difficult it can be. Even with good technique it is a challenge, and more so when you are smoked.  Adding in movements like the snatch and power cleans will improve your ability to move weight through space, this applies to moving gear like ammo cans full of mortar rounds just as much as it does to moving people. An easy way for a TA to figure out what type of weight they should be moving on a given exercise is to calculate the weight of the heaviest member of their squad or team with full equipment, then add 10-20% for fatigue. If you can move that amount of weight then you can probably help to save their life. 
Besides having the strength to accomplish the mission why else should the TA Lift Big Eat big? Simple, it’s all about presence. As any Law Enforcement Officer or Personal Security Team Member can tell you the first weapon in your arsenal is your presence. If you look big, strong, and fit people are less apt to test you. Deterrence is the best defense. Getting big can be difficult in austere environments like Afghanistan where the altitude and climate can eat you alive. As an operator in Iraq and Afghanistan I have continuously gained mass. How did I do it? I ate constantly and made rest important. If I am not on mission or in the gym I make sure I am doing things that will allow my body to recover and rest. I make getting sleep a priority I stretch and work with a roller and tennis ball whenever I can. When I lift, I lift with my team mates. If you are a TA you are already a meat eater and since the chow halls on FOBs might not be the healthiest of places I do supplement where I need to, like bringing a protein shake to dinner when I know they are not going to have enough protein rich food sources available. I load up on hard boiled eggs in the morning and if there are not enough protein rich food sources at lunch, I add 3-5 eggs to it.
Lift Big Eat Big is a way of life for the TA, review your training, look at you diet, where can you make improvements. This is about your ability to accomplish the mission and it is just as important as any other part of your training. If you are not sure how to conduct the lifts I have discussed or are new to the game, Check out the YouTube videos by Marshal White, he explains form and how to conduct the lifts in a way that even a knuckle dragger like me can understand. Now go Train Your Ass Off!
About the Author: Dave ‘Knuckles’ Libbey Currently is serving in Afghanistan as a PSD operator and writes a weekly post for the Blue Line Radio Facebook page. He spent 10 years in the Marine Corps as an instructor and operator prior to becoming a civilian contractor and ISSA CPT. He remains actively engaged in training deployed Special Operations units. He can be reached at  

12 thoughts on “Lift Big Eat Big & the Tactical Athlete

  1. Glad to see LBEB’s thoughts on the TA subject. Would be nice to see a sample program/how to work running and muscle endurance in with low rep lifting. As much as I hate running and high reps…and as much as I would love to let strength fix everything while eating bacon 24/7… that’s just not my reality as a soldier. I’ve been struggling with this on my own for awhile.


  2. D

    Wendler 531 is an amazing program that fits well into a military life. I am an E5 on Active Duty and have had nothing but gains in all areas.

    Be sure to keep the supplementary exercises high rep body weight movements, that is the key. An Example:

    Monday 11 June, 2012 (Deload Week)
    Over Head Press 5-5-5
    Dips x 100
    Chins x 50

    And I had ran sprints that morning. I spent no more than 45 min at the gym, leaving time to get all my other stuff done along with a 12 hour workday.

    Hope this helps!

    Doc P

  3. I agree with everything except the comments about burpees. I’m not particularly attached to burpees vs tabata sprints/quarter-mile repeats, etc, but there is still a need for that type of cabaility (unless someone can direct me to another article which goes into greater depth explaining how Oly lifts alone can bridge that gap, which I’d be interested to read). Otherwise, outstanding article.

  4. Doc P –

    Thanks for the response. I have the 531 ebook and followed it for a while but I must admit that your small modifications make a lot of sense. I abandoned it in favor of looking for a hybrid program.. military athlete etc. Not a fan. Your post has got my gears spinning about 531 again, thanks doc, I really like that program.


  5. Great article Dave, very on-topic to my life right now!
    Whilst, as a pogue, I don’t have to haul 30+kg of gear around with me for kilometres at a time, as a 5’3″ female I still need to be able to pick up any number of heavy, awkward things, potentially including my colleagues.
    Running quickly for a short period, climbing and generally combating fatigue are all things I need to be able to do, in the heat/humidity/cold/rain/whatever. The combination of heavy lifting sessions plus bodyweight exercises and sprints seems to be working quite well (as well as being bloody hard). For eg, Monday:
    Deadlift – work up to 1×95% 1RM
    AMRAP 10 mins – 7x DLs (40-50% 1RM), 5x strict pullups, 3x burpees
    I got 95kg DL, and 7 rounds in 10mins. I was, in a word, beat. I was also, in another word, very loud because it was unbelievably hard towards the end!

    Been working the Oly lifts into my life as well, not just because they’re kick ass from a strength and power point of view, but also because they’re awesome fun. I love to lift!

  6. D-

    If you have the book then you know what I am talking about when I say that I use the Triumvirate Outline he gives, with plenty of rest and running. My whole week (To include morning PT) Goes like this:

    Monday: Run Sprints/OHP
    Tuesday: PT Test Work (Push ups/Dips Ect…)/Dead Lift
    Wednesday: Run for distance and time
    Thursday: PT Test Work /Bench press
    Friday: Run for time /Squats
    Saturday: Swim for distance
    Sunday: Lounge, for time.

  7. Great article. As an LEO I train to live and this is the way to do it. Thanks for having good information to spread around.

  8. Doc thanks for posting your routine. I will look at it a little closer after work. I know I’ll have to modify it a bit week to week because sometimes our morning pt gets real gay depending on who leads it.. but I digress. Thanks again!


  9. The better way to fix this and gain real explosive strength is a plan similar to what I use for my teams. I call it 3CAR. 3 lifts at 6X6 then you conditioning cardio. We sometimes augment in some functional strength exercises like off camber pushups or fireman’s carry sprints. Be as creative as you want. your three lifts must be compound movements and involve as much weight as you can move to complete 6 reps. An example day would be Squat, power cleans, overhead press. good luck, Train your ass off

  10. NCAA athlete today are being recruited more and more by the Navy SEALs for the athleticism and mental fortitude to come back from a defeat and accomplish their goals. The SEAL community as well as other Special Forces are focusing more on Tactical Athletes in the field more and more.
    Seal Training Adventures general mission for the Navy SEAL teams embody;

    – Supporting normal defense force operations

    – Counter-terrorist operations

    – Clandestine and truly unique operations

    – Strategic reconnaissance plus information collection operations

    – Direct action missions including raids, hostage rescue, terrorists plus war criminals

    – All SEAL missions need insertion/extraction capacities via sea, air or land

  11. This is awesome, I’ve been waiting for an article like this. As a soldier and a fan of LBEB, I believe in the mission of LBEG and I think it’ll benefit operators all over the world to get into this way of living. Thank you.


  12. Great article. As a soldier I’ve struggled in the past with incorporating real barbell training with the other skills I need to keep up. Also check out Tactical Barbell, it specializes in this. Far superior to 531 for the tactical athlete.

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