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Evidence-based guidelines for improving load carriage performance in the tactical operator
Paul C. Henning, PhD, CSCS 8/27/2012 12:59:53 PM
Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 12:23 PM
Joined: 8/27/2012
Posts: 2

Load carriage can be defined as the external load comprising items critical to tactical and operational mission success (e.g. protective equipment, weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs, communications equipment, etc.).  Load carriage is one of the most physically demanding occupational tasks that a tactical operator must perform and it can be a decisive factor during emergency situations and military conflicts.  The consequences of overloading a tactical operator include excessive fatigue, diminished physical performance, impaired mobility, and the potential of sustaining overuse and musculoskeletal injuries.


The tactical strength and conditioning (TSAC) professional should employ evidence-based research when prescribing strength and conditioning programs for the purpose of optimizing and improving load carriage performance.


These training guidelines can be extrapolated and utilized by all tactical operators in which load carriage is an essential occupational task (e.g., firefighters wearing personal protective equipment, police officers wearing body armor, military personnel carrying heavy equipment on their backs).


The following practical guidelines are an evidence-based summary of research that demonstrates improvements in load carriage and are provided to the TSAC professional to be used as a reference when designing and prescribing strength and conditioning programs for the purpose of improving load carriage performance.

·   Once weekly progressive load carriage included in the program design.

·    A progressive increase in the weight/intensity of loads carried over time to meet tactical requirements.

·    A progressive increase in load carriage volume (duration and/or distance) to meet tactical requirements.

·    Resistance training performed with free weights and machines at least three days per week moving from high repetitions (10-12 reps) with less weight (muscular endurance) to lower repetitions (5-7 reps) with heavier weight (strength) and working up to three sets per exercise

·    Aerobic training with progressive increases in distance (Running 20-30 mins based on heart rate, two times per week) & interval training with progressive decreases in rest (~once per week)


A unit’s mission success is based entirely on the performance of their tactical operators who often have to react and maneuver in austere environments while under loaded conditions.  TSAC professionals are charged with ensuring that the strength and conditioning programs they prescribe are based on sound research and are appropriate for the personnel they are coaching.  The above guidelines will prepare the TSAC professional with evidence-based knowledge ensuring they develop sound strength and conditioning programs for tactical operators.


1. Are there any other training methods that anyone has that are effective and have been used to enhance load carriage performance in your groups?

2. Has anyone been using the guidelines above and have seen improvements in the operators you train?

Thank you!

CPT Paul C. Henning

U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine




Matthew D. Tentis, CSCS 10/11/2012 6:10:22 PM
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:52 PM
Joined: 10/11/2012
Posts: 5

CPT Henning,


My experience training tactical athletes thus far has been limited to a short period with ROTC cadets and publishing a newsletter with my NG unit.  Focus has not been on improving the ruck times, so unfortunately I have no data to provide you. 


I will say however, that in my own training experience and that of the Soldiers I have trained along side, strength is huge.  I personally found increasing load before increasing distance to be successful in my training.  Improvements in work capacity were maintained and I progressively felt more comfortable with the load in my ruck.  Squat variations 2-3 times per week with submax loads (70-85%) were combined with plyomtrics.   I fully admit this did not lead to any record setting 12 mile ruck times, but it did allow me to maintain my speed under a heavy load.  An observation I continually make is that the stronger athlete finds greater success when it comes to rucking.  I attended SOPC a few years back and the "runners" would always lead the way on the runs, but fall behind on the rucks.  The lifters would usually fair in the opposite pattern.  Naturally, this is generalizing and not concrete data. 


Not sure if that is benificial to you, Sir. 


I'd like to use your post as a reference in one of my newsletters, if you dont mind.  We will be putting an article out in May focusing on the ruck. 


SSG Tentis

Paul C. Henning, PhD, CSCS 8/27/2012 12:59:53 PM
Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 12:41 PM
Joined: 8/27/2012
Posts: 2

SSG Tentis,


I totally agree with you about strength being a huge discriminator in load carriage, especially, as you know, when the loads get heavier!  I have also witnessed that the stronger soldiers/lifters do better in the ruck than the good runners.  I think this is a very important point.  Thank you for this comment.  I think our readers will gain alot from this point and someone who has witnessed it first-hand. 


Feel free to use my post as a reference.  Not a problem at all.  If I can help in any other way; feel free to e-mail me.