Dominate Conditioning Tests!

By: Josh Bryant

Harry Walker dominates PT tests in the USMC under Josh’s tutelage.

Linear periodization was the training methodology of nearly every top-level strength athlete until the mid-1990s. Even today, this proven, old-school approach has a faithful following of biblical proportions. 

Linear Periodization

Summarized, this type of periodization begins a training cycle with low intensity and high volume, and, progressively, intensity increases while subsequently volume decreases. As reps decrease, the weight used (intensity) increases in each successive mesocycle, generally lasting 3–4 weeks.

For example, cycle one may consist of 15 reps, cycle two 10 reps, cycle three 8 reps, cycle four 6 reps, you get the idea.

This type of periodization has produced  a multitude of strength thoroughbreds; in powerlifting, Ed Coan, Captain Kirk and Bill Kazmaier all used this approach, and lo-and-behold numerous top lifters use this approach today. 

Think about it.

Elite powerlifters are a different breed.

They thrive on numbers.

If you tell an elite powerlifter he must squat “x” amount in eight weeks, he starts prepping his mind that day, while, on the other hand, the selfie-snapping pec and bi warrior at the local commercial gym purgatory doesn’t remember what he lifted earlier today.

Personally, I have lucid transcendental  movies in my mind of workout sessions I performed 15 years ago: exact sets, reps, and how everything felt.

It comes down to a psychological state; linear periodization favors the psychologically-prepared mind.

Improve and Extend

My strength background, and the corresponding mindset, has helped me successfully program for tactical athletes needing to dominate physical conditioning tests.

Tactical athletes we are defining as military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and private security.

However, this concept I am presenting,  I have successfully used with amateurs boxers who often fight one-minute rounds; these bouts are more akin to the fast and furious style of “meet me on the lower field at high noon and either you are kicking my ass or I am kicking your ass” Chiefy Robledo style.

Besides boxers, I have used the idea I am about to share with clients prepping for strongman contests and general fitness clients with specific conditioning goals.

Drum roll………..

The strategy is linear periodization in reverse!

Simply, high intensity and low volume are at the forefront of preparing for the specified conditioning test; then, as the training cycle progresses, volume is increased and intensity remains constant or is reduced. 

Upon further research, I realized I did not come up with this common-sense approach. 

The reverse periodization approach was introduced to the western world by  Australian strength coach extraordinaire,  Ian King. In his book, Foundations of Physical Exercise, King says, “The ‘reverse’ approach is based on maintaining intensity closer to that at the competition demands, recognizing that initially the athlete’s capacity to perform this will be low. Then the objective becomes to increase training volume progressively, without sacrificing the intensity.”

Makes sense for a  conditioning test—improve then extend.

Think about it– the linear periodization model starts with capacity (volume) and overtime morphs towards power (intensity). And when you reverse this approach – you begin with power and move toward capacity.

In the iconic book, Speed Trap, the immortal Charlie Francis informs readers that all-powerful East German sprint machine started their training cycles over short distances at top speed then gradually increased the distance over the course of the season.

So, why in the hell does this work?

Simply because the demands imposed on the musculoskeletal system are different moving at the speed of  grandma Moses than they  are hauling ass at high speeds. 

Truly, specific endurance is much more multifaceted than just adaptations of the cardiovascular system and lungs, it’s a fusion of  several qualities. One of the difficult things in all of training and sport is to  prolong an activity requiring maximal intensity, the inverse is not true!  In other words, pacing at a submaximal intensity is much easier than kicking into a high gear you have not been training for.

Reverse periodization is particularly effective for training special endurance capacity that requires an all-out effort for 30 seconds to two minutes. Here is an example of a reverse linear periodization program with the objective of running a 300-meter dash in 45  seconds.

300-meter dash, fits the mold perfectly and in the last two years I have seen this in physical testing for the FBI, Fort Worth Police Department and a large private security firm.  Similarly, I have helped tactical athletes prepare for the Marine Core Combat Fitness tests with similar concepts for the “Movement to Contact” 880-yard sprint and the 300-yard “Maneuver Under Fire” test that’s 300 yards of tactical-specific drills.

Below is an example of 300-meter sprint program for someone expecting to run a 45-second 300-meter dash.  This program can be executed twice a week.

Week #Distance RunSetsTime Completed
Week 135 Meters166.5 Seconds
Week 255 Meters118.3 Seconds
Week 375 Meters810.3 Seconds
Week 4112.5 Meters615.7 Seconds
Week 5180  Meters424.7 Seconds
Week 6190 Meters326. 8 Seconds
Week 7225 Meters232.2  Seconds
Week 8260 Meters238 Seconds
Week 9280 Meters141.3 Seconds
Week 10 (testing week)   

Final Thoughts

To advance as a tactical athlete, you gotta play the game, i.e. follow the rules for advancement in your agency.  Often times, this game, regardless of occupational demands, involves conditioning tests. Those conditioning tests are dominated with a reverse periodization approach.