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Level 3 Fitness Standards: Tactical Excellence

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The Level 3 fitness standards for the Everyday Marksman are tough. They are a series of pass/fail tests designed to test real-world athletic strength and conditioning. When I first started thinking about fitness tests, the Level 3 standards were about performance under stress, and it took me a long time to figure out what exactly that meant.

As a refresher, the Level 1 standards were about general physical condition. The Level 2 standards focused on strength and work capacity.

Level 3 took me so long to figure out because I didn’t just want to cover the same ground as the first two tests, but “harder.” Also, not being a tactical fitness expert or doctor myself, it’s difficult to devise a test that targets the right “things” expected of someone performing light infantry-style work.

Instead of deriving my own test, I decided to look outward at how actual military units have established tests and standards, and then combine those into my own approach.

How Level 3 Works

Unlike Level 1 and 2, there is no point scaling here. You will not earn extra points for every repetition of an exercise. Furthermore, the expected strength standards are not based on a percentage of your body weight. A standard fighting load of weapon, ammunition, water, and other equipment weighs the same regardless of your own body weight.

Level 3 is about whether or not you are able to complete the task at hand in the prescribed manner. For each one, I’m providing a “Passing” standard as well as “Superior” standard to work towards.

The Events

There are four events to the Level 3 standards. Each is modeled after the challenges and performance requirements of the tactical environment.
  • Advance to Contact (Cardio endurance)
  • Kettlebell Grind (Work capacity/strength)
  • Barbell Clean and Press (Power generation)
  • Combat Leg Tuck (Upper body, grip, and core strength)

Advance to Contact Test

The Advance to Contact (ATC) test is actually three parts. I borrowed this from the British Army’s new Physical Employment Standards, with a few tweaks. This test evaluates endurance as if you were advancing from a march to an engagement.

This is primarily a rucking test, but the weight changes as you go. To perform it, you need a way to quickly drop a portion of the working weight, like dropping an approach load to continue carrying a fighting load.

You must perform this test wearing “combat” clothing, such as boots, pants, top, etc. This is not to be done wearing gym clothes and running shoes.

Phase 1 consists of a 2.5 mile ruck with a load of 80 lbs. This load is total, including clothing and water. Once you reach the 2.5-mile point, expeditiously drop the required weight and begin phase 2.

Phase 2 consists of a 1.5-mile ruck with a “fighting” load of 40 lbs. Once you reach the 1.5-mile point, begin phase 3.

Phase 3 is a “fire and movement” portion. Still wearing the 40 lb fighting load, you must high crawl 10 yards, then stand up and dash for 10 yards. Repeat until you’ve covered 100 yards.

Points of Performance

This is a timed event, and the total time is cumulative over all three phases. It starts at the beginning of Phase 1 and ends when you finish Phase 3.

Par time for Passing: 1 hour and 10 minutes (70 minutes total)

Superior Performance: 53 minutes

Kettlebell Grind Test

The next test is a variation of the Duku-Duku Challenge written by K. Black in Tactical Barbell II: Conditioning. His version requires the use of a hill, but I’m modifying it to allow for flat ground.

This test is a challenge of work capacity and strength to carry awkward objects over distance. It will challenge your will to persist through pain and discomfort.

To complete this test, use a 24kg (~53 lbs) kettlebell. You will also need a stretch of 100 yards.

To perform the KB Grind Test, start at one end of the 100-yard stretch.

  1. Perform 5 x KB Goblet Squats
  2. Run with the KB to the other end of the 100 yards
  3. Perform 10 x KB Swings
  4. Carry the KB back to the starting point

Points of Performance

The kettlebell may not touch the ground for the duration of the test.

You may carry the KB any way you like, two hands, one hand, resting on your shoulder, etc. The test ends when the KB touches the ground. That also includes cheating by resting the KB on your foot so that the load is transferring to the ground. The weight of the KB must be carried by the upper body musculature.

Passing Standard: Complete 5 rounds

Superior Standard: Complete 10 rounds

Unlike the ATC test, you may wear whatever you like for this.

Barbell Power Clean and Press

The classic clean and press Olympic Lift use to be the standard for an individual to demonstrate strength and power. There are few things more “raw” than picking up a weight from the floor and pushing it over your head.

However, in 1972 the movement was removed from the Olympics because the technique of the time became too difficult to judge. Since then, the press fell out of favor as the measure of strength. In time, and rising popularity of power lifting, the bench press became the new measure.

Despite that, the barbell clean and press is still an impressive measure of total body strength and power. There are ways to do cleans, with some including squats and others being a bit slower and more intentional.

For this fitness test, we’re chaining two different movements together. First is the power clean, which involves lifting the weight from the floor, powerfully launching it up the body, and catching it in the front rack position.

From there, you will perform a strict overhead press. I say strict as opposed to a push press. In a push press, the lifter bends the knees and then extends them again to generate momentum for pushing the bar up overhead. In a strict press, the legs remain motionless so the upper body produces all of the required force. This video shows the technique I’m talking about.

In the video, the lifter power cleans once and performs three presses, a triple. For our purposes, the movement consists of a power clean, a single press, and then lowering (not dropping) the bar back to the floor.

Points of Performance

Please use caution. Olympic lifts are technical, and it is imperative that you use good form for the lift to prevent injury. If you have never done a power clean before, then I suggest taking the time to learn it from a coach and practice with light weight until you’re ready to progress.

When performing the pressing portion of the lift, the legs should be rigid with no lower body movement to assist the press. This is a strict measure of upper body strength.

Again, a complete repetition consists of power cleaning the barbell from the floor, performing a strict single repetition of the overhead press, lowering the weight back to the chest, and reversing it back down to the floor.

Passing Standard: Perform three complete repetitions with 145 lbs

Superior Standard: Perform three complete repetitions with 200 lbs

Combat Leg Tuck

The final event is the Combat Leg Tuck. While the Army may have removed the leg tuck from their revised combat fitness test, I believe in how it was derived. If you recall my interview with Dr. East, one of the primary authors of the test, the whole thing was based on research into soldier tasks.

The leg tuck was one of the most failed events because it was billed primarily as a test of core strength. However, completing the leg tuck event also required enough upper body strength to pull into the position as well as grip strength to continue hanging from the bar. The event simulated climbing tasks like ropes, ladders, walls, and others.

I’m bringing this event back, but with an added element.

Points of Performance

In our test, you will perform the leg tuck as depicted in this video but while wearing a “fighting load” equivalent of 40 lbs. That means boots, pants, and additional weight to reach 40 lbs. That could be a weighted ruck or even a full LBE kit if you’re feeling up for it. 

While the added load may not affect the knee-tuck portion, it absolutely challenges the upper body strength and grip. Because of extending the arms into a full hang before performing the lift and tuck, this movement also has elements of a weighted pull up.

Passing Standard: 5 repetitions

Superior Standard: 10 repetitions

Execution and Scoring

To wrap this up, let’s go back over the rules of execution. As with the previous two tests, you can perform this series of events over the course of three days. I realize there’s usually pushback around “this should all be done at one time,” but most people simply don’t have several hours to do this back to back unless they do it professionally.

You may perform the events in any order. Since two of the events require you to wear boots, pants, and other gear then it makes sense to cluster those events together on the same day. Then do the other two events, Kettlebell Grind and Power Clean & Press, on another day.

Here’s the scoring chart:

Event Passing Superior
Advance to Contact 1 hour and 10 minutes 53 minutes
Kettlebell Grind 5 rounds 10 rounds
Power Clean & Press 3 reps at 145 lbs 3 reps at 200 lbs
Combat Leg Tuck 5 reps 10 reps

Wrapping Up

If you’ve worked your way up through Level 1, 2, and now 3, then I commend you. I freely admit that many of the tasks I’ve listed are aspirational for me, and represent goals to work towards.

If you’re capable of passing every level, much less earning excellent and superior ratings along the way, then you are in the top percentage of fitness within the population, congratulations. If there’s something you’re struggling to pass or excel at, then that’s ok. now you know your weak points and have something to build towards.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Damn Matt!

I admit it – my fitness has suffered like a three legged dog at an agility contest as I polish a padded desk chair using buttons to keep boxes of new ‘gear’ landing outside my door. I spent a good quantity of my younger life physically training – running, hiking, martial arts and weight training. As I aged- hiking and weight training were the only things that stuck. The weight training by necessity was pared- down to ‘most bang for the buck’ and the ol’ ‘clean and press’ was my ‘go to’ – nothing like it! Joints aside I try to keep at it as it may be the best ‘functional’ test of strength and if done for reps – endurance test – I have found in my experience. The rucking and kettle ball grind test you’ve outlined look grueling and even the ‘standard’ score looks ‘very ambitious’ for my 62 YO carcass! The ‘combat leg tuck’ is an interesting movement – looks like a retro ‘commando’ exercise – but with a 40lb. ruck? I’m feeling my age now! You’ve always been diverse in content and that’s what makes your site so unique – anything I need to reference you have content on!

Thanks Matt – I’m inspired. Time to blow the dust off the barbell!

Replying to  Paul

I revisited your ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ Fitness Standards articles – both of which I commented on. Noticed the requests for ‘age’ bracket adjustments for the standards. Reminds me of Sly Stallone’s ‘Balboa’ where an aging and content ‘Rocky’ is triggered back into the ring against a much younger opponent. He seeks the help of ‘Apollo Creed’s’ old trainer who tells Rocky something like – ‘you can’t match his speed and agility (conditioning) but you can be strong’ and puts Rocky on a power lifting training regime (as he already possessed a skill set). That’s not likely a correct quote but the ‘idea’ of an aging man to still obtain ‘strength’ and vitality through weight training (exercise in general) is not a new concept. ‘Do what you can with what you have’ is a good ‘attitude’ towards aging fitness and one you referenced several times – right on Matt.

Stay Strong!

Replying to  Matt

I’m working on ‘consistency’ at this point. I need to keep my goals high (for me) but realistic. I’ve found it much more beneficial to ‘build up’ towards a fitness level than ‘dive attack’ right into it and end up being discouraged or worse – injured. Your conditioning ‘levels 1-2-3’ are an excellent method for progression and build on one another. The last time I would consider myself in ‘fighting shape’ I was in my forties – working out regularly (daily) and pushing myself. For so many reasons I need to find that consistency again – the benefits outweigh the excuses!

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