I know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on this topic. The mindset, tips and tricks, even some random thoughts about how it fits into an overall scheme of park bench and bus bench training. What I have not done is actually spend time talking about what my tactical biathlon training plan actually looks like and what I’m doing to prepare for the West Virginia Gun Run.
At the request of a community member who also signed up for the training along with my program, I’m posting about the structure of it today.
To be honest, I have no idea how successful this plan is actually going to be until I get to the event. It certainly makes sense to my eye, but like so many things you won’t ever actually find out until you test yourself.
If you aren’t aware by now, the Gun Run is another name for a growing trend in tactical biathlon matches. It’s typically a two-gun match with stages placed far enough apart that you need to move on foot between them over distance and terrain. Your final score is both a combination of the overall time to complete all stages (including movement on foot) and how well you shoot those stages.
A huge component of this is not just your shooting, but how well you shoot when you’re tired and sucking wind. To me, that means there’s two main components to training: the shooting aspect and the fitness aspect.
I’ll start with the shooting aspect, because I don’t think it’s significantly different than any other advice. Every tactical biathlon match I’ve seen is slightly different, owing to the different locations and venues. For example, the WV Gun Run says that rifle targets will be as far out as 250 yards. In other places, particularly further west where there’s more open space, the distance could be doubled.
That obviously drives some equipment decisions, like how much magnification is required- but that’s besides the point.
While reviewing video and after action reports, the common trend is a lot of improvised shooting positions off of barriers and other objects. Some of the more traditional stances like standing certainly come into play, but more often than not I see things like VTAC barricades, cars, tank traps, and other objects. Luckily, that’s not too different than training for the Precision Rifle Series (PRS).
My plan for marksmanship is straightforward. Continue practicing the basic shooting positions to the point of excellence as well as improvised positions off of a “barrier.” I find a short ladder works really well for this, as you can take shots from each level of the ladder, each requiring modifications to prone, sitting, kneeling, or standing to work.
I have access to a Mantis Blackbeard as well as laser cartridges for my pistol, which helps provide some immediate feedback from shot to shot.
Dry fire by itself is one thing, but a huge part of this match is shooting while exhausted. So the interesting question is how I combine dry fire drills with physical work to better simulate the match.
Tactical Biathlon Physical Training
For the folks who signed up to train with me and test out the program, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is frankly my first foray into building a physical training program for a specific event. Having spent years following plans from other coaches like Rob Shaul at the Mountain Tactical Institute, K. Black’s Tactical Barbell, and random authors at various fitness websites, I figured why not give it a go myself.
My training plan is eight weeks long and typically requires training six days per week. There are a few exceptions, such as additional rest days before big ruck sessions or the several days leading up to the match itself, but it’s generally six days per week.
The overall program has three microcycles. The first two cycles are three weeks long and represent a balanced approach to strength and conditioning. The last two weeks leading up to the match and go hard on work capacity and endurance.
To give credit where it’s due, I derived the core of this plan from K. Black’s Tactical Barbell I and II. Those who know it will recognize the Fighter Bangkok structure, though I’ve made my own twist to it.
Let’s break it down.
I much prefer training for strength than conditioning. I find picking up heavy things to be far more fun and rewarding. However, all the advice I’ve received so far indicates that a tactical biathlon is primarily a cardio event- much like actual combat.
For that reason, the plan only uses two days per week of pure strength training movements, both days are total body workouts. The remaining days are a mix of endurance, high intensity cardio, and work capacity.
- Endurance: Longer sessions (30-90 minutes) done at relatively low intensity. These help build the oxygen delivery systems of the body and boost recovery. For me, these are primarily slow runs and ruck sessions.
- High Intensity: Short sessions (15-30 minutes) designed to tax quick energy production and recovery between bouts of activity. These usually look like short intense bursts followed by short rests, or runs done for shorter distance at higher speeds.
- Work Capacity: Workouts using relatively light weight done for high repetitions. This taxes muscular endurance and the ability to push through to the end. It’s designed around repeated bouts of 20-50 reps of a series of four exercises done in sequence with rest in between each cycle.
The mix of these three elements changes a bit week to week. There’s a subtle emphasis on high intensity for the first six weeks and a shift to work capacity and endurance during the final two weeks.
For strength training, I kept it fairly minimal. I built this plan first and foremost for myself, and I only have about 50-60 minutes per day to exercise during the week. I train at 5:30 in the morning; with the day job and family schedule, I can’t really let workouts go longer than 6:30. I’m not particularly interested in getting up any earlier, either, so 60 minutes is the limit.
To support that, strength days need to be efficient with the most bang for the buck. Every strength workout consists of the same four things:
- Barbell overhead press
- Barbell squat
- Weighted chin-ups
Between these four things, I hit every major muscle group. Workouts take about 50-55 minutes, depending on how many warmup sets I do. You might ask, “Where’s the bench press?” Well, I do enough horizontal pressing the rest of the year that I figured I could leave it behind for a little while. I also have a fair number of pushups, dips, and burpees scattered throughout the program on conditioning days so that it’s not completely absent.
Putting it Together: An Example Training Week
As an example of what it looks like coming together, here’s a sample of one week of my tactical biathlon training. This would be from the first week of the second cycle. This is actually the week I’m in as this post goes up.
Of course, there are nuances about the why I’ve done some of the things here, and that’s beyond the scope of what I’m writing. I’ve explained my reasoning and where things can (or should) be modified to those who signed up to do the whole program. For example, I’m personally putting emphasis on my shoulders because it’s a known weak point for me. Others might do more on the squats. The idea is just showing you what a typical week looks like for me. \
Also, just to note that the strength days are only showing the number of working sets. I’m not doing a single set of deadlift overall. Rather, it’s 1 set of 5 reps at the maximum weight for the day. I typically have about 4-5 ramping sets, each adding more weight until I get to the target for the day.
So now the question is how do I combine both the marksmanship portion of the training with the physical training?
The Total Package
This is where things get interesting. I certainly have an easier time here because my gym is in the garage, so I can combine activities. People using a commercial gym probably aren’t going to be able to do things the same way as I describe here.
Aside from routine dry fire sessions done on their own, which is already part of the plan, I want to draw attention to the Saturday “Work Capacity” day on the schedule.
The way these cycles work is that you move continuously from one exercise from the next with no or minimal rest. After the last repetition of push press, you just shift the elbows up and immediately start front squatting. At the end of the last exercise, Romanian Deadlifts, you have a 2-3 minute rest period before the next cycle.
This rest period is the perfect place to pick up a rifle or pistol and perform some dry fire drills. Run the ladder up and down each rung, do standard accuracy drills, or whatever. The idea is that your muscles are already burning and fatigued from the exercises, and now you have to control them through the fatigue.
This particular chart is Week 4, with 20 reps on each movement. By the time we get to Week 8, this gets up to 40 reps each- making the practice that much more difficult.
Another way to do this might be during the endurance runs or the long rucks. If you’re doing it around the neighborhood, pick a route that results in laps that go by your house. Every time you pass the house, go inside and do a shooting drill. Then head back out and continue the cardio session.
If you’re doing your LSS cardio indoors on a bike, rower, or treadmill, then periodically hop off and run the drill. This is similar to the long rucks every third week where we do a set of 10 pushups or 10 burpees every 6 minutes during a 6-mile ruck.
The point is to intersperse dry fire while trying to simultaneously recover from exertion. Note that this should not be the bulk of your dry fire training. Most of the time should still be spent on focused sessions working the basics, and not distracted by being tired.
Wrapping Up – The Road So Far
As mentioned, this post is going up as I’m amidst Week 4 out of the 8-week program. I’m personally hitting a few stalls on my strength days, mostly due to also sticking to a calorie deficit to cut back on body fat. The conditioning has gone really well, though, with noticeable improvements week to week.
I’ll report back on how all of this has worked for me during the after action review following the event itself. For now, though, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing. It’s challenging enough to improve, but I’m not feeling crushed by the program, either.
If you’re interested in checking out the full tactical biathlon training plan, you can go to everydaymarksman.co/trainwithme to sign up. Even though the plan has already started for me, there’s no reason that you can’t use it for yourself with your own training.
On that note, let me know one thing: what are you training for?
Great article- you’re preparing very systematically! I like “the gun run” brand of these events… the couple I’ve done in AL were (I thought) a good mix of physical with shooting challenges. I’ve done other longer & harder gun runs… but some of the obstacles can be almost too hard for an old guy like me. In general of course, the stronger you are and the better your cardio the better off you’ll be with every phase of the run. If you’re trying to squeeze that last bit of performance out though… there is a bit of gaming or optimizing… Read more »
Hey Tom, that’s a great tip about slowing down while approaching the stage to “rest up.” There does seem to be inconsistency on whether you will actually have to wait to shoot a stage, so I think planning on waiting would be a mistake. I could probably shave 12 oz or so by going with a small red dot, but since nothing is published about the stages ahead of time, I can’t help but feel like magnification will be useful for locating targets hidden in the wood line. I know the area the match is taking place fairly well, and… Read more »
Try this one. Also, check out Bob Keller’s training courses. I took one a year ago. One of the best weekends of shooting I’ve ever had. Lots of knowledge in very relaxed environment.
Forgot the link.
Thanks, Randy, I’ll check it out.
Sounds like you have it well planned Matt. Still you have to ‘walk the walk’ to realize if you hit your mark! Being older I think I’d emphasize my training on cardio (hardest to maintain as you age) like rucking/hiking and some kind of circuit training with weights and calisthenics. By circuit I mean a continuous full body workout consisting of several exercises completed back to back with no rest until one set of each exercise (a circuit) is complete. This type of exercise is neither pure cardio or strength training but more of a ‘conditioning’ cycle. We did a… Read more »
Thanks, Paul. It’s going to be a good time regardless, and I like so break mix things up a bit from time to time to vary my own training. After this it will be back to my bread and butter training methods.
Did not realize that your strength days only showed working sets, lol. I was like “I guess these need to be heavy deadlifts, because I’m only doing one set!”
Oh, good point I’ll add a picture and include it in the emails too as a reminder.If I wrote down all the warmup sets as well, the list looks a heck of a lot longer, lol