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What Is High-Intensity Tactical Training?

Whether you’re considering enlisting in the Marine Corps or are interested in becoming a more well-rounded athlete, you should consider adding the high-intensity tactical training (HITT) program to your fitness routine.
Reading What Is High-Intensity Tactical Training? 11 minutes

Whether you’re considering enlisting in the Marine Corps or are interested in becoming a more well-rounded athlete, you should consider adding the high-intensity tactical training (HITT) program to your fitness routine.

To better understand the benefits of tactical training, let’s start by digging into the most common forms of high-intensity training.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

You're probably familiar with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or even Tabata training, which is a specific type of HIIT. These workouts are praised for their effectiveness in elevating your heart rate, improving aerobic capacity, and pushing your anaerobic threshold. In a HIIT session, the objective is to reach at least 80% of your maximum heart rate.

While there are various ways to structure HIIT or Tabata workouts based on your fitness goals, the fundamental principle remains the incorporation of intervals with different intensities within a single session. Although many HIIT workouts in gyms and clubs primarily focus on aerobic exercises like running, spinning, or rowing, the versatility of HIIT allows for a wide range of exercises.

One of the key benefits of HIIT workouts is their calorie-burning potential. By disrupting the body's homeostasis (its natural equilibrium and fat storage mechanisms), interval training compels the body to expend more energy (burn more fat) to return to normal levels.

But the effectiveness of HIIT workouts extends beyond calorie burn. They also contribute to improving cardiovascular health, increasing metabolism, boosting endurance, and enhancing overall fitness levels. Moreover, HIIT workouts can be time-efficient, allowing you to achieve significant results in a shorter duration compared to traditional steady-state exercises.

What Is High-Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT)

Similar to HIIT, high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) operates on the principle of maintaining high intensity throughout your workout. However, HIRT focuses on using resistance, such as bodyweight exercises or free weights like the YBell Pro Series, to challenge your muscles. It involves performing circuits of exercises with short rest periods in between.

When incorporating resistance into your training, it becomes crucial to prioritize proper form in your movements. By executing exercises with the correct technique, you optimize energy expenditure and achieve peak cardiovascular output during your training session.

HIRT workouts elevate your heart rate and minimize recovery time, resulting in significant calorie burn even after you've completed your workout. This post-workout calorie burn, often referred to as the "afterburn" effect, along with increased muscle stimulation, contributes to the overall effectiveness of HIRT.

What Is High-Intensity Tactical Training (HITT)?

High-intensity tactical training is a combat-specific strength and conditioning program developed by the Marine Corps. The goal of the HITT program is to enhance operational fitness and aid in the physical development, combat readiness, and physical resiliency of Marines while reducing the risk of injury. The National Strength and Conditioning Association endorses the HITT program for tactical strength and conditioning.

HITT focuses on enhanced athleticism through functional training by emphasizing the repetitive performance of common tactical movement patterns. This repetition of real-life movements improves an athlete’s strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance to bring their combat fitness preparedness to their greatest potential.

Using a comprehensive athletic approach, HITT athletes train for real-world scenarios (be it combat or sports). HITT programming consists of 150 pre-designed workouts for combat conditioning in three training levels: Athlete, Combat, and Warrior. The levels allow you to increase the intensity of your workout as you improve your fitness and become more comfortable with the program.


So, which is better for your goals: HIIT or HIRT? Well, it depends on what you're aiming to achieve with your fitness journey.

If your focus is on building muscle and increasing strength, then resistance training (HIRT) is the way to go. HIRT stimulates hypertrophy, which promotes muscle growth and enhances strength. On the other hand, if your main objective is burning calories and maintaining lean muscles, interval training (HIIT) is an excellent choice. HIIT workouts are known for their calorie-burning efficiency and their ability to preserve lean muscle mass.

In contrast, HITT is all about optimizing overall physical fitness performance in the long run. HITT athletes utilize various aspects of their physical capabilities, including building strength, developing explosive power and speed, improving agility, and increasing endurance. It's a comprehensive approach to fitness that encompasses a wide range of training elements.

The great thing is that you can incorporate both HITT and HIIT workouts into your exercise routine, whether you're at a studio or working out in a home gym. So, why not give both a try and reap the benefits of combining these training modalities?

What Are the Principles of HITT Training?

The Marine Corps developed HITT based on three principles for a solid strength and conditioning program:

1. Prevent Potential for Injury

A well-designed, balanced, and progressive physical training program should prevent and minimize muscle imbalances, strengthen tendons and ligaments, and increase an individual’s work capacity.

2. Increase Performance Levels That Support Combat-Specific Tasks

A safe strength and conditioning program is designed around a comprehensive approach that balances all facets of performance enhancement with exercises that can transfer to the demands of combat.

3. Build Strength, Optimize Mobility, and Increase Speed

A stronger, mobile, faster Marine can deliver more physical force on demand.

What Are the Components of a HITT Training Program?

There are five functional training components in the HITT program:

1. Movement Prep

Much like strength training, movement prep for tactical training is all about active dynamic warm-ups. A proper warm-up utilizes gradual movements that will elevate your body temperature, increase blood flow to your muscles and activate muscle groups, stimulate your nervous system, and increase the mobility of your joints.

HITT warm-ups include multi-joint and multi-muscle exercises from four categories:

  • General mobility exercises are executed at a low exertion level to increase blood flow, take joints through complete ranges of motion, and prepare the athlete’s body for movement.
  • Muscle activation exercises are isolated movements used to stimulate targeted muscles vital to posture, stability, and force application during speed and agility training.
  • Transit mobility exercises take the athlete’s joints through a specific range of motion while traveling over a prescribed distance. These movements increase dynamic flexibility while also increasing the intensity of physical exertion.
  • Dynamic mobility exercises take joints through an explosive range of motion. While similar to transit mobility, these movements generally don’t travel over a distance. They also offer another increase in the intensity of physical exertion.

Some movement prep exercises to consider are:

  • Eight-Count Body Builders
  • Frog thrusts
  • Spidermans
  • Split jack forward
  • Walking lunge elbow to in-step

2. Strength and Power

Strength and power training are fundamental to the HITT program to increase an athlete’s explosive power, physical strength, and muscular endurance. High-intensity tactical exercises enable your muscles to reach maximum strength in a short time.

Foundational functional exercises in HITT engage the body as a single coordinated system, which complements the movements performed in life (pushes, planks, pulls, rotations, hinges, squats, and lunges). As with all forms of strength training, HITT exercises emphasize being "bodyweight competent" (starting with bodyweight before adding external load) and able to move in all planes with accuracy and awareness.

HITT also focuses on four different phases of strength training:

  • Foundational strength training adapts the athlete’s body for more strenuous resistance training in future phases. The objective is to target all major muscle groups, tendons, ligaments, and joints to prevent injury.
  • Maximal strength training leads to neuromuscular adaptations that’ll help the athlete see increased strength and endurance gains and prepare them for the explosive power phase of the HITT program.
  • Explosive power training focuses on converting maximal strength into combat-specific power, which has a significantly higher demand on the athlete’s body.
  • Muscular endurance training will convert maximal strength into muscular endurance by having athletes overcome low resistance demands for prolonged periods.

Some strength and power exercises to consider are:

3. Speed, Agility, and Endurance

Linear speed development in the HITT program focuses on proper sprinting mechanics, with or without load. Speed and agility training starts with the primary development and execution of specific tactical tasks at sub-maximal speeds. In other words, quality comes before quantity, and form comes before running speed.

Once an athlete establishes quality form, sprint resistance and sprint assistance methods are added to develop specialized skills in modified conditions. From there, mobility and power training can target the development of general athletic skills.

The four methods of speed and agility training include:

  • Sprint resistance method includes gravity resisted sprinting (running against an incline) and overload sprinting (wearing a weighted vest) to add resistance without compromising movement to increase explosive power and improve stride length.
  • Sprint assistance method includes gravity-assisted sprinting (running down an incline) and over-speed effects (using a harness). Adding assistance without compromising movement helps to improve your stride rate.
  • Mobility method focuses on the optimal range of motion for hip, knee, and ankle joints to achieve proper foot placement and ground contact for tactical movements.
  • Power method develops explosive power to maximize the speed and agility needed for high movement velocities.

Some speed, agility, and endurance exercises to consider are:

4. Flexibility and Core Stability

Core stability training in a HITT program targets deep muscles that support the trunk and spine. A strong core increases balance and maximizes stability in an athlete, allowing you to perform tactical exercises more efficiently. A joint's range of motion is trained during every session regardless of the focus on movement, strength, or power.  

Physical performance is enhanced when flexibility training is an integral part of an athlete’s regimen. However, a HITT program focuses on both the unchangeable factors (age and joint structure) and changeable factors (size of muscle fibers, connective tissues, stretch reflexes) of flexibility.

The core stretching methods performed in HITT are:

  • Static stretching is performed by relaxing a muscle while holding a near-maximal stretch for an extended period with moderate tension. Static stretches avoid quick lengthening of tendons and the resulting stretch reflex.
  • Dynamic stretching exhibits a full range of motion during multi-joint, multi-muscle functional movements. Dynamic flexibility training fits into any warm-up while also contributing to overall athleticism due to the requirement of balance, coordination, and active movement.

Some flexibility and core stability exercises to consider are:

  • Sumo stretches (static) or frog squats (dynamic)
  • Neck stretches and quad stretches (static), or bike rides (dynamic)
  • PVC half-kneeling hip flexor stretches (static) or push-ups with oblique climbs (dynamic)
  • YBell high crunch (dynamic)
  • Diamond sit-ups (dynamic)

5. Recovery and Mobility

Recovery and mobility HITT programming focuses on improving movement quality and muscle recovery strategies. Specific needs are also addressed based on an athlete’s movement patterns and the physiological adaptations of high-intensity workouts. HITT incorporates the practical application of mobility training, core stability, and foundational movements through tactical exercises.

Some recovery and mobility exercises to consider are:

While the Marine Corps created HITT to aid in the combat readiness of Marines, it's easy to see how the components of the HITT program are excellent for all athletes, no matter how far you are in your fitness journey. The HITT program's functional fitness and mobility training nature will allow you to prepare for whatever fitness needs life throws your way.