Take a workout to the next level by incorporating military athlete exercises for functional fitness. A tactical athlete is the true definition of what functional fitness is. Their training focuses around the physical fitness and mental toughness they need in combat and to save lives. Further, an active military athlete is typically in peak physical condition. You can use these same functional training principles with every day clients. This is especially the case for clients who want full-body strength as part of a resistance training workout. Military athletes use functional fitness training protocols that activate multiple muscle groups. This builds greater maximum strength, power, endurance, and coordination in the arms, legs, core, and more. 

Here, we list eight tactical athlete exercises that also apply to the common fitness enthusiast. These exercises are not only great for strength, but also as part of a cardiorespiratory interval or endurance training program. 

Keep Reading: Use Your Skills as a Military Athlete to Build a Fitness Business

Want to Further Your Education? Learn About Benefits for Military Service Members

Decline Crunches

Targeted Muscles: abdominals, obliques, back, pectorals, hip flexors


Weights or Equipment Needed: bench or stability ball

Exercise Instructions: This exercise builds core strength with additional resistance because of the decline position. If performing this exercise on a bench, adjust the decline to 15 to 30 degrees. The client will lie on the bench in supine position (face up) with feet secured as shown in the video. A client can also do this exercise on a stability ball. This will increase their proprioceptive demand, improving their ability to balance and activate stabilization muscles. If performing this exercise on a stability ball, place it beneath the natural curve of the lower back, then supine on the ball, with the client’s feet firmly planted on the ground. 

Both hands are placed behind the head with elbows tucked in. However, one should not pull forward on the head or tug on the neck. Instead, keep the chin tucked in with their cervical spine in a neutral position. Then, cue your client to keep their lower back flush against the bench or stability ball and use their abdominals to lift the shoulders and upper back about four inches. Hold the position for two seconds, then lower down to complete one rep.


Pull-Up Leg Raises

Targeted Muscles: abdominals, obliques, quadriceps, inner thighs, shoulders


Weights or Equipment: pull-up bar

Exercise Instructions: This exercise not only works on core strength, but also on grip strength (another skill tactical athletes need). The client grabs onto a pull-up bar with their hands about shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from them. Cue them to keep their torso stable and use their abdominals to raise their legs about 90 degrees in front of the body. It is also important to have the client think about bringing the top of the hips to the bottom of the rib cage through spinal flexion. This helps prevent the movement coming only from the hips and over-activation of the hip flexors. Slowly return both legs back to the start position to complete one rep.  

Bent Dumbbell Rows

Targeted Muscles: biceps, forearms, shoulders, back


Weights or Equipment: 2 dumbbells

Exercise Instructions: This upper body exercise is common in weight training. But, the hip flexed position adds increased activation through the muscles of the spine, building core stabilization and strength. With a dumbbell in each hand, the client hinges at the hips to reach a 45 degree bend. With their back straight and abdominals tight, they’ll bend their elbows and lift the dumbbells to a parallel height with your shoulders, squeezing the shoulder blades as they do. Cue them to keep the wrists aligned, back stable, and legs still while holding the top position for two second. Lowering to the start completes one rep.    

Burpee Box Jumps

Targeted Muscles: abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes


Weights or Equipment: sturdy box, crate or stool

Exercise Instructions: This is a progression of the standard burpee and is great for total body strength and to increase the heart rate to get a cardio workout. Have the client start by standing in front of the box or crate with their feet about shoulder-width apart and arms at their sides. Then, they’ll perform a traditional burpee. To do this, the client will squat down and reach for the floor. Then, they’ll jump both feet back into a pushup position and perform a pushup. As they jump both feet back in and return to the standing position, they'll jump onto the box and then off again.

Shoulder Presses

Targeted Muscles: shoulders, pectorals, back, abdominals 


Weights or Equipment: 2 dumbbells

Exercise Instructions: Targeting the upper body, this is another common exercise great for functional training. The client will hold a dumbbell in each hand, standing with their feet shoulder-width apart. With their core tight, they’ll lift the weights, so their elbows are shoulder height and both palms are facing out. Cue the client to use their shoulders to raise the dumbbells above their head and toward one another in a slow, controlled motion. It’s important their hips remain in a neutral position, without arching the lower back. Return to start to complete the rep.

Marine Corps Push-Ups

Targeted Muscles: pectorals, shoulders, triceps, back, hip flexors, abdominals


Weights or Equipment: None

Exercise Instructions: A body weight exercise that’s staple in the military and even outdoor boot camp classes. The client starts in a standard pushup or hand plank position, with their hands flat on the ground and wrists aligned beneath their shoulders. Cue them to tuck both elbows close to their ribs on each side, so each elbow is close to the body and facing behind them. With abdominals engaged, and back in a straight line, they’ll bend at the elbows to lower their chest as close to the ground as possible. Cue them to retract their shoulder blades as they move toward the ground. After holding the lowered position for two seconds, they’ll return to start to complete the rep. At the top of the motion, you can have them fully separate their shoulders for added serratus anterior activation and a “pushup plus”.

Supine Tricep Extensions

Targeted Muscles: triceps, forearms, shoulders, abdominals


Weights or Equipment: bench (optional) and 1 dumbbell

Exercise Instructions: The client will sit on a bench with their back in a straight line, feet planted securely and abdominals tight. Holding one dumbbell, they extend their arms overhead, so the weight is now above their head. They’ll bend their elbows and release the weight down behind their head so the elbows reach a 90-degree angle. The client will return the weight to above their head to complete one rep.

Straight Arm Sit-Ups

Targeted Muscles: abdominals, obliques, shoulders, hip flexors, quadriceps


Weights or Equipment: medicine ball

Exercise Instructions: Have the client start by lying supine on the ground, the client will hold a medicine ball straight in the air, knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground. Using their abdominals they’ll lift the whole upper body off the ground into a seated position, raising the medicine ball overhead as they do. Make sure they think about performing spinal flexion to get the most core activation out of this exercise. The client will return to the supine position to complete one rep.

Use These Military Athlete Exercises

Focus on function and form by weaving these military athlete exercises into your clients’ training sessions. While simple, each one is effective and targets a variety of muscle groups, allowing you to create results while keeping the focus on movement and overall strength and ability.

Want to Further Your Education? Learn About Benefits for Military Service Members

When you get a degree in exercise science from Lionel University, learning how to design functional fitness workouts becomes second nature. Further, the doors to fitness job opportunities are wide open. Regardless of whether you’re pursuing an associates degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree, specialists in exercise science are in demand.

As you go through your degree program at Lionel, you’ll also earn your personal training certification and Master Trainer certificate in the first few months. This means you can start working as a personal trainer while you finish your program! And, if you’re not a current or former military personnel, you still achieve this dream! Check out the possibilities with the help of financial aid, earning your exercise science degree is even more of a possibility. 

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Want to Further Your Education? Learn About Benefits for Military Service Members