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Lessons Learned From Putting 10 Marines Through the MTI Soldier-Athlete Fitness Assessment


10 Marines with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines at USMC Base Hawaii completed the SAFT April 4, 2018. Strict Pull ups are the first event.

By Rob Shaul, Founder



In January 2018 MTI identified 7 Major Problems with the Proposed Army Combat Readiness Test and developed/published the Soldier-Athlete Fitness Assessment (SAFT) – our proposed replacement for the US Army APFT, and the USMC PFT.

After a prescribed, simple warm up, here are the SAFT events:

  1. Max Rep Bodyweight Pull Ups in 2 Minutes
  2. Max Rep Hand Release Push Ups in 60 Seconds
  3. Max Rep Pull Up Bar Heel Tap in 60 Seconds
  4. MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Fitness Assessment (All Athletes Run This together – Entire Event Takes 11 Minutes)
    Rest 15 Minutes Before Starting Ruck Run
  5. 3 Mile Ruck Run for Time @ 40# ruck (All Athletes Run This together)

We feel the SAFT offers several advantages over the current APFT, USMC PFT, and many other military fitness assessments:

  • Requires limited equipment
  • Better assesses Mission-Direct military fitness – especially loaded work capacity and movement under load
  • Is easy to Administer and Simple to Score


Fitness Attributes Assessed by Each Event

Fitness Attribute


Upper Body Pull Strength

Max Reps Bodyweight Pull Ups in 2 Minutes

Strict Pull Ups – no kipping – full elbow lockout to bottom of chin touching pull up bar. No time limit. Athlete can “rest” in the down position – hanging from the pull up bar. Both hands must remain on the bar at all times.

Upper Body Press Strength

Max Rep Hand Release Push Ups in 60 Seconds 

Hands up to elbows locked out. Body must come up stiff (no midsection sag) – Athlete can “rest” in the down position (laying on the ground)

Core Strength

Max Rep Pull Up Bar Heel Tap in 60 Seconds

No swinging backward in the bottom position. Each rep begins with the athlete hanging still from the pull up bar with his elbows at full lockout and legs hanging straight. Athlete can rest in the down position hanging from the pull up bar.

Mission-Direct Work Capacity

MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Fitness Assessment

Mission-Direct Endurance

3-Mile Ruck Run for Time at 40# Ruck.

Many schools and selections (Ranger, Airborne, SFAS, Expert Infantryman Badge, etc.) use a 10 or 12 mile ruck as part of their initial “gate” assessment or another scored event. For this reason, I’ve always wondered why a ruck event was not part of the APFT. The 3-Mile event here will address this. Three miles is shorter than the commonly assessed 10 or 12 miles and is long enough to separate performances.


Hand Release Push Ups – issues with Range of Motion – full body coming up – could have accounted for inflated scores for this event and overall.


Putting 10 Marines Through the SAFT

On April 4, 2018, ten US Marines with the Alpha, Charlie and Weapons Companies of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines stationed at USMC Base Hawaii completed the entire assessment.

We had contacted Marines stationed at the Base prior and asked for volunteers to try the assessment, and members of the 1/3 responded positively.

Military members from several US branches have completed individual elements of the SAFT – especially the MTI Tactical Work Capacity Assessment, but this was the first time actual military members conducted the entire assessment as designed. 



50 Points Total 

General Score    Total Points
Poor                     0-20
Good                    21-35
Excellent              36-50





Overall, the Assessment went well for its first real-world application. The final scoring appears slightly inflated.

Ideally for a group of 10 athletes, with a typical curve, two would score “Poor”, two would score “Excellent” and 6 would score “Good.” In this case, we had four “Excellent” scores, four “Good” and just two “Poor”.

Range of motion issues with the Hand Release Push Ups (see below) could account for some of this. Stricter enforcement or a different exercise would likely lower the Push Up score and decrease the overall results.

As well, the Pull Up Bar Heel Tap exercise range of motion was not consistently enforced. Several times I corrected athletes for tapping their toes above the pull up bar, not their heels. Tapping heels are harder, and this being better enforced may have reduced scores.

Finally, most of the Marines who completed the SAFT volunteered and thus were likely pre-disposed toward fitness and curious at trying a new assessment – meaning as a group there was likely much more fit than the average population.


Pull Up Bar Heel Tap – overall an effective exercise, though there was a range of motion issue for some athletes when reps were counted when only toes touched above the bar, – not heels as required.


Lessons Learned

1) Range of Movement Issues with the Hand Release Push Ups
From the score chart above, the Hand Release Push Up Scores were suspiciously high. The issue was the range of motion during completion of the Hand Release Push Ups – specifically, just raising the torso and not bring up the butt/midsection in one motion during the exercise. I demonstrated the technique prior to the assessment, but in watching the Marines perform the assessment, it was clear the message didn’t get through.

Frustratingly, I’d chosen Hand Release Push Ups over regular push ups because of exercise technique/range of motion issues with regular push ups. Plus – Hand Release Push Ups are simply more difficult.  Done strict, Hand Release Push Ups are a great upper body pressing exercise.

Often when there are technique and/or range of movement issues with an assessment exercise, coaches blame the athletes. However, we like to look at the exercise … is there a more simple, more direct exercise we can deploy to address the issue?

In this case, what comes to mind is metronome Hand Release or regular push ups like those deployed at Ranger School. Slowing the exercise down with a metronome count, and ending the exercise for the athlete when he/she can’t make the next count may address the range of motion issue. This could also work for the Strict Pull Up event.

The only problem with the metronome counting is it adds another layer of equipment – test administrators will need a smartphone and perhaps speakers so athletes can hear. Also, this may extend the event beyond it’s prescribed 60 seconds for push ups and 2 minutes for pull ups. We’ll need to do some testing.


2) Ruck Loading @ 40 Pounds
The prescribed 3-Mile Ruck Run loading for the SAFT is 40 pounds. Even though this was disseminated to the Marines prior to the assessment, several either didn’t get the message or simply didn’t weigh their rucks prior.

Many of the participating marines brought rucks with pre-made 45-pound “bricks” – duck-taped bags of sand they regularly use for ruck training. My sense is 45 pounds is a common ruck training load – we use this load ourselves often, and perhaps an easy fix is simply to use 45 pounds as the loading for this event.

From an equipment issue, ruck load is the most complicated for the SAFT. A platoon may have 1 or 2 ruck scales, but these may or may not be readily available and this complicates getting the road correct, obviously. Adding in the different types of rucks, and extra pouches, etc. only complicates things.

Moving forward, a possible change to the SAFT is simply making the load for the Ruck Run 45 pounds, minus the ruck.


3) Overall Assessment Duration
The Assessment ran long – beyond the 105 minutes I had hoped, to around 120 minutes total to complete by the time the final athlete finished the ruck run.

Part of this duration can be explained by the Marines’ unfamiliarity with the assessment and several of the events – including the MTI Work Capacity Assessment, Hand Release Push Ups and Pull Up Bar Heel Tap.

Issues concerning ruck load also slowed us down as we had to shift hear around to get rucks close to the 40-pound prescribed load. More communication ahead of time and prescribing a 45-pound ruck load will help address these delays.

As well, the current warm up (see below) ran beyond the 10 minutes I’d hoped, and a possible change will be to cut the warm up to 3 rounds and eliminate the Lat + Pec Stretch.

Also, the 15-minute rest between the MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment and the 3-Mile Ruck Run can be cut to 10 minutes.

The MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment has been proven prior to it’s inclusion in the SAFT – and we feel is an excellent assessment of fire-fight tactical fitness.


Potential SAFT Changes

1) Fix the Hand Release Push Up event – either by being more specific about range of motion, conducting it on a count or metronome, or changing the exercise altogether.

2) Reduce the Warm Up – to 3 Rounds and cut the Lat + Pec Stretch to shorten it.

3) Prescribe a 45-pound Ruck Load – not including the Ruck, for the Ruck Run event.


Questions/Comments/Feedback? Email



Cody and Williams finish the 3-Mile Ruck Run @ 40# Ruck. Issues with ruck loading slowed down the overall assessment and may lead to a change prescribing a 45 pound ruck load.



You Might Also Like 7 Major Problems with the Proposed Army Combat Readiness Test & Our Proposed Replacement for the APFT

MTI Training App now available!

By Mintra Mattison


You asked for it – and we listened!

This week, we launched the first MTI Training APP for IOS and Android. Simply search for MTN Tactical Fitness in the App or Google Play Store and hit download (or click on the links below). You can then log in with your credentials just like you would through our website and start training!

As always, we need you to get better! If you have any feedback, comments or suggestions, please email us at




Arete 4.5.18


Air Force Follows Navy in Adopting New Army Sidearm,
Mattis, Trump discuss using military funds for border wall, Defense News
Who Says Cyber Warriors Need to Wear a Uniform? Modern War Institute
The Taliban Have Gone High-Tech. That Poses a Dilemma for the U.S., NY Times
Army’s Future Vertical Lift Won’t Begin Until 2030, Real Clear Defense
The Pentagon’s Secret, Permanent Wars, Real Clear Defense
Army Now Has 117K M4A1+ Rifles, The National Interest
“Row Well and Live” – A Military Cliche That Deserves to Die, Modern War Institute
In Defense of the Military Bureaucrat, Modern War Institute
In or Out? Mixed Signals from Trump on Syria, The Cipher Brief
A US Battlefield Victory Against Russia’s “Little Green Men”, Small Wars Journal
China’s Defense Chief Calls His Moscow Trip a Signal to the US, Defense News
US Delta Force Commando Killed in Syria on Mission to Capture ISIS Commander, Washington Examiner


Homeland Security / First Responder / Fire Fighter

Why Police Officers Don’t Fit In, Law Enforcement Today
An analysis of Southeastern US prescribed burn weather windows: seasonal variability and El Niño associations, International Journal of Wildland Fire
Orange County Joins Feds Suing California Over Preposterous State Law, Law Enforcement Today
U.S. Supreme Court may hear case about 2007 Moonlight Fire, Wildfire Today
The Sinalola Cartel Is Recruiting Air Traffic Controllers, War is Boring
Why Bodycam Footage Might Not Clear Things Up, Homeland S
Oklahoma Police Officer Pulls Drunk Driver from Burning Car,
Why I Quit My Job as a Police Officer, LE Today
LBGTQ Sports Bar Faces Backlash Over Blue Lives Matter Fag, Police One
SCOTUS Sides with Officer in Arizona Shooting, Police One
Calif. Eyes Lethal Force Law After Officer Shooting, Police One
Video: Pasadena Officer Kills Man in Tense Gunfight,



Climbing the World’s Biggest Sea Cliffs Looks Gorgeous and Heinous, Adventure Journal
Hundreds attend the Royal Robbins memorial to honor a great climber and caring man, Alpinist Newswire
Route Profile – Kautz Glacier, American Alpine Institute
Climbers are Superheroes: Comp Climbing With Special Effects, Climbing Magazine
Gallery: Next year’s backcountry skis, as seen at our 2018 Ski Test,
Patagonia Fires Another Shot in the Public Lands Battle, Outside Magazine
Bucket List Heli Trips That Don’t Involve Skiing, Outside Magazine
Frank Bourgeois wins X Games Real Snow Gold, again, Snowboard Magazine
Best Moments from the 2018 Burton US Open, Snowboard Magazine
Dream Gear: The TNF Kit Designed for Antarctic Climbing, Gearjunkie
Video: Epic Greenland Flyfishing with One Rad Mom, Gearjunkie
So You Want To Hunt With a Traditional Bow?, Outdoor Life
A Pair of Sherpas Eye New Summit Records on Everest, The Adventure Blog
Women: When To Have Kids When You Work in the Mountains, Outside
Video: Sasha DeGuilian Sends American Hustle (5.14), Climbing Mag
Is Bowhunting Technology Creating an Unfair Advantage?,
Whistler Heli-Ski Guide Killed by Avy While Guiding, Unofficial Networks
Affordable Alternatives to the 7 Summits, Outside Magazine
Are Garmin’s InReach Units Accidentally Calling SAR?, Outside Mag
The Secret Lives of Commercial Fishermen, Outside Mag
Is a Lighter Bow Really Better?,

Fitness / Nutrition

The Relationship of Core Strength and Activation and Performance on Three Functional Movement Screens, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Bounce Back from Injury Mentally and Physically, Breaking Muscle
Physically fit women nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia, Science Daily
More than 2,500 cancer cases a week could be avoided, Science Daily
Here’s Why Athletes Like to Suffer, Outside
The Best Marathons to Run in the World, Men’s Fitness
The 5 Best Travel Destinations for Endurance Athletes, Men‘s Fitness
What Is the Best Diet for Men? We Weigh Up 3 Popular Diets, Men’s Health
Video: Does Posture Really Influence Pain? Mike Reinhold
How Elite Athletes Come Back After Childbirth, Outside Magazine
What Happens To You Body on No Sleep, Outside
Best new Packaged Foods for Athletes, Outside
4 Ways to Fix Your Running Stride, Outside
The 5 Healthiest Sports Drinks, Ranked, Muscle & Fitness
Bananas vs. Sports Drinks?, Bananas Win in Study, NY Times
All That Overtime Could Be Killing You, WebMD
Women’s Fitness: Should It Change With Age?, Mark’s Daily Apple
Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket, WebMD

Q&A 4.5.18


What do you recommend for a 45 year old man?
Like to keep it to 30-45 mins. I’m not an athlete just a dad that sits at a desk all day.


I’m not sure we have anything for you.
We developed our SF45 Programming for high impact mountain and tactical athletes ages 45-55, – however these sessions go 60 minutes for the gym-based sessions and longer for the endurance efforts.
Our Busy Operator is efficient, but these sessions are designed to last 45 minutes.
I’m not sure your fitness level, but if it’s suspect, I’d recommend starting our stuff with the Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan.
– Rob


Question about training plans. If I’m just starting to train again and I’m looking for overall strength but will also be doing a few MTB races this year, what program would you suggest?
I also have limited equipment. I have 25lb dumb bells, a TRX trainer, and just ordered a plyo box. Also, will be making a weighted ruc this weekend.


Start our stuff with the Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan.
When does your MTB season start?
– Rob


I’ve been following your site for a few years now and sampled some of your programming. However, I was trapped in the CrossFit, weightlifting cycle that did it properly prepare me for my job and as a result my imbalances ultimately led to a severe disc hernia room and sciatica.

I had a discectomy of L5/S1 and some vertebrae shaving in December 2017 that I am currently recovering from.

The physio therapy is going well and they are properly strengthen the muscles I had neglected for years including the glutes and hamstrings.

I am a law enforcement officer attached to the Emergency Response Team in Ontario, Canada. I’m in the door step of 40 years old and therefore operating in a young mans game. However it is not time to pack in the heavy armour yet so I am looking for a program that I can commit to once cleared by the physio therapist.

I trust your research, agree with your methodologies and simplicity of movement standards. The surgery has been a life altering experience and I resolve to return to my ERT role stronger then ever in the important functional areas.

I live in Petawawa, Ontario which is home to the Canadian Special Forces Regiment and several other highly respected regiments. I train them annually in their escape and evasion selection phases and have the opportunity to learn from them and workout with them. I have access to the military fitness facility and therefor I do not have limited equipment issues.

Any advice on programming would be greatly appreciated.


It’s not clear from you’re note what you’re doing now in terms of training. My sense is you’re ready to start, but haven’t done any as of yet.
If this is the case, from our stuff I’d recommend starting with the Bodyweight Only Core Training Plan.
Follow it up with the Low Back Fitness Training Plan.
Then email back on the other side of the Low Back Fitness Plan.
– Rob


Do you recommend which training plan for young swimmers 10-15 years who would train 2 times a week?


For kids that young, I’d recommend the Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan 3 times per week.
– Rob


I am prior Marine Corps infantry, and I’m planning to cross decks and re-enter active service with an 18X contract. Im using the GI Bill and graduate college in May of 2019. So I won’t be attending SFAS for at least 15-18 months. I was considering your Ruck-based Selection (SFAS) training packet, but the description says to use it with exactly 13 months prior to selection. Here’s what I’m looking for
-a program that prepares for selection
-develops operator fitness
-also has strength based training (for aesthetics)
What would you recommend?


If you’re fit, work through the plans and order in the Greek Hero series, beginning with Hector, until you start the Ruck Based Selection Training Packet Plans. If this is your route, you can skip the first plan in the packet, the Military OnRamp Training Plan, and move right to Humility.
If you’re fitness is suspect, start with the Military OnRamp Training Plan and them move Hector, then when it’s time, start the Ruck Based Selection Training Packet plans with Humility.
– Rob


I heard about you from my Denver son who was amazed at his skiing endurance after following one of your plans.
I am 69 and planning to hike the 75 miles of the Georgia AT and the JMT in August.  Pack weight will be 30 – 40# depending on food-days to carry.
I ordered the Backpacking – Pre-season training module.
Do you have any suggestions/modifications specific to seniors?
Also any thoughts on nutrition/energy needs senior specific.
I have been training with a short and long hike each week and can average 2 mph with the full pack over 15 – 20 miles.
Thanks for any advice or references.


We design our training plans based on the event, not the athlete. So in general, no. The programming is the same, though you may need to stretch it out to allow for more recovery days.
Nutrition? No. Our general guidelines apply. More HERE.
– Rob


I am starting ABOLC on Monday at Fort Benning. I have no problem passing the APFT and know that BOLC will whip me into running shape real quick. However, I will have access to world class training facilities at Benning that have great areas for Olympic lifting, rope climbing, sled drags, and other types of functional fitness that I don’t usually have access to at home. What plan would you recommend to take advantage of those facilities that I can do in addition to normal unit PT everyday? I want it to be mostly focused on strength, Olympic lifting movements, work capacity, and explosiveness. I am a police officer back home and don’t want to get too skinny and endurance focused while I’m here like Army PT tends to do to people.


I’d recommend you work through Bourbon, from our Sprits Packet of plans for LE. This plan trains strength, work cap, and hypertrophy. Super Squats and Super Bench are awesome!
Good luck.
– Rob


I’m very interested in your programming but feel that I’m so out of shape (literally starting from scratch after undergoing two leg fasciotomies since Sept) all of the programs would be too difficult.
Background: 48 year old RN, have not worked out consistently since May 2017. Long hx of sports/ortho injuries: partially torn rotator cuff, low back pain/multiple back issues, two knee surgeries, arthritis in knees/ankles/back/shoulders plus two open heart surgeries (ok to exercise with no restrictions).
Played soccer x 12 years, volleyball x 15 years, followed by 10+ years of trail running/cycling/triathlons/skiing in 20s-30s. Have won two National Championships in Volleyball so I know what hard work looks like.
Inconsistent exercise since 2005 due to having child, two heart surgeries, random overuse injuries.
Despite all this I want to get my fitness mojo back but don’t do well with high impact/high intensity stuff due to lack of fitness. Tend to get injured if I go out too hard/fast.
Any ideas? Literally going from couch to athlete.


My guess is you’re not ready for our stuff.
From what we do have you could look at the Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan. At this link, click the “sample training” and you can try the first week to see how you do.
What is good about this plan is it deploys an initial assessment and then scales the follow on strength work based on your assessment results. Which means it automatically scales to your incoming fitness.
There is some running in the plan – which you could walk/run, as needed until you get tuned up.
Anyway, look at the programming and if you’re game, try the first week and see how you do. If you get crushed, spend 3-6 weeks walking/running/riding, and doing bodyweight stuff, then come back to it.
– Rob


I just have a couple questions!

I’m usually a big gym rat. I like to lift heavy things and smash weights together and my run time was mediocre. Unfortunately, being “big and slow” is not conducive to being in the Army.

I was just recently deployed and actually just came home Monday. While downrange, I became introduced to functional fitness. So started that along with still pushing weights and found myself not only getting stronger but getting faster too. Shredding pounds was an added bonus! I became leaner and was still able to maintain my mass and became a big fan of functionality. Midway through the deployment, an officer I work with had me do the MTI Work Capacity program with him. I never did finish the work capacity due to work constraints but would like to attempt to do it again and actually finish now that I’m home.

My first question is what program do you suggest that I can do to continue this new level fitness? After the work capacity, I’ll be looking to do something else. Hopefully something that I could have no problem doing even sporadically since being in garrison can be more hectic than being deployed and we’re going to be gearing up for a field and another deployment soon.

Second question is what do you recommend for someone who’s level of fitness is non existent? My wife is looking to start working out and would like to shred weight along with getting fit. Eventually I’d like her to workout along with me but am looking for something to start her off with.

Thanks for your time and I apologize for these inane questions and wasting your time.

I hope this email finds you well!


You …. Work through the plans and order in the Greek Hero series of plans, beginning with Hector. These are designed as day to day programming for military infantry, SOF, etc., and concurrently train strength, work capacity, tactical agility, endurance and chassis integrity (core).
Wife …. Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan. Be gentle with her…
– Rob


I just signed up for the athlete subscription.  I am currently training for a 50k trail race at the end of June.  It has a 5000 ft elevation gain and loss.  I am all set with the running part of my training, but I am looking for strength work to complement it.  I work full time and have 4 kids (i.e. not a lot of time for training).  Which program would serve me best – and be most time efficient?  Thanks!


Complete the strength work in the Ultra Pre-Season Training Plan. It’s scheduled as 2 days/week, and includes barbell-focused gym-based strength and bodyweight-focused leg blaster progressions to help prepare you for the eccentric hit you’ll get during your race/training.
The running in the plan will also work for a 50K, if you want to switch to it.
If you’ve got equipment issues and can’t get to a gym, complete the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday sessions of the Peak Bagger Training Plan. You’ll need a pair of 15# dumbbells, and a 40# sandbag.
Email questions.
– Rob


My partner referred me to one of your core programs to strengthen my core and back – I am almost complete this.
I would like to focus next on building muscle, strength and introducing interval running into the mix. Could you please point me in the right direction?


I’d recommend SF45 Alpha. This plan trains strength 3 days/week, includes shuttle sprints and has a 6-mile run assessment with follow on 2-mile repeat interval efforts.
– Rob


I am currently a Navy EOD tech. I have been a member for 10 years back when the daily sessions were free. You guys trained me into shape for and through my EOD career. I love all that mountain/military/LE and beyond has offered. You guys are great.
I now have a big life change with lumbar fusion surgery this month. I was looking for your recommendations for after I finish PT to help me back into life post surgery(I realize at this will take months or years). And if you have any good reads to help encourage me through this big life change.
(I have completed the lower back V2 x3 times for my own needs due to long term back issues.)
Thanks for everything and don’t stop what you are doing. It is impacting people.


Sorry about the surgery and I’m glad we’ve partnered with you during your career. It’s an ultimate compliment for us.
Your back … understand I’ve never directly worked with someone who has had a lumbar fusion – so take my recommendation with that in mind.
Recommendation from my stuff would be to complete the Core Strength, Bodyweight Only plan after you’re cleared from PT, then the Low Back Fitness Plan after.
Then roll into Military OnRamp and back into the Pirate Series.
Email questions.
– Rob


I wrote the other day inquiring about your rucking specific training plan. Can that be scaled to add mileage? A group of friends and I will be rucking the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for charity (EOD wounded warrior).
26 miles is quite a lot longer then I’ve ever rucked, either in training or combat. I’ve heard nothing but good things about your programs and was hoping you all could provide some assistance. If the program needs to be modified I am willing to pay accordingly to offset the added input.
Also, what would be a good strength program to run concurrently with the rucking?
Thank you all for your time and assistance in this manner.


For your event, I’d recommend the Meathead Marathon Training Plan, and simply ruck, instead of run while completing the plan. Strength training is included.
– Rob


Regarding time lines and the SFAS PACKET:  It appears I will need to attend Army Basic Training as a part of my training timeline. So, my proposed training pipeline is: Basic(OSUT 14 weeks) —> AIRBORNE(3 weeks) —> SFAS (or thereabouts – includes “prep” courses prior to hammer drop).  The packet instructs plan employment 36 weeks out from SFAS.

Do you have any suggestions in regards to adjusting this plan/packet for the above timeline?

Please advise.

Thank You.


I recommend guys with schedules like you complete the entire packet before Basic. The reason is you don’t know how much time you have to train on your own, once you’re in … likely none at Basic, and it’s unclear at Airborne. You’ll lose some fitness before SFAS, but it’s the best we can do with your schedule.
– Rob


I want to start off by saying I see great results using your programs, and have recommended you to multiple friends looking for new workout programs. I especially enjoy the Busy Operator programs as they fit my schedule perfectly.
I’m looking for advice on maintaining APFT readiness, while still conducting the Busy Operator program (or other programs). I generally know when an APFT is on the schedule, and take the weeks prior to dedicate solely to APFT prep. Do you have any recommendations on how to balance being ready at any time for an APFT (certain positions, new opportunities may arise needing an impromptu record APFT), while conducting other workout programs simultaneously and still seeing results?
Any advice is appreciated. Thank you again, have a great day.


This is a common question and the short answer is not well.
There’s a cost to Mission-Direct Fitness by being ready to max the APFT at any time. The APFT does not assess mission-direct fitness, by our definition – yet preparing to max it takes dedicated work.
None example … push ups. Being good at push ups involves technique and strength endurance. Even though bench press and push ups both hammer the chest and triceps, having a high max bench press will not transfer directly high push up reps, and vice versa.
This is the reason we built our sport-specific APFT plan and other sport-specific plans. As well, rarely is there a surprise APFT. Guys will get at least 3 weeks notice, which if you’ve been doing our Operator Sessions, Busy Operator or other day to day programming, is plenty to do a focused APFT prep cycle.
Why not always do 2-a-days, where you’ll train for mission-direct fitness in the AM, and APFT fitness in the PM? Time, overtraining and burn out.
What could you do? You could add in push ups and sit ups 2-3 times a week at the end of a session, if you’d like. But this won’t be enough to maintain a perfect score on these events, and the extra work will take away from my other programming.
Why not just train for the APFT all the time? Burnout, overuse, and boredom, plus the main fitness areas missing in APFT prep are relative strength, chassis integrity, hard, short work capacity and the ability to move under load (rucking).
So I’d go back and challenge the need to be ready for an APFT at any time. This is really a concern and need? You won’t get 3-6 weeks notice first?
– Rob


I just signed up for the monthly subscriptions and am super excited to get started. Love the fact that there are so many options and programs to choose from. That being said there’s a lot to pick from but I couldn’t find anything specific to my area.

I am training for day to day police dog handler and am looking for the right program. There are a lot of quick sprints then stop while the dog reacquires the track then go hard again. That’s the typical track and usually 2-3km; however, there have been a few occasions where we end up running in excess of 15km. Terrain is usually hills, swamps and long grass. In addition to the running, holding back a 90lb German shepherd and helping to boost him over fences while trying to stay balanced is a challenge in its own.

Any recommendations to get me started?


I don’t have a K-9 Handler specific training program, but your the second K-9 Handler to ask and I’m investigating the difference between your fitness demands and that of patrol/detective. Our Police/Detective program includes sprint-based work capacity, relative strength, work capacity, upper body hypertrophy and tactical agility. The main fitness attribute missing you describe is the 15km endurance need.
For this I’d look at our current full time SWAT/SRT programming in the Gun Maker Training Plans. These include the fitness demands of Patrol/Detective, minus upper body hypertrophy, but adding in an endurance element.
From these plans I’d recommend you start with Ruger, which trains Relative strength, Sprint-based work capacity, tactical agility, chassis integrity and endurance running out to 6 miles.
– Rob


I have done your training program before, when I climbed Denali. For the last few years I haven’t done any strength training, got caught up in ashtanga yoga. Im planning to climb Everest in 2019 and have to start basically from scratch. I have a climb ( for training with serpa and guide) coming up in September and want to know where to start . I am a 52 year old 126pd woman. Please guide me.



13 months = 56 weeks. Here’s what I recommend:

Weeks    Plan
1-6          Bodyweight Foundation
7             Total Rest
8-14        SF45 Alpha
15           Total Rest
16-22      SF45 Bravo
23           Total Rest
24-29      Mountain Base Helen
30           Total Rest
31-36      Mountain Base Artemis
37           Total Rest
38-43      Mountain Base Danae
44           Total Rest
45-46      Mountain Base Atalanta (First 2 Weeks)
47           Total Rest
48-56      Denali Training Plan (Not perfect for Everest, but close enough)
The mountain base plans include rock climb training – you won’t need this for Everest, of course, so you can skip these sessions if you like, or keep them for variety.
– Rob


I am currently trying to prepare my body to be able to successfully complete the TACP school house course. I have been using the Pull-up/ Pushup improvement plan along with the  bodyweight foundation plan with great success. Provided my form does not deduct the rep counts, I am able to pass the  Battlefield Airmen PAST requirements without issue.

Through reading the website and other military boards, I realized that the school will require a large running and rucking capacity in order to succeed. I noticed that the TACP program is designed to be used directly before being shipped to BMT, which would be about 6-7 months from now for myself. The pathways that I was considering to follow were:

1. Start with the running improvement plan and military on-ramp program, progress to the rucking improvement plan and finally do the TACP training plan.


2. Start with the military on-ramp program, progress to the virtue series and finally the TACP plan.

One point I noticed I am struggling in is cardiovascular and anaerobic strength specifically in situations like smoke sessions and fast paced, long distance runs. During the practice PAST, the weakest point was definitely the 1.5 timed run.

I understand I am placing myself at a disadvantage by attending a heavy running and rucking course, but with the correct guidance and determination I hope to be able to successfully pass the selection.


Skip the Military OnRamp Plan and go right to the Virtue Series, then move to the TACP Plan directly before the schoolhouse.
– Rob


Hi just looking through the plans and im looking at doing your Run improvement plan as im been out for two and a half years with having ligament reconstruction on both Ankles .Im a 40 year old soldier and now wanting to get fitter as im no longer able to keep up with the young thrusters that are up and coming through the Ranks my last mile an half was 13:30 before the operations it was 10:30.

Can the above mentioned plan help me to get down that time back to 10:30 also looking at some of the other plans anything to do with barbells is completely alien to me so looking for a plan that can help with strength and to protect my body .


The Running Improvement Plan deploys assessments, and then bases your follow-on progressions based on your assessment results. In this way, the plan automatically scales to your incoming fitness and continues to push you as you work through the plan.
Will it get you down to 10:30? I can’t say. You’re looking at 30% improvement from your last assessment. Generally, we’ll see a 15-20% improvement.
Also – the Running Improvement Plan is not solely focused on the 1.5 distance. The first 5 weeks of the plan are focused on this distance, but then the focus jumps to 3 miles for weeks 6-10, and 6 miles for weeks 11-15.
The plan does include, effective, but simple strength work using bodyweight and dumbells.
– Rob


Which programs do you suggest for someone who has access to just your run of the mill gym. I can do Olympic type lifting and your traditional weights, but don’t really have access to sandbags or anything too crazy like that. Also, I have a ruck. Just looking to establish a good base of fitness and improve on my apft.



Look at Humility, which is a limited equipment, intense program and requires a pull up bar, ruck and a pair of 25# dumbbells.
– Rob


The Liberating Power of “Fixing It”

By Rob Shaul, Founder


How often do you see something that needs to be fixed, but instead of fixing it, you respond:

“Not my job”?

This happens often at work. You’re getting paid to do a certain job. Someone else is getting paid to do what you see needs fixing – so why should you fix it?

“Not my job.”

At home; your partner cooks, you do dishes. Your partner cleans the bathroom, you chop the firewood. Bathroom’s dirty and your partner’s busy.

“Not my job.”

In society; walking into a business, piece of garbage on the ground in front of the door, you step over it.

“Not my job.”

Walking into the grocery store, shopping carts all over the parking lot. You ignore them.

“Not my job.”

You complain about the service.

“Not my job.”

At a friend’s house, toilet paper roll is empty.

“Not my job.”

With every “Not my Job” comes positioning yourself above someone else. At work, every “Not my Job” means making yourself more important than the mission.

Positioning yourself above another or above the mission …. both involve internal conflict and a decision.

Right before you decide to not “fix it,” part of you knows that you should. This is the virtuous part of you, and you must consciously push this part of you aside to arrive at “Not my job.”

This shove wounds you, if even slightly. It’s a self-inflicted wound.

As a business owner and my own boss for over 20 years, at work at least, I’ve never had to make this decision. No matter what the task – super risky financial decision or swabbing the toilet, it is always my job.

Outside work – at home, in society – I’m in the same lot as most. Often not fixing stuff, and justifying it with, “Not my job.”

With age has come humility, or more accurate, an enlightening realization of how damn unimportant I am. More and more, when I see something that needs fixing, I just fix it.

I don’t fix it mad at another because I’m doing his or her job, or because it’s the right thing to do, or to make myself look good.

I fix it to avoid the conflict and the decision and the self-inflicted wound.

Surprisingly and best of all, I’ve discovered that “Fixing It” is powerfully liberating.

No more internal conflict. No more being mad someone else. No more aggrandizing myself. No more tortured decision.

See something that needs fixing? Fix it.

Clean and crisp with perfect clarity.

So Liberating!

Try it. You’ll see.

MTI’s 3 Favorite Upper Body “Pull” Exercises

The Rope Climb … our favorite upper body pull exercise.

By Rob Shaul, Founder


Rope Climb

By far, the classic rope climb is my favorite upper body “pull” exercise.

There is so much involved with a rope climb – upper body pull strength, bicep/arm strength, grip strength, coordination, athleticism, and most of all, grit and tenacity. If you are hesitant or passive, the rope pushes you.

The rope climb is truly a total body exercise. My original lab rat, and now gym owner and coach, Josh Rempel, called the rope climb the “sled push for the upper body.”

The rope climb is the single upper body exercise I genuinely fear – it’s just so hard. Superset rope climbs with front squats, or back squats or power cleans,  – and you have a powerful, total body circuit.

The Double Eagle, Rope Climb superset, especially, is one of my favorite total body supersets as a coach, and least favorite as an athlete. Killer!

I also remember programming a work capacity event for myself and older lab rats of sandbag getups, burpees, and a rope climb. The getups and burpees were easy compared to the rope climb!

Another “nightmare” work capacity I recall involved a weight vest, 800m run, power cleans and a rope climb. Again, the run and power cleans were the easy part.

At MTI we have an 18-foot ceiling and use 1.5″ manila climbing ropes and have worn out several climbing ropes over the years.


Pull Up

There are several pull up variations we deploy, but the classic palms-away-from the face pull up is my favorite. It’s the most transferable to the real world, the hardest, and done strict, is brutal in its strength building ability.

Over the years we’ve studied the hell out of pull ups and how to improve them and as a result developed multiple progressions … volume, density, weight, eccentric, etc.

Few are “naturals” at this exercise. Women, especially, struggle, but many men do also. I’ve personally found push ups much easier than pull ups.


Mountain Guide, Christian, grinds through a set of Renegade Rows.

Renegade Row

These are quickly evolving into one of my favorite upper body pull exercises. Whereas the rope climb and pull ups are “vertical” pulling movements, Renegade Rows are a horizontal pulling movement.

We deploy several other horizontal pulling exercises – including horizontal pull ups, standing, kneeling and sitting rope pulls, barbell and dumbbell bent over rows, 1 and 2-arm horizontal ring rows and even reverse bench presses.

But I favor the Renegade Row most of all – it’s simple, has a total body element with the core rotation and anti-rotation work, and is easy to progress with reps or loading (heavier dumbbells).

I first began using this exercise when working with kayakers during their late-Spring, pre-season train up. Every kayak stroke involves a single arm push on the paddle with one hand, a single-arm pull on the paddle with the other hand, and anti-rotation and rotational core strength between the two. To match this movement in the gym we combined Renegade Rows with Kettlebell Floor Presses in mean, high-rep, density programming. Not only did these help my kayakers prepare for the season, they all got jacked upper bodies because of all the pressing and pulling. The old meatheads in the gym, myself included, were jealous!


Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email



You Might Also Like MTI’s 3 Favorite Lower Body “Pull” Exercises


Theory, Thoughts, and Design Behind New MTI Kettlebell/Dumbbell Strength Programming

Above: Veteran MTI Lab Rats, Cody and James crank through some heavy 2-handed kettlebell clean + squat + strict press – one of the exercises we deploy in our new programming.


By Rob Shaul, Founder

Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve had MTI’s Lab Rats, myself included, testing and developing new kettlebell/dumbbell strength programming.


MTI currently offers several Kettlebell/dumbbell-specific training plans, including the 3 Stooges Packet and the Kettlebell Strength Training Plan.

For the strength progressions in these training plans, we’ve taken one of our 7 existing strength progressions built around barbells and applied it to kettlebells and dumbbells.

For example, we a modified version of our TLU Strength Progression for the Kettlebell Strength Plan, and use a modification of our Big 24 strength progression for the strength work in “Moe”, from the 3 Stooges Packet.

The trick with developing strength work for kettlebells and/or dumbbells is unlike a barbell, it’s often difficult to work up to a 1 Repetition Maximum on a particular lift. As well, if the athlete is completing a 2-handed exercise, the weight jump in kettlebells is approximately 16 pounds, and dumbbells, 10 pounds – unlike a barbell, which can be increased in 5-pound increments using 2.5 pounds plates.

Also – the single limb element of kettlebells/dumbbells simply makes them “heavier” than a barbell. For example, I can easily do a hang squat clean with a 145 pound barbell, but don’t ask me to try to do the same with a pair of 32kg kettlebells (approx 144 pounds total) or a pair of 75# dumbbells …. I’d get worked!

Finally – while some gyms will have pairs of dumbbells in excess of 100 pounds, few gyms have kettlebells heavier than 32kg – my gym included! What this means is some big, strong athletes could simply run out of weight for 1-3 Repetition Maxes.

For these reasons, it’s simply more complicated to use dumbbells or kettlebells to build strength the way we do with the simple barbell.


Pivot from “Max Effort” Strength to “Working Strength”

In developing this new theory, I wanted to cast aside the idea of taking one of our proven barbell strength progressions and modifying it slightly for kettlebells and dumbbells. 

The primary goal of our barbell-based strength progressions is to increase an athlete’s “Max Effort” strength. Max Effort Strength is the max weight an athlete can lift for 1 rep on any given exercise.

But Max Effort Strength is not the only type of strength. Under my programming approach, we also have strength endurance (think high-rep bodyweight stuff), brute strength (strength in the real world), strongman strength (sandbags, sleds, tires, etc.), relative strength (strength per bodyweight) and, finally, working strength.

“Working Strength” is a unique concept to MTI – I’ve never seen another coach use this term or idea.

We define “working strength” as the ability to lift a high percentage of your 1RM for a certain exercise, multiple times, or a few times, but for multiple sets.

Over the years we’ve found that the higher an athlete’s “training age” – or years he/she has been training, generally, the greater his or her working strength.

To best explain this concept, I’ll use an example from several years back when we were still Mountain Athlete.

My assistant coach at the time was John Murie – who is an excellent Olympic Weightlifting Coach, and very strong in the Oly lifts, and interning for us was Beau Burgener – who’s Dad, Mike Burgener, is the leading Oly instructor for CrossFit. Beau himself was a Junior National Champion Oly Weightlifter.

I’ve always used myself, assistant coaches and interns, as “lab rats” and this day was no different. I was curious about how long it would take to complete 50x Barbell Burpees at a load of 135# for men.

Each Barbell Burpee includes a power clean and a push press,. Suffice to say that both John and Beau had 1RM power cleans and push presses much heavier than mine! My guess is that Beau could have managed 225 pounds plus for a 1RM Power Clean + Push Press with John not far behind in the 190-pound plus range.

The push press always gets me on this exercise, and my max ever power clean + push press is an “ugly” 175# or so.

So – high rep Barbell Burpees at 135# was using a load at a higher percentage of my 1RM than John or Beau’s.

But I had training age on them – I was 20+ years older than both, and had that training time in the gym.

Long story short, we started the effort and I managed to finish first – despite being far weaker in terms of max effort strength. How? …. I had a greater working strength, and this effort, 50x Barbell Burpees @ 135#, was a working strength challenge.

Back to dumbbells and kettlebells …. as I was developing this new theory I decided to pivot from max effort strength to working strength and for inspiration, I looked at some of the “Hard Style” kettlebell training books in my strength and conditioning library – specifically a couple from Pavel Tsatsouline.

Interestingly, Pavel’s set/rep scheme progressed the reps, not the weight. For example,

3 Rounds
3x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 20kg

Assume the athlete got all 3 rounds of 3 reps unbroken.

The next progression looks like this:

3 Rounds
5x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 20kg

Once he/she can get all of these rounds unbroken, the next progression again increases the reps per set and total volume, not load:

3 Rounds
7x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 20kg

Once all rounds/reps were completed unbroken – then you re-set the progression with a heavier load and repeat. So ….

3 Rounds
3x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 24kg,

Then ….

3 Rounds
5x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 24kg,

Then …

3 Rounds
7x 2-Handed Kettlebell Front Squat @ 24kg,

I deployed the same general approach but used 6 Rounds and acknowledged that even with a warm up, once into the strength circuit, it will take athletes a couple rounds to work up to their “working load.” I also manipulated some the reps per round, based on the exercise – for example, a total body exercise like a kettlebell/dumbbell Craig Special has fewer prescribed reps per round than a kettlebell/dumbbell front squat.

Here is an example of the set/rep scheme I went with:

Week 1:

(1) 6 Rounds
4x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

Week 2:

(1) 6 Rounds
5x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

Week 3:

(1) 6 Rounds
6x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

The goal here is that the athlete will ideally use the same load for each week for rounds 3-6. Even though the load is the same, the effort is greater as the reps per set increases weekly

Week 4:  … Reset the progression ….

(1) 6 Rounds
4x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

Week 5:

(1) 6 Rounds
5x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

Week 6:

(1) 6 Rounds
6x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6

The goal here is with the drop in reps per round in Week 4, the athlete will be able to increase the kettlebell/dumbbell size/weight – for example, go from 20kg to 24kg …. and still make all the reps across the progressions. In this way – by keeping the reps the same, but increasing the load, I hope to train “working strength”.


Using Level Changes to Chose Exercises

In building each strength session, I moved from thinking about body parts, to thinking about level changes and choreographed the exercises in each session to move from …. squatting to standing … to …. standing to overhead … to …. ground to standing …. to ground to overhead.

Using this level change approach, I designed two strength training sessions:

Obj: Strength

Warm up:
2 Rounds

(1) 6 Rounds

  • 4x Kettlebell/Dumbbell Front Squat – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 2/4x Pull Ups

(2) 6 Rounds

  • 4x 1-Arm Kettlebell/Dumbbell Press – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 3/6x Chin Ups

(3) 6 Round

(4) 6 Round

(5) 6 Rounds

  • 1x Corrective Getup – increase load each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 1/2x Mixed Grip Pull Up

Comments: “Grind” Through these circuits. Unlike many of our strength circuits, most of these today don’t include “working rest” in the form of a stretch or mobility drill. Work steadily, but not frantically. Most important is to get up heavier weight. Working steadily and with purpose, you should be able to finish this training session in 60-65 minutes.


Obj: Strength

Warm up:
2 Rounds

(1) 6 Rounds

  • 2x Dumbbell/Kettlebell Craig Special – increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 2/4x Pull Ups

(2) 6 Round

  • 8x Kettlebell Floor Press– increase load rapidly each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 3/6x Chin Ups

(3) 6 Round

(4) 6 Round

(5) 6 Rounds

  • 1x Corrective Getup – increase load each round and aim to get at your “hard but doable” load by round 3, and us this load “across” rounds 3-6
  • 1/2x Mixed Grip Pull Up

Comments: “Grind” Through these circuits. Unlike many of our strength circuits, most of these today don’t include “working rest” in the form of a stretch or mobility drill. Work steadily, but not frantically. Most important is to get up heavier weight. Working steadily and with purpose, you should be able to finish this training session in 60-65 minutes.

Notes: You’ll see I replaced the mobility stretches common in many of our strength circuits with some type of upper body pull exercises (with the exception of Part (4)). You’ll also see each session finishes with a Corrective Getup exercise – a true “ground to overhead” movement.



It took me the better part of 2 weeks to refine the exercises and round/rep schemes, but by Week 3, myself and the other Lab Rats, working steadily, were able to grind through these sessions in 60 minutes.

The single limb work with a few of these exercises, and simply the more dynamic nature of kettlebells/dumbells really works the midsection during these training sessions and demands chassis integrity. The strict, Corrective Getup, finisher at the end really brings it all together – strength, mobility, fluidity, movement, body tension, and chassis integrity.


Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email


You can find the plan around this progression here → Kettlebell/Dumbbell Strength – Working Strength Progression


Q&A 3.29.18


I am finishing the Bodyweight Foundation Plan tomorrow with the run. I have a few questions and am happy to share my progress through the plan if that is of any use to you.

I saw the greatest progress between Day 1 and Day 13 evaluations with an increase of 3-19.
However, on Day 31, my numbers went up or down by only a few. For example, my squats, lunges, pull ups, bench dips, and back extensions increased by 1-6, EOs by 16, and hand release push ups went down by 5, and pull up bar heel taps went down by 2.

Here’s my numbers if you are interested:

Day 1

Squat 47
Push up 40
Heel tap 18
Lunge 48
Pull up 15
EOs 42
Bench Dip 27
Back Ext 77
1.5 run 11:06

Day 13

Squat 56
Push up 43
Heel tap 24
Lunge 52
Pull up 19
EOs 40
Bench Dip 42
Back Ext 96
3 run 29:54

Day 31

Squat 58
Push up 38
Heel tap 22
Lunge 55
Pull up 20
EOs 56
Bench Dip 48
Back Ext 102
3 run 27:49

Throughout the daily workouts I noticed:

Workout days generally lasted 40-60 mins, and 60-75 mins on 60% days.

Squats, Lunges, EOs, Bench Dips (no bar available at the time), and back extensions seemed easy to moderately easy as in my muscles were still performing even if I was sucking wind during the exercises.

On the other hand, hand release push ups sucked every single workout. I could do the first set no problem, second set was tough but doable, but the third, fourth and fifth sets were brutal and I had to adjust the my hand positioning, drop to my knees, or plain take breaks during the set just to finish.

Going straight into pull up bar heel taps from push ups, I felt it in my shoulders and pecs which made them harder but doable. Generally I was able to do most, if not all of the reps per set but it was difficult.

Q: Any ideas as to why the pushups were so difficult comparatively and why I didn’t really improve in the reps for them?

Q: What is the benefit of ONLY doing hand release push ups? I get the point of them but if I’m trying to improve doing a pushup by going down to fist height from the ground and then back up, why not do that or touch chest to the ground without releasing the tension from the chest?

Overall, I liked the workouts. They were tough but doable. I’ve noticed my legs and lats bulk up a little and my core is more cut. I am definitely in better shape than when I started! Thank you!

One of my friends though he would just jump in and be gung ho about the “easy bodyweight workout”. I warned him to take it slow as I was on a 60% day in the earlier weeks. He about passed out and is getting blood work done to make sure he doesn’t have rabdo. I warned him haha.

Thanks again and I look forward to the military on-ramp plan.


It’s not unusual to see the greatest improvement at the mid-cycle assessment. We generally will see further improvement at the end-of-cycle assessment, but not as dramatic.
1) Push Ups? Some athletes simply struggle with these – often taller/leaner athletes with longer arms, or athletes who come from a leg-based athletic background – i.e. distance runners, soccer players, etc.
2) Hand Release Push Ups don’t allow you to take advantage of the strength shortening cycle, and are simply harder. We use them in this plan to increase raw upper body pressing strength, while avoiding gimmicks.
– Rob


I’ve recently secured an 18X contract, and will finish the Military On-Ramp Program in a week (fantastic program, it whipped me into shape). After that I will be left with 120 days until I ship out. I understand that the last 56 days I will be doing the Ruck-Based Selection Program, so I’m left with 64 days to play with. I’ve seen you recommend Humility to others in my situation, and the program looks great, but I’m also worried that I’m only hitting around minimums for my APFT push ups and sit ups (in the 50s). Would you still recommend Humility for my next program or should I look at another plan that has APFT specific events?


I’d stick with Humility. The Ruck Based Selection Training Plan includes focused programming for the APFT.
– Rob



BLUF: need an alternate exercise for those requiring cleaning movements.

Background: been using your body weight foundation and APFT programs for the last couple of months and am getting results. Want to improve strength so began your MTI relative strength program last week and am running into a problem.

Problem: my wrists and shoulders do not have the flexibility for the front squat and clean motions. Today my shoulder was in so much pain after front squats that I had to quit after my 75% power clean effort. Slashers are also giving me pain so I’ve pushed pause on the relative strength program to avoid injury and will probably go with the On-Ramp next.

Question: I am a fan of your programming and want to progress to the more challenging levels of fitness, but many of those programs require Olympic movements. While I think I can do cross-chest (bodybuilding) front squats after some practice, other cleaning motions will continue to give me problems. Is there an alternate exercise I can use when things like cleans, Craig Specials, etc. are programmed?


Do the cleans/front squats with dumbbells. Wrists won’t be an issue – and the movements are harder with dumbbells.
– Rob


Finishing up Big 24 and have made some significant gains. Next week I’ll transition to your run improvement program, but I don’t want to forfeit my strength gains. Should I modify/supplement the run improvement program and if so, how?


Sorry, you can’t go from a training plan concentrating on strength to one concentrating on running, and not lose some strength or vice versa.

Do the running program as prescribed, it will be a good break from the weightroom and the bodyweight/dumbbell-based strength training in the running plan is no joke.
If you want a plan that combines both, do SF45 Alpha.
– Rob


I have a question about selecting the right plan for me and my goals. I’m currently in ABOLC down at Fort Benning, GA. I’m slotted to go to the ranger training assessment course and follow that up with ranger school immediately after. I was looking at the 8 week ranger prep plan on the MTI website and I noticed a good amount of 2 a days. This is where my dilemma is, we do organized PT in the mornings every single day which would get in the way of doing the 2 a days for the ranger prep. Is there another program(s) you would recommend that would have me working out once a day in addition to my mandatory morning PT? Thank you very much.


I’d recommend Fortitude, but watch for overtraining. Fortitude combines heavy, gym-based strength, running endurance, rucking endurance, work capacity and chassis integrity.
– Rob


I need some help! Let me start by giving you some background:
I am a 35 year old female serving in the US Army. I am a Civil Affairs NCO, which I assume you are familiar with because you offer a selection program for CA. I am currently deployed, but aside from some mission constraints, I generally have access to a fully-equipped gym. I have already completed the military on-ramp program and half of the weight loss plan. My schedule got messed up when we were away for a week, so I think I want to transition to something new.
I spent some time going through your plans, but there is so much to look at so I am hoping you can help to point me in the right direction. Basically, I am somewhat of a distance runner. I have completed several half-marathons and 10-milers, but am not quite ready to train for the full marathon yet. During the weight loss plan, I was running an average of 25-30 miles a week to fulfill the evening walk/run requirements. After completing the CA qualification course I took months off from training so now I am trying to get back to where I was while losing a bit of weight and getting toned. I looked at some of the operator stuff, but do not want to get too bulky and would also like to have enough energy leftover for my running.  Additionally, I do not have the ability to do a lot of the ruck runs as they are prescribed. During the on ramp I used my vest and a small Oakley backpack with weight in it, but it tore up the skin on my back as it is not designed for that purpose. Four weeks later I still have large red marks where my skin was rubbed off, so I would prefer to avoid that again if possible.
Basically, is there something you can recommend that incorporates running or other cardio with lighter lifting. I really loved the variety of the two programs I have already done and I can add in some running on my own as long as these workouts do not destroy me. I think I have provided enough information, but feel free to hit me up if you any further information.
Looking forward to your advice! Thank you in advance for your assistance!


Couple choices:
1) Actaeon from our Greek Hero Series – running, lifting (density strength), work capacity, chassis integrity, tactical agility. 5 Day/week plan.
2) SF45 Alpha – Running, lifting, work capacity, chassis integrity – 6 day/week plan.
Both are awesome, and of the two, I’d recommend SF45 Alpha for it’s increased running.
– Rob


I am a 31 year old man who has been in the military for 12 years. I noticed I am getting roundness in my upper back. I have read how it’s due to pecs being too tight and how I need to tighten and strengthen my upper mid back. I was wondering if you guys would be able to make a plan of stretches that I could do before or after my work outs and what would it cost. Love your guys program. I always end up coming back to you guys.


I can’t help you here – other than the obvious – more horizontal rowing (bent over barbell row, 1-Arm Dumbbell Row, horizontal pull ups), foam rolling your upper back, and shoulder dislocates with PVC.
– Rob


In January 2018 I purchased your Air Assault School and can’t thank you enough on how much it helped me. Although I did not complete every exercise and routine to the exact layout due to time and not the right equipment. I did not finish your program but made it week 4 almost 5. But I did achieve a score of 310 on my APFT and came in top 4 in the 12 mile ruck march for time(2 hrs and 39 min) out of my entire company. This was my first 12 mile ruck for time in under 3 hours and my first 300 on APFT. It was the air assault program that helped me.
Now my company wants to send me to Ranger school this summer. This is if I pass air assault school in mid April 2018. But I have to go to Joint readiness Training center first in March for the whole month in a tactical setting. Once I pass Air assault school, I will soon after at a unknown time go to a pre ranger course at ft campbell and if i pass that I will secure a seat for ranger school.
With such little time how would you recommend me preparing for pre-ranger and ranger school?
I know your ranger plan is somewhere around 6-7 months long, I just did not expect to go this soon as I just got my unit after basic in late January 2018.
Thanks in advance


Do your best to complete the plans and sessions in the Ranger School Training Plan.
The major initial hurdle is the push up assessment on Day 1. This plan includes focused training for the RPA.
– Rob


Does Mountain Tactical have a barbell-single kettlebell and bodyweight program that would be good for a 48yo firefighter? I have a rack with a pull up bar for squats and bench and a full set of bumper plates. I also have singles of 12, 16, 20, and 24kg competition kettlebells. If needed I could get more kettlebells.


We don’t do much single kettlebell stuff. From what we do have, I’d recommend you look at the SF45 plans, specifically SF45 Bravo.
– Rob


Finishing the first week of Big 24 V4 and I love it!  Looking for some guidance on the stretching / mobility work done in between sets.  For the static stretches how long should I be doing them?  I normally rest for 60-90 seconds between lifts conducting the stretching/mobility work during that time.  Thank you for your time.


60-90 seconds is about right. As you work through Big 24 and the top of the progressions, you’ll need more rest. At the beginning of the cycle, our sessions will take 50-55 minutes. At the end of the progressions – 70-75 minutes…. it’s so intense.
– Rob


I’ve got a week long mountaineering seminar starting August 5th on and around Mount Baker. I was planning on doing the Big Mountain plan but I have a conflict. I’ll be on a study abroad trip from May 20th-June 20th, during which my time for working out will be very limited and so will access to equipment. Do you have any thoughts on what I can do on my study abroad trip to maintain my fitness and what I should do leading up to both trips?


Look at the Peak Bagger Plan.
– Rob


I’m interested in purchasing a program from you guys. I have an end goal of attending selection in Spring 2019 and the SF Op pre selection fitness test some time around Sept-Nov 2018. I recently completed the PT test so I know more or less what base line I’m starting at.
I am a reservist with a full time civillian job which can limit my PT time to no more than two hours a day on average. However this will obviously change to accomodate longer training sessions closer to selection phases.
Please let me know what kind of packages you can provide. There are a lot of options on your site. I was looking at the BUDS 52 week plan, but I’d want to tailor the training more towards the specific PT test and selection requirements. I see there is also a CSOR plan, but I want I be able to start training much earlier than 6 weeks out of the entry test.


Follow the plans and progression in the Ruck Based Selection Training Packet – and finish with the CSOR Plan directly before your pre-selection.
– Rob


Thanks for everything you do, best fitness resource bar none. Attempting Para’s 10 what plan and how far out do I begin? Cheers.


– Rob


I happened to find your website and I am really drawn to the workout plans that are offered. While looking at through your military and LEO plans I noticed that a lot of the gym workout plans included free weights. My question is are there any plans that do not include free weights? The gym I am currently using does not offer free weights, but they do have a ton of pin based machines.


None are designed for universal machines, but we do have several bodyweight and limited equipment plans HERE.
I’d recommend you start our stuff with the Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan.
– Rob


I am a grunt (0331, Sgt) in the USMC and I’m good with basic PT, I’m 30 and still crush pull ups and 3 mile runs, did a scout sniper indoc and passed all the events. I was a little weak strength wise but not in my runs. I want to become stronger and still have stamina, I do the MARSOC prep program’s workouts but I do not know what type of weight training to incorporate, I do powerlifting type workout but I am looking for something more funtional, can you recommend one of your programs?


Programming? I’d recommend the plans from the Greek Hero Series, beginning with Hector.

– Rob


I am relatively new to MTI.  I am on Week 5 of the Military On-Ramp and have loved it so far.  I signed up for a half marathon to run with my wife when I get back from deployment.  I did a lot of distance running in the past but over the last 2 years focused solely on strength training using Starting Strength Programming.  I became a lot stronger but my endurance suffered.  Your programming peaked my interest because I have always wanted to maintain strength plus endurance and speed.  The half marathon is in 11 weeks.  What are your thoughts?  I am 33.  I can currently run 4-5 miles before hitting a wall.
I have a half marathon training plan but what do you recommend as far maintaining or increasing strength during the running training?  Inseason Strength Training for Endurance Athletes or something else?  I want to build toward a high level of multimodal fitness/athleticism. What would you recommend for training post half marathon to build a high level multimodal fitness base?  Your guidance is much appreciated!


– Rob


Love your site and was just wondering what your recommendation would be for a training plan to prepare myself for a Spartan Ultra Beast.

I’m doing the Ultra in Breckenridge CA .  I live near the coast in Florence SC which has virtually no hills.

So I’m looking for a plan to prep me for the mountains while living at sea level.  Currently following a marathon running program that I’ve modified towards  the end to adjust for the 30 mile Ultra. See attached.   I’m also weight training 2 time s a week and doing a boot camp workout 1-2 times a week.   I think my running program may be too aggressive once I hit the 20 mile mark.  Thinking frequency of those long runs are too often.


It’s difficult for me to analyze just one element of our programming. Our Spartan Ultra Beast plan is to train the different fitness demands concurrently in an integrated way.

– Rob


First, I am sorry yall probably get thousands of emails like this. But I have IBOLC in August and I am looking for some programming so I am in the best shape of my life by the time I get to IBOLC. Yall have a lot of programming and I am not really sure where I should start. Thanks.


I’d recommend our US Army IBOLC Training Plan beginning the 6 weeks directly before reporting.
Between now and starting this plan, I’d recommend the plans and progression in the Virtue Packet.
– Rob


I’m about a year out from a team selection. It runs two days and is heavy on cardio, with hill and track sprints, lower leg endurance (squats/lunges), but also has a weighted tower climb, weighted pull-ups, and a pool/water confidence portion involving treading water while holding objects. It also includes rucking from event to event.

Also, I have an event in four months involving back to back 14er climbs in Colorado.

What plan(s) would you recommend?


After the PAST Plan, complete the Peak Bagger Training Plan prior to your Colo climbs, then drop into the packet plans.
– Rob


Do you have a program to prepare an athlete for a Spartan Super or Beast? Thank you



2018 Rock Climbing Pre-Season Cycle Results and Discussion

Lab Rats completing their final V-Sum of this 5-Week cycle.

By Rob Shaul, Founder

My Rock Climbing Lab Rats finished their 5-Week training cycle Thursday. I described the basic outline of this cycle in a post here a week ago, and today want to focus mostly on the results.



I narrowed the Rock Climbing intensity in this cycle to focus primarily on strength.

From the fitness perspective, the two rock-climb specific exercises I chose to focus on strength were campus board dynos and campus board dead hangs.

Also, our new Moon Board for the first time allowed me to deploy my favorite overall rock climb-specific training tool, the Bouldering V-Sum, in my facility training sessions.

Below is the basic training outline for this 5 week, 4 days/week training cycle:

My climbers conducted a V-Sum every Monday throughout the cycle, and as their rock climb-specific finger and grip strength and fitness improved, I added in a second V-Sum on Wednesdays for weeks 4 and 5.

Tuesday and Thursday were strength days, focusing on rock climb-specific campus board dynos and dead hangs, and for general strength, the Hinge Lift supersetted with an upper body pressing movement such as Scotty Bobs.

My climbers completed a Hinge Lift 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM) three times during this cycle – weeks 1, 3 and 5. Weeks 1-2 I used our eccentric strength progression with for their Hinge Lift work. Each Eccentric Hinge Lift caused the athlete to concentrically hinge the barbell off the floor to a full standing position, then slowly lower it down to the floor on a 5 second count.

After Week 3’s mid-cycle 1RM, I changed to our Density progression – where the athletes are put on a 90-second interval each round or set.

For the Campus Board dynos and dead hangs I used the same set/rep scheme throughout the cycle, and “progressed” the athletes individually by moving them to harder campus boards as they became more fit and improved.

We have 3 campus boards – easy, moderate and hard. The difference is the size of the rungs. Our easy board has the widest rungs – which means it’s the easiest to grip. Rung size decreases approximately 1/4 inch down to the moderate board, and another 1/4 inch down to the hard board.


Tuesday’s Strength Session (From Week 2 in the Cycle)

Warm Up:

8 Rounds

  • Ladder up and down easy campus board, feet on
  • Rest 30-45 seconds


(1) 10 Rounds

  • Campus Board Dyno up and down 4 Rungs
  • Rest 60-90 seconds

(2) 3 Rounds

  • 6x Hinge Lift @ 40/50/60% 1RM
  • 3x Scotty Bob @ 25#
  • Hip Flexor Stretch

(4) 6 Rounds

  • 4x Eccentric Hinge Lift @ 75% 1RM
  • 4x Scotty Bobs
  • Instep Stretch

(5) 10 Rounds

  • 20 Second Campus Board Dead Hang
  • 40 Seconds Rest


Thursday’s Unload Session

Thursday’s Weeks 1-3 session was an “unload” for the climbers’ fingers. I would have them complete long, 30-40 minute gym-based endurance sessions, a component of which includes some easy system board time where they would move easily on the system boards.

Here is a typical session:


(1) 2 Rounds (40 minute effort)

  • 5 Minutes Prone to Sprint
  • 5 Minutes Easy System Board
  • 5 Minutes Sandbag Getups @ 40/60#
  • 5 Minutes Easy System Board



Overall, I was pleased with results of this cycle, especially as measured by the improvement in V-Sum scores. See the chart below:

Six of the 7 athletes saw a substantial increase in their V-Sums over the course of the cycle. This isn’t all fitness-related as the V-Sum also tests and pushes technique, but outside the gym, this distinction is mute – all that matters is how well you climb.

There are two levels of Moon Boards and we currently just have the upper level. It’s easiest problems begin at V4, and as you can see above, for the first 3 weeks, Riley couldn’t climb even one of these problems, and Emily was unable to complete a single problem over the course of the cycle. My more experienced climbers who were able to score a V-sum each week saw significant improvement.

Hinge lift strength also improved for each athlete substantially over the course of the cycle. It’s safe to say, however with the exception of Emily, each of the athletes has a low training age for the hinge lift – so a good portion of this improvement cannot be related to strength increases, but simply becoming more familiar with the exercise. Regardless, the gains are there and were substantial.

Mark tweaked his low back and so I pulled him from the Week 5 1RM Hinge attempt.

Ryan missed the week 3 V-Sum and pulled a tendon in his palm during the Week 4 V-Sum – so I pulled him from the rest of the cycle.

On the last day of the cycle, I was curious to see if there was a substantial correlation between a max effort for time dead hang on the hard campus board and highest V-Sum score over the course of the cycle. So the last training session, after a warm up, I had the athletes conduct a dead hang for time.

The chart below shows both the athlete’s max V-Sum Score and their max effort dead hang time. I was hoping to see a correlation between a high dead hang time and a high V-Sum score, but as you can see in the chart below, four of the high V-Sum scores are within two points of each other, and with the exception of Ryan, the dead hang times are also fairly close.

We’ll continue to test this general theory in the years ahead – specifically the link between rock climbing finger strength and overall climbing ability.

Moving Forward

As discussed in my previous article on this cycle, our dead hang interval scheme or this cycle was a complete bust … so I’ve got to develop another. We’ll do this the MTI-way, complete an assessment, then have 2-3 groups of athletes complete different dead hang intervals, then re-assess and see if there is a clear winner.

Also – we’re having the easiest level of Moon Board added to our equipment and will have that option for athletes and testing the next go-around.

Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email


Original Article V-Sum, Hinge Lifts, and Campus Board Work: Program Design behind our 2018 Pre-Season Rock Climbing Cycle