Plan Focus: SF45 Alpha

Cody, 45, works through Thursday’s heavy In-Place lunges during SF45 Alpha.

By Rob Shaul

“SF45” is an acronym for “Strength and Fitness 45” and this programming is designed for older tactical and other high impact athletes in the 40-55 age range.

I first started experimenting with developing programming for guys my age (I’m almost 49) a couple years ago, had to move away from it for a time, but am now back at it.

I’ve been doing my own programing for nearly 15 years now – 10 as a professional strength and conditioning coach. No one has done more sandbag getup, step ups, leg blasters, etc. than me … and honestly I’m feeling it. Not in my muscles – but in my joints and interest.

My knees began aching occasionally when I was 44 and now are a significant consideration. I’ve written about this before, but what it means from a programming perspective is heavy front and back squats are simply  uncomfortable. I’m not alone, two other of MTI’s long term lab rats, Cody (45) and James (41) are the same. Lunges and hinges are fine, but squats don’t feel good.

Interest is another issue. We like endurance work, and the long gym-based endurance and chassis integrity grinds, but are not super interested in hard, the hard, intense multi-modal power clean to burpee – esq work capacity events of our “youth” (I started the gym when I was 38). Shuttle sprints are okay.

Interest also affects the time we want to spend in the gym training. In my 20’s I’d do 90-minute gym sessions 6 days a week and couldn’t get enough. Now in my late 40’s 2-3 day/week is more than plenty. I still love the weightroom, but I’ve come to enjoy training endurance outside as much. Plus, the endurance work we do transfers better to our recreational pursuits … backcountry hunting, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, alpine climbing … mountain sports in general.

These changes doesn’t mean this programming is “easy.” Sometimes we let millennials train with us just to make us feel good when we crush them doing bench press, or lap them during gym-based endurance efforts. But it is different … perhaps more mature own way.


SF45 Programming has the following general characteristics:

Heavy, Low Volume Strength – think heavy barbel and 1-3 reps per set. The goal is to increase or maintain relative strength (strength per bodyweight) in the most efficient manner possible. Some SF45 cycles will feature bodyweight strength training, but none will include moderately loaded free weight strength training in the 5-12 reps per set range. This is to avoid unnecessary joint impact.

Endurance – Recreationally, most activities for athletes in this age range are outside and have a strong endurance component – biking, hunting, trail running, hiking, alpine climbing, etc. As well, for experienced athletes who’ve spent decades throwing iron around in gyms, the appeal of training inside wanes. Endurance programming includes assessment based intervals at a threshold pace, long distance intervals at an easy pace, and gym-based endurance training. This programming may include rucking and ruck running, as well as loaded step ups.

Chassis Integrity – MTI’s mid-section training methodology aims at building transferable mid-section strength and strength endurance. Four movements are emphasized: Rotation, Anti-Rotation, Total Body and Extension. Chassis Integrity can be trained in focused circuits, as well as in complementary gym-based endurance events.

Non-high Impact Work Capacity – In this age group, gone are the days of hard, intense, high impact multi-modal gym-based work capacity programming. For day to day training, the interest and need for this type of fitness is not worth the joint impact. Work capacity training is limited to lower impact gym exercises and shuttle sprints.

Deep Squat Avoidance – For our over-40 lab rats, it’s nearly impossible to do heavy back or front squats without limited joint pain. Lower body strength training in these cycles will focus on lunges, hinge lifts and bodyweight or lightly loaded complexes.

SF45 Alpha is the first of a series of 3 training plans in this collection – Bravo and Charlie will be designed subsequently. SF45 Alpha is a 7-week, 6 day/week training plan with an emphasis on endurance. Week 7 in the plan is an unload/re-assessment week.

Here is the weekly schedule for SF45 Alpha:

  • Mon: Heavy Total Body Barbell Strength, Gym-Based Endurance
  • Tue: Heavy Upper Body Strength, Low-Back Focused Chassis Integrity, Shuttle Sprints
  • Wed: 6 Mile Running Assessment or 2-Mile Threshold Repeats
  • Thu: Heavy Leg Strength (lunges), Gym-Based Endurance
  • Fri: Long, Easy Run/Trail Run
  • Sat: Athletes Choice: Long, Easy Run/Trail Run or Endurance Mode of Choice

More on the plan HERE.