By Rob Shaul
There is one major differences between Mountain and Tactical Athletes and team sport or individual sport competitive athletes.
Unlike competitive sport athletes, the fitness demands of Mountain and Tactical athletes are not specifically defined.
Research tells us that the average football play is 7-10 seconds, and the rest between plays 40 seconds. From a training perspective, it’s easy to see how 10 second sprinting, or sled push intervals, with 40 seconds rest would be a sport-specific work capacity training protocol for football players.
Likewise, we know a marathoner will run unloaded for 26.2 miles, and we can easily find out the vertical gain/loss for the course. We know that professional soccer midfielders will run an average of 9.5 miles in a series of sprints over the course of a 90 minute game.
Record books and past competitions, and even competitive research, competing Olympic and Power Lifters can easily determine what loads they are going to need to make in their lifts, based on their weight class, to be competitive. Same is true for football players, by position, at every level, and rugby players, hockey players, etc.
This doesn’t mean the fitness demands of mountain and tactical missions are totally unpredictable. We can design a sport-specific training plan to climb Fitz Roy based on the approach distance, pitches, pack load, and overall duration. Likewise, there’s a reason we’ve designed different train ups for SFAS (Green Beret Selection) and SFOD-D (Delta) – the selection events are significantly different.
Likewise, we can step back and identify the “Base” fitness attributes for mountain athletes and the different types of tactical athletes. We know most mountain events involve uphill hiking under load, for example, and we know many tactical situations involve sprinting, under load.
What we can’t predict is the unknown or unexpected that often happens during a mountain or tactical mission … when the 6 hour peak bagging effort turns into a 24 hour sufferfest, for example, or a soldier gets injured, and must be carried out during a raid, or the routine patrol welfare check turns into a run and gun firefight.
This unpredictability impacts the strength, work capacity, endurance and stamina demands of mountain and tactical athletes.
With our base fitness programming at MTI, we attempt to identify the demands we can, make sure they are addressed, as well as prepare them for the unexpected.
A confounding truth of fitness programming is that time and effort spent improving one fitness attribute, often negatively affect others. Training endurance negatively affects strength gains.
Too much strength training, and work capacity and endurance decline.
Focusing on strength, how strong is “strong enough” for mountain and tactical athletes?
In answering, first we are interesting in “Relative Strength” – or strength per bodyweight. Mostly, mountain and tactical athletes move themselves around – and their strength per bodyweight is most important.
Second, over the years we’ve developed the following Mountain and Tactical Athlete Strength Standards. These are “loose” standards we’ve evolved over the years as we’ve learned and improved. Here are most recent. “BW” stands for “Bodyweight”:
MOUNTAIN ATHLETE STRENGTH STANDARDS
LIFT MEN WOMEN
Front Squat 1.25x BW 1.0x BW
Hinge Lift 1.75x BW 1.25xBW
Bench Press 1.25xBW .8xBW
Push Press 1.0x BW .6xBW
Hang Squat Clean 1.1x BW .9xBW
Pull Ups 15 5
TACTICAL ATHLETE STRENGTH STANDARDS
LIFT MEN WOMEN
Front Squat 1.5x BW 1.0x BW
Dead Lift 2.0x BW 1.5x BW
Bench Press 1.5x BW 1.0x BW
Push Press 1.1x BW .7x BW
Hang Squat Clean 1.25x BW 1.0x BW
Squat Clean+ Push Press 1.1x BW .7xBW
Pull Ups 16 8
We published these standards as a way to give athletes some measure of where they were strength-wise. Most who ask are too weak, but some are too strong.
Most recently, we’ve developed the “MTI Relative Strength Assessment,” which can be completed in a single, 60 minute training session:
MTI Relative Strength Assessment
(1) 3 Rounds
Barbell Complex @ 45/65#
Lat + Pec Stretch
(2) Get on a scale and weigh yourself
(1) Work up to 1RM Front Squat
(2) Max Rep Strict Pull Ups (no kipping, bucking, jerking, etc.)
(3) Work up to 1RM Power Clean
(4) Work up to 1RM Bench Press
Record 1RM’s, max pull ups reps, and Bodyweight.
Add together your finishing loads for front squat, power clean and bench press.
For pulling strength, multiply your max rep pull up times 10% of your bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, and get 12 pull ups, you’d multiply 10% of 200 (200 x .1 = 20) and 12. 20×12 = 240. ** Note on Pull Ups … the Max Number you can use for scoring for this assessment is 20. So even if you tested at 25x pullups, the most you can use for your scoring is 20.
** Note on Pull Ups … the Max Number you can use for scoring for this assessment is 20. So even if you tested at 25x pullups, the most you can use for your scoring is 20.
Add your pulling strength total to your other 1RM’s, and divide by your bodyweight. The final number is your score.
Why are the scores for mountain athletes lower?
Mountain athletes don’t have the loading requirements of tactical athletes – and simply don’t need to be as strong.
This week myself and the other Tactical lab rats took the MTI Relative Strength Assessment. I weighed in at 168 pounds. My scores are below:
Front Squat – 250
Pull Ups – 16
Power Clean – 185
Bench Press – 250
Pull up Score: 10% bodyweight (16.8) x 16 = 268.8, rounded to nearest .5 = 269.
250+269+185+250 = 954
954 divided by 168 (my bodyweight) = 5.67
Thus, my relative strength score is 5.67
In addition to this overall relative strength score, this assessment tells us much about overall strength balance. A balanced athlete, in terms of upper body and lower body strength will have similar 1RMs for bench press, front squat and pulling strength.
As well, the pull up strength and 1RM bench press should be fairly similar. This would indicate balanced upper body pull and pressing strength.
Printed below are all the lab rat scores from this morning. You’ll see James is an outlier – his 1RM front squat is 245#, but his pull up score is 326, and he benched 315. James has a strength imbalance between his lower and upper body. In his defense, he’s nursing a bad ankle injury and pain limits his squatting strength.
Will is an example of an athlete whose upper body pressing strength is relatively weak compared to his pulling strength. Clint, my nickname for Brenton Reagan, is a professional mountain guide fresh off a long summer guiding season. You’ll see his pulling strength is much greater than his upper pressing and lower body strength.
The front squat, bench press and bodyweight pull ups are simple, straight forward strength exercises.
So why did I include the power clean?
I felt the assessment needed a total body exercise, and the power clean is likely the easiest technically to perform for most athletes. Some may quibble with it’s inclusion.
How to work up to 1RM’s?
My general recommendation, and what we did today, was for lower and upper body strength exercises – the front squat and bench press today – do a set of 5, add weight, do a set of 3, add weight and start doing singles. The goal is to work up to your 1RM by rounds 6-8.
The method for total body strength exercises – the power clean today – is a little different: do a set of 3, add weight, do a set of 2, add weight and start doing singles. The goal is to work up to your 1RM by rounds 6-8.
Here’s how I worked up today in the lifts:
No warm up … get right to them. You can “rest” in the down, hang position – but can’t put your feet on a bench, and most keep both hands on the bar. I did 7x in a row, then started doing singles, resting in the down position between reps.