All posts by SSD

Negative Pull Ups

Jump up until your chin is above the bar.

Let yourself down slowly to full elbow extension, on a 5 second count

Video shows pull ups (palms away from face) but can also be completed with chin ups (palms toward face), mixed grip chin ups, horizontal pull ups and Tarzan Pull Ups.


Q&A 6.27.19

Readers Note on “Little Boy” as Career Choice


Good essay. Consider yourself lucky to work in the field you’re in and have the opportunity for friendships and extended childhood-like fun.

A couple thoughts. Grown men suck at friendship. It’s because we don’t value it so we don’t work at it. Big mistake, in my opinion. I looked around 20 years ago or so and realized I was isolated socially. I was married at the time but we hung out with her friends. She always found some reason not to like my guy friends and she sure as hell didn’t want me having gal friends.

I vowed that would change. I reignited old friendships and cultivated new ones. I put the work in. If I didn’t hear from friends they heard from me. I looked for reasons to get together and stay in touch. The spouse became an ex-.  I made sure the new partner liked the friends I had and my friends liked her. She encouraged me in my male friendships and wasn’t threatened by them. I took up diving with my non-athletic son and always made sure just the two of us took annual diving trips together. All good.

Back to your essay. I suspect that the reason the public-service guys you train and interact with have the friendships they have is because their work is dependent on functioning as a team. Also, they’re not in a zero-sum world where one more dollar for him is one less dollar for me in sales commissions, partnership draw, etc. They’re probably all compensated roughly the same. They all went through the same training. For that and other reasons they’re not as overtly competitive in terms of status, educational background, material possessions, etc. Competition is often the fatal flaw in male friendships.



Hi Coach,

Long time listener, first time caller.

My father (58 years old) and I (male, 28 years old) are going on a week long backpacking trip at an unspecified point next year.  My initial thinking is that we could do the Backpacking Pre-Season Training Plan together in the lead-up to the trip. However, we both want to improve our aerobic conditioning since both of us are admittedly terrible runners with a laughable amount of roadwork between us.

Do you a sequence of other programs in mind that would best suit us before starting that plan? I know his age will probably play a factor.  We’ve both been doing barbell training for several years and have no major injuries.

Thanks for all that you do.


– Rob


I’m just starting your on-ramp program on Monday, and saw that it ends with a ruck run of up to 65 lbs. What sort of pack is suggested, and how do we run? Like, a shuffle?
Sorry for all the questions, I’m just thinking about my knees and back. Lol


Pack? We like used ALICE Packs with a frame, but any internal frame pack will do. Load the weight high as possible in the pack … i.e. put a volleyball in the bottom of the pack and the weight on top of it.
Run = move as fast as possible. I kinda run/jog, I’ve seen others run 9 min miles with this load ….. You’ll figure it out.
– Rob


I’m a big fan of MTI. I have purchased 3 different programs all have worked great for me. I like to try to train to build an all-around athlete, and I feel like no other methods of training work as well as yours. I’m a college basketball coach and implement a lot of your ideas into our training.
I’m looking at the country singer plans and I like them all. Is the intent to do them in order? Or pick one that fits out needs best?


Either do them in order or pick the one that fits the need. The plans can be deployed both ways.
But … if you’re just winging it, do them in order. There is a progression in terms of cyclic emphasis.
– Rob


Love your programming and appreciate all that you do. I recently completed Military On-Ramp, I am going to selection in 6 months. I have the athlete subscription package. So I have reviewed the Ruck Based Selection Training Packet, with this needing approx 13 months of training. I was wondering if you could advise in which programs I should do leading up to the Ruck Based Selection Training Plan V5. Thanks in advance for the help and support.


Weeks   Plan
1-7         Fortitude
8-15       Valor (repeat week 6)
16          Total Rest
17-24     Ruck Based Selection Training Plan (8 weeks directly before reporting)
– Rob


I’m 5 months out from Infantry BOLC. Plan on doing the IBOLC plan just before I head there. But, I want to get into better shape before I start that plan. I’m in decent mil athlete shape but would like to drop some unneeded body weight (6’2 218).
Should I start with military on-ramp or humility?
Thanks a ton!


– Rob


I am currently active duty in the Coast Guard and have put my name on the list for an upcoming screener/ selection for positions available in the Coast Guard’s MSRT (maritime security and response team). I have heard rumors of what it will be like but the only thing I know for certain is that everyone attending will be tested on their physical fitness through the standard coast guard PT test (push ups, sit ups, 1.5 mile run), a pull up/ chin up test, basic swim test that will also involve a water confidence test (swimming underwater for a certain length with a brick, and treading water for a certain amount of time). As well as running through an obstacle course. The rest of the time will be mock boarding scenarios and range days with full kit on.
I was wanting to know what fitness plan would be best to help me prepare for this. Thank you in advance for any help you can give! The screener is in September so I have roughly 3 months to prepare.


From what I do have I’d recommend the USSS CAT Selection Training Plan. This plan should cover your PFT, endurance and work capacity. You’ll want to complete this plan the 7 weeks directly before selection
But the plan doesn’t include swimming. What I’d recommend for that is the swimming in Barbossa, which is focused on treading and underwater crossovers. You’d want to add this work as 2-a-Days with the USSS CAT Plan.
I’m not sure how far out from selection you are, but between now and starting the USSS CAT Plan I’d recommend the plans/order in The PIrate Series (it starts with Barbossa). These are designed as day to day programming for LE/Military SOF with water-based mission sets.
– Rob


I was a member of your subscription plan a few years ago.  I have a question about rucking that I thought you could answer.  I’m a crossfitter and hiker/backpacker.  My strength is endurance on long events/WODs.  I’m not the fastest but I make it steady to the end.  I write my own programming now, and workout during open gym, typically lifting (Olympic and Power), cardio endurance (assault bike and row), classic CrossFit WODs and strongman type sessions (sandbags, sleds).  I go backpacking every year when the weather is right, so I start rucking to build myself up for the long miles and inclines under load.  My question is this, how does rucking cross over into a benefit for my CrossFit training?  Is it my imagination or is it true that rucking actually slows down my runs and explosive power?  During my mile runs for Murph this year I was so slow, just telling myself that its ok and normal because of my ruck training. But on the other hand, I haven’t been running at all since January, so maybe it’s just rusty.


I doubt that rucking slows down your running. My guess is you just haven’t been running.
However, if you want to improve running time, don’t ruck. Run.
In terms of CrossFit – unless rucking is a new “event” or mode in CrossFit, I’m not sure how it will transfer. In general, the more “sport specific” your training to your sport or event, the better. We ruck because rucking is significant “mode” for both mountain and tactical athletes.
– Rob


Love your programming on MTN,  lots to choose from,  I’m training for the Eco-Challenge Race in Fiji this year and wanted to add some variety,  the race is a 10 Day adventure race on the Fijian Islands and will incorporate,  Trekking, Mtn Bike, Stand up Paddleboarding, canoeing, sailing, skin diving,  lots of uphill climbs, Running, some rope work,
What do you think the best plans are for the challenge.


I don’t have an adventure race plan, but in terms of general fitness between now and when you start your race train up, I’d recommend the plans/order in the Wilderness Professional Packet. These plans are designed as day to day programming for wilderness professionals (rangers, field biologists, guides, etc.) and include strength, work capacity, endurance (loaded uphill and running), and chassis integrity (core).
– Rob


So I’m about 12 weeks out from a hunt. Which programs do you suggest to bridge the gap from now till the 8 weeks before the start of the backcountry hunting program?


Jedediah Smith from our packet of plans for Wilderness Professionals. The plan includes strength, work capacity, chassis integrity and mountain endurance (run, step ups).
– Rob


My fiancé is wanting to possibly join the army national guard. She lives a pretty sedentary lifestyle and works a desk job. We were wanting to know which program would be best for her to get started. We would also like to be able to workout at home. I myself have my own kettlebell set with a wide range of weights and also a sand bag, weight vest, and pull-up bar and gymnastics rings. Thank you in advance for your help.


Don’t be fooled by “bodyweight” … this plan is no joke. It also deploys an initial bodyweight strength assessment and follow-on progressions based on your initial assessment results. In this way the plan automatically “scales” to your incoming fitness.
– Rob


Coach, I recently finished the Greek Hero series and retook the Operator Ugly today. Its still a bear and great at revealing what needs work! I did not specifically train up for the Operator Ugly.  I improved my score from about 95ish to 114 from a few years ago.  My scores were:  Front Squat 10 Bench Press 2, Deadlift 16, Sprints 39, Pullups 17, Sandbag Getups 60, Run 25:30.

Over the course of the Greek Hero program I have noticed significant gains for my lower body, improving my max Back Squat from 235 to 255 and subsequently my max Box Squat from 245 to 285.  At the end of the Greek Hero series my Military Press improved from 125 to 140 over the last 6 week program.  Midway through the series my max Bench Press improved from 195 to 205.

I am 6’ 4” and weigh 170.  I’d like to score a 125 or better on the Operator Ugly, and would like to improve my Bench Press and Military Press to meet MTN Tactical standards for military athletes.  What program/s would you recommend with this in mind?  I’d also like to maintain my overall fitness from the Greek Hero series as able.  Love the MTI programs and the work you all do to help us stay ready.  Thanks for your time!


I’d recommend some upper body hypertrophy work for you. You could just be a hard gainer and regulated to skinny forever, but trying to add mass to your upper body won’t hurt.
Our military programming doesn’t include this, but our LE programing does. Specifically I’d recommend Rikers from our Notorious Prison Packet of Plans for correctional officers. This is a multi-modal plan which includes mass effort strength training (upper/lower), work capacity, chassis integrity, grip strength and upper body hypertrophy.
Also – increase your protein and fat intake while on the plan. Simple ways are to drink a 1/2 gallon of whole milk/day, or eat a small jar of peanut butter daily.
At 6’4″, and just 170 pounds, your lower body strength (10x front squats) and overall work cap (60x SBGU, 39 shuttles) is impressive. I’ve gotten those number a little lighter than 170#, but I’m just 5’7″ …. and don’t need to move the barbell or sandbag nearly as far per rep.
Rikers includes a bench press and push press 1RM progression … so you’ll be able to see if we can add strength as well as mass as you work through the plan.
Finally, I’m thinking about changing Operator Ugly to replace the SBGU and Shuttle Sprints with the MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment, then increase the 3 mile run at the end loading from 25# to 45#. Any thoughts?
– Rob


I’ve purchased the GORUCK Selection plan, what program would you recommend leading up to said program? I am 5 months out.


By my count 5 months = 21 weeks. Here’s what I recommend:
Weeks    Plan
1-3          Bodyweight Foundation Training Plan (1st 3 weeks)
4-10        Fortitude
10           Total Rest
– Rob


I’m in the midst of your strength 357, doing so I reawaken a shoulder injury from this winter. Still not sure that it is, hoping it’s not a torn rotator cuff. That being said I’d like to keep working out. Any suggestions? I have pretty much full range of motion seems like over the head lifts bother it.


Easiest is to continue with the plan and avoid movements or loads which irritate your shoulder.
If not, look at the Training Plan for Athletes Suffering Arm Injury – which is designed to leave your injured shoulder alone and train the rest of your body around it.
– Rob


I have been browsing your site for a while now and trying out a few of your workouts – the bits n pieces that i have seen.
I am a deer hunter here in South Australia who often travels over to the mountains to backpack, so your workouts are applicable.
My issue is that i am fairly long – six foot four and I have always had a small issue with my lower back. Its not that its bad, or causing me any immediate problems. But I am very weary of dead lifts – maybe this is because i have never been taught. I get a twinge when i use a chainsaw and things that are heavy and away from my body.
If I was to undertake the backcountry hunters program, what would you advise on the dead lifts? Or are there no dead lifts in the program.
Just thought id ask seen as though you offered to answer any questions.
Cheers mate and keep up the good work, its inspiring.


The Backcountry Big Game Training Plan is a limited equipment training plan that does not include dead lifts. You should be good.
Click the “sample training” tab to see the first week of programming.
– Rob


I am interested in taking part in your programming but am intimidated on what plan to choose. I am a soldier in the reserves and am looking to improve athletic performance that improves my fitness but as well as be ready to take a PT Test at anytime. I am currently 5 11 @ 190 and roughly 16.5% body fat. I want to keep dropping the fat and lean down w/o sacrificing the lean mass I have now. I am pretty weak at upper body movements (push ups, press, pull ups, etc) but I dont want that to be the sole focus. I am looking to strength train 3 days a week as I also do BJJ 3 times a week along with cardio 3 times a week. Thank you for helping point me to the right direction.


I’d recommend you start with the MTI Relative Strength Assessment Training Plan. From your note, I read you want to train strength 3 days/week and let your BJJ and current cardio work suffice for those areas. This is a 5 day/week training plan, but the strength is trained Mon, Wed and Friday …. so just do these days in the plan.
– Rob


Good morning, I’m a tactical athlete that is planning on hiking the John Muir Trail during an extended block of leave in several months. Do you have any suggestions for how to supplement the Backpacking Preseason plan with some upper body exercises/chassis integrity work to meet the demands of a tactical environment while also getting ready for the hike?


The Backpacking Pre-Season Training Plan does include chassis integrity work, and limited upper body work (scotty bobs). You could add in some heavy bench presses and weighted pull ups if you wanted.
Another Option would be to complete plans from our Wilderness Packet of plans designed for Wilderness professionals (rangers, field biologists, game wardens, etc.) – which are more well rounded on the tactical side.
– Rob


I just wanted to reach out in the hopes I could receive some guidance on your Ruck Based Selection Plan. So, BLUF, I’m an IN XO currently deployed to Iraq and received my SFAS class date at 23OCT and started the 8 week Ruck Based Selection Plan on 06MAY.
I should be complete around 01JULY. Instead of beginning with a different plan, I started with this one due to the limited facilities we have at our location. Essentially, the Ruck Plan is more manageable from an equipment standpoint. Anyways, I was planning to run the 8 week plan again for my final weeks of redeployment leading into SFAS. I was wondering if you had any advice on changes I should make to the schedule, since my plan is to conduct it twice. For this first 8 weeks, I have been taking an extra rest day every week, since I’m still pretty far out from my SFAS date. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


This plan is so intense, I’m hesitant to have you run it back to back … I’m afraid of overtraining.
Options … 1) continue as you are, but drop the long Saturday ruck the first time through.
2) drop out for the RBSTP and move to Humility now, then complete the RBSTP directly before selection. Humility is another limited equipment plan.
– Rob


I am a Firefighter for the San Marcos Fire Department. I am looking into buying one of the urban firefighter plans but i am having a hard time deciding which plan to pick. Can you give some suggestions or guidance into which one? My fitness level is moderate. I usually row the morning of my shift and then lift later that day. Thanks for your time and help! Have a great one!


Start with Jaguar, which is the first plan in our Big Cat series of plans for Urban Firefighters. These plans are designed as day to day training for full time urban firefighters, and concurrently train strength, work capacity, tactical agility, chassis integrity (core), and overall stamina.
– Rob


I just read your ‘Super Squats/6-mi run’ mini study report. Thanks for sharing!

In ‘92 I went through USAW’s Club Coaches course with Dr. Strossen at the OTC in C-Springs. Great guy and his IronMind products are first class.

Once, yes, only once, my training partner and I diligently followed his Super Squats program. For about 20 years, while in the Navy (26+ years total), I focused on powerlifting during the winter months and (road) cycling the rest of the year. I actually joined the Navy to ‘hopefully’ get stationed in Europe and race, which I was fortunate to do for more than a dozen years in Sicily!

I decided to do Super Squats after a decent season racing in order to get my squat back up for a powerlifting meet the base held right after the first of the year.

As per Strossen, you should pick a weight you can barely get for ten, but do 20 reps! Three DEEP breaths on the first ten reps, four on the next five, and five breaths on the last five! I remember the breathing was harder than the squats!

We squatted Monday, Wednesday and Friday and also participated in our command PT those same days! Additionally, we rode with the ‘gruppo’ 3-5 days a week and covered about 250 km/wk.

At 34 yrs old and weighing about 135 at 5’9”, I decided to start the program with body weight for the squats and deadlifts. According to the program and Doc Strossen, no matter what (using good form of course) you must add weight EVERY workout!

At the end of 12 weeks I did 315 for 20…no belt or wraps and ATG! My weight increased about ten lbs, but I had one of my fastest run times on our fitness test four weeks from the end!

According to a ‘1-RM formula’ I should have been able to do about 420…but 405 buried me!!! However, I did get it at the powerlifting meet a month later as well as a 3X BW deadlift (435 at 145 lbs)!

After the meet I transitioned into a pre-season training cycle leading up to the spring races in March, but continued to squat pretty heavy up until race season was going full bore. It was my best season ever as I finished just outside the top ten (over 200 racers from southern Italy) in the Giro dell’ Etna, a one-day 210 km race around Mt Etna in Sicily!

Sorry this was so long…

Have a great weekend and thanks for all you do!

PS-I just got word we’re on standby starting next week for wildland firefighting season! This year I added EMT to my credentials so I’m looking forward to putting that to good use as well as our off-season training…our motto is ‘train as if your life depends on it…cuz it does!’


Thanks for the note and great “Super Squat” stories! We’ve had high school senior boys finish with 20x reps around 300# – the programming is amazing. My personal high was at 225 ….. at about 160# and 48 years old. That you got 305# at 135# means you’re a mutant!
My sense is part of the “power” of super squats isn’t the reps, but simply the time under tension …. as you say, the breathing … and having the mental fortitude to do slow breaths – is the worse part with that load crushing down on you. I’ve had many athletes melt under the stress of this their first or 2nd attempt.
Again, thanks for the note and be safe this fire season.
– Rob


I recently heard of your program and was looking at your site. My police department has been doing Cooper forever and we are now transitioning over to LEPAT. As I understand it the LEPAT is the Canadian National Police Fitness test? Anyway Cooper was easy for me and I’ve been doing some training for the LEPAT but as the Training Sgt I was wondering which program of yours would you recommend to prepare for LEPAT? I plan on taking that program and then recommending it to our officers who might struggle with this new test.

I’m sure you know but LEPAT is something like this. Thanks.


I don’t have a plan for this – first time I’ve been asked.
It’s an interesting programming challenge – and out of the box, if possible, the best way to train would be to do actual course multiple times, with a rest between … i.e. 3 Rounds, LEPAT, Rest 10 min between reps. Issue there would be if you as the training division would have the course set up so officers could train on it.
From our current programming, I’d recommend Dolly – which is from our general fitness side but is a multi-modal training plan (strength, work cap, endurance (3-mile run and 1-mile intervals) and chassis integrity. The strength work is bodyweight only.
I’ll add to my list a specific LEPAT plan.
– Rob


Arete 6.27.19

Military / National Security / Foreign Affairs

Bringing UAVs to the dogfight: ACE looks to automate close quarters air combat, Janes 360
Navy issues new memo on political activity after USS John McCain and ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ controversies, Navy Times
President Trump says war with Iran would not involve ground troops and not last long, Stars & Stripes
Senate moves to allow weapon sales to Cyprus, block F-35 to Turkey, Defense News
Poll: Australians Sour on China, The Diplomat
Putin and Trump will meet on June 28 in Osaka: Kremlin, Reuters
Hawaii Marine officer relieved of command following undisclosed ‘liberty incident’, Task & Purpose
German firms sent weapons-grade chemicals to Syria despite sanctions — report,
Remains of WWII service members found on remote Pacific island, The Hill
‘This country is worthy of any sacrifice’ — David Bellavia receives the Medal of Honor, Task & Purpose
Reload: Marine Corps replacing Beretta M9 with Sig Sauer M18 by 2023, War is Boring
Changing the Way America Goes to War, Rand Corp.
U.S. Carried Out Cyberattacks on Iran, Homeland Security Newswire

Homeland Security / First Responder / Wildland Fire

‘I told him not to follow the American dream,’ mother of drowned Salvadoran migrant laments, Reuters
Why Record Numbers of African Migrants Are Showing Up at the U.S.-Mexican Border,
Colorado’s ICE Restrictions Could Earn It ‘Sanctuary’ Label,
Two More Florida Sheriff’s Deputies Fired for Neglect of Duty in Parkland School Massacre,
Recruits resign from police academy for attempting to cheat on open-book test, LE Today
Boise FD hires first female captain in 143-year history, Fire Rescue 1
10 things your agency should be paying for, Police One
Governor Signs Bill Into Law Legalizing Marijuana in Illinois,
How this engineer helps firefighters switch red lights to green without ever stopping, Fire Rescue 1
FOP VP Decries Heckling of Officers Securing Scene of Murdered Rookie, Police Magazine
Utah man shot 11 times in OIS wants better training for officers, Police One
New Police Unit Delves Into 20 Years of Unsolved Rapes,
Breaking News: Police arrest man with previous DUI, charge him in deaths of seven Marines, LE Today
How to Be a National Park Ranger, Outside



How Do Deer Grow Antlers So Quickly?, Outdoor Life
Covering Ground: How to plan a dialed multiday traverse, Backcountry Magazine
WATCH: Blind Biker Uses Echo Location To Navigate Trails, Unofficial Networks
The BLM Has Released a Suite of Online Maps for Climbing on BLM Land, Adventure Journal
Rounding Up the Best New Gear of Summer Outdoor Retailer 2019, Adventure Blog
Arc’teryx’s New Used-Gear Hub Is a Game Changer, Outside
7 Ways to Secretly Train for Climbing—Anywhere, Climbing Magazine
New Speed Record Set on Denali, Adventure Blog
What’s the Best Back Up Bear Gun: A Magnum Revolver or a 10mm Auto?, Outside


Fitness / Nutrition / Health

Growing evidence suggests Parkinson’s disease starts in gut, The Guardian
Russian trolls are coming for 2020, smarter than ever, Clemson researchers warn, Homeland Security Newswire
Learn When to Hammer Your Workouts and When to Chill, Outside
The Mysterious Syndrome Destroying Top Athletes, Outside
How Instagram Became Divisive for Female Fly-Fishers, Outside
How Amelia Boone Trains, Eats, and Wins, Outside
In the Energy Drink Market, It’s Ads vs. Science, Undark Magazine
Many Young Men Putting Health at Risk to Bulk Up, WebMD
Polish Powerlifter Deadlifts 953 Pounds for a World Record, Muscle & Fitness
Scientists Just Discovered That Drinking Coffee Does Something Absolutely Amazing to Your Body, Inc.
Sugary drink taxes reduce consumption, major review shows, Science Daily



The Boomers Ruined Everything, The Atlantic
Robots ‘to replace up to 20 million factory jobs’ by 2030, BBC
Mitsubishi to acquire Bombardier unit, Janes 360
Q&A: what you need to know about America’s student debt crisis, The Guardian
How Americans became workaholics, The Economist
Is Social Media Simply Too Sick and Depraved To Continue?, In Homeland Security
The Murder of Venezuela’s Visionary Adventure Guide, Outside
9 mind-blowing facts about the United Kingdom’s economy, Business Insider
Stop Drinking Beer Out of Plastic Solo Cups, Outside
The Only 2019 Ford Ranger Review That Matters, Outside
How octopus arms make decisions, Science Daily

Mini Study: 4 Weeks of the Barbell Complex Leads to Overall Strength Gains in Well Trained Athletes

Kat finishes a heavy Barbell Complex, as Jen recovers from hers.

By Rob Shaul



This 4-week Mini-Study investigated the total-body strength building capacity of the MTI Barbell Complex.

The Barbell Complex is a complex of six exercises, six reps each, completed in succession, without putting the barbell down. The Barbell Complex is choreographed in a way such the barbell begins in front of the body with the dead lift, and finishes behind the neck with the back squat. Again, 6 reps of each exercise are completed before moving onto the next exercise:

1x Barbell Complex =
6x Dead Lift
6x Bent Over Row
6x Hang Power Clean
6x Front Squat
6x Push Press
6x Back Squat

At heavier loads, the Barbell Complex is very intense and can include time under tension of upwards of 90 seconds. It challenges not only strength, but also work capacity, grip strength, and especially, mental fitness.

Eight highly trained subjects (veteran MTI Lab Rats) completed 1RM (1 Repetition Maximum) assessments for three strength exercises, Back Squat, Bench Press and Hinge Lift, as well as a max rep pull up effort.

On a separate day, the subjects then worked up to a maximum Barbell Complex load, and over the next three weeks completed a Barbell Complex progression, two times per week. The progression was based on the individual athletes assessed maximum Barbell Complex load.

After three weeks, the Back Squat, Bench Press and Hinge Lift 1RMs, and max pull up effort were reassessed. Overall, the study subjects improved in each assessed exercise, with the highest average increase in the Bench Press (5.57%) and lowest average increase in the max rep pull up effort (.77%).

This narrow study both in duration and number of study subjects seems to demonstrate that the MTI Barbell Complex alone, has promising total body strength building capabilities.


Romanian Strength Coach Istvan Javorek is credited with the initial development of barbell and dumbbell complexes.

“My Original Goal with the Complex exercises was to find an efficient and aggressive method of performance enhancement that saves time and makes the program more enjoyable,” writes Coach Javorek at his website,

The MTI Barbell Complex is a modification of Coach Javorek’s original concept, and its rep scheme (6 reps each of 6 exercises) and choreography designed with simplicity in mind.

For several years the MTI Barbell Complex has been deployed routinely in strength-focused training sessions as a warm-up. In the past, we’ve briefly experimented with heavy loading, but this point, never designed and tested strength cycle around a Barbell Complex progression.

Often I’ve commented to athletes that if they could only do one thing to get stronger, it would be the Barbell Complex. This mini-study tested this assertion.

Specific to this mini-study, this cycle began with a max load Barbell Complex assessment, and then applied MTI’s Big 24 strength progression methodology over a 3-week period.

The study subjects completed their individualized progressions, two times/week, on Monday’s and Wednesdays. After the Monday and Wednesday Barbell Complex work, the Lab Rats completed a short Chassis Integrity Circuit (Monday) or a short work capacity effort (Wednesday).

On Tuesday and Thursday, the Lab Rats completed 30-60 minute uphill movement endurance effort – “Climb the Hill, Run the Ridge.”

See the chart below for the Monday/Wednesday schedule and Barbell Complex progression deployed in this study.


The Monday and Wednesday Barbell Complex progressions were intense efforts which pushed these veteran Lab Rats’ strength and mental fitness.


Below are the mini-study results:



In general, with well trained athletes and focused 3-Week cycle which assesses and progresses the same strength exercises, we’ll see  around a 10% strength improvement in max effort strength.

This cycle differed in that the assessed exercises we were primarily interested in – Back Squat, Bench Press, Hinge Lift and Pull Up, were not progressed through the cycle. The only time the Lab Rats did these exercises over the course of the four weeks was the pre-and post-cycle 1RM assessments. In-between assessments, they completed a Barbell Complex Progression.

My guess is this lack of focus on the assessed exercises accounts for the lower overall average gains that what we’d regularly see for the Back Squat, Bench Press, Hinge Lift and Pull Up.

As well, all the Lab Rats in this study were highly trained coming in. In general, a highly trained, fit athlete coming in to one of our studies will see lower overall gains than an unfit athlete. Why? A highly trained fit athlete coming in is arriving closer to his/her genetic potential, and therefore has less room to make gains.

Taking a look at the Barbell Complex Max Load gains over the course of the cycle, we did see a 11.62% average gain – which mirrors what we’ve seen in the past for highly trained Lab Rats.

Coming into the Mini Study we wanted to test the ability of the Barbell Complex alone to increase overall strength. Based on that measure, and our average gains for the four exercises we assessed, the results are mixed. Would these athletes have seen these 1RM and max pull up increases without doing the Barbell Complex and just by re-assessing? Perhaps.

However, what we didn’t have in this cycle are new or untrained athletes. We hypothesize that the results for an untrained and/or new athletes would significantly greater.

As well, because of it’s long time under tension (45-90 seconds) and significant work capacity hit, and overall intensity, heavy Barbell Complexes are not pure strength efforts like heavy, low rep sets of back squats.

The Barbell complex is a different animal.

For the highly trained, veteran Lab Rats in this mini-study, what we observed and experienced first hand is a focused, intense, Barbell Complex cycle has a “hardening effect.” Athletes come out the other side with more strength, bigger engines, and more mental fitness.

See the video below to see Lab Rats Emmett (145#) and Jen (115#) complete their end of cycle Barbell Complex max load re-assessment:



We’ve taken what we learned in this Mini Study and designed a focused cycle, Gladiator. Also a 4-week cycle, Gladiator’s programming differs from that in this mini study in that the athletes perform heavy Barbell Complexes three days/week, vice two. This 33% increase in Barbell Complex exposure we feel will have an even greater “hardening” effect on athletes. But we need to test it to be sure.

Finally, a Barbell Complex cycle deployed to new or unfit athletes could have dramatic impacts on overall strength and exercise instruction/familiarity. One of the great things about the Barbell Complex, especially for athletes new to barbell lifting, is how many reps these athletes get each Complex with six fundamental barbell exercises.

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ACFT Limited Equipment Sprint-Drag-Carry

Start from Prone …. Then

– Sprint down 25m and sprint back to start

– Drag 80# Sandbag down 25m, and drag back to start

– Lateral Shuttle down 25m, and back 25m to start

– Clean 80# Sandbag to Right shoulder, and sprint 25m, Drop Sandbag, Clean to left Shoulder, and sprint back 25 to start.

– Sprint 25m, and back 25m to start