An Overview of MTI’s “Base Fitness” Program Design

By Rob Shaul, Founder

MTI has two types of programming: (1) “Base Fitness” programming, and; (2) “Event” and/or Sport-Specific” Programming.

“Base” Fitness programming is our day-to-day programming. Examples include the Greek Hero Plans for Military Athletes, Spirits Plans for LE Patrol/Detective, Greek Heroine Plans for multi-sport mountain athletes and Tragic Wildfire Plans for wildland firefighters, and most recently, our new Daily Programming Streams for Military Operators, LE SWAT/SRT, Urban Fire/Rescue and  Civilian General Physical Preparation

MTI’s Event and/or Sport Specific programming is narrow, focused programming specifically designed to prepare athletes for a specific event or sport such as a military PFT, selection or course, or a specific mountain event such as climbing Denali, completing a Rim to Rim Hike in the Grand Canyon, preparing for ski season or training for a Half Marathon.

In contrast, MTI’s Base Fitness programming is designed as day-to-day programming for the athletes we serve. We can’t effectively program for everything at the same time and the intent is that athletes use MTI’s job-specific Base Fitness programming until they are several weeks out from a specific fitness event (such as a PFT) or season (such as backcountry ski season). At that time, athletes should drop out of MTI’s Base Fitness programming and drop into the Event or Sport-Specific training plan for the event or sport.

MTI”s Base Fitness Programming has four goals:

  1. Build and maintain a high level of Base Fitness for 80% of mission-direct fitness demands.
    While we can’t program for every mission and fitness demand all the time, it is possible to anticipate and train for the most common type of mission-direct fitness demands. Importantly, by “mission-direct” we’re not referring to regularly schedule tactical PFT’s, schools or selections, but rather actual, job-specific fitness demands. This is an important distinction as often the specific events of a PFT for example, don’t necessarily reflect the mission-direct fitness demands of athletes. On the tactical side, the most obvious example of this is load carriage. Military, Urban Fire and Wildland Fire athletes, especially, have mission-direct load carriage demands, but few unit, service or agency PFT’s include a loaded movement event. This is one reason we’ve built PFT and other event-specific training plans.
  2. Lay a solid base fitness foundation upon which to build “Event” and/or “Sport-Specific” fitness.
    Most of MTI’s Event and Sport-Specific programming is very focused, and very intense. Having a solid level of Base Fitness before beginning one of these Event-Specific plans increased the chances of solid event performance by the athlete completing the plan.
  3. Address the “Burden of Constant Fitness.”
    Tactical athletes especially, as well as many professional mountain athletes and mountain professionals (Rangers, Game Wardens, Mountain Guides, etc.) can never afford to be out of shape. This means they must be constantly training fitness, and without some variety, this constant fitness demand and training can lead to mental “staleness” and fitness plateaus. At MTI we understand this, and build out Base Fitness programming that not only addresses 80% of our athlete’s mission-direct fitness demands, but also acknowledges their Burden of Constant Fitness and attempts to add in programming variety, progressions and other design tools to keep things interesting mentally, and progressing physically.
  4. Address Career Longevity and Durability
    MTI’s approach to mission-durability is contrarian to the trendy recovery, nutrition, wellness and mobility techniques and shortcuts put forward by much of the fitness industry. In our experience, the best durability we can give the athletes we train is a high level of mission-direct fitness for their job. Soldiering, Firefighting, Law Enforcement and all the mountain professional career types are physically demanding, high impact occupations. Athlete can are and severely injured or worse, doing these jobs. We’ve yet to find any magic supplement, stretch, nutrition gimmick or trendy recovery technique that matches the durability “armor” mission-direct fitness builds for these athletes. At the same time, we work to be smart at mission-direct programming, and avoid training techniques that don’t directly relate to mission-direct fitness demands or cause unnecessary wear and tear. One common way we do this is to periodically “unload” athletes for a cycle. For example, if our Military Base Fitness programming for a cycle includes heavy barbell-based strength work, and rucking, the next cycle might deploy bodyweight strength work and unloaded running.

The Fitness Demands Trained By MTI”s Base Fitness Programming Differ by Athlete Type and Degree

The tactical and mountain athletes MTI serves can share Base Fitness demands, such as high relative strength (strength per bodyweight), short, multi-modal work capacity, and chassis integrity (functional core). But they don’t all share every fitness demand, and the application/programming of the same general fitness demand can differ significantly from one athlete type to the next.

For example, Military Athletes have a significant rucking endurance fitness demand, but Law Enforcement Patrol Officers and Detectives do not. However, upper body mass (hypertrophy) is a key fitness demand for LE Patrol officers, but only adds excess mass to move over ground for Military Athletes. Likewise, Mountain Professionals and Military Athletes share a significant Base Fitness demand of rucking, but in addition, Mountain Athletes have a significant Base Fitness demands of uphill movement under load, and their Base Fitness program design must train this.

LE SWAT/SRT also have a rucking demand, but in general, their loading and distances will be shorter than those of military personnel

As we design Base Fitness by athlete type, MTI takes each of these job-specific differences into account, and they are reflected in the resulting programming. For example, the

Base fitness programming is multi-modal.

The intent of Base Fitness programming is to build a mission-direct level of fitness in the athlete for the day to day requirements of their job, and also as a “foundation” of fitness upon which to build event and/or sport specific fitness if needed.

Base Fitness programming is multi-modal because it reflects the multi-modal, mission-direct,  fitness demands of the athletes we work with. Mountain athletes, for example, require a solid level of mountain endurance (trail running, uphill movement under load), total body strength, chassis integrity, grip-specific climbing fitness, and work capacity.

Military athletes such as infantry need military endurance (run, ruck), high relative strength, chassis integrity, sprint-basked work capacity, and tactical agility.

Law Enforcement Patrol/Detectives need high relative strength, upper body hypertrophy, sprint-based work capacity, chassis integrity, short endurance and tactical agility

So, each Base Fitness programming cycle must train each of these “modes” for the respective athlete type.

Base Fitness cycles can be “balanced” across all fitness modes, or apply cyclic emphasis to one or more mode. 

We do this both ways, and often swap back and forth between “balanced” Base Fitness cycles and Base Fitness cycles which have “cyclic emphasis.”

Below is the training schedule example of a “balanced” military cycle which concurrently trains military endurance (run, ruck), work capacity, chassis integrity, strength, and tactical agility.

  • Mon: Strength, Work Capacity
  • Tue: Endurance (Run)
  • Wed: Tactical Agility, Chassis Integrity
  • Thurs: Strength, Work Capacity
  • Fri: Endurance (Ruck)

Below is the training schedule example of a “cyclic emphasis” military cycle which has a slight endurance emphasis:

  • Mon: Strength, Work Capacity
  • Tue: Endurance (Run)
  • Wed: Tactical Agility, Chassis Integrity
  • Thurs: Endurance (Run + Ruck)
  • Fri: Endurance (Ruck)

You’ll see that while the second cycle still trains all of the fitness demands for military athletes, there’s an emphasis, by training time, given to endurance.

Not always, but often, as we design concurrent Base Fitness cycles, we’ll swap between cycles with slight cyclic emphasis, where one or two fitness attributes get more training time, and “balanced” cycles, where all the training attributes get the same relative training time.

The way we manipulate between “cyclic emphasis” Base Fitness training cycles and “balanced” training cycles is what I call Fluid Periodization. Cycle emphasis cycles allow us to add weight to one or two fitness attributes for a short time, in an attempt to build the athlete in that way. Then, the pivot back to a balanced cycle following ensures that the other Base Fitness attributes don’t degrade enough to become fitness weaknesses.

We Address the Burden of Constant Fitness by Manipulating the Way we Train Fitness Attributes Cycle to Cycle

To review, tactical athletes, and professional mountain athletes share the “Burden of Constant Fitness.” This simply means because the nature of their occupations, they can never let their fitness go – they need to constantly be in mission-direct shape, and this means they must constantly be training. This need to be constantly training, especially over a long 20-40 year career – can be a “burden.”

This “staleness” comes at the athlete from two directions: (1) fitness, and; (2) mental.

From the fitness perspective, if an athlete trains for strength using the same exercises and the same progression methodology all the time, eventually he or she will “plateau” and even regress as his body accommodates to the programming impetus.

Something similar happens mentally, as well – without changing things up, the fitness training becomes “stale.” I hear this all the time from military squad team members, who reach out for programming alternatives because they are simply sick of doing push ups, pull ups, sit ups and running every day. Mentally, this type of fitness programming has become “stale” and they need a change.

The goal of MTI’s “Base Fitness” programming is not constant improvement across all training modes. Why? First, from a fitness programming perspective, at some time, to continue to improve in one mode of fitness, that mode of fitness must be given more and more training time – and this costs training time, and therefore fitness, in the other modes. For example, at some point following MTI Base Fitness programming, most athletes will quit making significant strength gains. sTheir strength increases will plateau, and the only way I can break through his plateau is to put more and more emphasis on strength in the programming, but this comes at the expends of other mission-direct fitness attributes like work capacity or endurance.

So, by putting more emphasis on strength, I can get the athlete stronger, but his work capacity and endurance will decline while I’m doing so … and he his mission demands work capacity and endurance in addition to strength.

Also – and this is important – military athletes are not strength athletes, and mountain athletes are not endurance athletes. Certainly strength is a mission-direct demand of military athletes, but an infantryman or green beret does not need power-lifting competition-level strength to do his/her job. Likewise, endurance is a major component of all mountain movement, but a mountain athlete is not a competing triathlete or professional distance runner. Mountain athletes need strength and chassis integrity for carrying packs and other equipment, and might need short, intense work capacity summit before the lightening storm starts, or make it quickly did a snow cave before the blizzard arrives.

Base Fitness programming can also become “stale” mentally. Base fitness programming for Law Enforcement Athletes must include strength training, but I don’t need to program strength training using the same exercises and same progression methodology every base fitness training cycle. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve developed nearly 10 different strength training methodologies over the years is to address the mental staieness of constantly having to train strength. The methodologies in this article doesn’t include the various ways I’ve developed to train strength using bodyweight only, or sandbags only, or complexes only, or our Big 36 progression.

We’ll manipulate programming in other modes to combat fitness accommodation and mental staleness as well. For example using assessed and progressed running or rucking events, or step ups for time to train endurance. Switching up between bodyweight and loaded chassis integrity programming, and manipulating modes, and methods to train work capacity.

This “constant change” in programming specifics is layered on top of the fundamental basics of base fitness programming (multi-modal, mission-direct) in an attempt to ensure the athlete has a high level of base “mission-direct” fitness, isn’t regressing in fitness, and is mentally engaged.


Subscribe to MTI's Newsletter - BETA