Efficient, Functional & “Simple” Strength Session Design

By Rob Shaul


MTI has a principle which states, “Sophisticated design is immature.”

By this we don’t mean that the person who did the design is immature – this isn’t a personal critique.

Rather, the design itself takes time to settle, stew and ripen. What happens inevitably is when the designer(s) return to the project, features get shaved away. Over time and some blood and guts editing, the design “matures” from sophisticated to simple.

Simple design is the most functional, focused, efficient, and effective. When finally achieved, it’s a thing of beauty.

As consumers we can identify manufacturers which share this ethic – Arcteryx for outdoor and tactical clothing, German car manufactures, the most successful iPhone apps.

At MTI we strive to simplify and improve our design for both fitness programming and research study design.

The “blood and guts” editing that takes place along the way is cathartic and ultimately liberating. Getting to “simple” caused us to challenge assumptions, traditions, and righteous principles.

Over nearly a decade now of fitness programming for mountain and tactical athletes, several of my righteous principles have been cut away by the ruthless journey to simple design. These include a heavy emphasis on strength, sophisticated patterning exercises, and entire core training theory, long warm ups, and entire stamina training theory, disregard for endurance, sessions full of garbage reps, and on and on.

Efficient, transferable (outside the gym), effective fitness programming for mountain and tactical athletes has always been the overarching target. We’ve been able to hit it, most of the time – and hopefully, our success rate keeps improving as a result of simple cycle and session design.

I use the unload weeks to test new ideas and session designs on myself and the other tactical “lab rats.” Below are the strength and chassis integrity session we completed last Wednesday followed by a discussion of the thought behind it.



Warm Up:
3 Rounds

  • 4x Mr. Spectacular @12 kg
  • 8x Front Squat @ 65#
  • 4x 40-Foot Shuttles
  • Instep Stretch

(1) 8 Rounds

  • 3x Mr. Spectacular – increase load each round until 3x is hard, but doable
  • Lat + Pec Stretch

(2) 6 Rounds

  • 5x Front Squat – increase load each round until 5x is hard, but doable
  • 6x Mixed Grip Pull Ups
  • Hip Flexor Stretch

(3) 20 Minute Grind

  • Sandbag Pick up and Carry @ 80#
  • 6x Kneeling Plate Half Moons @ 35#
  • 8x Good Mornings@45#

(4) Foam Roll Legs/Low Back



Warm up – My primary concern with the warm up is to efficiently prepare the athletes for the following strength exercises in the session. I used to get fancy with this, but now have found the best way is to simply the exercises in the warm up at light loads. What better way to prepare athletes for heavy front squats than light front squats? What better way to prepare athletes for heavy Mr. Spectaculars than light Mr. Spectaculars? Working these exercises into the warm up also helps with weight room “flow” … i.e. when the athletes get to the front squats in part (2) of the session, the racks and barbells will already be set up.

Part (1) – I consider heavy Mr. Spectaculars a total body strength exercise … we’re taking something heavy from the ground and putting it over head. As well, the push press and push up part’s of the exercise make it a 2-for-1: total body strength and upper body push exercise.

“Increase load each round until 3x is hard, but doable” …. this is an efficient loading methodology we’ve adopted over the years to great success. Don’t over complicate it … the goal is to get as heavy as possible as quickly as possible while still being safe and getting all the prescribed reps (3x in this case). Below is how I worked up:

Round   Load
1           16kg
2            20kg
3            24kg
5-8         28kg

Notice the Lat + Pec Stretch …. not only does this open up the upper body, but it also builds a “working rest” into part (1) … so the athlete can recover and hopefully add some load for the next round.

Part (2) – Focus here is lower body strength and upper body pulling strength. I’ve found super setting lower and upper body exercises in the same circuit to be a super efficient method of training strength … as long as the focus here is on heavy loads, and not frantically working through the circuit. We want to work briskly, not frantically.

Here was my loading for the front squat:

Round   Load
1                95
2                135
3                165
4-6            195

The mixed grip pull ups in this circuit not only train the upper body, but also help “balance” the upper body pressing work from the Mr. Spectaculars.  And again – the hip flexor stretch provides a “working rest” between rounds.

Part (3) – this is a Chassis Integrity circuit which trains functional mid section strength and strength endurance. The circuit combines three core movements:

  • Total – sandbag pick up and carry
  • Anti Rotation – Kneeling Plate Half Moon
  • Extension – Good Mornings

Note how all the movements are from a standing or kneeling position. This is a key component of my newest Chassis Integrity programming theory. I’m interested in mid-section work which transfers to the mountain and tactical environment. It took me 8 years to finally realize that mountain and tactical athletes in the field rarely demanded mid section strength laying down – most the demands occurred when they are standing or kneeling. Out went sit ups, and in come Chassis Integrity.

Time-wise, this session took right at 60 minutes:

  • Warm up: 10 minutes
  • Part 1: 15 minutes
  • Part 2: 15 minutes
  • Part 3: 20 minutes


Clip below shows different components.


I’m not there completely yet … but hopefully this session is a solid step on the path to efficient, functional, transferable and “simple” strength session design for mountain and tactical athletes.


Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email rob@mtntactical.com





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