Fitness is a Tactical Weapon As Important To A Soldier as His Rifle. But He Doesn’t Have to Build His Own Rifle…

Marines at USMC Base Hawaii finish the MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment.

By Rob Shaul, Founder



My old workout partner, Curtis P (of the exercise fame) got me interested in watching Mixed Martial Arts when the UFC first became popular in the early 2000s.

I’d go over to Curtis’ house to watch the pay-per-view events, and Curtis would do play-by-play for me, introduce me to the different fighters, and some of the history of the sport.

Curtis really admired Frank Shamrock, who was a middle-weight UFC Champion in the 1990s, and during his peak was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game.

Shamrock was known for his cardiovascular fitness and overall stamina, and would often wear down opponents over the course of the fight, looking for opportunities to pounce.

“Conditioning is my greatest submission weapon,” Shamrock would say.

Fitness is also a weapon for tactical athletes and comes to play for mission sets across all areas of the tactical athletes we work with – Military, LE and Fire/Rescue.


Frank Shamrock, right, vs. Tito Ortiz back in the day.


Programming and Weapons

Each athlete type needs a combination of physical endurance and stamina for long, grinding events or movements which can culminate in an intense, dangerous, violent confrontation, firefight or fire suppression. Then, in that dangerous situation, he or she needs work capacity, working strength, chassis integrity, tactical agility, stamina – to survive, and prevail over the enemy.

A fully equipped M4 with its optics, lighting system, ambidextrous controls, etc. is an integrated, sophisticated weapons system designed, built and tested by engineers and scientists.

The programming behind MTI’s base fitness and mission/event specific training is similarly sophisticated.

I taught a short programming course to a dozen or so Marines at USMC Base Hawaii in Spring 2018. There were a few junior officers in attendance, but the bulk were junior enlisted, including a squad leader or two – who in the Marines and Army, are the primary strength and conditioning coaches for their squad.

MTI programming is thorough and sophisticated. It’s taken me years of trial and error to develop our Fluid Periodization methodology on concurrently training the multiple fitness attributes included in Base Fitness. Then within each attribute is its own progression methodologies.

I invented this stuff. No one knows it better than me. I do it for a living. And still, it generally takes me a full day and a half to develop, design and write a 6-week Base Fitness cycle for Military, LE, Fire/Rescue or Mountain athletes.

I simplified this complex system as best I could for the Marines, and they took feverish notes, but it’s simply too much to ask these athletes to design their own programming. I’ve taught programming courses to Tier 1 SOF, Tier 2 SOF, and professional strength coaches – and many have struggled to grasp the entire system. I’ve had master-degreed and doctoral interns who’ve taken weeks of practice to finally understand and apply our programming methodology.

That sophisticated M4 is paid for by the service or agency and given to the infantryman to master and deploy during the real thing. His Fitness Weapon System? He has to build that himself.

Asking a tactical athlete to design his own programming is like giving him a block of metal, and a lathe and asking them to build his own rifle.

Without the years of educational background and practice, the resulting weapon would be a club. This is often what happens on the fitness side – squad leaders and team leaders responsible for fitness programming resort to what they know or what they’ve always done – often push ups, pullup, sit ups, burpees, running, repeat.


A Look At Overseas

The British and Australian Army do it differently. These services have an enlisted MOS fitness designation, and these active duty fitness experts design the programming for their units.

One of the Marine officers I worked with in Hawaii said British active duty enlisted strength coaches ran PT at OCS. In Australia, the SOF full-time coaches are active duty enlisted fitness coaches, not contracted civilians like here in the US.

Good idea. The US should copy it.

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