How to Train When You’re Not Training For Anything

MTI Lab Rats training Box Squats with the Big 24 Progression in June

By Rob Shaul

I get this question often from tactical athletes stuck in staff positions, or between schools/deployments, or in senior positions – who now have some freedom with their fitness training. 

It also comes from retired tactical athletes, or just civilians trying MTI programming. And from mountain athletes between sport seasons or in their off seasons. 

Many times athletes just want to try something new. 

Athletes with endurance backgrounds want a break from the distance work and want to experiment with strength training. Or athletes who’ve spent their fitness lives in a gym who want to spend time outside building endurance. 

A common concern for many who ask is the job or sport-specific fitness they’ll lose by getting away from job-specific fitness or sport specific fitness for a cycle or two. 

While this is a concern, it’s important to understand the power of “training age.” Training age is your life age – rather it’s how long you’ve been training seriously, and even more important, how long your training has been focused on a certain mode. 

For example, if you’re a 30 year old endurance athlete, who began competing or focused on endurance at 14 in high school your endurance “training age” is 16 years. As well, if you’re 30 years old, have a team sport background, and benefited from a solid strength and conditioning program in high school and college, and went into the military after college and continued with gym-based lifting and functional training, you have a gym-based “training age” of 16 years. 

You’re body doesn’t “forget” this training age, and what this means practically, is that if the endurance athlete gets away from endurance programming for a cycle or two to train in the gym (14 plus weeks), he’ll lose endurance fitness, but when he returns to endurance training, it will come back rapidly. 

The same is true for the gym-based athlete who wants to take a break from the strength work in the gym to train for an ultra marathon. He’ll lose mass and strength, but when he returns to the gym, his “training age” will kick in and these will return rapidly. 

The point is, you can step away from your job and/or sport specific training for while and know you can gain it back quickly. 

Finally, there’s the issue of “staleness.” When you’ve been training in the same general way for some time, mentally, the routine can become “stale.” And to keep interested or for some variety, you could use a change. This happens to me. Sometimes, I just get sick of the barbell and lifting and need to move to bodyweight strength, or endurance. Not only does this give me a mental break and variety, I find that when I do return to free weight strength training, I’m excited to get back. 

At MTI, we have four general types of programming:

(1) Job-specific Base Fitness – this is multi-modal programming deploying our Fluid Periodization which is designed as the day-to-day fitness programming for full time tactical athletes (Military, LE, SWAT/SRT, Wildland Fire, Fire/Rescue) and multi-sport mountain athletes. These cycles train multiple fitness attributes concurrently – strength, work capacity, endurance, chassis integrity, climbing fitness (mountain), hypertrophy (LE), etc. Each job category (Military, LE, Mountain, etc.) has its own recipe of fitness attributes which are trained, and each cycle includes different fitness attribute emphasis and deploys different methods to train these attributes. I purposely modulate the training methods and cycle emphasis to provide the Athlete with variety and to stave off staleness. 

Below are the “Base Fitness” training packets by job/sport in the MTI programming Library:

(2) Event-Specific – Programming laser-focused on a specific fitness assessment, tactical school, deployment or selection, or mountain objective. Examples below:

(3) Single Fitness Attribute, or Fitness Event-Specific Training Plan. Examples Below:

(4) Focused 2 Fitness Attribute Training Plan. Examples:

When I get the “how should I train when I’m not training for anything?” Question, I’ll first ask what the athlete has been doing to this point.  Below are my common recommendations depending on the athlete’s response. My general intent is to recommend programming the athlete is not as familiar with.

Athlete Type Rob’s Recommendation for How To Train when You’re Not Training for Anything
Tactical Athlete (military, LE, Fire/Rescue) who’s been doing MTI “Base Fitness” programming or similar (1) Fitness-specific plan – either strength or more likely, endurance fitness, or; (2) Non-military Event Specific Plan – Ultra, Obstacle Course, Triathlon, etc.
Tactical Athlete (military, LE, Fire/Rescue) who’s been training strength Endurance and/or Work Capacity Focused Plan, or at a minimum, Strength & Endurance (Big 3 Strength + 2-Mile Run)
Tactical Athlete (military, LE, Fire/Rescue) who’s been training Endurance Strength-focused plan (Big 24, Relative Strength Assessment, etc) or at a minimum, Strength & Endurance (Big 3 Strength + 5-Mile Run, Gladiator)
Multi-Sport Mountain Athlete who’s been doing sport-specific plans Base Fitness – either Greek Heroine or Country Singer, or Strength (Relative Strength Assessment)

MTI’s programming library is approaching, or past, 250 plans, and we understand this is overwhelming for most. 

This is why my staff and I spend hours each day answering athlete questions. Have a question about what to train next? We can help.

Questions? Email coach@mtntactical.com

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