Ideal Bodyweights for Mountain Athletes, Mountain Professionals and Tactical Athletes

By Rob Shaul


For years I’ve answered questions from individual mountain and tactical athletes and/or given unsolicited advice on a target bodyweight based on height, but until now, I’ve never formalized these ideal bodyweight targets.

Everything MTI does is focused on improving and/or maximizing performance, and the same is true for the height vs. bodyweight charts below.

From a performance perspective, both mountain and tactical athletes have a wide range of mission-direct fitness demands. On one end of the fitness spectrum is movement over ground loaded endurance. On the other end is a high relative strength – or strength per bodyweight. In the middle are demands for multi-modal, intense, short-duration (<30 min) work capacity, chassis integrity (functional core) and tactical agility for tactical athletes.

From a bodyweight perspective, strength and endurance work against each other. One key element of traditional strength training is hypertrophy – or added muscle, which means added weight. For endurance athletes, every excess ounce of muscle which isn’t helping with movement is just extra load to carry, and thus slower movement.

My challenge in identifying ideal bodyweight for mountain and tactical athletes is to meet in the middle between these two ends of the spectrum – allow for enough muscle mass for all around, high relative strength, yet not so much mass that it significantly hampers endurance because of unneeded weight.


Strength and Endurance Demands by Athlete Type – Mountain Athletes vs Mountain Professionals vs Tactical Athletes

Acknowledging that Mountain Athletes, Mountain Professionals and Tactical Athletes all have similar work capacity and chassis integrity demands, what separates them in terms of fitness programming and thus, ideal bodyweight, is strength and endurance demands.

Tactical Athletes have a higher strength demand than Mountain Athletes because of load carriage. A pro alpinist will strip his equipment to the lightest possible to go light and go fast. It’s not unusual for pro alpinists to attack peaks on overnight trips with packs 25-pounds or less. My personal 2-3 night backcountry hunting pack weighs under 25#, before water.

A soldier’s ruck weight begins at 45 pounds, often before food and water, and this load does not include 25 pounds of body armor and ammo, 8-pound helmet and 10 pounds carbine. Ruck weights on long FTXs, and military schools like Ranger and Sapper can reach up to 100 pounds.

Even LE Patrol can carry 25 pounds in body armor and duty belt equipment.

Turnout gear and breathing apparatus for urban firefighters can approach 70 pounds and Wildland Fire hotshot crews carry 45-pound packs plus a helmet, chain saw or some other hand tool. Smoke jumps will parachute into fight fires with 90# packs and other gear.

All this external load means an increased relative strength (strength per bodyweight) demand. More strength generally means more muscle, which means more mass/weight.

Mountain athletes generally have a higher endurance demand than tactical athletes. Most mountain missions begin with an approach of some type and many, like mountain biking, backcountry skiing, peak bagging, etc. are an endurance effort beginning to end.

In contrast, the endurance demands for tactical athletes are not as predictable. The military deployment to the mountainous region of Afghanistan may take significant endurance because of long mountain patrols, while a deployment to an urban area like Syria may not as movement will be by vehicle.

Things are more nuanced for law enforcement.

Urban SWAT/SRT teams primarily get to the mission via vehicle, but occasionally are called out on rural missions and/or manhunts where significant endurance is required.

LE Patrol/Detectives generally don’t have a strong mission-direct endurance demand, but upper body mass (big chest and biceps) can act as a deterrent to would-be bad guys, and MTI LE Patrol/Detective programming includes upper body hypertrophy.

Between Mountain Athletes and Tactical Athletes are the Mountain Professionals – Game Wardens, Ski Patrol, Mountain Guides, SAR, etc.

Mountain Professional mission sets, like mountain athletes, always have a significant endurance demand. However, the loads they carry are greater. While a pro alpinist can get buy with a 20# pack, a mountain guide’s pack will approach 45# as he/she needs to carry a first aid kit, extra food/water equipment needed to care for any client issues that arise.

Also in this category are Backcountry Hunters – whose pack weight can approach 150-pounds when packing game out.

MTI already accommodates for the difference in mission-direct strength and endurance demands between mountain and tactical athletes through programming. In general, the base fitness program design for mountain athletes has more endurance, and the base fitness program design for tactical athletes has more strength.

Specifically to relative strength, the MTI Relative Strength Standards for mountain athletes and tactical athletes are also different. See HERE for our MTI Relative Strength Assessment and the athlete-specific scoring charts. We don’t expect lighter, mountain athletes, to be as strong in terms of relative strength (strength per bodyweight) as tactical athletes.


Ideal Bodyweights By Athlete Type and Height

See the charts below for MTI’s ideal bodyweights by athlete type and height.

For each chart, a 1-inch increase in height results in a 5-pound increase in ideal bodyweight.

I began this process with the BJ Devine Bodyweight formula he developed in 1974 to determine drug dosage. In looking at Devine’s chart, it matches closely what I’d observed and recommended for Mountain Athletes over the years and so his chart/formula is what I used for Mountain Athletes.

Each inch of height increase results in a 5-pound increase in ideal bodyweight.

The difference between the charts above is where they start out. For the same height, Mountain Professionals can be 10-pounds heavier than Mountain Athletes, and Tactical Athletes can be 5 pounds heavier than Mountain Professionals.

Again, these ideal bodyweights are based on the endurance and strength fitness demands of each athlete type, but also what I’ve seen anecdotally over 15 years in working with all of these athlete communities, especially when it comes to relative strength, or strength per bodyweight.

Not heavy enough for your athlete type? Take MTI’s Relative Strength Assessment and see where you score. If you score “poor” it’s time to do a strength cycle and increase protein intake.

Too heavy? Either you’re carrying too much fat, or too much muscle. Take MTI’s Relative Strength Assessment and see where you score. Understand that there are two ways to increase your relative strength score …. increase strength or decrease bodyweight.

If you score super high on the strength assessment, you’ve likely been training too much strength, and could stand to cut some muscle. Your endurance may have suffered. Take the appropriate MTI endurance assessment for your Athlete Type and see how you score.

If you don’t score high on the strength assessment, you need to lose some fat. You can’t outwork a shitty diet …. and 90% + of fat loss is nutrition-related. Clean up your diet and you’ll shed fat.

HERE are our nutritional recommendations.


Feedback/Comments? Please use the comment section below.



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32 thoughts on “Ideal Bodyweights for Mountain Athletes, Mountain Professionals and Tactical Athletes

  1. In addition to “carry your weight the tactical athlete should consider what effect their increase muscle mass could have on the survivability following a big hit.

    Anecdotally, I have heard that a tactical trauma victim with a larger muscle mass will not handle the period of hypo-perfusion between the time of injury and evac t o a Role 2 or 3. This makes a lot of sense because because all that extra mass is metabolically active and in a hypo-perfusion/anaerobic state would contribute an increase in acid load, worsening their acidosis, part of the “triad of death”.

    I have heard the ISR has this data and I have tried several times to find a paper on it, but so far have had been able to find one.

  2. Anecdotally, and for what it’s worth:

    I’ve spent years balancing concurrent training for climbing/running/strength training and only recently came across MTI, only to find out I score a 5.2 on your relative strength assessment and am within 1lb of the ideal wt. for a mtn athlete per your chart. All roads lead to Rome I suppose.

  3. Mike G., just be sure if your 7 inches of growth lasts for more than 4 hrs to contact a physician ASAP!!! Lmao

  4. Been searching for this kind of info for a while. Primary interest is in balancing weight optimisation and strength/muscle development for rock climbing and summer alpinism. Additionally heavy cardio work (bike mainly) to build endurance leads to hunger or fuelling issues not yet resolved. Also an ‘older’ athlete so joint mobility and pain restricting strength gains. Dietwise, low carb is kind of working for me but plateaued now at 170 ish pounds at 5’ 10”. Need another 10lbs off and will focus on this in the summer while active climbing season should maintain or build strength. Thanks fo sharing

  5. This is terrible information that will only lead to more widespread eating disorders in women. Even when I raced full time professional mountain biking I never weighed 110#. I ran 11% body fat at my lowest and was 115. I’m 5’2”. Please don’t suggest actual weight. There are better ways to measure fitness.

  6. I find this to be very interesting. As someone who’s 5’2-5’3 and weights between 110-115 as an recreational athlete, I currently struggle with gym settings that try to push my back squat max vs create back squat endurance (let’s say 2 minutes of continuous light weight back squats). In my mind, I haven’t understood why I’m being pushed to up my weight if I’m a little person who has a solid base strength. But if I want to guide or work in a tactical industry, I don’t know if I could keep up with my currently weight and strength. I agree that such strict numbers could elicit eating disorders or body dysmorphia, but eating disorders go both ways and numbers could show someone who’s below their suggested weight that they need to gain weight to perform.

  7. @Craig: Based on your fueling concerns you should look into aerobic deficiency syndrome and training below your aerobic threshold.

  8. I’d love to see the Relative Strength Assessment goals for Mountain Professionals.

  9. Rob – I’d be interested to know where you would place expedition style mountaineers. Typically on higher peaks, with heavier equipment and on the mountain for days and weeks at a time.
    Thanks for the post. Very insightful.

  10. Tonya Bray, it seems pretty consistently my fitness ranges and weights at 6’0”. As well as, an estimated BMI for 5’2” at 110-120# would be in the 20-22. Not saying you are wrong or lying, however the numbers you provided does seem inconsistent with common literature. So, perhaps you are an uncommon body composition and wouldn’t benefit from generalized weight charts? It does not negate the practicality for reference, nor does it encourage body shaming. I appreciated the shared knowledge. Helps to have references more geared towards different body types for mountain/tactical fields of training or work. Thank you!

  11. Would you adjust these for attending schools where caloric and protein intake is restricted by only having MRE’s to eat? And if so how? These weights seem to leave one pretty lean and I would assume there would be significant muscle mass loss during extended training events ie Ranger, SFAS etc.

  12. Here’s my experience as a 6’8″ 42 yr old tactical athlete:

    Your chart is right on the money for me. The chart says I should weigh 165#. If I get above that, I feel sluggish, my joints hurt going down stairs, I don’t sleep as well, and I have regular acid reflux. When I stay between 160-165# AND keep my Relative Strength Assessment scores in line with your recommendations, those issues disappear. If you consistently follow the training and the nutritional guidelines, you’ll get to the right weight.

  13. Another interesting/informative article. I just retired from the Army and have made a meaningful shift to mountain athlete activity. I am now aged 59 and absolutely feel great @ 165-169. My endurance is best served at this weight. Thanks again for this information that supplements the workouts.

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