MTI’s Top 5 Exercises for Military Athletes

By Rob Shaul

These are our Top 5 exercises and here’s why.


1. Sandbag Getups

Sandbag getups are the best overall exercise to train a military athlete’s “Combat Chassis” – leg, core, and lungs. With each rep, the athlete works core flexion, rotation, and extension. He or she also must do a loaded lunge or squat to stand up, and finally, at high reps, his heart and lungs will be burning through the work capacity hit.


2. Craig Special

1x Craig Special = Hang Squat Clean + Front Squat and is my favorite total body exercise. Technique issues can quickly crop up with olympic movements, and I’ve found the hang squat clean to be the easiest for athletes to master. The clean trains explosive power, and catching the heavy barbell in the squat helps train the athlete to take impact – a valuable attribute for a military athlete. Finally, with each rep, the athlete gets in 2x front squats – my favorite squatting movement.

Even better, this exercise can be completed with just about anything heavy – sandbags, dumbbells, kettlebells, big rock, barbell, girlfriend …


3. Rope Climb

My original lab rat, Josh, called the rope climb the “sled push for the upper body” – and it’s my favorite pulling movement – even when using the feet. I find the rope climb more functional than the traditional pull up – plus it’s a 3-for-one exercise …. pulling strength, grip strength, mid-section strength, and when loaded (weight vest or IBA) all of the above plus legwork. The Rope Climb is a great total body exercise.


4. Three Mile Ruck Run for Time @ 45#, plus 10# sledgehammer, dumbbell or Rubber Rifle

Rucking is a huge fitness demand for military athletes and the best way to improve rucking is to ruck. The mid-distance 3-mile ruck run is long enough for fitness to transfer to longer efforts, but short enough that the athlete can ruck run the entire distance and train overall rucking speed. Finally, ruck running with this load further trains the “Combat Chassis” – legs, core and lungs.

We deployed the 3-mile ruck run assessment in Valor – from our Virtue Series and trained it in that plan using hard, fast 1-mile intervals using the athlete’s assessment time and our Ruck Interval Calculator.

We again deployed it, plus a 75# version of our MTI 3/3/3 Military Endurance Assessment. Great, transferable, training.


5. Push Press 

While the old meathead in me lusts over the Bench Press, the Push Press is the top upper body pressing exercise for military athletes because of its total body element and simple, mission-direct transferability. Strength Coach Pat O’Shea called the Push Press the “King” of upper body exercises. A vertical pressing movement to balance the vertical pull in the Rope Climb, the Push Press is really a total body exercise with an upper body finisher. Everything gets worked – legs, core, chest, and shoulders.


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