By Charlie Bausman
With the addition of the MTI Relative Strength Assessment, we decided to develop a training plan specifically programmed to increase an athlete’s relative strength scores. We consider relative strength to be the most important type of strength to tactical and mountain athletes, measuring maximal strength relative to the athlete’s bodyweight. Here is a snapshot of the design process and results from our Lab Rats.
When we develop an event-specific plan, it starts by analyzing the event requirements and work backward for our program design. The events in the MTI Relative Strength Assessment are fairly straightforward:
- Work Up to a 1RM Front Squat
- Max Reps Strict Pull Ups
- Work up to a 1RM Power Clean
- Work up to a 1RM Bench Press
With the events of this assessment in mind, we have had several variables to determine.
Length of a strength focused cycle
We’ve found that the highest strength gains occur within the first few weeks, and begin to level off with nominal increases in following weeks. This is a standard training adaption, but we must keep in mind that the athletes at MTI are not powerlifters/weightlifters, but Mountain and Tactical athletes. We care less about small, incremental changes in 1 RM’s. Extra weeks dedicated to such small increases is not a worthwhile return on training.
We determined that four weeks was the perfect amount of time to see solid strength increases, keep the athletes fresh and excited about training, and not significantly decrease our other fitness attributes (work capacity, endurance, etc).
Which strength progression to use
We have seven to choose from. Ultimately, we decided to use our Density Strength progression. Because we wanted to train all of the lifts, four times a week, we needed a time-efficient method. The Density progression keeps the athletes on a timer, completing five rounds of four reps at a given percentage, every 7:30 minutes.
Is this the absolute best method in training strength? No – but it’s effective and time efficient for a group of athletes training together, who have a hybrid set of fitness demands consisting of work capacity, endurance, strength, etc.
Number of strength training sessions per week
Four strength training sessions a week gives the athlete a focused cycle without other fitness demands impeding on strength gains.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday would be our strength days, with the density progression format applied to all the exercises included in the Relative Strength Assessment. Wednesday was a short training session (approx. 40 minutes), with interval based shuttles to maintain work capacity and allow for recovery from the strength work.
We started with seven Lab Rats when the cycle began, but a combination of vacations and work forced several of them to miss multiple training sessions. It happens, but the testing results may not accurately gauge the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the training program in developing relative strength.
|Name – Bodyweight||Front Squat||Pull Up||Power Clean||Bench Press||MTI Score|
|Will – 178||245||18||185||205||5.36|
|Mike – 219||265||12||235||245||4.59|
|Ross – 143||165||22||105||155||5.16|
|Eric – 196||285||22||235||275||6.05|
|Name – Bodyweight||Front Squat||Pull Up||Power Clean||Bench Press||MTI Score (Increase from Assessment #1)|
|Will – 177||255||17||195||205||5.39 (+ .03)|
|Mike – 218||265||15||245||260||5.12 (+ .53)|
|Ross – 143||195||25||140||165||5.47 (+ .31)|
|Eric – 196||315||24||245||285||6.31 (+ .26)|
|Name – Bodyweight||Front Squat||Pull Ups||Power Clean||Bench Press||MTI Score (Increase from Assessment #1)|
|Will – 184||265||17||205||215||5.42 (+ .06)|
|Mike – 218||285||18||245||260||5.42 (+ .83)|
|Ross – 145||195||28||155||165||5.55 (+ .39)|
|Eric – 195||315||25||255||285||6.38 (+ .33)|
The results show a solid improvement in the Lab Rat’s increases and MTI Relative Strength Assessment score. Overall, we were pleased with the progression, volume, and cycle length.
Four weeks proved to be just the right duration, as the constant grind on the same four lifts will get stale after a while. The majority of our lab rats have a high training age, and the gains would likely decrease should the plan be extended.
You can see that our lab rat Ross experienced huge increases in his lifts. Ross is professional Wildland Firefighter and relatively new to our style of training. He is quickly improving his lifting techniques so that his results are more truly representative of his actual strength. With that said, his increases skewed our average scores slightly, but we are confident in the results of the training plan.
|Front Squat||Pull Ups||Power Clean||Bench Press|
|Lab Rat Average Increase – lbs||25||3.5||25||11.25|
|Lab Rat Average Increase – %||11%||21%||17%||5%|
Our two biggest concerns as we started the cycle were:
- The athletes might gain muscle mass and weight, which is not the purpose of the program. Relative strength is strength relative to the athlete’s bodyweight. Any added weight is bad weight for this plan.
Only one athlete gained weight, but it is highly likely that it was due to a long weekend vacation. All of the other Lab Rats stayed within +/-1 lbs for the entirety of the cycle.
- The athletes would not make the progressions. The Density strength progression works up to 4 Reps every 90 seconds at 90% 1 Rep Max. That is a heavy load with not much recovery period. We were concerned that the athletes would begin missing lifts, and be forced to drop down the prescribed volume or load.While we had a missed lift here and there, for the most part, the athletes were able to make all of their progressions. The last progression at 90% is absolutely brutal, but the lab rats were able to make it happen.
One of the biggest questions arising from this cycle was the role of the pull up as a measure of relative strength. With our 7th-grade math skills on display, it seemed that the unloaded pull ups were overly weighted in the overall athlete score. We couldn’t quite figure out a way to determine if this is true or not – but intuitively it seemed that you could get a decent score with poor lifts and a high max rep pull up.
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This is a quick sneak behind the curtain of the MTI method of solving a fitness problem with program design… We go through a much more involved process in drafting a cycle, but it gives you an idea of how the MTI programming is created and delivered.
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