MTI’s Favorite Shuttle Sprint Formats for Work Capacity Programming

Marines at USMC Base Hawaii complete the MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment – a simple, shuttle-sprint based test of mission-direct tactical work capacity.

By Rob Shaul, Founder

 

Years ago I asked my first full-time assistant coach, John Murie, for his favorite mode of work capacity training.

“Sprinting,” he answered immediately.

This was relatively early in my coaching career, and Crossfit was on fire. Glassman’s benchmark “girl” WODs were all the rage, and he was holding his first few Crossfit games. Multi-modal work capacity events combining barbell work, body weight work, box jumps with a short run or row were everywhere, including in my own programming.

Prior to starting my own facility, I attended a mentorship at Athletes’ Performance, now Exos, in LA. I didn’t learn much there but did find it interesting that shuttle sprints were a primary foundation of Athletes’ Performance work capacity programming – and it was heart-rate based and scaled to the individual.

First, Athletes’ Performance had all of us complete a VO2 Max test on a treadmill, and based on the result, identified out heart rate “zones”.

Next, we went to a simple turf field with lines every 10 yards. I can’t remember the specific work interval – but it was extended – 3-6 minutes. We were each told to begin with 20-yard run shuttles – run back and forth between 2 lines 20 yards apart – until we got into our target heart rate zone.

If we went past the zone, rather than slowing down, we were told to run longer shuttles – extend to 30 or 40 yards. If we dropped below the zone, we were told to shorten up the shuttle – to 10 yards. We’d work to maintain the same speed and stay within the target heart rate during the work interval by manipulating the shuttle distance.

“A shorter shuttle distance is more metabolically demanding,” the coach stated. He didn’t explain why, and I’ve since learned why. Each change of direction takes more strength … first the athlete must eccentrically slow down into the change, then, one stopped and looking the other direction, he must concentrically push off and get back up to speed. All this takes more leg strength, which means more metabolic demand.

Despite my experience at Athletes’ Performance, when I started my own facility, sprinting and especially repeat shuttle sprints – stuff we’d done a bazillion times at basketball or football practice in middle school and high school, was part of my work capacity programming, but not a focus.

I’d already developed our Operator Ugly fitness assessments for tactical athletes, which includes a 25m shuttle sprint repeat component, and the 300m shuttle was a staple in our stable of work capacity events.

And long before I started my own gym, when I was coaching fit moms in a tiny Wyoming town on the side of an already busy career, we’d run lung-busting basketball-inspired suicide shuttles in a tiny, aerobics room complete with a wall full of mirrors.

I’d experienced first hand and seen as a coach the power of simple repeat sprints to train work capacity, but had become distracted by the shiny sexiness of multi-modal work capacity events. John slapped me out of it.

My programming continued to evolve, and the driving focus of concentrating fitness training on modes and methods which transferred to the field, outside the gym. For tactical athletes especially, no work capacity mode or event has greater transfer to mission-direct application than repeat shuttle sprints, both loaded and unloaded.

Finally, I stopped overthinking and made shuttle sprinting a focus of MTIs work capacity programming.

Next to their direct mission-direct application, perhaps the greatest characteristic of shuttle sprints is their simplicity. No equipment needed!

Today when programming for military, law enforcement and fire rescue athletes, I work hard to ensure work capacity events have a significant sprinting and repeat shuttle sprint components.

Over the years I’ve tried and developed multiple shuttle sprint protocols. Below are the mainstays I keep returning to:

 

(1) 40-Foot Shuttle Sprints

Why this distance? Honestly, it’s the length of the turf at MTI, but also, most can find this much space inside a gym, hallway, or outside on some grass, dirt, or parking lot.

Set up is simple, set two cones, lines, rocks, or whatever, about 40-feet apart. Shuttle back and forth between them as fast as possible, touching the line with a hand at either end.

We’ll run 40-foot shuttle repeats either in an interval format, or density format.

For the interval format, I generally use 30-seconds work, then 30 seconds rest and go anywhere from 10 rounds (10 minutes total)  to 20 rounds (20 minutes total).

For density format, I’ll set a work interval, and then make athletes complete a set number of shuttles in that time period – where the faster they finish, the more rest they get before the next round begins. For example:

10 Rounds, Every Minute on the Minute
8x 40-Foot Shuttles (each length = one rep, so 8x = 4 round trips)

Note – the total 40-foot distance isn’t super important. You could do these as 30-50 foot shuttles and have great effect.

Loading – I’ve also had athletes run 40-foot shuttles in a weight vest. Everything is the same except I don’t have then touch the line with their hand — it’s too much stress on the low back while wearing a weight vest.

 

(2) Suicide Shuttles

I got cut from the High School Basketball team, so my basketball career ended early after middle school. I sucked at basketball, and am still scarred by the suicides we’d run at the end of practice. The coach would have us line up on one baseline then ……

  • sprint to the near free throw line, then back to the baseline
  • sprint to the have court line, then back to the baseline
  • sprint to the far free throw line, then back to the baseline
  • sprint to the far baseline, then back to the starting baseline.

Coach would split the team in half, and one group would rest while the other ran. It was terrible.

MTI Suicide shuttles deploy the same idea, but in a shorter space (40 feet or so). I’ll set a cone at each end, then one in the middle. Starting at one cone, the athlete ….

runs to the middle cone, touches the line then runs back to the starting cone, touches the line

runs to the far cone, touches the line (hand), then runs back to the starting cone

I’ve always run suicide shuttles in a density format – on 30-second intervals. Here is an example 10-minute event:

20 Rounds
Suicide Shuttle every 30 seconds

I’ve also combined a bodyweight exercise with suicides to increase the intensity under the same interval. Here are two examples:

20 Rounds, every 30 seconds …. 
3x Burpees, then immediately …
Suicide Shuttle

20 Rounds, every 30 seconds …. 
5x Box Jumps @ 20″, then immediately …
Suicide Shuttle

Loading? I’ve never run short suicide shuttles like this loaded with a weight vest. Rather, I’ve increased the intensity by adding the bodyweight exercises to the interval before the shuttle.

 

(3) 300m Shuttle

The 300m Shuttle is a mainstay in stick and ball programming – especially soccer and football assessments. It deploys the intense change-on-direction metabolic effect of shuttle sprints in an extended format – 300m. Again – the format is simple … set two cones 25m apart. On “go” run back and forth between the cones for 12x lengths, or 6x round trips.

I can’t remember where I read about 300m shuttles, but once I tried them, was impressed with their devastating metabolic effect.

I have athletes touch the line at each end with their hand unless they were running these loaded in a weight vest.

My go-to interval for 300m Shuttles is one every 2 minutes, 30 seconds and I’ll go for 4 rounds. I found most athletes complete one of these in 1 minute to 1:15 so it’s about a 1:1 work to rest interval.

If I’m progressing 300m shuttles throughout a cycle, I’ll reduce the shuttle interval by 10 seconds every third training session I program them. See below:

Session 1&2 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:30
Session 3&4 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:20
Session 5&6 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:10

Sometimes Ill complete 300m shuttles twice per week following the above progression, then week 4, add a 25# weight vest and repeat the progression loaded …

Session 1&2 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:30 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA
Session 3&4 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:20 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA
Session 5&6 … 4 Rounds, 300m Shuttle every 2:10 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA

 

(4) 150m Shuttle

I first moved to shorter, 150m shuttle sprints when I began working with LE Athletes back around 2011. I felt the shorter distance was more mission-direct for LE patrol and detectives than the longer 300m distance.

Set up and execution is the same as the 300m shuttle – except 1/2 as many shuttles: set two cones 25m apart. On “go” run back and forth between the cones for 6x lengths, or 3x round trips.

I have athletes touch the line at each end with their hand unless they were running these loaded in a weight vest.

My go-to interval for 150m Shuttles is one every 1 minutes, 15 seconds and I’ll go for 4 rounds. I found most athletes complete one of these around 35 seconds so it’s about a 1:1 work to rest interval.

If I’m progressing 300m shuttles throughout a cycle, I’ll reduce the shuttle interval by 5 seconds every third training session I program them. See below:

Session 1&2 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:15
Session 3&4 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:10
Session 5&6 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:05

Sometimes Ill complete 300m shuttles twice per week following the above progression, then week 4, add a 25# weight vest and repeat the progression loaded …

Session 1&2 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:15 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA
Session 3&4 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:10 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA
Session 5&6 … 4 Rounds, 150m Shuttle every 1:05 wearing 25# weight vest or IBA

 

(5) Prone to Sprint Shuttles – 40 foot and 25m

Most recently I’m having athletes run 40-foot, or 25m shuttle, but drop to the ground at each end to full prone. I call these “Prone to Sprints” and find the level changes adds a significant metabolic component.

I’ve only programmed these so far using a simple work to rest interval format …. for example 30-second Prone to Sprint, 30-second rest, or simply done them for an extended period in a longer circuit, such as:

3 Rounds
3 Minutes Prone to Sprint (40-foot)
3 Minutes Sandbag Get Up
3 Minutes Power Clean + Push Press @ 45/65#

I’ve been so impressed with the prone to sprint, that I loaded them with a weight vest, increased the shuttle distance to 25m, and made these the focus of the MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment.

This short, 11 minute effort is broken into three, 3-minute prone to sprint efforts, separated by a 1-minute rest:

  • 3-Minutes Prone to Sprint weight 25# weight vest or IBA, for reps
  • 1 Minute Rest
  • 3-Minutes Prone to Sprint weight 25# weight vest or IBA, for reps
  • 1 Minute Rest
  • 3-Minutes Prone to Sprint weight 25# weight vest or IBA, for reps

1x rep = a complete length (25m). The reps from each round are added together for a total score. This simple, but very difficult event assesses work capacity, the ability to recover in a short period, and because of the weight vest, strength endurance, and core strength. It’s meant to assess the athletes mission-direct work capacity for a movement under fire event where he/she must repeatedly sprint and take cover. See below to watch some soldiers at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii complete the MTI Work Capacity Assessment.

 

 


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