By Rob Shaul, Founder
Work Capacity event progression and program design have been one of the most enduring elements of MTI’s programming over all these years.
Our strength, core, endurance, and climbing program design have modulated, changed and evolved significantly, and we’ve created on the tactical side, our TAC SEPA or tactical agility programming.
But the way we decide and program work capacity at the macro level has stayed consistent.
Early on (late 2007) I became impatient with the randomness of CrossFit-inspired work capacity event design and began intensive research for alternatives. I was unable to find any that expanded beyond sport-specificity to general conditioning, so I got to work on creating my own methodology.
How MTI Defines “Work Capacity”
Extended bouts of cardiorespiratory and muscular stress at high, but submaximal levels best mirror the most dangerous mountain and tactical events – think firefight, foot chase, fire suppression or hard final summit push fighting dimming light and worsening weather.
Work Capacity is where it all comes together – aerobic base, sprint cardio, raw strength, strength endurance and mental fitness. In the field, dangerous tactical or mountain events are often a work capacity event.
Gym Based Work Capacity Efforts
These can be single or Multi-modal, intense events lasting up to 30 minutes, These events combine Aerobic Base + Aerobic Power + Muscular Strength + Muscular Endurance – or the ability to perform at a high percentage of VO2 max, and high percentage of muscular strength and strength endurance.
Aerobically these events are anaerobic – they cannot be continued on forever, unlike steady-state aerobic exercise. Eventually, you’ll have to stop.
Anaerobic work is so intense cardiac output exceeds oxygen consumption, glycogen (carbohydrate) replaces fat as the primary fuel source. But glycogen is metabolized and broken down into lactic acid. We believe Anaerobic events are the type most probable in an intense/dangerous mountain/tactical.
MTI’s Gym-based Work Capacity efforts are Anaerobic training and are so intense that the athlete will fail in a relatively short time (<30 MINUTES.) Intense work capacity efforts trains the athlete to tolerate lactic acid, and train at a higher percentage of his or her VO2 max. The athlete develops a higher tolerance for intensive endurance-type exercise.
How MTI Programs Work Capacity
Two criteria go into Work Capacity event design: (1) Duration, and (2) Format. Of the two, duration is far more important.
Unlike organized sports, mountain and tactical real-world work capacity events are not predictable. Thus, the duration of the gym-based work capacity events must not be static.
An athlete who trains to go hard for 5 minutes max will gas if faced with a 20-30 minute event. Likewise, an athlete who trains to go hard for 30 minutes may not bring the needed intensity for a short 5 minute all out effort.
At MTI, we work to prepare our athletes for this unpredictability by designing work capacity events of over a broad range of durations:
Specifically use three durations for Work Capacity events:
5+5+5 – Intense 5-minute or less effort, followed by another, followed by another. Short, 1-3 minute rest between events.
10 + 10 – Intense, 10 minute effort followed by another intense, 10 minute or shorter effort after a 3-5 minute rest
MTI’s Favorite Events by Duration
When you do as much program design as I do, and consequently design as many work capacity events, you make a lot of mistakes, and hopefully learn something along the way. Below are my current favorite work capacity events by duration.
→ Duration: 5+5+5
Set a Running Clock:
1-5 Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM)
6x Power Cleans @ 95/65#
7-11 Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM)
6x Power Cleans @ 95/65#
13-17 Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM)
6x Power Cleans @ 95/65#
One of the major issues with designing different work capacity circuits for 5+5+5 duration events is the equipment management and athlete flow problems that arise – especially when your athletes only get 1-3 minutes to rest between each 5 minute hit. I developed this format about 3 years ago, when I initially designed Valor – a training plan in our Virtues series of plans for Tactical Athletes. This format eliminated that hassle.
Every minute on the minute, the athlete completes 6x Power Cleans followed immediately by 6x Burpees. The faster he finishes this work, the more rest he gets before the next minute starts. I try to program loading and reps for this effort so the first minute of every 5 minute “block” of work, the athlete will get 25-30 seconds rest, but my the 5th minute in each block, if well designed, the athlete will be down to about 15 seconds rest between rounds.
From a coaching perspective what I like about this format is it’s really easy to “scale” individually for each athlete on the fly. So, if I start everyone out on the prescribed loading and reps above, and Athlete A, “Mike” is getting 40 seconds rest, I can easy say, “good job, Mike – boy you’re fast. I need to slow you down. From now on do 7 reps of both exercises. Sucks for you.”
Likewise, if Athlete B, “John” barely manages his 6 reps of power cleans and burpees before the minute is up, I can tell him, “John, drop to 5 reps of each exercise.”
→ Duration: 10+10
(1) 4 Rounds, Every 2:30
Rest 3 Mintues
(2) 10 Minute Sandbag Get Ups for Reps @ 60/80#
300m Shuttle …. By far, my favorite “mode” for training work capacity is sprint repeats, especially shuttle sprints. If you’ve been doing MTI programming for much time at all, you’ll like suffered doing 300m shuttles. This is just a killer event which busts lungs and legs.
Set 2 cones, 25m (82 feet) apart. On “go” the athlete sprints back and forth between the cones, touching the line at each turn, for 12 lengths or 6 round trips.
The multiple direction changes are what make shuttle sprints so killer. Having to decelerate, turn, and then accelerate again takes incredible leg strength, which in turn hammers the legs and lungs.
A new 300m shuttle starts every 2 minutes, 30 seconds, so the faster the athlete finishes, the more rest he/she gets before the next round. Our athletes finish at 1:10 – 1:20, most the time.
On the tactical side, we’ll sometimes run these in 25# weight vests, in which case I won’t make the athletes touch the line at each cone.
10 Minute Sandbag Get Ups for Reps .… My old assistant coach, Charlie (currently at the UMSC Basic RECON Course) had a love/hate relationship with 10 minute Sandbag Get Up efforts.
There is something about the 10 minute effort crushes the uninitiated both physically and mentally. First, there is no let up. Even when you’re not moving the bag sits on your shoulder, crushing down your chest and restricting lung capacity. Mentally, many times I’ve seen badass tactical and mountain athletes nearly give up the first time they tried this. But like everything else, we accommodate, figure it out, and as in Charlie’s example, come to “love” this dreaded event.
If I recall correctly, Charlie managed 80 reps for his best 10 minute effort – this is 8x/minute and is smoking fast. Best I ever managed was 74 reps in a 10 minute effort @ 80# sandbag – this was last year. I think I’ll let that PR stand.
→ Duration: 20-30 Minutes
20 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible)
• 3x Power Clean + Push Press @ 85/135#
• 75m Shuttle
• Walk to Start
8 Rounds for Time
• 10x Hinge Lift @ 95/155#
• 30x Step Ups @ 20″ Box
• Rest 15 Seconds
I have different, favorite 20-30 minute events for tactical and mountain athletes.
Tactical: This moderately heavy power clean + push press to a 75m shuttle sprint will sneak up to you. Generally by the 3rd or 4th time through, my arms are on my head and I’m gasping for air on my walk back to the barbell. The key here is to sprint through the barbell work and really push hard on the shuttle, then use the walk back to the barbell as your working “rest” before hitting the barbell again. I tell my athletes to walk slow, but once they get to the barbell, immediately start again.
Mountain: This simple hinge to step up complex has long been my favorite multi-modal gym-based work capacity event for mountain athletes. The Hinge hammers the butt, hammies and core, while the tall, 20-inch step up hammer the quads and lungs in a mode-specific way for uphill hiking. I’ve found 8 rounds will take most athletes 20-25 minutes.
Why the 15 seconds rest between rounds? This gives the athletes just enough recovery so they can “attack” each round, and the effort doesn’t devolve down into a long slog.
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