Gym Based, Multi-Modal Endurance for Mountain & Tactical Athletes

40 minutes into Thursday’s gym-based endurance session…


By Rob Shaul


In February 2017 we experimented with gym-based, multi-modal endurance programming with our Wyoming lab rats (myself included). In the process, we revisited some of our old theory and training session design.

In brief, gym-based, multi-modal endurance sessions are extended (45+ minute) constant movement efforts which can include dumbbell/barbell exercises, sandbag exercises, box jumps, step ups, short sprints, sled pushes, etc. Think a work capacity event, but much longer, and at a lower intensity.


First, Some background ….

For several years we had a “Stamina” training mode. See the chart below from an old programming course manual:

Our old Stamina Cycles were the most intense training we did, and had two goals:

1) Train Recovery from long events – It’s been our experience that relatively short, intense, work capacity training does do a good job of preparing an athlete for a single, long, endurance push. But he’ll be trashed the next day. Short, intense events don’t train recovery.

2) Train mental attitude toward long events or multiple events over a long day – Mountain and Tactical events are most dangerous when everyone is tired and beat down, and this is when athletes must be the sharpest. This is mental stamina. Also – long, extended events and multiple events over a long period of work to grind down athletes. This is where attitude stamina comes in. This is the ability to face each event with an enthusiastic, professional sense of duty, no bellyaching, and setting an example for others.

Our old Stamina Sessions are generally loaded, extended (60-120 minute) “gym-based” training events designed to use the efficiency of gym training to mimic the volume (legs/core, mostly) an athlete would experience on a long mountain or patrol day.  These sessions were long – 75, 90, and 120-minute Efforts.

Question: Why did you stop doing Stamina Sessions?
Answer: Garbage Reps

“Garbage Reps” are low to moderately loaded, deep squatting or lunging movements. Last year I became concerned about the long term effects of this type of work on knee health and began to eliminate this type of programming from my work capacity programming. “Garbage Reps” were a key component of our old stamina programming … where we were trying to hammer the legs and midsection with lots of volume to condition recovery. Once I committed to eliminating “Garbage Reps” from future programming, our Stamina programming and sessions were orphaned. (More HERE).


Gym-Based, Multi-Modal Endurance

Our move to experiment with gym-based endurance was driven by my desire to implement some of the non-garbage rep aspects of our stamina programming (overall grind, mental and attitude stamina) and the simple realities of the hard winter we’re experiencing and its impact on our scheduled endurance work.

We’ve been doing these sessions 2x/week now for about 4 weeks. Below are the sessions we completed this Tuesday, and Thursday:

Tuesday (60 minutes):
(1) 2 Rounds

  • 15 Min 8x Hang Squat Snatch @ 45/65#
                 160-Foot Sled Push (unloaded sled, turf floor)
  • 15 Min 5x Mr. Spectacular @ 12/16kg
                 20x Box Jump @ 20”

So … 15 minutes straight of 8x Hang Squat Snatch followed by the sled push, then 15 minutes straight of 5x Mr. Spectacular followed by 20x Box Jumps, then repeat the whole thing again. No breaks.

Thursday (75 minutes):

  • 25 Min  5x Sandbag Getups @ 40/60#
                  160-Foot Sled Push (unloaded sled, turf floor)
  • 25 Min  3x Keg Lift @ 40/60# Sandbag
                  6x 40-foot Shuttles (3x laps) with Sandbag
  • 25 Min   5x Sandbag Clean + Push Press @ 40/60#
                   20x Step Ups @ 20”

So …. 25 minutes of Getups and sled push, then immediately 25 minutes of keg lifts and shuttles with a sandbag, then immediately sandbag clean & push presses and step ups. No breaks.

Note on intensity … on the cardio side, we want this to feel like a moderate-paced run … comfortable but not easy. I instruct my athletes to “grind” through. On the muscular side, where we feel it most is the midsection. It’s never sharp, but in the end, our entire mid-section is fatigued and the next day, our sides and low back are a “sore in a good way.” 

Here is a comparison to our old “Stamina” and the new “Gym-Based, Multi-Modal Endurance”:

On the “Mission-Direct” side, I’m more and more intrigued by this type of “endurance” programming as it breaks out of my own “single” mode box and perhaps is more transferable to the multi-modal aspect of the most real-world mountain and tactical missions.

On the training side, Gym-Based, Multi-Modal endurance, adds another element to our programming addressed the “burden of constant fitness,” as well as allowing the opportunity to train endurance in an effective, transferable manner when weather or conditions (shipboard, tiny FOB) prevent a long run or ruck.

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