By Rob Shaul
1) Overall Military – Afghanistan Pre-Deployment Training Plan
The Afghanistan Pre-Deployment Training Plan was the first plan I designed on the tactical side. At the time (2008) there was only Mountain Athlete, and I began getting emails from soldiers downrange in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I was posting our daily training sessions, and somehow guys had found our stuff.
What I soon heard was soldiers were being deployed to mountainous regions in Afghanistan and getting smoked by the terrain and altitude. They were reaching out to me for mountain-specific programming – which lead me to design the Afghanistan Pre-Deployment Training Plan.
The plan needed to prepare them for uphill hiking (mountain endurance), rucking, tactical work capacity (sprinting), midsection work, and eccentric leg strength for the downhills.
We gave this plan away free to deploying US and Nato soldiers and Marines for several years, and literally, thousands of deploying personnel used it to prepare, including multiple entire US Army and US Marine battalions.
The plan itself is no joke – thousands of loaded step ups, hundreds of sandbag get ups, Leg Blasters two times per week – it’s a killer. It’s my favorite because perhaps of all the plans I designed, it had the most mission-direct impact.
2) Strength – Big 24 Strength Training Plan
I’ve never thrown up in the gym, but the closest I ever came wasn’t during a hard work capacity, panic breathing event, but during the final progression of Big 24.
The Big 24 progression is the most simple, and the most intense, I’ve ever designed. In its current iteration, the plan is 7 weeks long, 5 days/week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are strength training, and every strength day is a battle with the barbell.
The plan is built around the following, classic, strength exercises:
- Back Squat – One of the key lifts to build strength. High bar or low bar doesn’t matter, pick one and be consistent.
- Kettlebell/Dumbbell Walking Lunge – Unilateral total leg smoker. Keep your midsection tight to prevent tipping toward one side.
- Hang Squat Clean – Simple Olympic movement.
- Push Press – Builds power transfer between the lower and upper body and overloads the shoulders to build strength.
- Bench Press – Builds upper body pressing strength.
- Weighted Pull Ups – Builds upper body pulling strength
What makes the plan so intense is it’s not percentage based. Rather, for every exercise, the athlete begins by working up to a 3 Repetition Maximum, and every strength effort is 8 rounds long. The first 3 of those rounds are a warm up to the “working sets.” Below are the progressions:
- Progression 1 – 5 Rounds of 3 Reps at your 3RM – 10 pounds
- Progression 2 – 5 Rounds of 3 Reps at your 3RM – 5 pounds
- Progression 3 – 5 Rounds of 3 Reps at your 3RM
So, if your 3RM Back Squat is 300 pounds, the first progression, after 3 rounds to warm up to the working load, is 5 Rounds of 3 Reps at 290#.
At the beginning of the cycle, the strength sessions to fast, and take only around 50 minutes to complete. But at the end of the cycle, athletes need more and more rest between barbell efforts, and sessions stretch to 70-75 minutes. The last time I did Big 24, the final progression for me really wasn’t 5 rounds of 3 reps at my 3RM load, but rather 15x singles at my 3RM – because I needed to rest between each rep.
As well, I’d get nervous before each training session – well actually, more than “nervous” – more like scared!
Big 24 is killer, intense, and from a strength perspective, – very effective. It also has a “hardening” effect. We were all a little tougher, a little harder, on the other side of the Big 24 cycle.
3) Endurance – Alpine Running Training Plan
I designed this plan primarily for FKT attempts – or “Fastest Known Time” non-technical, alpine/mountain missions and events, but it’s also a fantastic plan for building focused mountain endurance – uphill hiking under load, fast downhill running, and loaded and unloaded distance trail running.
In my 30’s, long before I became a strength and conditioning coach, I spent several years focusing on fast, long, mountain movement – 20+ mile day hike/run loops, 30+ mile car to car peak bagging efforts, and 20-30 mile/day backpacking trips.
I loved moving fast in the mountains, and to train for it I spent hours packing rocks up Half Moon Mountain east of Pinedale, Wyoming, my home town, and running ridges and trails in the foothills of the Wind River Mountain Range.
I had a simple bathroom scale in the bed of my truck, and on the way to the base of Half Moon Mountain, I’d look for good sized rocks on the side of the road. I’d stop when I found a good group of these rocks, and load my daypack up to 40-50 pounds, and hike it up the 1,000 feet or so to the ridge atop Half Moon Mountain.
I’d dump the rocks in the same spot on the top of the ridge – and after a few Springs and Summers, had a good-sized pile of rocks – my “pyramid of pain.”
Back then I really had no planned progression or overall method to my programming. That knowledge came with my pivot to strength coaching, but the Alpine Running Training Plan’s roots come from those days hauling rocks up Half Moon Mountain and running trails with a pack in southwest Wyoming.
Here in Jackson, we have a steep, town ski hill called “Snow King.” Snow King Mountain is about 1,600 feet high, and steep. There’s a steep trail heading pretty much straight up the mountain, and a couple of Junes ago, me and my lab rats spent 6 weeks hiking gallons of water up that mountain and developing the programming for the Alpine Running Plan. Like rocks, we could dump water on the top, and run down unloaded – saving our knees some, and not risking as bad of injury if we took a tumble on the downhill. We worked up to 3 laps in about 90 minutes, carrying 4 gallons of water at the top progression – about 32 pounds.
I have an old training buddy in Pinedale, Tom, who’s fond of saying, “nothing trains like vertical!” Tom, 15 years my senior, took many a training trip with me up Half Moon Mountain. I could beat him to the top, but Tom was a master at running downhill, and I’d struggle, trip, and crash and burn trying to keep up with him. Running downhill off trail is a skill in itself!
The Alpine Running Training Plan has all this – hiking thousands of feet uphill carrying increasing loads of water, dumping it at the top and running downhill, running trails with a loaded pack, and miles of unloaded trail running – working up to 17.
It’s a 6 day/week training plan, and two days are spent in the weightroom, doing heavy eccentric back squats, some upper body strength training, and focused chassis integrity work.
This is not a well-rounded endurance training plan, but for Alpine endurance, its focus is intense and effective.
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