By Rob Shaul
He or she is typically not a high level natural athlete. Over the years I’ve coached World Champions and the highest level team-sport professional athletes, but in general, I’ve found that high-level, natural athletes are not comfortable with the intensity and push of MTI programming.
This is not surprising. Rarely is the best player on the field the hardest worker in the gym. I’ve found that most high level natural athletes always hold back – and never push to their true 1RM strength effort or cardio redline work capacity level.
There are exceptions to this, of course (see Resi above) – but that is the general rule.
And overall, there is no direct link between the athleticism of the athlete – how well they naturally move in space – and whether or not he or she thrives with MTI programming. Many below average to just above average natural athletes embrace MTI programming.
Rather, most important is an attitude toward fitness – specifically, the athletes who complete MTI programming are “professional” about their fitness.
You would think that all athletes who depend upon their fitness for their livelihood and, too often, survival (tactical athletes, mountain professionals), would be professional about their fitness, but this isn’t the case.
Over the years I’ve seen deconditioned Green Berets, Navy SEALs so jacked with bodybuilding muscles they struggled to run 3 miles without stopping, grossly obese firemen and police officers and endurance driven, but weak, wildland firefighters.
Likewise, on the Mountain side, I’ve seen professional alpine guides so weak they couldn’t deadlift their bodyweight and struggled to complete 10 pushups, and chunky professional skiers who arrived to train intoxicated.
Being “professional” about your fitness is not based on rank, position, past accomplishment, special forces status or draft position. It’s about attitude and approach.
The attitude these athletes bring to training begins is “I’m not special.” The approach they bring is, “You Can’t Escape the Work.”
“I’m not special” is an attitude that understands everyone must pay their dues, every day, no matter what. What makes an individual unique in the MTI world is not their past professional or athletic accomplishments, but rather the grounding humility that dictates every day is “day 1” – and it doesn’t matter what they did yesterday or promise to do tomorrow – the test is now, right in front of them.
“You can’t escape the work” embraces strongly the truth that there are no shortcuts. The Fitness Industry is ripe with a continuous conveyor belt of new methods, exercises, contraptions, diets and nutritional supplements that all claim to offer a shortcut. It’s easy for an athlete, and even a coach, to become distracted by one or more of these juicy promises, but the result is all the same … none of it works in the long run.
All that works, is “the work” – the grind of completing fundamental, common-sense and proven, mission-direct programming which isn’t sexy, flashy or sophisticated.
I can’t count the number of comments and emails I’ve received over the years from athletes who completed one of MTI’s event or sport-specific training plans and reported doubts at first. Only to trust the programming, grind through the training sessions, see the results outside the gym.
Importantly, one’s current fitness is not a requirement to become professional about one’s future fitness. It’s not uncommon for athletes to get off the wagon, get out of shape, right the ship, and come back to being professional about his or her fitness.
As well, many times athletes who’ve never trained for outside performance, or have completed other types of physical activities (yoga, endurance only, powerlifting only, etc.) for years come to MTI programming, are willing to try something different, commit, and thrive.
And one doesn’t need to be a professional athlete either. MTI’s programming is primarily build around the mission-direct fitness demands of tactical (military, LE, Fire/Rescue, Wildland Fire) and mountain professional (pro skiers, alpinists, rock climbers, mountain professionals – guides, rangers, wardens). But there are plenty of weekend warriors, civilian desk drivers, and simply everyday gym rats who complete our stuff.
Many are people who have scheduled a big climb (Everest, Denali), outdoor adventure (Teton Grand Traverse, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim) or fitness event (triathlon, marathon, Spartan race), and simply want to prepare professionally for it.
Because MTI programming is based on the fitness demands of the event, not the past accomplishments or incoming fitness of the athlete, everyone begins the programming with Training Session 1, and works forward from there. No one is special.
Because a professional attitude and approach to MTI programming are all that is needed to complete the programming, our stuff is open to anyone willing to commit. This welcoming context always important to me.
MTI’s foundation and growth corresponded with the onset of CrossFit, Gym Jones, and other similar companies and gyms. Gym Jones, especially, marketed heavily it’s “eliteness” – and attracted a certain type of person because of it – but also excluded many others.
I didn’t want to exclude anyone. This was likely driven by my own “un-eliteness” – I’m no natural athlete!
As well, early on in my coaching career, I learned that I could never guess from initial appearance whether or not a new athlete would still be around at the end of the training cycle. Many times, first training session “studs” disappeared after a couple days, but those who arrived unfit and could barely walk from soreness, kept showing up day after day.
Later in my coaching years, I didn’t bother working hard to learn athlete names early in our dryland ski, tactical lab rat, or pre-season rock climbing cycles. I’d wait a week or so, let the natural attrition occur, then take time to learn names and athlete backgrounds and objectives.
As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, all I want is athletes who show up every day and work hard. Right there is all I need to improve their fitness, test my programming, and be supremely enriched by the job.
All I need is athletes who are professional about their fitness.