By Rob Shaul
1. Programming Delivery via App
We developed our mobile app for fitness programming delivery last year and we’re working to improve it. It took us quite some time to get our current app custom built. Prior to building a custom app, I searched hard for an existing app or platform to host our programming – but was unable to find one which worked.
Online fitness programming is a crowded field, and many of our competitors point first to the bells and whistles of their phone applications. Long ago I decided MTI’s primary focus on the fitness side should be the quality, mission-directness, and continuous improvement of our programming driven by coaching observation, athlete field report, and internal research. This dedication to programming is the one key to our longevity and accomplishment.
But – it’s hard for the athlete to do our programming if the delivery system (app) doesn’t exist or is clunky. I wanted our initial app to be as austere, and simple as possible, give it some time to test/churn, and then carefully add features as needed.
A couple things we understand about our athletes – most come to us experienced – either via CrossFit or something similar – and thus quickly grasp our training session design and flow.
Some come to us without much weight room experience, lifting experience, or functional training experience. It’s more difficult for these athletes to understand and learn the flow/design of our session programming. But for most, a week or at most two weeks of training sessions and they understand.
Our app design goal was to thread the needle between these two populations:
- keep it clean and quick for the experienced athletes who knew most the exercises and understood the sessions design intuitively;
- have links/tools available for new athletes who would be lost initially, but would quickly catch on.
In addition, there are a couple of improvements to the app we’re currently working on with our app developer:
(1) in-app exercise videos, and (2) some type of note-taking ability, inside the app; (3) listing packet purchase plans together, in order.
2. Session Design Built Around Common Functional Fitness Equipment and Real-World Time Limits
We’ve done a fair job of this thus far, but can improve. I’ve been asked several times why our programming does not include sled pushes or drags. I love sled pushes, especially, as a work capacity training tool and we often program them in for our local lab rats, but I’m not sure sleds and space to push/drag them are readily available for many of the line unit military, LE, fire rescue and mountain athletes who complete our programming.
One “unusual” piece of equipment we do program frequently is sandbag work – and many gyms don’t have sandbags. Unfortunately, there is no good substitute for sandbag exercises – and many of our long time, committed athletes actually build their own sandbags and bring them to the gym to train.
However, beyond sandbags, I’ve worked hard to update and design new programming around equipment readily available in most functional fitness facilities.
Another issue that arises is when we design strength or work capacity circuits with exercises which deploy several different types of equipment. I understand the issues that can come up in a crowded base or gym – and over the years I’ve gotten better about thinking of this ahead of time in program design. For example, I’m careful not to design a circuit which includes two barbell exercises of different loads so an athlete will have to use two barbells – and piss everyone else in the gym off.
But … again, in some of our older programmings I make this mistake, and even now, I can mess up. If you have run into this issue in a specific program, please email me, and I’ll work to get it fixed.
As well, time to complete sessions can be an issue. Our gym-based sessions in the base fitness category for mountain, military, LE SWAT/SRT, and fire/rescue athletes are all designed to last 60 minutes, or less. The endurance based sessions can and often extend past 60 minutes – but this is unavoidable to develop the endurance fitness attribute for running, rucking and uphill movement under load.
All of the training sessions for our LE Patrol/Detectives, including the daily LE Officer Sessions are designed to last 50 minutes or less to acknowledge the reality that many LE athletes train on their own time, often before or after long shifts.
Many athletes new to our programming run long initially, as they learn the training session flow. Often, they stretch too long within circuits or take rest between circuits when it’s not needed. Most figure this out as they learn our session flow and self-correct – others email me and I tell them not to stretch so long!
Again, if you have any specific cycles/programs where equipment or time is an issue, please email me and I’ll take a look and work to fix.
3. Program Overload
One of the things that separate MTI and makes us valuable to our athletes is the breadth of our programming. But one of the things that can make us difficult to use is that we have 200+ individual programs plus dozens of cycles found in our daily LE and Operator sessions – and athletes can be easily overwhelmed and not know where to start or go next.
I’ve struggled with this one and have consciously worked to limit new program design to mission-direct cycles or to address specific needs. It seems everytime we “hide” a program the next day I get an email from an athlete who has been using it or wants to purchase.
One change I’m considering is creating different ways to sort the programming – for example, based on general fitness categories like strength, work capacity, endurance, core, etc. I’m initially hesitant to do this as it doesn’t reflect our Fluid Periodization approach but will consider it.
I answer dozens of emails daily from new and current athletes with programming questions, which clears up programming overload from the source – but I know many don’t email, and can get frustrated.
Any suggestions here would be appreciated.
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