Tag Archives: training

CrossFit is Awesome. How We’re Different.

Focused, mission-direct endurance programming is one way MTI differs from CrossFit.

By Rob Shaul

First Published in 2012, this Article was Updated April 2017

I’ve been saddened by the beating CrossFit has taken in the media, official military, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and many other sources these past years.

Several times while being interviewed, I’ve been been asked by journalists to criticize CrossFit, and I wouldn’t.

Every strength and conditioning program has it’s faults, mine included, but as a whole, CrossFit has done far more good, especially in the military ranks, than harm.

Other coaches have brought cardio to the weight room, but no one had done it as well as Greg Glassman.

Olympic lifting? Relegated to narrow interest gyms and a few college weight rooms. CrossFit changed that for me and many others.

Women? CrossFit dynamically liberated training and fitness for women. It introduced barbell training to women – freeing them from ellipticals, yoga and aerobics classes. CrossFit made serious and hard training acceptable for women, and demonstrated that “Strong is Beautiful.” One place I read that the typical CrossFit affiliate’s clientele is 70% women. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Equipment costs? My God …. When I first outfitted my gym over a decade ago, equipment costs at least twice as much. Bumper plates and racks suppliers were few and expensive. Now things are vastly more affordable. I credit CrossFit.

We’ve all heard and read about the injury issues, huge quality differences between coaches and affiliates, “cult” stuff. It’s too easy to focus on the negative. The fact is CrossFit has changed many lives for the better, brought exciting new ideas and performance measures to strength and conditioning, and invented the “Sport of Fitness.”

I also understand there are several different variations of CrossFit these days – CrossFit Kids, CrossFit Endurance, CrossFit Football, CrossFit Gymnastics, etc., and I don’t know enough about all these variations to comment. I also know that not all affiliates are the same. I will say the basic CrossFit programming published at crossfit.com, when scaled appropriately, is a great general fitness training program. There’s no denying it.

When I first started Mountain Athlete in 2007, I’d considered becoming a CrossFit affiliate. In the end I decided against it, and went my own direction – not because I had issues with CrossFit, but because I’m just too damn independent. It was the right decision for me.  As my intellectual work in strength and conditioning progressed and accelerated, my own general fitness programming had a distinct strength emphasis, and soon I moved to more activity-focused and sport specific design.

CrossFit has really been successful in urban areas where there are lots of general athletes needing to work out and finding true fitness in the daily CrossFit WOD.

But I live in a unique community in mountainous Wyoming, and my typical athlete wasn’t interested in “working out.” (I had to learn this the hard way.) Rather, they were interested in “training” so they could be better at their outside sport, or job.

This continued when in 2008 and 2009 military athletes deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan began following along with our stuff and soon after demanding I began programming for their unique needs. This continued for Law Enforcement athletes and most recently, Fire/Rescue athletes.

Overall, I found the athletes who began my programming, and really appreciated it, had graduated to my stuff from CrossFit. They knew the movements, understood the work capacity efforts, but needed something more job specific.

At Mountain Tactical Institute, we are in the business of specializing our training to meet the demands of our military, mountain, law enforcement, and fire/rescue athletes. This is how we’re different:

Focus in on field performance, not gym performance.

CrossFit is “the sport of fitness” – and gym numbers/exercises are paramount. We understand that for Military, Mountain, LE, and Fire/Rescue Athletes, all that matters is outside performance. This focus on outside performance allows us to constantly modify/change/improve our programing as we learn and evolve.

Programming Detail.

MTI training sessions are thoroughly periodized, programmed and designed. Nothing is random about our programming. General CrossFit programming deploys an element of randomness. We don’t.

Fluid Periodization.

Our mesocycles have subtle cyclic emphasis which rotates between strength, work capacity and stamina, climbing fitness (for mountain), endurance – it depends upon what is appropriate to the programming mode (Military, Mountain, LE, etc.) To my knowledge, typical CrossFit programming does not deploy periodization or mesocycles of any type.

Balanced programming across all of the fitness attributes.

Individual MTI mesocycles have subtle emphasis, but overall, there is a programming balance across the fitness attributes we deem key for the specific type of athlete.  Crossfit has a distinct emphasis on work capacity.

Greater Volume and Training Session Length.

MTI programming pushes more volume, and its training sessions are longer than typical CrossFit WOD’s. Strength and Work Capacity sessions are designed to be 60 minutes long. Endurance Sessions can be 60-120 minutes long, some sport-specific cycles include “mini-events” which push to 10 hours and multiple include 2-a-days. We believe athletes have to train long to perform long.

Training Schedule.

Our training schedules include 4 days on, 3 days off, 5 days on, 2 days off, and 6 days on, 1 day off as opposed to the 3:1 CrossFit WOD schedule.


Beginning in 2015, MTI programming made a hard pivot to include endurance programming which continues today. Endurance is a huge component of our military and mountain base programming. Military endurance programming includes unloaded running and rucking. Mountain endurance includes unloaded running and uphill movment under load (hiking uphill with a pack). Both, along with Fire/Rescue base programming include our new gym-based endurance programming. We continue to develop, assess, test and “churn” our endurance programming and are unique in the level to which we’ve incorporated it in concurrent programming.

Sport Specificity within the mesocyle.

Military athletes must always be able to ruck. Mountain athletes must always be able to hike uphill under load, and climb. First Responders need upper body mass and strength, and have to be able to sprint. We can never get too far from these.

Chassis Integrity.

Several sessions included dedicated and focused Chassis Integrity training circuits. Chassis Integrity is our functional, transferable mid-section strength training methodology – we believe a strong midsection is essential to performance and durability and our programming reflects this.

Not every training session or circuit is a race.

Circuits or other training session parts which are “for time” or are to be sprinted through are clearly indicated in our programming.  In general, these sprint efforts will be relegated to parts of Work Capacity training sessions. Often we’ll program “grinds” for chassis integrity or gym-based endurance work. We instruct athletes to work “briskly not frantically.”

Focused, sport and event specific cycles.

In general, I believe as you get closer to the event, mission or sport season, the more “sport specific” your training should be. My athletes never pick up a barbell during the entire 8-week Ruck Based Selection Training Plan – instead they run, ruck, do bodyweight cals, long mini events, focused non-gym work capacity events, etc. Why? Barbells aren’t a big training mode at Green Beret Selection (SFAS). Our rock climbers on the mountain side spend 3-4 days/week at the climbing gym or on our system and campus boards in the 6 weeks of the Rock Climbing Pre-Season Training Plan. I’ve learned the hard way, that general fitness programming makes you best at general fitness, but doesn’t prepare you to your potential for focused events/sports/activities/missions.

Meso-Cycle Assessment and Progression.

Our programming frequently deploys multiple sport-specific assessments and progressions based on those assessments. We design, assess, fix if needed (re-design) and repeat.

Continuous evolution and hopefully, improvement.

This past year, our “base programming” has evolved in exciting new areas. We significantly changed the way we deployed Fluid Periodization, increased base fitness cycles to 6 weeks long, developed and introduced Chassis Integrity, TAC SEPA (Tactical Speed, Explosive Power and Agility) and Gym-Based endurance programming, introduced endurance assessments for mountain, military and wildland firefighter athletes. We continue to question, and learn and push, and hopefully improve.


Email coach@mtntactical.com



Learn more about MTI and our Mission Direct Approach 


One Officer at a Time

HF Box Jumps 1

By Rob Shaul


I’ve been working primarily with military athletes for almost a decade now. During those years isolated law enforcement officers and departments found us, started asking questions and providing feedback and jumped in to start doing our stuff.

Unlike the military, there is no established tradition for fitness in the law enforcement world. Once officers get through the academy, fitness is often forgotten or downright avoided.

In the military, frequent, performance-influencing fitness tests and ongoing special selections and schools drive much of the attention to fitness. As well, commands give their guys dedicated time for PT in the mornings.

Things are different in the law enforcement world. Public unions have fought performance-influencing fitness tests, and many agencies and departments not only don’t set aside work time for physical training but don’t offer any facilities or equipment at all.

Still, law enforcement athletes use their bodies to make a living. And being fit can keep them alive.

I realized early on the fitness demands and challenges for LE guys are different than soldiers. And eventually, I started getting so many requests for law enforcement officer programming that I build the Patrol Officer Training Plan and sold it through our military site.

This plan attracted more and more LE officers with requests for more event-specific training plans (FBI HRT, DEA PTT) and a full site focused on fitness for law enforcement athletes.

In December 2014, we spent one month in El Paso, coaching soldiers at Fort Bliss in the morning, and coaching Border Patrol and DEA agents in the evening.

I was curious – how fit would these LE guys be? Would they respond to our programming? They were fit, and they responded.

We learned lots, and upon return, I set out to start programming specifically for Law Enforcement Officers, which led me to start LEathlete.com in January 2015. The site started small, training plans were limited, but soon evolved and grew into a part of MTI. Programming for law enforcement officers has spurred my creativity. It was exciting to move into this new area.

We knew we weren’t going to change police union opposition to fitness tests anytime soon.

Nor would we overnight convince busy law enforcement department and agency CO’s to set aside training time and facilities for their officers.

Indeed, as a concrete signal of where the field is at in training, we invited every officer from local law enforcement agency we could think of – sheriff’s deputies, town police officers, national park rangers, Forest Service enforcement, Homeland Security officers at the airport –  to train for free in our Jackson facility as Lab Rats. None – not a single officer, took advantage of the opportunity.

We did, however, link up with a small city department in California, and a committed handful of its officers and detectives are helping us lab rat the programming.

I believe strongly that Law Enforcement Officers are professional athletes. And the first requirement of a professional athlete is to take responsibility for his or her fitness.

And back then I knew this was gonna be – one officer at a time. We’re plenty happy with that.


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Fitness Tests for LE Athletes

By Rob Shaul

I’m currently developing strategies and ideas to develop a fitness test for LE Athletes, along the lines of what I’ve done for Military Athletes. My initial thoughts include a mid-distance shuttle sprint component, upper body strength, explosive power, and core strength.

The idea of a fitness test for LE Athletes has been fought by public employee unions, who fear tests with jeopardy could cause experienced officers to lose their jobs.

One department which has implemented a test, with some success, is the Colorado Springs Police Department. The CSPD assessment test sit-ups, push up, the Illinois Agility Run, and Beep Test. Here are the details: www.springsgov.com/Page.aspx?NavID=4734

The department and the union came to a compromise where the officers who failed the test weren’t fired, but would be put on an improvement program. The standards were also diluted to the level of a sedentary adult. Also, officers could fail a single part but make up for it on other parts of the test. Finally, SWAT was separated as well due to the fact that they would skew the standards high.

So, many compromises were made to get the test implemented…. but it’s a start.

Here are my initial thoughts about a test for us:

1) 75% Bodyweight Bench Press for reps in 60 seconds (55% for women)

2) Max Reps Strict Pull ups

3) 2 Rounds

    60 sec 25m shuttle for reps

    60 sec rest

    Count total reps from both rounds

4) 60 Second Box Jump for Reps. Men-24”, Women – 20”

5) 2 minute Situps for Reps

I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions. Please email me, rob@leathlete.com

Finally, here is an article from 2008 on the poor state of fitness amongst law enforcement officers: www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1516&issue_id=62008

– Rob Shaul

The Burden of Constant Fitness


By Rob Shaul

I was first introduced to “The Burden of Constant Fitness” concept by a Green Beret several years ago.

Ben explained that soldiers never had the opportunity to be out of shape. Their work requires that they always be fit, and this “constant” fitness requirement can become a “burden” as soldiers struggle to avoid overuse injuries and staleness due to doing the same training every day.

Stateside, in garrison, a soldier’s “burden of constant fitness” is driven not by combat or deployment fitness demands, but by upcoming PFT, courses, schools, or training evolutions.

Military athletes have no “off season.”

The Burden of Constant Fitness is even worse for first responders. Law Enforcement officer and Firefighters never get garrison time out of harms way. Every day can be “that” day, and every incident, no matter how seemingly benign, can turn violent and dangerous in a heartbeat. There is truly no “off season.”

Certain times of the year can be less busy, but the danger, and thus, fitness demands, are always present.

MTI Base Fitness cycles for tactical athletes are 6-7 weeks long. Each cycle trains the same attributes – strength, work capacity, chassis integrity, tactical agility, endurance – but with varying areas of emphasis, progression methodologies, exercises, and events.

As well, often within each cycle are assessments and re-assessments – which help motivated athletes and clearly demonstrate improvement.

Our lab rats, including myself, do much of the same programming, and constantly assessing their and my motivation to train. While assuring the necessary fitness demands are trained appropriately takes priority, there are many ways to skin a cat and there is plenty of room to add variety without compromising the intent of the programming.

For example, we’ve designed strength progressions within Base Fitness cycles which use only strongman equipment, dumbbells/kettlebells or bodyweight. We’ve had work capacity built around shuttle sprints one cycle followed by another where athletes only competed gym-based multi-mode work capacity.

This attention to detail counts, and is one way we try to address the Tactical Athletes Burden of Constant Fitness.



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