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You wouldn’t build a house without a foundation, right? 

Fitness works the same way. A lot of people, including me, have attempted to pursue some goal without building the proper base fitness level. Every time I’ve tried it, I’ve usually gotten injured or been unable to complete the program. 

The most recent one happened in 2016 while training for a GoRuck Tough. I was following GoRuck’s own 6-Week Plan but ran into overuse injuries with running.

Before that was a bad mistake hiking. I did the Smokey Mountain leg of the Appalachian Trail without properly preparing. My knees and back were shot by the time we hit the Virginia border. My far-too-heavy pack was too much for my capabilities at the time. 

Running a marathon, tackling a GoRuck event, or attending Ranger School require different types of fitness attributes than your standard program might include. Rob Shaul, of the Mountain Tactical Institute, put out this video that explains the concept well.

Base vs Sport Specific

A solid year-round fitness periodization schedule for tactical fitness is a good start. But what happens when you want to do something specific?

So, from the video, you need to think of your base fitness as your year-round standard. This is a balanced mix of strength training, endurance, flexibility, stamina, and other fitness elements. Since you can’t train all of those elements all of the time, you break them up into periods.

When you want to do something specific, then you shift your training. You look at the required attributes of that event, and adjust your training leading up to it.

If you were to think of it as a mountain, you time the periodization to reach peak fitness for the event right as you arrive at it. 

Establish Your Base Fitness

Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be difficult. All you need to do is pick a plan and start showing up. I’m a fan of Rob’s general fitness plans as well as his military on-ramp plan. 

loading weights on a barbell, key to building base fitness

Once you’ve completed a round or two of one of those, then you pick a specific challenge to train for. It doesn’t matter what you pick, but make it something valuable to you.

Base Cardio Endurance

Have you ever heard of the Maffetone Method? I wrote up a more thorough discussion of it in another article, so this is the quick and dirty version.

I first came across it while working though Mark Sisson’s Keto Diet Reset book. While I didn’t stick on the keto program itself (that’s another story), I remembered the discussion about cardio base fitness. 

The Maffetone method is a counter to the all-too-common problem of going too hard. If you want to build a solid cardiovascular system, then you start slower. This method sets a heat rate number that you shall not exceed during training. 

Typically, this is 180 minus your age. 

Once you have that number, pick a cardio event like running or rowing. I find rowing works well for me.

The trick is that you’re not timing how long it takes you to complete like a standard fitness test, but how long it takes to complete while staying under your maximum heart rate number.

With continued training, under that number, your body naturally improves its ability to burn fat and efficiently provide oxygen for exercise.

I tend to do my training either below my MAF number, or at the anaerobic threshold.

Showing Up is the First Step

I’m going to be honest, there are things I’m not good at. I’m terrible at pull-ups for instance. Like, embarrassingly bad.

It’s easy to get discouraged when a plan calls for six sets of weighted pull-ups, and I can barely do a single one without any additional weight.

That’s OK. For now.

Give yourself permission to be a beginner and just start showing up.

With time, dedication, and the discipline to show up for every workout, you will get better. Your base fitness will improve, and you will be well on your way to competing in whatever event you want to do. Even if it’s just the game of life.

Climb The Mountain

The whole point to this post is to emphasize that your base fitness is what you are maintaining year round. Use that time to focus not just on the things you’re good at, but on the things you know you need to work on.

Once you have that solid fitness foundation, then you start working towards something specific. If you’re just getting off the couch and want to attack something truly difficult, you’re just asking to get injured or worse. 

Over to you

Tell me, do you have anything you’re training for? I’ll start off in the comments.



Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.


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Don’t feel bad about not being able to do a bunch of pull-ups. I’m pretty sure they were invented by scrawny dudes to feel superior to strong people.

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