I have a confession before I get to talking about the Mountain Tactical Institute’s program. During a significant portion of my active duty years, I was spectacularly mediocre at fitness.
I had no plan, no real motivation, and just an overall poor attitude about it. I attribute a lot of that to my own rebellious streak. My specialty was sedentary in nature, involving 24-48 hours locked in an underground bunker the size of a school bus.
There was no shower, only a stamped steel combination toilet and sink as you see in prison cells. The air was 90% recycled, so getting your sweat on was subtly discouraged. Minimal fitness equipment was available, but the hours we kept often meant we were too tired anyway. On average, I spent up to 30 hours of each 72 hour period in that bunker either sitting in a chair or laying in a bunk.
I did that for four years.
About halfway through that tour, I bottomed out. While I never failed a fitness test, I came closer than I would have liked. The worst I ever did was 78 points out of 100. Receiving anything below 75 was failing.
When that happened, I realized something had to change. It was a slow climb from that point.
I received my best score ever shortly before I left the military. That score, a 92, meant a lot to me. A lot of guys who are used to staying in the 97-100 range would be ashamed of that. But for me, it was rewarding to claw and scratch my way there and finally make it happen.
That journey lasted eight years, from bottom to top.
Fitness is a Discipline
Could I have made that transition faster? Sure. The simple truth is that fitness at that time was a secondary priority to me.
Why am I confessing this to you? It’s because I want to illustrate where I’m coming from. You can do all the reading and learning in the world, but it doesn’t amount to anything until you start showing up consistently.
Somewhere along that journey and the piles of research I was doing, I came across a site called Military Athlete. I liked what they had to say, and almost bought one of their programs, but honestly felt too much shame in paying someone else to tell me how to work out.
Here we are years later, and I’m now making fitness a huge portion of my life. I’m not active duty anymore, and yet the things I’ve experienced have convinced me more than ever that this is a priority.
While researching places to download fitness programs, I came across the Mountain Tactical Institute (MTI), run by Rob Shaul. It turns out that MTI is a rebranded Military Athlete. Rob’s been running the show the whole time.
Rob is a 1990 graduate of the US Coast Guard A
But he’s also a life long gym rat.
He started Mountain Athlete in 2007 to focus on training athletes to prepare for skiing, hiking, guided hunts, and other strenuous outdoor activities. Military Athlete arrived in 2009 with an emphasis on the tactical.
All of that rebranded in 2015 as the Mountain Tactical Institute.
The thing I found most interesting about Rob’s Approach to fitness programming is the mix of academia and real world results. A lot of trainers do everything based purely on what the science says. But research changes a lot. Rob often trains “lab rats” in his Jackson, WY facility and checks their performance against real world activities.
So, do deadlifts help skiers? No, not as much as the science would say. Does rowing cardio help build running cardio? Not as much as running helps rowing.
Rob is constantly tweaking the Mountain Tactical Institute’s programming to better meet the needs of trainees. To date, he has over 200 programs to choose from.
Mountain Tactical Institute Fitness Plans
A lot of MTI’s plans are sport-specific in nature. That means that you do one in the 6 to 8 weeks before an event like Ranger Selection, a GoRuck challenge, or climbing Denali.
The catch on all of these is that the programs assume you already have a solid base level of fitness. To support that, MTI produces “day-to-day” programming to maintain an all-around solid fitness regime.
Since I didn’t have anything specific to prepare for, I thought this was the route to go.
Waylon is the second plan in the “General Fitness” category at the Mountain Tactical Institute. Each of these plans
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The Waylon Program
Waylon is a 7-week program focusing on work capacity, core strength, endurance, and strength. In this case, strength is given a slight priority over the others.
You can read all about Waylon over at the MTI site, so I’ll just give you a quick summary and my starting point.
Prior to starting, I’d been on and off of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program for several months. I’d made consistent strength gains on the program, working my way up to novice and intermediate strength levels according to strengthlevel.com.
Mark’s programming is very strength-focused using classic Olympic lifts. However, it spends little time on conditioning or other elements of tactical fitness. I wanted to branch out.
The Waylon program from the Mountain Tactical Institute is 7 weeks long, with five workouts per week. Each week consists of two strength-focused days, two work-capacity days that include core work, and a “cardio” day using intervals.
Rob plans each workout to take 60-75 minutes. From my experience with it, that timing is about right as long as you keep yourself on a solid pace. If you take too much rest, you’re going to go way over time for each workout.
Modifications and Results
Let me be up front, I could not complete every workout as prescribed by MTI’s plan.
I did all of the work capacity days and cardio days as written. The only modification was a slightly lighter sandbag due to not having a 60 lb one available. A
I exercise at 5:30 AM. These days, that means cold and dark. I can deal with cold, but I don’t have a good place to run intervals in the dark. It’s a safety thing. My gym also does not have treadmills, which I hate anyway. So I substituted my rowing machine instead of running.
The strength days took a bit of a learning curve. I had never done power cleans, so I had to spend the first couple weeks practicing correct form using a lower weight.
It’s more important to me that I not get injured than it is to impress the internet with my numbers.
I did all of the strength building exercises, which took about an hour to complete. Unfortunately, I had to cut the last portion of those days out due to time. Those portions are pull-up focused, which is something I’m traditionally not good and really need to work on. Those sections are what takes the workout to 75 minutes two days per week.
It’s not really an excuse, but I have to keep my workouts time-boxed to an hour in the morning if I’m going to keep the day on track. So I cut the pull-ups.
Without getting into the details, I recorded a 12-20% strength increase in all the major lifts. I’m discounting the power clean here, which was much higher, because I started it artificially low while I learned the correct form. When I do this program again in the future, I’ll have a better idea.
From a cardio endurance standpoint, I recorded a 12% boost in my rowing split times.
By themselves, those are all solid improvements. But the real benefit came from something I can’t measure: work capacity.
My gym runs several “boot camps” per day. These look an awful lot like the PT sessions I used to run on active duty. They have lots of sprints, drags, pushups, core work, kettlebells, and plyometric work. Prior to starting Waylon, I did this once per week. I didn’t do them at all while on the program.
Since finishing, I’ve done two boot camps and absolutely crushed both of them. There is a very obvious improvement to my recovery ability between exercises, speed, and energy. I went from doing pretty well on the bell curve to leaving everyone else behind.
This is progress. It’s pretty significant progress, actually.
I reached out to ask Rob what the next step in the progression would be. He suggested following the next plan in the sequence, which trades the strength emphasis for speed. This follows the same periodization suggestions I’ve noted elsewhere.
In my case, I’m going to pivot a bit to a sport specific focus. I have a GoRuck Challenge coming up in a couple months. I’m also disappointed with my pullups. I’m taking the next several months to focus on those areas, and then return to a baseline training program.
This post is not intended as an advertisement or anything for the Mountain Tactical Institute. I have no relationship with them. They just happened to be the one I followed, and I wanted to report back the results.
But I believe in what they’re offering.
The caveat is that you need to know your limits before you start. If you have a moderate level of fitness, then I think the general purpose programs are a great place to start. If you are in poor shape, then I suggest starting with one of the “onramp” programs that prepare you for basic training or a law enforcement fitness test.
Going forward, I plan to cycle back to Waylon in the Spring.