Rob Shaul doesn’t judge workouts the same way you do, and he doesn’t care about the size of your biceps.
As a trainer, his only concern is how you perform when it counts. “Fitness training must have a ‘mission direct’ impact,” says Shaul, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy grad. It’s that impact that mountain athletes and the military seek when they venture to his Mountain Tactical Institute in Jackson, Wyoming, where the population (9,577) barely outpaces the elevation (6,237 feet). They come to be schooled in functional fitness that’s geared toward survival in dangerous professions. “Training should improve mission performance,” Shaul says.
Anyone can put together a circuit of pushups, biceps curls, and box jumps—but why? “Random programming is lazy,” Shaul says. Before your next workout, look at each exercise in your routine and ask how it helps you reach your goals. Ponder the ensuing workout too; each session should build toward the next one. Here’s how to elevate your workouts to achieve that standard.
How to Determine If Your Training Plan Has Mission Direct Impact
- Know what you don’t need.
“The needs, wants, and opinions of the individual are not a concern,” says Shaul. Nothing matters unless it makes you better at your mission. For example, maximum strength probably isn’t as critical as you think. “Too much time getting stronger takes away from work on endurance or technical practice,” he says.
- Don’t overcomplicate.
Instagram has tons of fancy exercise variations. Ignore them and stick to simple moves like the burpee: From a standing position, squat and place your hands on the floor; then kick back and lower your chest to the floor. Reverse and jump up. It’s a full-body exercise with simple mechanics and clear benefits.
- Get outside the gym.
Your performance is needed in the real world, not the gym. For that, Shaul recommends moves like the sandbag getup and the weighted step up. He calls step ups “pure drudgery”—step onto the box, step back down—but they’re worth it. “There’s a ton of carryover for mountain athletes,” he says.
- Open your eyes.
As important as it is to follow a routine matched to your goals, “don’t become so wedded to your program that you’re blind to your deficiencies,” Shaul says. “All that matters is outside performance.” If there’s a movement or part of a movement that holds you back in your sport, consider varying your approach.
How to Do the Sandbag Getup
Want to train like Shaul? Try to take on his Operator Ugly protocol, and give the sandbag getup a try. Few exercises will better prep your body for the real world than this move. No sandbag? Practice with a heavy medicine ball or a sturdy duffel bag that’s filled with Pea gravel or bbs.
- Lie with your back flat on the floor, a sandbag on your right shoulder. (Keep most of its bulk on your chest.) Holding it steady with your right arm, extend your left arm straight at a wide angle, palm against the floor.
- Roll to your left. Kick your right leg up, almost straight; then drive it back down, securing your left foot on the floor. Use the momentum to shift your torso upright; plant your left forearm to stabilize your upper body.
- Shift your left hand to near your left glute and straighten your left arm. As you do, tighten your glutes and elevate your hips and upper body. Then begin to shift your weight onto your right leg.
- After you shift your weight, swing your left leg under your right, your left knee on the floor. Plant your right foot and pivot left. Straighten your torso; stand up. That’s 1 rep. Lie back down.
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