Mountain Athlete – The Workout That’s Killing Me Back to Life

by Cameron Schaefer on July 30, 2009

MtnAthleteI remember the summer before my sophomore year of high school waking up at 5:30 AM for my first off-season football workout. Up to that point I had lifted weights a little here and there, done push-ups and sit-ups, but never thrown myself into a consistent and challenging workout routine. The next week would be the sorest of my life up to that point, but it set me on a course of taking a sick pleasure in pushing my body further than my mind thought possible. The feeling of acid stinging the back of the throat, muscles becoming wobbly and uncoordinated, sweat burning the eyes, a subtle persistent quesiness in the stomach. These sypmtoms would become my best friends and worst enemies over the next several years.

They stuck with me through high school and four years at the Academy. Then I went to pilot training and became lost. My workout routine went down the tubes, the stress of the program zapped my energy and motivation, and after 13-months of weak, inconsistent workouts I found myself in the worst shape of my life.

In stepped my brother, not by blood, but by shared history – Beau Suder. The man with self-discipline and pain tolerance that scares me. He ended up getting the same jet (C-17) as me out of pilot training and we found ourselves reunited in Altus, OK for training. It was then that he introduced me to the workout regime that I have full confidence will keep me fit, active and strong for quite some time – Mountain Athlete.
In the world of fitness there is a growing realization that being able to bench 375 is quite useless if you run out of breath jogging for a mile. Strength is a great asset, but if it is not coupled with endurance and flexibility it is only of passing value, not functional for everyday living. With this in mind, workout programs have begun sprouting up across the country emphasizing functional strength, CrossFit being one of the most popular.

Mountain Athlete shares many similarities with CrossFit, but the big difference is the workouts are two or three times as long and they tend to emphasize strength a bit more. Here’s what, Mtn Athlete founder, Rob Shaul says about the differences:

The two main issues I have with CrossFit is lack of raw strength development and variety. In my own experience, I found that after a few months of crossfitting, I wanted longer sessions, and didn’t want to have to “race” in the gym every day.

This isn’t knocking CrossFit. I think Glassman is a genius and CrossFit is likely the premier general fitness program available right now. No other program gives an athlete as much bang for his or her time – hence its popularity within the military ranks. I am in awe of the top crossfit athletes – each of whom could crush me like a bug. And the CrossFit approach is a huge part of my programming foundation. I’ve been to two crossfit seminars to learn more.

Here is what he says about a spin-off of their fitness regime geared to the military, called Military Athlete. While it is specially designed for those in the military and varies some in type and length from Mountain Athlete, it helps explain his general philosophy on training that I’ve grown to love:

“A military or tactical athlete who is not “combat fit” risks his life and the lives of his team.

There are no excuses.

And true “combat fitness” is not bulky beach muscles at one extreme, or marathon legs and lungs at the other, but that sweet spot in between of high relative strength, high work capacity, combat-specific endurance, and lethal speed.

Our training program starts with strength, and uses classic, proven, foundational barbell exercises and maximum effort programming to make military athletes very strong without unnecessary bulk.

Next comes work capacity, where we match that strength with strong lungs and relentless mental toughness to build athletes with powerful and swift metabolic conditioning engines.

Military athletes need stamina too – appropriate to a tactical environment. Because good strength and high work capacity is worthless if you’re exhausted after a long, hard ruck just to get to the fight. You have to train long to go long, and our training programs for this.

Finally, you’ve got to be durable. Operators lost to twisted ankles, sprained knees, painful hips, injured lower backs, and aching shoulders are no good to anyone. We drill hip and shoulder mobility and hammer the midsection with intense core training to create military athletes who are not only combat fit, but combat durable, too.”

The idea of fitness and exercise being functional means more to me today than it did in high school. Back then I wanted to lift weights so I could get big for football and look good for the girls, of course. Now, I just want to be in great shape so I can stay healthy and continue an active lifestyle including things like climbing, skiing, running, etc.
The Hybrid Workouts have been best suited for my lifestyle. They are set up to be done Mon, Wed and Friday. Each session normally lasts about an hour. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Rob recommends doing cardio. He expects his athletes to do their sport (climbing, cycling, skiing, etc.) on Saturday and then rest on Sunday.

They do take a bit of time commitment, but then again, everything worthwhile does right? Here is a link to the Hybrid workouts which are posted on the site every couple days: Hybrid Workouts

The great thing about having the workouts online each week is that if you have a workout partner, but happen to be on the road or miss each other, you can still stay on the same page. No worrying about him doing legs the day before and you wanted to do them today.

At some point everyone becomes a washed up athlete, remembering their “glory days” whether it was in college, high school, or 3rd grade recess. Mountain Athlete may not promise the exhilarating feeling of a crowd cheering for you or making the last second shot to win state, in fact it’s much more lonely that that, but it gives you a chance to fight again, the battle against yourself and your mind when no one is looking. And it’s a battle I’m glad Beau introduced me to…most days.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc July 30, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Rob does a great job and is incredibly generous with his time. I’ve been doing his hybrid workouts for a year and they’ve whipped me into the best shape I’ve ever been in.

Cameron Schaefer July 31, 2009 at 8:01 pm


I agree, it’s been amazing to see how open and eager Rob is to teach random people doing his workouts. I’m always impressed at the depth and thought with which he answers his e-mail questions regarding various workouts.

Congrats on doing the hybrid workouts for a year! As someone who is constantly getting my rear handed to me by the workouts I am impressed with anyone who can keep up with the program for more than a few weeks.

Akshay Kapur August 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm

This and Gym Jones will kick anybody’s ass. I love it!

Did you say “washed up athlete”. Oh man does that ring true and it’s so disappointing. If I’d kept up my regimen from high school, I would be in fantastic shape right now.

Luckily though, muscle memory and a little maturity make the physical challenges of getting older a little easier to deal with. For example, I started running 5Ks a couple months ago and it took me only 3 weeks to train for the first one. I’ve been shaving my time since. I’m no way in the shape I was 16, but I’ll take it an age group at a time.

Carl June 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Former Navy and now current Army officer (Engineer) at the moment. Thanks to Rob Shaul’s program I’m a heck of a lot stronger than I’ve been in years – even stronger than my days as a collegiate boxer.

Mountain Athlete’s actually been where I’ve created my series of circuit workouts I dub ‘Mojave Madness’…

JOHN February 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm


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