by Ty Vineyard

Your fitness may be the difference between failure and success, or even life and death. Many do not think about this, even athletes who consistently train. SOF Operators, mountain guides, firefighters, and many other professionals highlight the importance of being “hard to kill.” Consistently operating in high consequence environments demands an approach to fitness that continues to stack the odds in your favor. Not only operators and mountain guides should be considering this in their training. 

How durable do you think you are? Could you get up after falling on the ice or a short tumble down the stairs? There are very few things that we can control in our lives. The unexpected happens when we least expect it. Stack the odds in your favor. When things go wrong, when your durability is tested, your ability to bounce back could be hinged on the fitness you went in with. Your idea of fitness can go from sending your project to being able to stand up after an emergency surgery. The demands are to not only survive the initial blow, but have an increased ability to bounce back.

If you consistently train (in any capacity) you are already stacking the odds in your favor. Most of us have specific things we are training for (climbing, skiing, etc). However, even in off seasons or when your specific endeavor is not of focus, it is important to keep going. Keep consistently working, even if it is as simple as maintenance strength training. There is a baseline operational capability that we should all be at, at all times (all relative of course). This is different from a performance phase or peak. 

Like our foundational strength training, this should be the base line. What would this fitness allow you to do in a time of extreme need and crisis? We never expect bad things to happen, but it is far better to be prepared for it. How far could you carry or drag your significant other, parent, or climbing partner? Chances are if you are reading this you operate in the backcountry in some way or another, would your fitness be enough to get you and your team out of a bad situation? Your fitness could mean the difference between being an asset or a liability, don’t let the circumstances decide for you.  Life is unpredictable and dangerous. Train for life. 

We frequently utilize testing in other areas of our training to track progression, we can also use testing here. Every few months I do a work capacity test. I take the time to schedule when it makes sense with my training and life. The test I use was programmed by my co-worker and mentor Steve Bechtel.  It is a simple 30 minute test that is a great measure of your metabolic capacity as well as your local muscular endurance.

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The test goes as follows:


30 Minute Work Capacity Test

Complete 50 reps of each of the following in under 30 minutes: 


Ball Slam 20# medicine ball

Box Jump @ 28" (note height if different)

KB Halo @ 40# KB (note weight if different)

KB Swing @ 55# (note weight if different)

Push-up (chest touches each rep)

Push Press @ 2 x 25# DB (note weight if different)


Sit-up (Knees-to-chest) 

Wall Ball @ 10# medicine ball

Deadlift @ 135# (note weight if different)


If you complete all the exercises, finish with the Airdyne or Rower and note supplemental calories burned. If you fail to make it through all the exercises, note where you finish when time is called.

Something to consider about this test is to make slight modifications to make it more applicable to you. Regress and progress movements as needed. For example, if a 28” box jump is going to be to casual move up to 48”, or if 25# for push press is too much move down to 20#. For myself I replace the KB Halo with Pull ups as it is a better representation of the rest of my training and a better metric to watch over time. The more specific the test is for you, the better the test data is.

Another simple test is the ten minute Air Bike test. Get on an Air Bike and set the timer for ten minutes. Accumulate as many calories as possible during the ten minutes. This test is shorter and easier to set up. It is also easier to schedule into your training for more frequent re testing. Over time these tests can show trends in your general fitness throughout the year as your training and performance vary. This is also a great time to practice trying super hard, we often get good at trying hard at our specific sport. We sometimes fall out of practice trying hard outside of our activity. 

The idea behind these tests or testing in general is to not just get worked and tired, but to have a bit of a vibe check with your capability. Make a measurable and repeatable test for yourself, it can be as simple or complex as needed. This idea of baseline capability is relative and will not be the same per person.

I consistently trained, managed health risks where I could, and generally checked the boxes I could. Yet, life happens and it can be relentless. When I was a junior in high school I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that would go on to not only alter my life but attempt to end it. There is no doubt that the years of consistent training did not only help keep me alive, it also aided in a rebound to life. Four years later, I was given the opportunity to retest my durability and how hard it is to kill me. After an emergency airlift and surgery, my fitness base made standing up and walking easier. It also ultimately aided in survival. Following two more aggressive and long surgeries my fitness was imperative to rebounding. I never planned on having auto-immune issues, nor having to repeat surgeries of that level of adversity. What has always been a part of the plan is controlling the variables that I can. All that I can control is myself. So when the unexpected happens I am extremely hard to kill. 

We manage risk everyday in our lives. Most of us wear our seat belts, don’t engage in unhealthy habits like smoking, etc. We control every variable we can to manage hazards, and that is all that we can do. We can only control ourselves. So I will strongly encourage the general masses to view training as not only a performance tool, but also as another way to stack the odds in our favor so that we are more durable, resilient, and hard to kill.


Originally from Kemmerer, Wyoming, Ty coaches for Elemental Performance + Fitness and works for Climb Strong in Lander, Wyoming. Along with coaching, Ty guides throughout Wyoming and Utah. He is currently an AMGA Apprentice Rock and Alpine Guide and Certified Single Pitch Instructor. His interests in climbing range from alpine to sport climbing and the disciplines that connect them all.



  1. Paula Bock on May 6, 2024 at 10:36 pm

    For that work capacity test, do you really mean 50 reps of each?

    • Ty Vineyard on May 13, 2024 at 5:42 am


      Yes, 50 reps of each! Keep in mind that this test should be specific to you, 50 is a good starting point but cutting things down could make sense as well. Feel free to reach out with any questions.

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