Cart 0

From Body Builder to Special Ops Fit

stew smith mental toughness military motivation navy seal personal training special ops special ops training stew smith weight training

Like many people who are into fitness and exercising, you were likely to have started due to either improving your body image or athletics, OR a combination of both.  My personal story was a combination of both.  I started lifting weights at 13 years of age and mainly cut my teeth on the widely popular Joe Weider weight lifting books mixed with a healthy dose of calisthenics.  Calisthenics has been a constant in my life ever since being introduced to them back in grade school.  YES - Back when you had Physical Education everyday in school, that President's Fitness Test was a competition among most students in your class. Therefore, my fitness foundation was calisthenics, free weights (some powerlifts / some body building sets), and whatever sport was in the season throughout middle and high school.  (football, powerlifting, track, wrestling, baseball).


Once I joined the military, I realized quickly that there was much more to learn about fitness training.  Not only are there workouts that can get you strong, create endless muscle stamina, enable you to run, swim, and ruck, BUT (this is for you body builders) you can actually keep most of your muscle.  With proper nutrition and creative balance of weights, calisthenics, and cardio, you can not only be cardiovascularly fit, but strong, lean, and still have muscle mass. 

Just look at most active Special Operators today.

*NOTE - this does not mean as a pre-selection student you need to be doing active duty Spec Ops workout - you need to train for the long distance races.  Most training pipelines are at least a year long of high rep calisthenics, high mileage running / rucking, and /or many miles of ocean swims. 

In the unlikely event that you graduate your Special Ops training program - THEN you can do the active SEAL / SF / PJ / RECON workouts.

BODY BUILDERS ARE THE FIRST TO QUIT: How many of you have heard this one?  Well it is true to a degree.  All types quit - endurance athletes, teenagers, big weight lifters, and smaller guys - we all have a weakness.  Now, I have nothing against bodybuilders.  I have just seen people who focus primarily on bodybuilding type workouts (body part a day, only isolation exercises) tend not to perform well when attending Special Operations programs like BUD/S, SFAS, PJ, RECON.  These programs require much more than a foundation in isolation exercises and muscle group workouts. 

Special Ops / Military / Police, and Fire fighter training (hell - LIFE for that matter) require training for the real world.  There are not many events in life that require you to just bend one joint to create force.  Your whole body has to know how to work together to create force, power, and speed - short and long distance.

For the past 18 months, I have been working with people who had a foundation in bodybuilding and pre-training them for SEALs, PJ, Army SF, as well as fun Obstacle Course races like the Go Ruck Challenges, Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, CMC, etc.  The training program is nothing NEW.  It is the style of training many highly trained Special Operators have been using for decades.  When you need running, rucking, and swimming endurance, muscle stamina, strength, speed and agility, you also have to have a solid core foundation of stability.  By adding in multiple joint power movements like standard power and Olympic lifts as well as short and long distance endurance skills, you can create a body that is versatile in any situation. 

This versatility and advanced skill set is what sets Special Operation apart from most athletic and especially aesthetic training programs. Similarly, the endurance athletes had problems in the muscle stamina category even though they were rock solid on the running or swimming.  However, they lacked some core strength and when carrying a ruck with 40-50 lbs, the fastest runners were barely keeping up with the bigger, slower distance runners. 

Adding high reps calisthenics along with weighted multi-joint movement exercises like MJDBs, powerlifts, and TRX helped them with all the following:  ace the fitness tests,  get faster at rucking, being under a log, or carrying a boat on their head.  More information on Endurance Athlete to BUD/S

Using the skills in the new Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout, the former body builders were able to keep the muscle they gained, add a level of cardio that they never knew possible, and were able to compete on the highest levels of the Spec Ops training and endurance race worlds.  The endurance athletes were able to add some muscle.  In fact, it is funny when you see a cross country runner fill out a tank top for the first time - but it happens. Here are a few comments from the newly transformed tactical athletes :

Some comments from the Body Building / Endurance Athletes - Newly Built Tactical Athletes
Chris from NYC: I feel like 38 going on 18.  And best part - zero muscle loss!!!  Only 8 weeks into your program and I could be a few weeks out if I want to do a BB show.  My workouts are longer than usual, but I have never been in this type of shape.  Sure my BB days I may have had a few points less BF wise - but never had this level of overall fitness with ZERO muscle loss!  I feel completely prepared for my next training challenge.  Steve from SP: I think adding the rucks into the program helped me keep my muscle on even though my weight training was cut in half and adding the calisthenics was WAY harder than a thought.  That and eating like a horse helped me.  Thanks for the advice on training and eating not to lose weight.  The volume of calisthenics makes a whole new workout like you told me!  And I needed a good 48 hours recovery time - no more daily sets of pushups for me.  At least not in this kind of volume.  Now I can do sets of 20 pullups, sets of 80-100 pushups back to back to back with very little "rest" or as you call it - "rest with running." Chandler from SP:  ...went from high school track / XC runner to ROTC scholarship and now on the Ranger Competition Team - still fast at running, killing the PT, and getting better at rucking each time.  Yes - and I now fill out my tank top...ha.

I also found my first book, The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, (calisthenics / cardio only) was a great tool for the heavy powerlifting / body builder who needed to drop some weight in order to be competitive in running, rucking, and swimming BUT already had a foundation in the power lifts / core strength.  Swimming skills also require the athlete to gain flexibility and the static stretches in this program help tremendously in the transformation of the heavyweight powerlifting football player types into leaner, with more muscle stamina but still strong athletes.  Dropping weights for a longer period of time is necessary for this group. It is easy to lose cardiovascular conditioning - in fact, just take a week off and see how your next run or swim feels.  But it is difficult to lose strength.  I have gone months without lifting and when starting a lifting program was back at old max 1 rep lifts in 3-4 weeks.

See how to transform from Powerlifting / Football Player to Spec Ops Student.  I once thought anything over 100yds was long distance.  The transformation to SEAL shape took 18 months to be a competitive SEAL candidate / BUD/S student.  See other testimonials


Special Thanks to Fit Deck and Stud Bar Pullups for donating to the Heroes of Tomorrow Weight Room / Cardio Room project at the Severna Park Community Center

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, just e-mail him 

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published