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Navy SEAL - Endurance Athlete

stew smith

People often ask me how I personally trained for SEAL training before there were movies, books, and websites helping people prepare. As a former power-lifting football player, what I thought was in shape for military training - was not. I soon learned after arrival at the Naval Academy at age 18 that I was out of military shape. The email below brought back memories of my transition.

Here is an email from a young man seeking to become a Navy SEAL but he is just the opposite from my background of athletics - he is a cross-country runner and swimmer. He asks, “As you might have guessed I strong in the run and swim. In fact, my run and swim times are in the 7 minute zone for both the 500yd swim and the 1.5 mile run. Those are my strengths - I read your Everyone Has A Weakness at BUDS article and mine is my PT and strength. I know you did not have the same issues with your training but what would you recommend for someone like me who can barely get 50 pushups / situps / 8 pullups? I am good on the cardio but fear the log PT, boat carries, and doing hundreds of reps of pushups, situps, pull-ups, etc, etc?”

I had training partners I worked out with that were also swimmers and runners and to be honest, they helped me become a better endurance athlete. In fact, I would organize my workouts so that I had a buddy who I ran with and he made me a stronger runner. Then I would swim with a swimmer who taught me how to swim more efficiently - basically I just watched him swim and picked it up. Then I worked out with several guys who needed help with PT. In a nutshell, if I were you I would find a buddy who likes to lift weights and add in PT exercises on your own. Even if you drop a minute off your 1.5 mile run as you increase is size / muscle mass in your upper body, you will still be in front of the class at BUD/S with an 8 min 1.5 mile run and a 24-25 minute 4 mile timed run. The good news for you is some of the most challenging events are cardiovascular tests like running which is the big killer for most people at BUDS. BUDS is a running man's game they often say as it is the weekly 4 mile timed runs that people fail vs sitting under a log or boat. Logs and boats are challenging and you should have a strong back and shoulders for them but that is mainly for injury prevention. You will not get kicked out for doing poorly under the logs and boats, but it might drive you to quit if you are not prepared.

As you point out - we all have weaknesses but you can really do exceptionally well at BUD/S but you need to add in weighted exercises and your PT scores will soon follow your running scores. Just this week, I had a guy test at 7 min swim, 115 pushups, 110 situps, 24 pullups, and a 7:30 run - he is a former 800m and mile runner in track. He started in your PT score range only 4 month ago. So for you - your transition will be faster than mine - IF you work hard.

FIRST - Start off with a good cycle of 8-12 weeks of calisthenics based exercises to get a solid resistance training base. Exercises like pushups, pullups, situps, flutterkicks, air squats, lunges, and even suspension training. See related articles at: Pullups / Pushups Next Level, TRX Workouts, 8 Count Pushup - Pullup Pyramid, and PT Pyramids.

For your cardio - get really good at 1.5 mile timed runs as well as the weekly running test at BUDS the 4 mile timed run. 1-2 mile ocean swims with fins will be tested weekly so master these distances as well.

NOW - It is right to prepare for the log and boat carries, but no need to FEAR it as the log and boat carries are team work events and the members of your team help disperse the weight of those items you carry. You don't want to let your team down though so get good at holding 50 lbs over your head for 2-3 minutes at a time - just hold it there as the UP Boat and UP Log commands will quickly drain your shoulder stamina. No need to military press max 1 rep weight - that will do you no good in these events. Specifically, I would also add in you high repetition calisthenics three times a week but also hit a second weight room workout that day and focus on moderate weight / repetitions. No need to go into 1-2 rep max weight efforts in ANY lift, but keep the repetitions in the range of 8-10 reps per set. So select a weight in a variety of exercises that build on that weight / repetition ratio.

Since you are a beginner at weight lifting, I would recommend starting easy or getting a coach to show you the lifts - especially Olympic style lifts like dead lift, power clean and related lifts like hang cleans and push presses. If you want a thorough explanation and video view of the following exercises and many more go to the NSCA website at From NSCA - National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Some of my favorites are ideal for beginners in lifting:

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, check out how you can turn a bicep curl, military press, triceps extension into one steady movement involving several joints and balance if you try in standing on one leg. I call this one Multi-Joint Dumbbell #1 or MJDB#1: Make it look like one single movement.

Now add in a squat to the exercise and a real life movement of picking up something off the floor and lifting it over your head is developing into MJDB#2:

Even more challenging is the MJDB#3 where you add in a squat thrust and some pushups:

Also add in leg workouts like the Woodchopper squat and lunge if you are not comfortable with the Olympic barbell lifts:

Wood Chopper Squat with Dumbbell - Hold the dumbbell with both hands over your head in the standing position. Drop to a squat position and at the same time swing your arms down like you were using an ax. Keep your back straight, head up. Use your legs to get the dumbbell over your head by returning to the standing position forcefully.

Wood Chopper Lunges with Dumbbell - Hold dumbbell or medicine ball with both hands and step forward to a down lunge position. Swing dumbbell to the outside of the leg the stepped forward as if you were chopping wood with an ax.

It may take some time to build up to MJDB#3, but as you can see all it took was some imagination and you turned a tired old set of dumbbells into a harder exercise full body movement program. As you progress with your program, add Olympic weight lifting, yoga, and any martial arts movements and you will see a difference in your entire body. Remember fitness is a journey - not a destination so visit a variety of programs.

So to answer the question, I would add more calisthenics and weights to truly make the transition. Focus on your running of 1.5 mile timed runs and 4 mile timed runs. Anything over 5-6 miles can be done on a slower pace like 7-8min miles. If you have a beach - run in the sand to get that feeling down. Make your swimming more 1-2 miles long with fins to get used to the strain on your feet, ankles, calves, hamstrings when wearing fins in the ocean. You may need to gain weight - see Weight Gain information and remember you have to eat more than you burn in a day to gain weight. So eat like my beagle - who eats every meal like he is never going to eat again in his life.

Also remember the 10% rule: The “10% rule” applies for increasing volume from week to week. This tends to prevent injury in gung ho type A’s that know more is better. 10% rule – only increase your weight room volume (sets/reps, distance or minutes trained) 10% from week to week and every 3rd or 4th week plateau for a week to allow the body to compensate for the increase.

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