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Navy SEAL Mental Toughness Through Physical Training

stew smith

Bridging the Gap: How to Prepare Mentally and Physically for the BUD/S Physical Screening Test

In preparation for any Special Operations training program, it is common to question whether you have what it takes to tough it out. The minimum standards for the BUD/S Physical Screening Test (PST) are a hot topic of discussion this week.

The previously accepted minimum standards for the BUD/S Physical Screening Test (PST) required candidates to meet the following criteria, with the updated standards highlighted in red:

-- Swim 500 yards. Maximum time allowed is 12 minutes 30 seconds (12:30)
-- Max push-ups. Minimum number is 42 in 2 minutes (50)
-- Max sit-ups. Minimum number is 50 in 2 minutes (50)
-- Max pull-ups. Minimum is six with no time limit, but you cannot touch the ground or let go of the bar (10)
-- 1.5-mile run. The maximum time allowed for this one is 10 minutes, 30 seconds, (10:30 in shoes)

From 6 Pull-ups to 20 Reps: Inside the Evolution of the BUD/S Physical Screening Test - With just 6 pull-ups and slow run and swim times, it's natural to question whether anyone can truly complete BUD/S with such minimum standards. However, it is advised to aim higher, as the current BUD/S requirements demand swimming 500 yards in 9-10 minutes, max push-ups of 80-100 reps in 2 minutes, max sit-ups of 80-100 reps in 2 minutes, max pull-ups of 15-20 reps, and a 1.5-mile run in 9-10 minutes.

If you are not exceeding the standards and just reaching the minimums of the PST, your chances of getting through training are slim. Remember - Exceeding the Standard IS the Standard when going for any Spec Ops or competitive training program. However, there are people who up their game having entered BUD/S on the minimum standards and actually graduate and become SEALs. These students had to engage a level of mental toughness multiple times per day as someone with higher physical abilities may not have to except on events like getting wet/sandy, log PT, boat carry, and just sitting in cold ocean water. 

How Did These Guys Do It? 

Intentional Disassociation: The Secret Weapon for Enduring Special Ops Training - But here's the thing: physical prowess alone does not guarantee success. The ability to intentionally disassociate, or disengage from your body and focus on something other than pain, boredom or discomfort, is crucial. I call it going to my "happy place".  This type of disassociation is a skill that can be developed for endurance and stamina. Former SEALs have described disassociation as vital during training, but in real-life high-stress, high-stakes situations you have to be mentally engaged with the creative thinking part of your brain. You cannot problem solve when you are in your happy place.

Though any type of focus can get you through the types of pain and discomfort we all are forced to embrace in these programs. That is one reason why I like to coach repetitive workouts like the pyramid or multi-set supersets where you just get into a mode of grinding it out while forced to think about something else. 

Intentional Disassociation is not the same as the dissociative disorder often caused by traumatic events—it is a tool one can use to endure long, painful, and tiresome events. Examples of how disassociation is used in different scenarios were provided, including the use of focus to deal with pain during a dental visit, long-distance running, swimming, and high-rep PT workouts.

The ability to disassociate is a valuable skill for those seeking an elite force position, but it's equally important to maintain tactical and logical thinking throughout. As the saying goes, "No 30-45 minute gym workout will truly prepare you for a day in Special Ops Training. You have to put in the time." Lots of monotonous and repetitive time. 

Consider The Following:

- Striving well above the minimum standards for the BUD/S Physical Screening Test (PST) will help you more than you realize and put you in a better mindset vs. striving for the minimums. Plus getting TO the training does not guarantee you get THROUGH the training. Learn about the two phases of tactical fitness you need to develop thoroughly before getting to BUDS. Check out the Online Course - Getting TO and THROUGH Special Ops Selection.

- Physical prowess alone does not guarantee success in BUD/S training; building mental toughness through hard physical and uncomfortable events especially when you do not FEEL like it will one day give you the ability to disengage from pain and discomfort.

- Intentional Disassociation is a skill that can be developed for durability, work capacity, situational endurance and event stamina, and is used in extended scenarios such as rucking, load bearing events (logs/boats), running, swimming, and high-rep PT workouts.

- You do not build mental toughness in a single event. You build it one scoop at a time doing countless difficult things throughout the day that make you tougher.  (early morning workouts, cold, wet, sandy, long runs / rucks, etc). Doing these things especially when you do not feel like is key to being able to push harder when needed. 

- "No 30-45 minute gym workout will truly prepare you for a day in Special Ops Training. You have to put in the time."

Dive deeper into the world of Tactical Athlete training and mental toughness by exploring Stew Smith Fitness Programming for the Tactical Athlete online store. Uncover the strategies and techniques used by elite forces to push past physical and mental barriers. Visit now and equip yourself with the tools for success for many special ops level selection programs in the military and police world. 

Who is Stew Smith? Coach, Trainer, Author, Podcaster

I'm the former Navy SEAL that special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to just about anything. We have a systems where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics.  When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run, less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

My most recent programs that walk you through these four cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks)

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts Where Optimal Performance Will Be Tested Each Day

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


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Online PT CLUB - Weekly Workouts created personally for you.

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The dashboard below has the links to all the information, archives, videos, and links to workouts, podcasts, live Q and A lessons. 

Consider this! - A Membership Program and Gain Access to Exclusive Content
(click for Fitness Club Dashboard - members only)

Best of all, if you have questions, email Stew Smith himself (  Join the tactical fitness group discussions, latest articles, videos, podcasts at the Stew Smith Tactical Fitness Training Closed Group on Facebook.


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