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How Good is Good Enough in Spec Ops?

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Throughout your journey into the military and perhaps as you move into a special ops selection, you will hear people describing their PT scores as “good”, “great”, “optimal”, or even the occasional “PT animal”. But what is “Good Enough”? Of course, all of these scores are relative to the person, programming, branch of service, and the person evaluating these scores and abilities of candidates.  As a tactical fitness trainer with decades of this type of training, this article is going to try to add some objectivity to a rather vague scoring process to better guide candidates along the journey of getting to and through selection and getting good enough at everything.

Navigating through the Three Phases of Tactical Fitness (specifically Spec ops Selection process) will begin as a confusing and challenging process on what you need to do, questioning did you do enough, and constantly asking yourself are you really prepared. The number one question to ask yourself is, “what is my weakness?”  How do you determine you have a weakness?  To what standards? Below is a range of scores going from Good Enough to PT Animal.  Anything lower than “good enough” will still be well over the minimum standards so you qualify with these scores. However, you may have to engage your mental toughness and dip deep not to be in the bottom half of the class or borderline failure to meet the standard throughout selection in certain events. One thing about Special ops selection courses like BUD/S, Air Force Special Warfare, Army Special Forces, Marine RECON / MarSOC, and others like Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and SWAT Team training, your weakness will be exposed in the first days of training typically.

First Phase Getting TO the Training

There are many Special Ops fitness tests used by our military, but most will involve similar exercises like pushups, pullups, situps, and running various distances and some will include swimming.  This assessment will determine whether or not you get to attend these competitive training programs so getting good enough is typically not good enough.  You will need to push the optimal scores.  Anything near or better than the following PT scores and times will put you in good stead as you journey through phase 1 of tactical fitness – getting selected.

Optimal Scores

Testing Event

Reps / Time

Pushups

80-100+ / 2 minutes

Situps

80-100+ / 2 minutes

Pullups

20+

1.5 mile run (Navy, AF)

9 minutes or faster

2 mile run (Army)

12 minutes or faster

3 mile run (USMC)

18 minutes or faster

5 Mile run (Army Ranger)

35 minutes or faster

500yd / m swim (Navy / AF)

8:20 or faster


*Notice I am not discussing the minimum standards, you can look those up on the official websites for recruiting, but by no means should the minimum standards be the ultimate goal for any person seeking special operations selection in their future.  Typically, the minimum standards are not good enough.  However, there is a small percentage of graduates who were accepted on the minimum standards and found a way to gut out every challenging day after the next and meet the standards / not quit / or get injured.

When it comes to training for both getting to and through the training, what is good enough?  Here are some rules to consider:

1 – Stop doing daily PT!  Daily pushups, pullups, and situps are not required.  Many times people do 500 pushups, 100-200 pullups, and 500-1000 situps / ab exercises seven days a week. Do upper body PT one day followed by cardio and lower body PT / weights the next. Your body needs to recover especially if you are pushing these kind of numbers in your workouts. Besides if you can do that many reps in a workout – THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH!  Move onto another weakness – maybe running, rucking, swimming. If you can score 80-100 reps in pushup / situps per 2 minutes and 20 pullups – that is good enough, but pushing some more throughout the workout building a higher volume of 200-300 reps and 100+ pullups on upper body days is good enough foundation in muscle stamina to be useful in spec ops selection.

2 – Running 50+ miles a week – To be honest, that is plenty – way better than good enough and perhaps too much if you are starting to display injury and aches / pains caused by running (feet, shins, knees, hips).  Depending upon your background and military branch, you most likely need to focus on faster paced 4-6 mile runs and rucks more than 10-15 mile runs.  At BUD/S, if you do not pass the 4 mile timed run every week at roughly a 7 minute mile pace or faster, you will be kicked out.  That is 26 weeks of 4 mile timed runs.  Getting better at faster paced / shorter runs and limiting weekly totals to 30-35 miles is good enough.   Some will argue even less and 25 miles per week is plenty – they just need to all be at 7 min mile pace or faster.  Build a sub-6 minute mile pace for your shorter PT testing runs and a 6-7 minute mile pace for your longer 4-6 mile runs.

3 – Swimming - If you are a swimmer, you may not need to spend much time in the water and focus on other weaknesses – getting used to gravity (weights, load bearing / rucking, running).  However, many people have swimming as a weakness and must train in the pool near daily (5-6 days a week) in order to get into “good enough” swimming shape.  The goal pace that will put you in “good enough” and even in the top half of the class is a yard per second no matter what distance with or without fins.

500 yds or 500m in 500 seconds = 8:20 swim – that is great!  Many of the groups I work with consider this their “personal” minimum standard which puts them in the top 25% of the class.

1000 yds in 1000 seconds = 16:40 with fins.  Once again – a yard per second is a good / great pace to strive for as you prepare to make swimming not a weakness.  If you can already do that – move onto something else.  Keep this pace up for 2000yds, or 1 nautical mile, and you have a 32-33 minute time. If you can do your two-mile ocean swim in roughly 60-65 minutes or faster, you will be good enough and in the top half of most classes.  Faster than an hour in a 2 mile swim is great / optimal level score.

Rucking – In some selection programs, you will see a rucking pace that must be kept or you fail to meet the standards.  These range in speed and distance, but a good enough / fast, but steady sustainable rucking pace is 10-12 minutes per mile.  Typically, the minimum standard is 15 minute mile pace or 4 miles an hour, but if you can get closer to 5 miles an hour, you will be top half of the class and likely meet those mystery distance rucks where you do not know the distance when you start.

So, do not spend your time doing more and more of the things you are good at doing. You need to also get good at things that will be tested in both the testing phase and the selection phases. Do your research and understand what you are about to endure and practice it.  Practice your weaknesses until they actually become a good enough strength.  And don’t do it until you get in right – do it until you cannot get it wrong – even on a bad day.  That type of fitness foundation will be what you need to be a competitive tactical athlete no matter what program you are training for. 

What is Good Enough for a Tactical Athlete? Getting GOOD at strength, power, muscle stamina, cardiovascular endurance, grip, speed / agility, flexibility / mobility, as well as specifics like swim, ruck, and run.

 

Related Articles for Recruits Seeking Spec Ops:

Perfect Storm for Failure

Ready to Meet the Recruiter

Questions To Ask Yourself – Are You Ready?

Know the Standards

 



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