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Pre-Enlistment to Boot Camp and Beyond: How to Prepare for the Rigors of Special Ops Selection

Stew smith

Your Journey to Special Ops: 
From Pre-Enlistment to Advanced Training Pipeline
- Here's What You Need to Know - 

Have you been considering becoming a military special operations member since you can remember? Ask yourself a few questions:

- Do you understand the long process of joining the military? 

- How much research have you done on all the options available throughout our military? 

- Have you been training all of your life for this huge physical challenge? (sports, manual labor, extracurriculars, working out, etc)

- Are you really ready to take on the challenge and go through the process to become part of this elite group?

Check out this 10-Step To-Do List to help you understand you may not be as ready as you think. The truth is, most spec ops candidates are nowhere near ready to get TO and THROUGH selection. This is why attrition rates are so high in all of these programs. Do yourself a favor and prepare smartly long before you join the military: 

But, you might be feeling unsure of where to start or how to navigate the rigorous training pipeline. Don't worry - we've got you covered. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you go from civilian to military special ops member.

Step 1: Start Training Specifically for Pre-enlistment Fitness Tests
Your athletic history matters in how you should prepare for special ops training, as your strengths and weaknesses are largely determined by your previous 4-5 years. Your first step is to assess yourself to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Then, start training specifically for the pre-enlistment fitness tests, and do not ignore your weakness. This is a crucial part of the process, and it's important to ensure that you're physically prepared for the challenges ahead. You will never become a special operator if you cannot pass competitive fitness tests at some point. The Air Force and Navy require that you take fitness tests before attending Basic Military Training / Boot Camp. The Army and USMC will require these entry-level fitness tests when you have completed Basic Training/Boot Camp and before your Assessment and Selection. Practice these and exceed the standard.

Be a Better Spec Ops Recruit!

Weakness Will be Exposed on Day 1 of Spec Ops Training

Read About Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness - Getting TO the Selection

Learn to Swim BEFORE You Talk to a Recruiter

Step 2: Understand Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Spec Ops Tactical Fitness - Getting TO and THROUGH Selection

Next, make sure you understand the phases of spec ops tactical fitness. Getting to and through selection is rigorous, and you must be prepared for the physical and mental demands of fitness tests and events that make the Special Ops program you select "special." This will include longer runs, rucks, longer swims with fins, load bearing of equipment, gear, people, boats, and logs, as well as general discomfort of long days and nights in the elements (cold, hot, humid, wet, sandy, etc).

Assess yourself and discover your strengths and weaknesses compared to those who perform well in special ops programs. 

Read About Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness - Getting THROUGH Selection

Step 3: Research the Branch of Service, Training Locations, and Process to Become Accepted

Research the branch of service you want to join, the specific training locations, and the acceptance process. Understanding the requirements and expectations will help you prepare accordingly. You should treat this with the excitement of learning more about what has been driving you toward this decision to serve your country in this capacity. This is a great time to focus on WHY you want to do this. 
WHY are you interested? Do you have a good answer when your will is tested? Do you even know where you will be living when you join? After training?

Related Research Article on All Special Ops Programs and Training. 

Step 4: Visit the Recruiter and Get the Administrative Paperwork / ASVAB / Medical Reviews Started

Once you've researched and prepared for the fitness tests, the recruiter will take you more seriously on this first visit. It's time to get the administrative paperwork, ASVAB, and medical reviews started. This is the first official step in the enlistment process. However, in my opinion, most candidates go wrong because they skip steps 1,2,3 and talk to the recruiter WAY too early (underprepared). If you have done Steps 1,2,3 - now get your affairs together to talk to a recruiter. Be ready to deal with a mountain of paperwork, identification checks, medical reviews, tests, and potential waivers. This can take months, but if you go in ready to crush a fitness test, you can focus on getting THROUGH selection by specifically addressing those longer runs, rucks, swims, pool skills, load-bearing activities, and much more. 

Step 5: Crush the PT Test on the First Attempt and Start Preparing for the Specifics of the Selection

You will have to take a fitness test at some point. Be so prepared that you have done this test dozens of times before and know how to ace this test even on a bad day. Once you've completed the administrative requirements, you can crush the physical fitness test on your first attempt. This will be the first of many fitness tests you must conquer. Imagine learning about the fitness test on your first visit to the recruiter's office, signing up, and starting training. Now, you are on the recruiter's timeline - not yours. If you are lucky and can eventually pass the fitness test to get selected to join the military with a special ops contract, will you be prepared to get THROUGH selection? You will likely run out of time if you spend months on the Delayed Entry Program failing fitness tests. Besides, do you think you look like a serious candidate to those giving fitness tests if you are a weekly PT test failure? This is why you want to crush this PT test on the first attempt...then you have time to prepare for the harder challenge - getting THROUGH selection. 

Step 6: Attend Basic Training / Boot Camp - Learn how to become a sailor, marine, soldier, or airman (Add extra training if Navy/Air Force)

After passing the fitness test and swearing into the military, it's time to ship to basic training or boot camp. This is where you'll learn the fundamentals of becoming a military member. Take this part seriously and treat it as a necessary stepping stone to your next training program. Following orders and being a more disciplined person is going to be a big part of the process. Embrace it and let it make you a better recruit. Add extra PT when you can, as you may get deconditioned while attending Navy or Air Force basic training compared to your pre-service training efforts. 

Step 7: Attend Prep Courses after Basic Training / Initial Schools 

After basic training, you must attend prep courses or additional training, depending on your chosen service branch. These are perfectly timed before the more challenging training immediately following this pre-training phase. Make sure you focus on your recovery as you train harder again and put the final preparations on before you start selection. This means nutrition and sleep need to be taken seriously. Relax on your off days when you can. 

This is the last ditch effort period to work on your weaknesses. You may want to spend some free time working on technique and conditioning. See ideas here. 

Step 8: Work Hard to Get Back into Spec Ops Level Conditioning (after Basic)

Work hard to get back into spec ops level conditioning after basic training. This will require a dedicated effort to regain the fitness level required for spec ops selection. But, at the same time, do not burn yourself out and peak too soon. If de-conditioned after basic training, build up progressively, avoid injury, and focus on your weaknesses.  It is time to put your game face on, as it is all about getting started now...

Add Extra Workouts for Spec Ops Prep

Step 9: Game Time - Your Spec Ops Selection Program is the Test
Now, it's game time. Your spec ops selection program is the ultimate test, and it will require mental toughness and physical prowess to succeed. At first, these selections will test your will and be a gut-check more than anything else. However, after the hardest part of the training, the training is still difficult, but the added tactical skills you must learn make it more run (but just as challenging). Learning tactical skills (diving, shooting, navigating, patrolling, etc.) is also an area where people fail. Listen, practice, and learn these skills and pass the more tactically demanding tests each week of training. 

Step 10: Attend Advanced Training Pipeline

If you pass the selection program, you'll attend the advanced training pipeline to prepare for your military special ops team member role. These phases of training are both fun and challenging on a tactical level. Training is NOT over just because you finished the selection. In fact, it has really just begun. You will be fed these new tactical skills and techniques through a firehose and required to perform these new abilities to the instructor's standard. Exceeding the Standard IS the Standard is still a mantra you need to continue throughout your training pipeline and into the special ops teams. 

In conclusion, going from civilian to military special ops member is challenging, but with dedication and perseverance, it's entirely achievable. By following this step-by-step guide and staying focused on your goal, you can confidently navigate the special ops training pipeline and achieve your dream of becoming a part of this elite group. Good luck!

Are you ready to take on the challenge of becoming a military special operations member? Visit this Spec Ops Fitness page for more access to special ops fitness training and prepare yourself for the rigorous selection process. Your journey to becoming part of this elite group starts here!

Need Programming for Fitness Tests and Beyond?  We are all about getting you TO and THROUGH your future training program.  See how that works.  

There is More To than You May Know

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more) 

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical 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 do just about anything. We have a system 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.  

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)

Increase Strength & Crush the PST / PAST
3 Weeks Strength - 1 Week PT / Cardio Focus 
(16 weeks)

These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

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

Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops 

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


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


Online Coaching Options

Online PT CLUB - Weekly Workouts created personally for you.

New Member's Only Content / Services Program!

If you want access to years worth of workouts, many of the top eBOOKs, favorite workouts of the week, free fitness APP, closed Facebook Group, video / picture library of exercises, and more access to LIVE Q/A sessions check out the Stew Smith Fitness Members Section

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.


Questions?  Just email -

At - List of Products and Services

  1. FREE Articles
  2. Podcasts and Swimming Videos (Youtube, TikTok, Instagram)
  3. eBooks
  4. Books and eBooks in PRINT
  5. Stew Smith Fitness Club membership site
  6. Online Coaching  

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