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The ITA Loop of Preparation for Spec Ops Training

Stew smith

If you have done any military reading, you may have heard of the OODA Loop (learn more) - a process we initiate every time we decide to act or not in any given situation. But here is something new - The ITA Loop!

This week, I first heard of the preparation process I nicknamed the ITA Loop from a Midshipman at the Naval Academy giving a quick five minute presentation. The concepts are nothing new to those who have selected a challenging goal, but the loop process is a great way of understanding how the journey to the ultimate achievements of getting TO and THROUGH Special Ops Selection programs must occur and continue to reoccur. 

The ITA Loop of Spec Ops Preparation

The journey or loop is a consistent work project complete with hard work on identified weaknesses, a maintenance of strengths, and honest assessments and adjustments to training depending upon progress, injuries, or other setbacks. This loop, which stands for Identify, Train, and Assess, is an important part of the preparation process. It is the foundation of your journey to becoming a successful special operations candidate (or anything in life for that matter).


The first step in the ITA Loop is to Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and objective with yourself in the scoring of these elements of fitness, and specific training events. Do you meet the above average standards or exceed them? If not, it is a weakness. Take the time to identify where you are and where you want to be. This will help you to create a plan for success.

For instance, many people start this journey with an athletic history that will typically define a series of strengths and weaknesses brought to the table. This will also help you determine a logical timeline that you may need to use for your training. However, it is best to set up a Performance STARTING LINE vs a somewhat arbitrary timeline set on perceived progress. 

See Spec Ops Assess Tool to help you identify the many elements of fitness and some specific events you need to master long prior to even talking to a recruiter.


Once you have identified the strengths and weaknesses, it is time to Train. This is the most important part of the ITA Loop and it is essential that you take the time to understand the training methods and techniques needed to complete your objectives. Special operations training requires a vast amount of physical, mental, and even emotional preparation. From physical conditioning to technical skills training, you must be prepared for the rigors of the training.

Understanding the elements of fitness (pictured below) as well as the phases of tactical fitness is a must:

Phase 1 - Training to Get Accepted INTO the Spec Ops Selection Course

Qualifying for any special ops profession requires crushing the fitness test first, but also passing MEPS (medical review), ASVAB, and other tests such as criminal records and financial checks (not in high debt). Most of the attrition actually happens here due to people not qualifying for other reasons than physical fitness. Many also fail to pass the PST with above average scores thus ending their spec ops dream before they even start boot camp. My rules in this phase are the following:

- Be a Better Recruit - Do not even talk to a recruiter until you are crushing the PST. 

Timeline - Your preparation may take time. Understand the possible Spec Ops recruit timeline 

- Learn How to Crush the PST - Actually train for the PST if you want to be competitive. BUT your training does not stop there. 

Take the PST so many times you create a strategy for success and can pass the test even on a bad day. 


Phase 2 - Training to Get THROUGH the Spec Ops Selection Course (aka graduate)

This is where training usually transitions from focus on the elements of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, endurance - run-ruck-swim, muscle stamina, mobility, flexibility, grip) to mastering specific events of your future training. Longer runs, rucks, swims with fins, treading, pool competency skills, load bearing activity (logs / boats / equipment), and others depending on your school of instruction.


The final step of the ITA Loop is to Assess. Throughout your training, it is important to evaluate your progress otherwise you are just guessing. Worse, by not assessing regularly, you could be leaving a weakness underprepared which will be exposed on the first week of Spec Ops Selection training.

This assessment is much more than just physical scores and times. It is also an assessment on how you feel (aches, pains, injuries). Are you fully recovered each weekend or day off? Can you do a leg day and not have it affect your long run time a day or two later?

The Assessment can be done through a variety of methods, such as performance assessments, physical therapy visits, and other lab work (blood / urine) evaluations to assess stress hormones and basic health numbers. This is an essential part of the process, as it helps you be able to identify improvements, plateaus, and progressions toward be ready to go. 

By following the ITA Loop of Spec Ops Preparation, you can make sure that you are fully prepared for the rigors of Spec Ops training. This also means taking a look at how far you've come and how much you've improved. You should also assess how far you have to go and what else you need to do to become a successful Spec Ops operator. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing today! 

Training is What We Do: 

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

Scroll below for complete list of training programs.

There is More To than a 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.  

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
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 -

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