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The Path to Becoming a Special Operations Candidate: What It Takes to Succeed

Stew smith

The Steps to Making It To and Through Selection: What You NEED to Know

I can usually see the answer to this question when I ask a few questions of recruits / candidates who tell me they want to become a ________ special operator. If any of these issues below are you, you have more work ahead of you than you realize and may put yourself on a timeline that will not work for you:

- When I ask you your fitness test scores and you do not know the test events or competitive standards. 
- When you do not know your own PT scores, have not trained for it, do not know how to run, swim, etc...for the distances required. (and you are already in the delayed entry program)
- When you tell me you are failing the PST with your recruiter/mentor and have a month to pass before ship date. 
- If these are you, no one is taking you seriously...yet

Read more about the Top 10 Mistakes Recruits Make EVERY YEAR...

Step 1: Research and Self-Assessment -  Training for Special Operations: What You Need to Know - First and foremost, do your research and conduct an honest self-assessment. Understand the physical and mental demands of special operations and ask yourself if you are truly ready to commit to this lifestyle. Take into consideration the sacrifices you will have to make and assess your own strengths and weaknesses.

- The first step on your journey to becoming a special operations candidate is to conduct thorough research on the different special operations units such as Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Special Tactics. Understand the requirements, training pipeline, and the role of the unit you seek to become. 

- View official military webpages to understand the recruiting / testing process. 

- Conduct a self-assessment to evaluate your physical, mental, and emotional readiness for the rigors of special operations training. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and set realistic goals for improvement. Focus on weaknesses!

- Spec Ops Research Article
- Self Assessment Tool

Here is a story of my own personal journey starting at 18 years old.

Step 2: Establish a Training Plan - Successfully Prepare for Special Operations Selection - Once you’ve determined that this is the path you want to pursue, get on a training plan. Identify the specific physical fitness requirements of special operations and create a comprehensive workout schedule to suit your needs. This will likely include a mix of strength training, endurance exercises, and grinding through daily training to build mental preparation techniques.

- Learn about the TWO phases of tactical fitness that apply to you:  1 - Getting TO the Training (ace tests) and 2 - Getting THROUGH the training (prepare for selection)

- Based on your self-assessment, develop your weaknesses and maintain your strengths. A training plan that focuses on improving your strength and endurance (durability / work capacity), mental toughness, and longer distances of running, swimming, rucking, and specialized skills such as treading and water confidence is key. Need help - See

Step 3: Seek Mentorship and NetworkingMentorship and networking are important too especially if you can meet and get to know people who were or are still in the special operations community. Half of your success does rely on "seeing is believing". Once you know people who have done what you want to do, it takes the "impossibility" factor out of training that boasts 75-80+% attrition rates. Current or former special operations personnel have insights and advice that can be invaluable as you navigate the training pipeline.

- Reach out to current and former special operations personnel who can provide mentorship, guidance, and advice on the selection process and training preparation.
- Network with peers who share the same aspirations and engage in group workouts, training sessions, and knowledge sharing to stay motivated and accountable. Having a buddy doing the same thing as you is so important as "iron sharpens iron", BUT you also need to be self-disciplined and not require a buddy. 

Step 4: Prepare for the Selection ProcessOnce you have crushed the PT test and can exceed the standards even on a bad day, it’s time to start preparing to get THROUGH selection and get the paperwork started for a special operations contract with the recruiter. Be prepared to face challenges and setbacks along the way, but stay committed to your goal. Medical paperwork can delay your ship date, but trust me - use it to your advantage and train more for selection specifics that you know will be your personal weakness. Extra time is most often a blessing for your selection prep!

- Study the selection process of your desired special operations unit in detail. Understand the physical, mental, and academic standards, as well as the assessment criteria used during the selection phase.
- Train specifically for the selection process by incorporating mock events and simulations that mirror the challenges you will face. Practice the skills required and develop strategies to excel in each phase of selection.

Step 5: Mentally Prepare for Training - As you physically prepare for the selection process, don’t forget to mentally prepare as well. Mental toughness is just as important as physical fitness in special operations. Develop strategies for managing stress and learn to embrace discomfort as part of the training process. More than half of your mental toughness comes from just "how bad you want it". "Everyone wants to be a frogman on a sunny day", as the saying goes. Do you still want to do it when you are cold, wet, sandy, tired, hungry, in pain, and no end in sight to this particular day?  This is a question only you can answer but you have to have an answer when any type of doubt starts to creep into your internal dialogue. Remember:

- Don't Listen to Yourself - Talk to Yourself.  (article)

- And - there will come a time, when you cannot get stronger or faster and you can only get tougher.  (article)

- Focus on mental resilience and psychological readiness for the intense training ahead. Engage in positive outcome visualization exercises, stress management techniques (breathing), and mindset training to prepare for the mental and emotional demands of special operations training.

Step 6: Apply for Special Operations Contract - Do not even consider starting the process if you have never taken a PST on your own before. Make sure you show up for your "job interview" entrance exam ready to crush it. Failing it on day one forces your recruiters to see your lack of preparation for a profession that requires a lifetime of preparation and no one will take you seriously. But, if you show up and crush the test on day 1, they will take you very seriously. 

- Complete the necessary application and paperwork required to apply for a special operations contract with your chosen unit. See official websites of the job you want to verify what you need to have with you in hand when you meet the recruiter in person for the first time. 
- Seek the support of mentors and peers to review and refine your application materials, verify recruiter comments, update resumes, letters of recommendation (if needed), and fitness scores.

Step 7: Navigating the Training Pipeline SuccessfullyLastly, as you await entry into the training pipeline, continue to prepare yourself both physically and mentally. Keep refining your fitness and mental toughness, as the journey is far from over once you are accepted into the program.

- Upon successfully securing a special operations contract, transition your focus to preparing for the specific training pipeline of your selected unit. Research the training curriculum, standards, and expectations to gain a comprehensive understanding of what lies ahead.
- Continue refining your physical fitness, mental toughness, and specialized skills to meet and exceed the requirements of the training pipeline.

By following this step-by-step recruit / candidate journey tailored to your intermediate experience level, you will be well-equipped to navigate the process of getting accepted into special operations and successfully graduating selection. This comprehensive plan will provide you with the necessary guidance and structure to achieve your ultimate goal of preparing properly to endure special operations training. 

Check out the New Two Phases of Tactical Fitness Course - Getting to and Through Selection

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  

Stew Smith Fitness 

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