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Training Smarter and Harder – Know How to Prepare Properly No Matter What Your Weakness

Stew smith

Getting Good at Everything - Requires Time, Smart and Hard Training

Every year, I see countless young (and old) spec ops candidates training for all varieties of jobs that our military and law enforcement branches have to offer.  However, every so often, there is a candidate who is exceptional at something. I am talking faster or stronger than I have ever seen. Whether it be the college swimmer, pro baseball / football player, or the world class lifter or runner, all have exceled in their activities for years, but they ALL bring a boatload of weaknesses to a special ops training journey.  IF these weaknesses are not addressed properly these high level athletes will last a few weeks in their chosen selection/testing either broken or failing to meet the minimum standards. 

#1 Biggest Problem From High Performers

The biggest issue that many of these athletes have is wasting time training to improve scores that they are already crushing and ignoring the elephant in the room - their weaknesses.  For instance, I cannot tell you how many people I have had to convince they were wasting their time BECAUSE of the following:

1 - The Collegiate / Olympic Trials Swimmer - The high level swimmer who is going to break the BUDS swim record, but cannot run the 1.5 mile timed run without getting shin splints or breaking 10 minutes is not going to make it.  There is no need to break a 6 minute swim on the PST when you suck at everything else.  Pull back, score an easy sub 8 min swim and focus your attention on building some running durability, speed, and land based (gravity filled) endurance events. Plus building your strength and muscle mass so you do not get crushed under a log / boats / ruck / heavy equipment is needed to survive the stressful loads of training. This is not a swim meet. 

2 - The Runner Focused on His Five Minute Mile Pace for Timed Runs - Being at SEAL Training and getting a 20 minute 4 mile timed run or going to Ranger School with a 25 minute 5 mile timed run is unheard of. If this is your goal to break records at training, you have to realize that this incredible feat comes with more weaknesses that will literally crush you.  Even if you dropped your pace to 6 minute miles, you would still be in the top 1% of the class.  In fact, all you need is a good sub-7 minute mile pace so you can easily get under 28 minutes 4 mile timed run or a 35 minute 5 mile timed run at Ranger School and you will be well above the minimum standards and in the top of the class still.(32 min at 1st phase BUB/S and 40 min Ranger School). Losing some running ability by putting on some muscle to handle the loads of training is critical to your ability to not break or pass other strength based events. Get in the weight room now!

3 - The Power Lifter Afraid of "Losing His Gainz"- Typically this guys needs to lose weight in order to run faster and do multiple high rep sets of calisthenics (gain muscle stamina). I probably hate this one more than all the others because if you have been to selection programs THESE are typically the loudest guys in the class but the first to quit or fail. If you have a 1000-1500 combined max numbers with bench, dead lift, and squats, first of all - no one cares - and second - you are strong enough to skip the weight room workouts IF you are serious about becoming a member of any spec ops team. If you are afraid of losing weight, you may have weight to lose, but eat more if you need to maintain on the mass you have.  You can actually run, ruck, and swim and maintain your weight as long as you can eat enough calories in the day to stay at your desired weight. 

4 - The Body Builder - You cannot prepare for Spec Ops programs on a body building lift cycle that focuses on a single body part per day. Get out of the weight room and throw that BB routine in the garbage and start taking some of your strengths (strength / muscle stamina) and work on your endurance, maybe add some body fat if you have a hard time floating or swimming. You do not need to build muscle -  well you need to build your heart muscle and work on more cardio.  A better split routine for you would be full upper body followed by cardio and lower body followed by harder cardio (rucks and swims with fins).  These splits should also be mostly calisthenics as you transition from your old training cycles. If you are worried about hard earned and needed mass, you should eat like you are on a weight gain cycle and with all the added cardio you will most likely maintain where you want to be AND get faster running, swimming, and rucking. 

If you have a diverse background of athletics (multi-sports) that actually cycles you through more of the elements of fitness, your training time to transition into spec ops candidate will be less.  For instance, swimmers who can run and lift, lifters who can swim and run, runners who can lift and swim, or just manual labor athletes who have been getting after every day all their lives, these folks may not need but some fine tuning with techniques and training strategies to crush the PT test and training that follows. 

Do Not Confuse the Phases of Tactical Fitness

Remember the phases of tactical fitness.  If you want to become a tactical athlete, you need to know the following:

Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness - Getting TO the Training
Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness - Getting THROUGH Training
Phase 3 of Tactical Fitness - Active Duty Operator

All of these are different and specifics of your future training and current abilities / weaknesses matter to how long your journey will take. 

Set a Performance Starting Line - Not an Arbitrary Timeline

How to Avoid Failing at Selection

- Be Honest with Yourself, Check the EGO at the Door, Assess Yourself and Get to Work on Things You May Hate - See assessment tool and see where you match up with successful candidates from the past. Actually test yourself and discover any weaknesses you may have on the spectrum of the tactical fitness elements.  

- When You Crush the PT Test, Maintain It - Focus on Next Phase - Getting to the training is phase 1 by crushing the PT test. Now you need to focus on getting through the training which means time to build up to longer runs, longer swims with fins, rucking, and some load bearing activities to prepare for the logs, boats, rucks, and equipment carry of your future training. That should look different from your PT test training though you still need to maintain your PT test scores or your final PT test could disqualify you the first week of training. 

- Multiple Weaknesses to Fix in Order to Meet Standards - If you need to work on many competing elements of fitness, cycle them. It is very difficult to increase strength and increase timed run pace at the same time. That is why we have been doing Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization for over 20 years - it works but you have to have a logical time line to increase performance in multiple areas of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, endurance (run,swim,ruck), muscle stamina, mobility, flexibility, grip).  Remember the goal is to get good at everything - not great at one and suck as others.  You can be really good at everything and even great at a few, but this takes time working on weaknesses until they are no longer a weakness. 

- I Have A Way To Do It - There are many ways to prepare for military service and special ops preparation, I have A way that works for many - I don't have THE only way.  Truth is ,THE way is the one that works for you and is part physical fitness preparation, mental toughness development, as well as personal will and discipline.  Your athletic history, strengths and weaknesses have to be addressed first and foremost and then a program can be arranged properly.  My advice for anyone who asks this question is this:  ASSESS YOURSELF, SET GOALS OF PERFORMANCE, GET ON A PROGRAM, DO YOUR RESEARCH - THEN join the military when you have successfully crushed the PT test and started on your journey to get THROUGH the training.  

Personally, coming from a powerlifting / football athlete background, I realized the journey was going to require a lot more running and swimming and calisthenics than I typically enjoyed doing.  In fact, I did not touch a weight for 18 months and focused on becoming a high rep calisthenics and cardio machine and running was still my gut check. At first, I could not run as much as I liked so I biked more at first to help with building the cardio machine as too much running was killing my knees and shins. Eventually, I was able to handle the volume of running, swimming, high rep calisthenics, and strength training to be competitive at selection. Don't be in a hurry - make sure you are ready to join before you even talk to a recruiter. 

But There is More....

There is more to going to selection physically prepared.  Are you mentally prepared to endure the discomfort and pain of things that have nothing to do with fitness?  Cold / hot, sandy, wet, sitting in the dark ocean, or rucking endlessly - there is a moment when you will may ask yourself, "why are you doing this to yourself?"  You need to have a strong answer WHY. 

Quitting or Not Quitting - The Choice is Yours

Failed at Never Quit

Moment of Truth - Your Will

Never Give Up

Secret to Avoid Quitting

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


Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced Fitness Guides 

The Beginner / Intermediate Guide to Fitness
Reclaim Your Life  Erin O'Neill Story (beginner / intermediate)

Veterans Fitness  Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach 
Circuit Training 101  Beginner / Intermediate Guide to the Gym


The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Obstacle Course Workout  Prep for Races or Mil, LE, FF
TRX / Military Style Workouts  Adding TRX to Military Prep Workouts


Tactical Fitness Over 40 Series

Tactical Fitness (40+) Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, Phase 4


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.


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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness store if you're looking to start a workout program to get you TO and THROUGH any tactical fitness training program OR create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to


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