Where Many Spec Ops Candidates Fail to Go
Before I go down this rabbit hole, I will explain where I heard this comment. An older candidate gave his opinion to a younger candidate when asked, "How are you crushing everything like you do?"
The new guy is still in his teens, played sports in high school, and is preparing for the Navy SEAL program. The "older guy" is 23 years old, spent his high school years playing multiple sports, and continued wrestling through college. During the off-season, he practiced swimming, treading, and getting comfortable in the water. My involvement with the "older guy" was to fine-tune his swimming, to be honest. He had all the other scores on PST, longer runs, rucks, swims with fins, lifting, etc...
He continued: "Before I even considered going to SEAL training," the wrestler who can swim said, "I was working out hard since 12 years old, getting my ass beat by high school wrestlers." Practicing, lifting, running (for other sports), and cutting weight during the wrestling season was my life. I always kept in shape and spent the summer working and getting ready for football season. I just lifted more and ran faster for that season. At the end of his story, he said the phrase, "I have spent many years living in the "pain cave."
Don't think of it as the outdated "No Pain - No Gain" quote; I am not trying to break people with this advice. But you will find that time doing hard things, like an 18-hour day full of morning workouts, school/work, sports practice, and then studying on top of it. Those hard labor and stress days will make you resilient and more durable than most in the long run. Time digging deep to keep going even when you have no energy or do not feel like it is an experience like no other that will prepare you for ANYTHING - not just spec ops selection success.
Mental Toughness Defined - Finding the Fuel When the Tank is Empty. But eventually, there will be a day when you do not have time to get faster, stronger, or more durable - you can only get tougher. A personal history in the pain cave can help when that moment shows itself.
Hearing This Interaction Inspired Some Thought
What I took from this interaction was some reflection on my journey and my friends around me. He was not wrong. Years in the pain cave can make you tough for any challenges you have your heart set on. I think where many candidates screw spec ops prep up is they treat it like the kid who is getting ready for football season in 10 weeks. Sure, he may not be a beginner at fitness, but is not "in shape" either. But in 10 weeks, he can get into high school football shape.
You cannot treat a potential military career in special operations like the short-minded student preparing for the next sports season for a few weeks. It may take a year or more time to prepare fully. Set a Performance Line - Not a Timeline. Though I have seen some very tough multisport athletes get ready and perform well in a few months for various spec ops selections, BUT they had years of experience doing all of the things specific to their future training: running, lifting, calisthenics, swimming, load bearing, and just being tougher than the average person.
You need to assess yourself to determine weaknesses and work on them. You need to prepare in phases to become a tactical athlete:
Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness - Crush the PST
Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness - Crush Specific Training Events of Basic, Academy, Selection, etc
Getting To and THROUGH BUDS
So, my question is, "How much time in the pain cave have you honestly spent?"
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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
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These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs.
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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 email@example.com.