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When Is the Right and Wrong Time to do a Gut Check Event During Spec Ops Preparation Phase?

Stew smith

There is a Fine Line Between Mentally Tough and Stupid...

There is a fine line between pushing and building your mental toughness with hard gut check style events and stupidity.  Mentally Tough or Stupid?  That is the question a young man recently asked me about his preparation for one of our nation's special ops programs.  Here is his question:

I am joining the Marine Corps this year with the intent to go infantry, RECON, and later into the MARSOC community.  Do you think it is smart to start running longer physical fitness evolutions, building up to 24 hour events?  My biggest concern is I don't think I could get anyone else to do it with me, and doing anything like that without a buddy makes me instantly uneasy.  Really, the whole purpose behind it would be to test and build my mental toughness and ability to persevere and follow through on what I set out to do.  Is this a smart idea? I appreciate your thoughts.  Thanks in advance - John

If you consider your timeline, you have a few years to prepare yourself for the rigors of a special ops selection program (RECON / MarSOC), though the USMC Boot Camp is legit and the School of Infantry will be challenging as well. So before you start preparing for too many gut checks, focus on what you are about to endure in the next year or so.  Your focus should be on crushing the USMC PFT, rucking, and practicing the events of the USMC Combat Fitness Test (CFT).  Those are your immediate needs and anything else is really just something "fun" to do and try. 

Personally, I would not do too many of those 24+ hour events, maybe one and a race event before you leave (within a year) is never a bad experience for pre-spec ops training. If you have more time (like 2-3 years), you can definitely do more. But you do not need to do them alone. Consider programs like the SOCOM Athlete Hellday events, or try an Obstacle Course race, or events are great way to prepare for longer Spec Ops / Rucking / Infantry training days with like minded people.  These are fun races and even gut checks that will be a good challenge and you can build up to during your training cycles. 

The reason why I say limit what gut check events you do when you have months remaining before you enter the military is because there is always a risk at getting injured and screwing up your training for weeks or months even. 

For instance, I would say the same thing to other athletes:

Triathlete - One SEAL candidate was into doing triathlons and riding his bike on the road.  I recommended him reduce the practice bike riding (do stationary bike) just for safety purposes six months before his shipped.  The reason I made this recommendation was a candidate got hit by a car about 3 months before his ship date and was postponed for a year while he healed up / got medical waivers for surgeries, etc.  An accident but not smart. 

MMA Fighter and other contact sports (rugby etc) - Several injuries have occurred with this type of client from BJJ, boxing, wrestling, and MMA fighting.  Broken fists, hyper extended joints and concussions are common with these activities.  Months prior to shipping out you should stop to avoid this type of injuries.  

Endurance Runner Or even worse a non-running athlete using an endurance race as a gut check.  These do not typically end well for the spec ops candidate looking to test his mettle. I have seen severe shin injuries, knees, and hip injuries that prevented the candidate from running for 2-3 months. If you do that too close to your ship out date, it could interfere with your abilities to meet / exceed the standards.  Some have even had to have surgery - once again - great gut check or stupid? 

Going USMC, Infantry, RECON, MarSOC

One of my favorite posters from the 80s - Had it hanging in my room

For what you want to do, running, rucking, swimming, and PT are the bare minimum of what you should be mainly focused on.  If load bearing or swimming are weaknesses,  you should also mix in a lift cycle to build more durability and practice swimming and treading (with clothes on!) as well.  The RECON Screener weekend is no joke and will test your water skills, PFT, CFT, Obstacle Course, and rucking abilities. You can get screened as early as during the Infantry Training Battalion phase (ITB) but with covid in 2020-21 that maybe reduced significantly. But these RECON screening tests are a regular ocurrence at Lejuene and Pendleton on a weekend each month usually. 

MarSOC is even further down the road for you as you become a veteran Marine - see MarSOC Raider Recruiting pages. 

One thing you need to know is that there is no 45 minute gym workout that will prepare you for a day of any Spec Ops training program.  Do too many workouts like as your training prep and you will last a few hours during your actual training in the Marines. So you need to up your game but with concerns for safety and injury prevention as well. 

Putting in the Time -Your rucks will be 3 hours some days.  Add in long runs and rucks, a long swim, and your weights and PT workouts and you are talking about 3-4 hours of training in a day.  That is a decent gut check especially if you can make it an "easy day". 

BUT you have to progress to that level – don’t just jump into a 10-15 mile run, ruck, gut check event out of nowhere.  That is one sure way of getting injured and screwing up your training timeline.

The short answer is - build up to gut check events over time.  If you do a gut check, make sure you have time to recover and do not do something new and that lasts 24+ hours as someone who is not conditioned for it physically.  There is no sense in breaking yourself physically to make yourself mentally tougher - you just did a stupid thing if you do that. That is the difference between mentally tough and stupid.  

More Options: USMC Prep


Tactical Fitness or Tactical Strength training are good ways to build a foundation of all the elements of tactical fitness for candidate preparation you will need. Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility is an ALL-encompassing program that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete

The Warrior Workout Series - If you are solid with making your own workouts, but need some ideas.  This three part series has 300 workouts (100 / book) to pick from focusing on all the elements of fitness and training programs. Each book is organized with periodization cycles in mind along with calisthenics only, weights / calisthenics mix, cardio options and more. Warrior Workout 1   -  Warrior Workout 2  -   Warrior Workout 3. 

Personalized Training Programs
There are many more options as well as personalized training programs member's only program and the new :

Questions?  Just email me at

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