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When Your Training Goals Are Taking You in the Wrong Direction

Stew smith

When Your Training Goals Are
Taking You in the Wrong Direction

Quite often, athletes who decide to take the path of becoming a member of the tactical population (military, police, fire, spec ops), they have a history of training a certain way.  Most tend to continue their previous training models that focus on improvement in a few of the elements of fitness. This can leave a few important elements of fitness underdeveloped in a tactical world as the tactical athlete needs to be good at ALL the elements of fitness.

This means, strength / power, speed / agility, cardio conditioning (run,swim,ruck), muscle stamina, flexibility / mobility, and grip needs to be organized well into the preparation process regardless of the background an athlete is coming from. 

Common Errors Taking You In The Wrong Direction

For the sake of this article, let's focus on the athlete preparing for any one of the spec ops / swat programs.  For regular military, police, fire, you still need to train specific to your fitness test / job, but the athletic history you have can help you with the basics. You can mostly take the skills of your athletic history and get accepted with some focus on your testing and basic training skills. However, for the spec ops candidate, the level of fitness required is higher and the competition of these professions requires the recruit to shoot for high marks to get TO and THROUGH the training.   

Here are many errors seen in the years of coaching and answering questions about preparing for any profession that requires a fitness test to join and a selection program to enter the community of public service to your community or country.  

The Strength / Power athlete - Training to bench press or dead lift more weight than you currently do prior to entering spec ops training programs is the wrong focus. I have seen guys trying to maintain 600lb dead lifts and 400 lbs bench presses while "trying" to improve with timed runs and high rep calisthenics. These two goals do not mix - at all. In fact, typical weaknesses include cardio endurance and muscle stamina for most strength athletes.  Add in swimming and fast paced timed runs and you have a journey ahead of you that requires more time doing calisthenics and cardio training. You will still have above average strength coming from this world of athletics, even if you do not lift heavy for quite some time. Your goal is to become a PT and cardio animal if you want to get TO and THROUGH the training. The spec ops triathlon (running, swimming, rucking) and PT Pyramids/SuperSets/Max Rep Sets should make up a majority of your training time.  Be patient - this transition takes time. Drop the heavy weights and start running especially if you think a one mile run is long distance.

18 yr old Stew

The Endurance athlete (runner) - Training to drop your mile pace for timed runs from a six minute pace to a five minute pace is also not needed. Striving for sub-six minute miles for timed runs and even slowing down to 7 minute mile pace when running 4-6 miles is still above average in tactical fitness programs.  This athlete is neglecting strength and potentially muscle stamina (strength-endurance) for high repetition calisthenics by focusing on timed run speed vs. working to put on some muscle for general durability under the load of rucks, logs, boats, and other equipment or personnel carry abilities. Runners also need to get into swimming shape especially if future training or testing requires significant swimming and/or diving. My advice is to drop the volume as there is no need to run 50+ miles a week when you are trying to also put on muscle mass in the weight room. Typical runners need to put on 15-20 lbs of muscle to be more durable under the loads and stresses of spec ops level training. 

The Endurance athlete (swimming) -  Many swimming athletes err when trying to break the swim record for the 500yd CSS and be in the sub 6 minute time.  That is great, but when you can coast at 8 minutes and be in the top 10% of your class in testing and swimming related skills, why not focus on the elephant in the room.  The fact is most swimmers break when it comes to running or load bearing activities mainly due to the fact they spent most of their time in athletics in zero gravity.  Getting in the weight room and running progressions are more import than a 5:40 CSS 500yd swim time.  Besides, once  you are at BUDS 99% of your swims with be with big SCUBA fins (Rocket or Jet Fins) so make sure you can handle those in the pool, tread water, lifesaving, and drownproofing - that is it in the water for you.  Swimming should only be done in extra workouts if your shins, knees, or tendons hurt from running - which they will as you progress into 20+ miles per week. Instead of trying to swim sub 6 minutes, focus on your running and strength scores otherwise you will break as you experience gravity for the first time in your athletic career. 

The Endurance athlete (rower) - The rower is a cardio beast and typically pretty strong in the legs and pulling muscles, but there is a pushing weakness.  You can see it in bench press, pushups, and overhead push presses typically in the rowing athlete.  Specifics of swimming can be a challenge too if you have not learned the proper technique of swimming.  Do not think your cardio / VO2 max is the same in a boat / running as it is in the water. The cardio abilities will transfer over well into swimming, but you still have to get into swimming shape.  Many rowers I see have this problem in the pool - Dude YOU are not in swimming shape!.

Not the same kind of rowing...

The Wrestler / MMA Athlete - These athletes are tough as hell as they are used to going one on one in combative situations and train extremely hard for their sport.  Usually, I say, "wrestlers are good to go for BUDS / diving type special ops units IF they can swim.". Treading water, swimming techniques for drownproofing, underwater swimming are all challenging to the wrestler IF they do not have a background in swimming or spent time learning how to swim.  I don't care how tough you are on land, the water is a different animal and it takes time practicing swimming, both technique and conditioning to build up the water confidence needed to make it through aquatic spec ops programs. 

Most wrestlers - not so good in the water (at first)

The Hybrid Athlete -  With programs like CrossFit, X Games, to some extent Triathletes, and multi-sport athletes, these athletes may not have as long to prepare as other specialized athletes. However, it really depends on their strengths and weaknesses with regard to running longer distances, swimming skills, and high repetition calisthenics and overall strength. Once again, having a mix of all the elements of fitness in your background of athletics is helpful but to successfully get THROUGH the training / selection program, you have to get specific with  your training and focus on any weaknesses you may have.  See assessment tools for TO and THROUGH selection for more ideas what I am talking about - even for the more well-rounded athlete. 

The Non-Athlete - One thing is for sure, you do not have to be an athlete to be in killer shape.  Many people have made it through spec ops level training and were non-athletes, but they were hard workers, mentally tough, team players, and grew up doing some form of manual labor or training programs that worked to develop them fully. Do not think because you were not a D1 collegiate athlete you cannot make it through spec ops training. But you have to still assess yourself and work on your weaknesses as you will have them just like all others. 

I am sure there are other athletes I missed in this list, but you get the gist. These professions do require a lot out of you, but there is a reason. You have to be smart and in good shape when you find yourself in life or death situations as it is your life, your buddy's life, or someone you are trying to help that depends on your abilities (physical, mental, tactical skills). 

In the end, it really does not matter what your athletic history was or was not. What matters is you worked hard in your preparation to specifically prepare yourself for the challenges of not only your fitness test so you get accepted into the training, but specifically for the events of your training.  You will notice as you start to make of list of the events you need to be prepared for that they all cover the chart at the top of the page and engage all the elements of fitness.  The tactical athlete needs to be good at all the elements not great at any one as being great at a few elements of fitness typically leaves a weakness in another area.  It is just the nature of the beast. 

Related Podcasts with Jeff Nichols: 

Tactical Fitness Report 68 - The Hockey, Baseball, Rowing Athlete (and others) Prepare for BUD/S.

Tactical Fitness Report 67 - The X Games Athlete Prepares for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 66 - The Non-Athlete Prepares for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 63 - The Lax, Rugby, Soccer Player Preps for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 62 - The Wrestler / Combatives Sports Athlete Preps for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 61 - CrossFit Athlete Preps for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 60 - Powerlifting / Football Player Preps for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 59 - The Swimmer Preps for BUD/S

Tactical Fitness Report 57 - Cross Country Athlete Preps for BUD/S


Check it out here

More Specifics on the Phases of Tactical Fitness:

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

The Pipeline of Training Options: 

Start off with calisthenics and work your way up to high reps, weights, running, swimming, etc...See workouts that do not need much equipment!


EBOOKS (Military, Police, Fire Fighter, Special Ops, General FitnessMost of my programs tend to focus on getting TO and THROUGH a specific tactical training program.  So you may see a mix of all the seasons in some of these books, but if you are training long term, you can take advantage of Seasonal Periodization and save yourself some of the over-use, long term pains that tend to follow many of the tactical preparations - especially on the spec ops level of training. 

Start training today with workouts that focus on the specifics of getting to and through tactical profession training from firefighter, police, swat, military to special ops. We have programs to help you get TO and THROUGH training. We also have training programs to help you with training as you age in these professions (Tactical Fitness 40+ series).


As You Advance Into Spec Ops Level of Fitness...Check out the Pipeline of Training Options below: 

Here's the answer for solving this issue with What Every Special Ops candidate Needs to Know once and for all. If you're a Special ops candidate and still have questions, this an article every spec ops candidate should read - and start your journey TODAY! Get all the FREE details here. This Spec Ops Candidate article link gives proven path of advice on training preparation to crush the PT test without failure to get TO the training as well as how to get THROUGH the training pipeline without wasting your time not seeing results.


It depends:  The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness is a classic and focuses on high rep calisthenics and running and swimming base.  You will build up your running over 12-18 weeks to 20 miles but very fast paced focus on both the 1.5 mile run for the PST and the 4 mile timed run for weekly run test at BUDS. If you are an athlete with a strong power / strength background in lifting and not running or swimming, Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you. IF you need some place to start Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you as well because a calisthenics base / running / swimming progression is a good place to build a foundation.  Though you will likely need to spend some time in the Navy SEAL Weight Training Book OR if Navy SEAL FItness is too challenging, go with Navy SEAL SWCC, EOD, Diver, PST Phase 1 Workout.  Phase 1 is a good starting point if Navy SEAL Fitness program is too tough. Navy SEAL Weight Training - This is part two (winter lifting phase) of my SEAL Prep program. If you have done the Navy SEAL Fitness (12 weeks to BUDS) program a few times and need a break, this is the next program that integrates lifting with the Navy SEAL Prep training. 


Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver Program Series - Phase 1 is what I call a beginner guide, but it is still challenging.  It is geared toward those who are scoring minimally or failing their Navy PST test - 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, 1.5 mile run.  It is easier than The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness and a good prep course before attempting it. 

Phase 2 and 3 of the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver program is about the same level of intensity as Navy SEAL Fitness and is also a good follow-up plan after Phase 1

Phase 4 ot the Navy SEAL Key to Mental Toughness is by far my toughest workout ever created.  It resembles a day of BUDS, complete with "wet and sandy", runs after eating, high rep punishment push-ups, 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile swims with fins, log PT simulation, and even a HellWeek Simulator with 3 workouts a day.  

 The Tactical Fitness Series

Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility are ALL encompassing programs that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) Army Ranger / SF, Air Force Special Warfare, SWAT / Federal Law Enforcement, and Navy Special Warfare have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete.  Check out: Tactical Fitness 
Tactical StrengthTactical Mobility 

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.

Try Our Stew Smith Fitness Members Only Club - #1 Best Selling Tactical Fitness Programs

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