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Worried About 'Losing Your Gains' as You Prep for Military / Spec Ops?

Stew smith

"Losing Gains" and Turning Weaknesses into Strengths: A Decision Has to Be Made 

Depending where on the spectrum of body types you are on, you may either need to lose some mass or work hard to maintain some of the mass you have worked hard to build. Maybe you just need to stay where you are and get into Spec Ops shape? Doing any is tough and requires a delicate balance of calories IN / calories OUT on top of many different workout routines and exercises in order to be a candidate prepared for the training pipeline of your dream job. Here are two different stories that account for most of the training issues from both sides of the spectrum I have encountered over the past three decades of either training myself or working in this field of programming:

The Big Guys (Body Building / Powerlifting) Who Need to Get Ready for Spec Ops Programming - The big guy who wants to lose weight (but not muscle or strength) and still get into cardio conditioning (run, swim, ruck) along with adding muscle stamina and work capacity to handle a long day of spec ops training day after day is a near futile journey. Here is why. For instance, a bodybuilder or powerlifting football player who worries about "losing his gains" in the weight room wants to add lifting to running and calisthenics cycles. They think they can lose just fat by being in a caloric deficit and train harder than they have ever trained before in their life. Going no carb in these high rep / high timed run pace mileage / swim workouts is tough to do with any success as the energy needed for these workouts require many more calories than you may think. 

Plus keeping that extra muscle mass (220+ lbs) oir being super lean looks great, but the ability to tread water and learn how to swim well will be an added challenge. Running and calisthenics at that weight is equally challenging. Do not get me wrong, big guys have made it through BUDS and they are remarkable specimens with an ability to be big (220+), lean or not, and manage 20-30 pullups, endless pushups, and still run fast. This is a fairy tale for most candidates as the biggest people in the class are typically the first to fall either failing the meet the standards or quitting / unable to keep up with their smaller classmates. Even the goal of getting down to 200lbs from 220 on a low calorie diet that includes lifting is delaying your progress to improve upon the very thing that you need to ace first in order to get TO the TrainingIF you do not ace this PT Test, you end your journey before it even starts. You are strong enough - focus on your weaknesses as there are many (typically). 

The way to make this happen for the big lifting athlete is (in my opinion) to get out of the weight room and start doing calisthenics and cardio. Make your cardio focused more on non-impact cardio as you work to lose mass.  That means treat yourself like a triathlete and run 1/3 of the time, swim 1/3 of the time, and bike (or other) 1/3 of the time to build your cardio base without too much needless impact. Your knees, shins, feet, and hips will appreciate the effort in these beginning months while you are still heavy and working to build a running / cardio base up to get to TO and THROUGH Selection. 

Many in this category can simply lose the extra weight by doing calisthenics and cardio and build a successful level of endurance and muscle stamina while maintaining a good portion fo their strength and muscle mass. Also not eating to stay big is required. You will have to eat like a normal person with smaller portions but enough food for energy to train and burn 1000-1500 calories in daily workouts. Once you do a lift cycle again (maybe not even until after selection 12-18 months later) you will be back at your old strength numbers in 6-8 weeks. So don't worry about "losing your gains". If you are really worried about it, go be a bodybuilder or professional weight lifter. You are already strong enough for this journey given your athletic history, but you have many weaknesses that need to be the focus of your training now. 

Elements that you need to improve upon are endurance (run, swim, ruck) and muscle stamina (calisthenics).  These work well together in a cycle just as strength / power, speed and agility work well together in a cycle, but mixing these elements of fitness together are seriously reduce progress in all of the elements of fitness. However, maintaining all of the elements of fitness can be done together once you have reached your optimal goal level of performance.

(NO Winter LIft Cycle for you...keep running / rucking / swimming and PTing) 

There is nothing wrong with being strong - you have to be.  In fact, if you were an endurance athlete (swimmer / runner) I would tell you just the opposite and have you in the weight room more than in the pool and/or running high miles. 


The Smaller Guys (Who Lift to Gain Mass) But Need to Maintain Strength / Mass and Get Ready for Spec Ops Programming - This one is more delicate than the above as this situation has more to do with performance than vanity. The small guy who has lifted to get bigger to play sports and compete has battled the "hard gainer" journey most likely throughout his teens, but usually that issue begins to change as you finish growing and get older (21-22 yrs old). This is one reason why I recommend 18 yr olds to wait a few years (unless they are finished growing) as they are not physically nor emotionally mature enough to perform at the level of most Spec Ops selection programs. Unfortuniately, these younger candidates make up most of the attrition rates. So, finish growing may be ONE answer that works for the hard gainer worried about "losing his hard earned gains". 

You still need to do all the cardio and calisthenics anyway, BUT you do not need to lose weight, so eat like you are trying to gain weight. Hopefully, that alone will be all you need to maintain your mass AND get into killer spec ops shape at the same time. This really depends on having a caloric balance or surplus but the weights can still be a detriment to progress if you are needing to imrprove your endurance and muscle stamina. This body type is a good candidate for the block periodization model that allows for a lift week every 4 weeks in the middle of a calisthenics and cardio cycle.  It works well! 

In the end it comes down to how bad do you want to take the time and patience and work the things you are not good at doing to make them something you are good at doing. How bad do you want it? 


Who is Stew Smith? Coach, Trainer, Author, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that special ops 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 just about anything. We have a systems 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.  

My most recent programs that walk you through these four cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

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)

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts Where Optimal Performance Will Be Tested Each Day

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout


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


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