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You Failed or Quit: How Hard is it to Get Back (to BUD/S, Spec Ops Programs, other Goals)

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Failure, Injury, or Quitting Are Common...
Rebuilding and Attempting Again is Even Harder

Unfortunately, humans fail, get injured, and simply quit when things get difficult. Sometimes, it is an accident, but more often than not, it is a lack of preparation and failure to deal with inherent weaknesses we all have (physical, mental, emotional, and maturity). This article is going to explain the process of trying to get back after you fail, quit, or get sick/injured specifically as it pertains to Navy SEAL training (BUD/S). However, many of these same pieces of advice will help you with your awareness to allow yourself to be human, forgive yourself, quit living in the past, and focus on getting stronger and better for the next challenge - whatever that may be for your personal journey in life. 

Getting TO BUD/S is Hard - Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness - Countless people across America find that they do not physically / medically qualify for military spec ops service due to various ailments that could not be waived. Also, there are issues popping up now with prescription medications you have to justify, and many are for ailments you cannot hide anymore (see Genesis System). This recruiting obstacle you have to navigate is making it harder to join the military as more disqualifying ailments are being found than ever. Some people are waiting 6 or more months to get the waiver paperwork through, and many are quitting altogether at this first obstacle. If you want it, you will push through and find a way to get the paperwork needed to waive ailments that can be waived with some consistent effort. Then, you have to pass the ASVAB with SpecWar level scores. 

Then, once you get through MEPS and hit the scores needed on the ASVAB, recruits must ace the Navy PST, which is difficult if you do not run, swim, and do high-repetition calisthenics well. It takes time and most people do not give themselves enough time to prepare smart the first time. Don't make this mistake and actually join the military when you are ALREADY crushing this Navy PST. Then the remaining time before you ship, you can work on the next phase of fitness that most people fail to consider - GETTING THROUGH BUDS.  

As you can see, getting accepted INTO BUD/S is more than difficult and requires being squared away on all life paperwork. I did not even mention prior drug use, criminal records, and even being in debt. All will be issues for you to join the military in any capacity. 

Getting THROUGH BUD/S is Harder - Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness - The amazing thing is that after all of the time and effort spent on getting accepted into BUD/S training, only 20-25% (or less) find that they prepared properly to get THROUGH BUD/S. This is purely determined by how badly you want it. Many are physically capable of getting through BUDS, but the constant negative feedback, bone-chilling cold, dark ocean water, sand, and relentless work days often turn into nights are too much. When you ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" you have to have a good answer and not care about the current level of discomfort.  

Quick Question for Recruits: Are you swimming with fins 1-2 miles, running 4-mile timed runs, rucking, carrying sandbags, lunging with weight, and working on pool skills? If not, you are in for a challenge that did not have to be this hard on you. 

On a side note, if you think any of this is hard...standby. The training is hard for a reason because the job is even harder. 

Make Sure You Know...Phase 3 of Tactical Fitness - The Operator Phase - is the hardest. Compared to the job you seek after BUD/S, all of the above will be easy, as life in the Teams is not easy. The job gets infinitely more challenging in all aspects (Op Tempo, Tactical Skills Development, Physical / Mental / Emotional Maintenance, Personal and Family Life).


Here is the Part of This Journey That Requires Humility and Ownership (for many, this is more difficult than all the above)

Getting Back to BUD/S is Even Harder - Let's call this phase 1b and 2b as you have to get back on the Getting TO and THROUGH training cycle all over again. But first, you need some attitude adjustments and an understanding of just how hard this phase is. It is not the ideal PLAN B, as too many variables are outside your control. Here are some of the things you need to navigate in order to get back to your Spec Ops Training:

1 - Quit Living in the Past - Face it. You failed in some way. Forgive yourself. Own it and move on. It's time to take on the next challenge in front of you like someone possessed to be the best wherever the Navy placed you after BUD/S. This will require humility and consistency in doing your job well and still training hard before/after the daily grind at a minimum. 

2 - Realize there is knowledge gained. You are now smarter. You had a learning experience, not a failure. As soon as you get to this stage, the quicker you will be able to make progress and get better for round two. You should know what you need to work on the most (physical, academic, maturity, handling negative feedback without emotion, etc). There is growth in failure as long as you have the right mindset. 

 3. Maybe You Need to Get Tougher - You will need to realize that there will be moments in this process when you think you have nothing left. You have to find the fuel when the tank is empty. And when there is no time to get stronger, faster, or smarter, all you can do is just get tougher. How badly you want this will be the key factor if you work hard, train hard, eat well, hydrate, and recover well even when you are not motivated to and do not feel like it. But, you do it anyway. Building this discipline is the most important piece of the puzzle. Be ready to get tougher. When there is no time to get stronger or faster...

4 - Dealing with Things Outside Your Control (Year Group and Manning)- Here is the toughest part of getting placed into another job in the Navy after BUD/S to get back. You need to understand the following:

You will be placed in another Navy job. This is often out of your control and dependent on the "needs of the Navy". However, sometimes, if you are a solid candidate, you may get offered Navy Diving / EOD or Rescue Swimmer. Who knows, you may like your 2nd job in the Navy so much that it changes your life. One of my friends left BUDS in the first phase, and 30 years later, he is still going strong in the Surface Navy as a 2-star Admiral. 

Unfortunately, most of the time, you will be placed in a job that the Navy needs to fill on ships, submarines, medical, intel/crypto fields, aircrew, and other jobs. Depending on your above-average performance at these jobs, you most likely did not join the military to perform; you may get the opportunity to re-apply for BUDS. However, this may take 1-2 years from when you left BUDS.  This is why humility and consistency with your discipline are the most important during this part of your alternative journey.

Here is what you need to do if you are on active duty and want to get to BUDS for the first time or after your first attempt. Regardless, you need to be a solid performer in whatever you do that BUDS wants you. See SEALSWCC page for details on the process. This is not easy either. 

But - it gets worse as these are out of your control;

a. Year Group is Over-Manned - The year you joined the military, the Navy likely filled or overfilled its quota depending on how many people were recruited and graduated BUDS. If they have their quota for that year group, you will not get back to BUDS - this year. However, in another year or two, the year group may open. Did you hear that?  Yes - "another year or two," maybe even more. By this time, your original enlistment may be done. Now you have a choice - keep trying or leave the Navy. Maybe join another branch of service if Special Ops is your goal.

b. Current Rating (job) is Under-Manned - If the job you were assigned after BUD/S is under-manned, guess what? They will not let you go, and you will likely have to finish your 6-year enlistment doing this job. This has happened to countless people, which was completely out of their control. In this case, look for opportunities in your rate to work with special ops teams, as it will be the closest you will get until your job numbers are up to quota. Once again, joining another branch of service after your initial enlistment may be your only option to serve in special ops programs. 

Closing Comments

Remember how hard it was to get to BUDS in the first place? You know how hard it is to get THROUGH BUDS. Now, picture that same effort and drive going into your current job, being the best sailor at your command, and working even harder to get back to BUDS. Because that is what it will take (and some stars lining up for you perfectly). 

Make no excuses. Own it, keep moving forward, and be smarter and better after having failed. Failures and mistakes are neither if you correct the error and move on with the learning experience of having tried. Now, try harder.  

Related Articles:

Quitting / Not Quitting - The Choice is Yours

How to Make Quitting a Learning Experience

Defeating the Quit Demon 

Training is What We Do: 

Need Programming for Fitness Tests and Beyond?  We are all about getting you TO and THROUGH your future training program.  See how that works.  

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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


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The dashboard below has the links to all the information, archives, videos, and links to workouts, podcasts, live Q and A lessons. 

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