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Your Athletic History Determines How You Should Train (for Spec Ops Selection)

Stew smith

Your Athletic History Determines How You Should Train for Special Ops Selection:
A Guide for Former Athletes 

If you are a former athlete setting your sights on a special ops selection program, you're likely finding the prospect both motivating and daunting - especially before you start your training and do your research on your future career. The challenge lies not just in excelling at one or two athletic events, but in mastering a comprehensive range such as —endurance (run, ruck, swim), strength, power, speed, pace, agility, muscle stamina, flexibility, mobility, and grip. While your athletic background offers a valuable foundation, it also comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these weaknesses can be the deciding factor in whether or not you're on the right path to success.

Leave no Weakness Undeveloped

Endurance Athletes: Leveraging Stamina but Building Strength

As an endurance athlete—think marathon runners, triathletes, or swimmers—you already excel in cardiovascular fitness and stamina. These are essential attributes for the shorter timed events and the longer-distance runs, swims, and rucks you'll face in special ops selection programs. Also the transition to improvement in calisthenics scores come fast to this group, but gaining weight and strength for load bearing and over all durability is more of a challenge. Get in the weight room!  For this group the critical weakness is typically lack of strength, power, speed, and agility and if you are a non-swimming athlete - that is another issue you need to develop and not ignore.

To balance this out, focus on incorporating weightlifting routines that target all major muscle groups. Try doing "The Big Three" exercises like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, which will not only build your strength but also your overall durability when load bearing (ruck, log PT, equipment carries). If new to lifting, start with machines, dumbbell or kettlebells then build up and learn the techniques of barbell lifting. Adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help improve your explosive power and speed—qualities that are essential when transitioning from steady endurance to quick, dynamic actions required in tactical scenarios.

Strength and Power Athletes: Building Endurance

If you're a powerlifter, sprinter, or bodybuilder, your existing strengths lie in explosive power, speed, and strength. These are indispensable for tasks that require sudden bursts of energy or lifting heavy loads (boats, logs, equipment, rucking) —key components of special ops selection. However, your weakness is most definitely your endurance and muscle stamina. A 1.5-mile run or a 500yd swim might seem like "long distance training" to you. If so, consider workouts like these progression "Spring Training Programs." Plus, you may have to learn the techniques for swimming AND get into swimming shape. 

18yr old Stew - NOT in Spec Ops shape...

To counteract this, don't shy away from low-intensity sustained activities like long-distance running (biking, rowing, elliptical), swimming, and rucking. Initially, these exercises might seem laborious, but these forms of cardio will help build the stamina necessary to endure long training event during military schools. Moreover, incorporating calisthenics (muscle stamina) and cardio training is your primary mission. Get out of the weight room and turn yourself into a Cardio Machine. 

One of my favorite methods is to do a calisthenics cycle mixed with cardio options of a triathlete (run, bike, swim). That way 2/3 of your cardio is non-impact which may be needed if you are a bigger athlete and need to lose weight. Your knees, shins, feet, and hips will thank you for not cranking up the running too quickly. 

Bridging the Gap: Agility, Muscle Stamina, and Flexibility

Regardless of whether you're an endurance or strength athlete, you need to cultivate a balanced skill set. Agility drills, such as ladder drills and cone sprints, can benefit everyone by enhancing quick movements and reflexes which will be helpful with obstacle courses and fire/movement drills. Muscle stamina is equally critical—circuit training can be particularly effective here, combining both resistance and aerobic exercises to keep your muscles firing over extended periods. There are running programs within any of the military prep programs, but you can supplement with this system to help get TO and THROUGH selection. 

Don't Skip Mobility Day - Flexibility and mobility should never be an afterthought. This is not just a good idea for longevity, but having more mobile hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders will help you with swimming and treading as well. Engage in static and dynamic stretching routines, foam rolling, massage tools, and other yoga based stretches/movements to enhance your range of motion. Call it a mobility day, recovery day, or rest day - you still need it. 

Gripping the Essentials: Grip Strength

Grip strength is often overlooked, but it's vital for tasks ranging from climbing ropes to handling weapons. Farmers' walks, pull-ups, dead lifts and grip-strengthening tools can significantly enhance this underrated but crucial attribute. Check out these great grip building ideas you can mix into any upper body pullup day. 

Pool Skills the Great Equalizer: Treading, Swimming the CSS, Drownproofing

For most athletes, water-based skills like swimming the Combat Sidestroke (CSS), treading, and drownproofing can be among the most challenging. Mastering these skills takes time, dedication, and meticulous technique work. Regardless of your athletic background, investing time in swim instruction and conditioning workouts will pay off. Check out the 50-50 swim workout and many helpful videos on how to swim the CSS, underwater, tread, and do drownproofing too. Over time, you'll find your comfort level in the pool rising, and with it, your overall preparedness for special ops selections. See more at - Instagram    TikTok  YouTube

Begin by identifying your starting block. If you're an endurance athlete, introduce compound lifts, plyometrics, and short, high-intensity workouts into your schedule. Focus on building grip strength, accelerating your 3-mile run speeds, and mastering bodyweight exercises. Plyometric exercises like box jumps and medicine ball throws will bridge the gap, enhancing both power and speed which will be indispensable in tasks like obstacle courses and dynamic movement.

Strength and power athletes should incrementally incorporate long-distance running (nonimpact mix), swimming, and rucking into their regimen. Start with lower mileage to avoid injury and gradually increase the volume.

For both athletic types, swimming, in particular, can be a formidable opponent; mastering techniques such as the Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) not only minimizes energy expenditure but also optimizes speed and efficiency underwater. Pool skills are indispensable -- treading, drownproofing, and confidence in aquatic environments -- and demand significant time investment to competent enough to master pool / swim days in training.

Putting It All Together

To maximize your chances of success, create a balanced training program that hones your strengths while systematically improving your weaknesses. Utilize block periodization—cycling through different phases of focus, such as strength, endurance, and skill development—to ensure preparation and not ignoring any weakness. Track your progress, adjust when necessary, and remain vigilant about form and recovery to avoid injuries.

In the journey to special ops selection, your previous athletic experience provides a powerful foundation—it’s up to you to build the structure of your future performance. By tailoring your training to address both the strengths and shortcomings inherent in your athletic history, you can confidently step into the demanding world of special operations, ready to excel in every challenge that comes your way.

Your tactical fitness journey is more than a training overhaul; it’s a meticulous blend of balancing strengths and rectifying weaknesses tailored to the all-encompassing demands of special ops selection. Remember, the journey is progressive; trust in the process and watch the transformative strides you make along the way. Your history as an athlete has laid the foundation, and with thoughtful adaptation, your future in special ops stands on firmer ground.

There is More to Than You May Know

Dive deeper into the world of Tactical Athlete training and mental toughness by exploring Stew Smith Fitness Programming for the Tactical Athlete online store. Uncover the strategies and techniques used by elite forces to push past physical and mental barriers. Visit now and equip yourself with the tools for success for many special ops level selection programs in the military and police world. 

Getting TO the training does not guarantee you get THROUGH the training. Learn about the two phases of tactical fitness you need to develop thoroughly before getting to BUDS. Check out the Online Course - Getting TO and THROUGH Special Ops Selection.

Who is Stew Smith? Coach, Trainer, Author, Podcaster 

I'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


Online Coaching Options

Online PT CLUB - Weekly Workouts created personally for you.

New Member's Only Content / Services Program!

If you want access to years worth of workouts, many of the top eBOOKs, favorite workouts of the week, free fitness APP, closed Facebook Group, video / picture library of exercises, and more access to LIVE Q/A sessions check out the Stew Smith Fitness Members Section

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

Consider this! - A Membership Program and Gain Access to Exclusive Content
(click for Fitness Club Dashboard - members only)

Best of all, if you have questions, email Stew Smith himself (  Join the tactical fitness group discussions, latest articles, videos, podcasts at the Stew Smith Tactical Fitness Training Closed Group on Facebook.


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