Friday, July 18, 2008

Special Operations Fitness - Common Denominators of Success

Former SEAL and fitness expert Stew Smith with his inside-operator view on Special Operations Fitness --

After spending more than a decade helping people become members of Special Operations unit in every branch of the military and SWAT Teams in federal / state / local law enforcement agencies, I have seen a few common denominators that spell success, or graduation.

Ask, "Did you think about quitting?" to any member of a Special Operations unit in the military or law enforcement and you will usually get the same answer. "NO!" Due to proper physical training your body has a better foundation to remain fit throughout training and not become injured or over trained. Here is a list of those commonalities:

1 - Knowing how to play with pain - Many graduates of these SO programs were athletes in high school or college and know the difference between injury and pain. Sports, martial arts, tough training workouts, and life in general can help you know what the difference is. But mainly graduates can suck it up when they need to and "tape it up and play" if required. This is where they say that SEAL Training is 90% mental. It is not academic mental - but mentally challenging because you have to deal with pain and discomfort on a daily basis.

2 - Team Player - Understanding what it means to be a team player is critical. Once again sports tend to be the best source for this type of aggressive sportsmanship and skills learned to assist with being a Special Operations Team member. "There is "No I in SEAL Team."

3 - Play to Compete - Not Just Survive - Go to your training program seeking to win every physical, tactical, or academic event there is. Be the best runner, swimmer, PTer, rope climber, shooter, land navigator,etc..No one is going to win them all, but if you can consistently be in the top 5-10 % of the class, you will NEVER think about quitting. This requires you to train hard for a significant amount of time - sometimes a few years of training like a madman 5-6 days a week. Understand the physical events that you will be required to do and practice those several months prior to your tryout. That means rucking with a backpack, swimming with fins, treading water with clothes, hundreds of reps of PT exercises several days a week, miles of running every week and lifting weights to balance out the body.

Here is a good story to drive this one home - When I ran my first marathon (and only)I saw a few tall, thin, guys from Kenya (I assume) stretching out prior to the start. Well, their goal for that race was to drop a few seconds off their best time when mine was to just finish and maybe be under four hours. Who do you think would have the greater chance of quitting that run? Me - the guy just trying to survive the race. Many people who quit training in the Special Ops programs go to training and just try to survive it.

BTW - I finished it and realized at 200+ lbs marathon running was not something I wanted to do again. My knees thank me for making that decision.

4 - Maturity - Most people who make it through rigorous training programs in the Special Ops world are older than 22 years of age, have a solid foundation of fitness training, a mental toughness developed through training or a challenging life experience, and a calm confidence (not arrogance). See link for more info on Mental Toughness.

As Alden says - "The Body Obeys the Brain" - Your body will be able to obey your brain as long as you properly prepare your body for the rigors of your training program. The key to making your mind tough is to train the body so it can handle pain better and recover from bouts of high intense workouts quicker.

PS - On another note - a few guys I workout with and I are trying to see if we can max out on pushups one day and match that score by using the Perfect Pushup. I use the Perfect Pushup 2-3 times a week with my workouts and typically they cut out about 50% of my reps per set. So far, I have been able to get about 75% using the Perfect Pushup of a non-Perfect Pushup max set. I maxed out at 100 pushups without shaking the arms or lifting my butt and only did 75 with the Perfect Pushup and the last 10 were not pretty ones.

Let me know if you can match your non Perfect Pushup max.

Stew Smith CSCS
Alden's USNA and BUD/S classmate and pal for more than 20 years (ouch)


Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author, certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

1 comment:

Small Biz Owner said...

Thanks for 2 great products, I own the Pushup, now ordering the Perfect Pullup.