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How to Prepare and Assess Yourself for Joining Navy Special Warfare



A question from a concerned Special Operations candidate:

I’m a 22-year-old senior in college. For the past couple of months, I have committed myself to a PST training program to prepare for BUDS. I have gotten my mock PST numbers to an 8:55 swim, 75 push-ups, 82 sit-ups, 16 pull-ups and a 9:09 run. I am a former football and lacrosse player (6’3” 205 lbs.) and I surf almost every day. I can run a 4-mile under 25 minutes (I do it every week) and have finished a couple half-marathons at a sub 8-minute pace.

My question for you is about the training timeline. Should I continue to train for the PST until I get optimal scores, finish school and then get a real PST to enter the pipeline? Or should I take a real PST in the upcoming months with the hopes of getting a contract, start training for BUDS and then ship off to Basic as soon as possible? What type of candidate preparation should I be doing?

I think you are good to go. My advice is to do an assessment and see if you have any weaknesses.

Here are the exercises and workouts I recommend to test yourself:

Navy PST: 500-yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, 1.5 mile run. You have acceptable scores so far!

Navy Prep Exit PST: 1000-meter swim with fins, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, 4-mile timed run.

The fins should be SCUBA fins not slip-on flippers. Rocket Fins or Jet Fins will be used at BUDS Prep.

Performing well on all of the above will get your foot in the door for Naval Special Warfare. I call it getting to the training. However, the remaining events are a good assessment tool for getting through the training (BUDS):

Navy Human Performance Test Events: 800-meter swim, 3-mile run, standing long jump, pro-agility test, bodyweight bench press (max reps), deadlift (1 rep max,) 25-pound pull-up test, 300-yard shuttle run (12 x 25 yards).

Do not worry about repeat events like the run and the swim, but test on power and strength events. Shoot for double digits on bodyweight bench press and 25-pound pull-ups, and 1.5-2x bodyweight on deadlift. Strive for 2 feet over your body length in the jump, less than a minute in the 300-yard shuttle run and 5 seconds or less in the 5-10-5 Pro Agility for above average spec ops candidate numbers.

Extra Events You Can Self-Assess

The goal of self-assessment is to target weaknesses that you may have or may not know you have because you never tried some of these events. You could have a basic technique issue or a more complex confidence or conditioning issue that requires time to address.

Here are a few examples of things to assess:

Simulate drownproofing: bobbing, floating, front flip, back flip, travel, mask retrieval in 9-foot pool. In the Navy, this is done with hands and feet tied. Do not practice that. Simulate having your hands and feet tied.

Tread Water: 10 minutes with no hands. Do this in a freshwater pool versus in the ocean. You will be less buoyant in fresh water and that is how you will be tested.

Rucking: With your base of running, you should be ready to add some weight and do a ruck event once a week as a way to top off a leg day. If you have access to soft sand, use it. If not, find hills or stairs or bleachers to work the legs and lungs a little more. Shoot for a 10-12 minute mile with a 40 to 50 lbs. backpack.

Swim with SCUBA Fins: Start to add distance to your swims with fins. It’s a great way to top off a leg day routine. A swim of 1 to 2 miles with fins will be the normal distance at BUDS. Practice at least once a week with fins at these distances.

Squat: A barbell squat of 1.5 times your bodyweight for at least 5 reps is a good standard of strength to have. You should also be able to do workouts with a few hundred repetitions of calisthenics squats, like you’d do for the Murph. Add a sandbag and try the SandBaby Murph Workout as it is a good simulator for Log PT.

Lunges: A chest carry lunge with a 40 lbs. sandbag for 400 meters is a good set of lunges on a leg day. Do this on your leg day and when you find you have no delayed-onset muscle soreness from this event, your muscle stamina in the legs is above average.

Grip: Work on your grip as heavier guys (more than 200 pounds) tend to have grip issues on the obstacle course. See Operator Grip Circuit for ideas.

Spec Ops Triathlon (SOT): A good cardio base challenge is the 4 mile run, 4 mile ruck and the 1 mile swim with fins workout. Mix that with a transition workout like the Sandbaby Murph or the Devil’s Mile (see below) and you have a good once-a-quarter gut check workout that is legit (and fun). Either one of these is a good standalone workout, but adding them as part of the SOT is a fun challenge.

Devil’s Mile: This is four exercises that you perform for a quarter-mile each. It’s one of our favorites: 400 meter bear crawl, 400 meter walking lunges, 400 meter fireman carry (200 meters each partner), 400 meter burpee broad jump.

Final Piece of Advice Given the Current Situation

Given your history and current fitness level, I am not seeing any potential weaknesses. My advice is to go into the Navy after this COVID thing is cleared up and you have assessed any potential weaknesses. If you go now, you will spend weeks in quarantine stuck on a base just getting out of shape. Once that vaccine is available and the military has it, I would start the ball rolling. Judging from your timeline, a few months before you graduate college is a good time to visit the recruiter and Navy Special Warfare Mentor in your recruiting district.

To answer your question, it depends on your athletic history and current fitness level as to how long you need to specifically prepare. Most people do not have the strength background, water skills and running ability you have. The football, lacrosse and surfing combo is a really good foundation and I am sure your timeline is not going to be very long.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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