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Spec Ops Recruiting History: Old School Grinder PT



Defense Department recruiting programs and standards evolve to improve our ability to deal with ever changing tactical and technical advancements and emerging world threats. Military physical fitness also has evolved with Human Performance Programs focusing on tactical fitness and resilience training.

Some techniques are timeless and show that we often can do more with less. One example is this workout pulled from Navy Basic Underwater Demolition and SEAL Training in the 1970s. This approach to training remained roughly unchanged until the late 1990s, but the calisthenics done on the concrete “grinder” are the same to this day.

A History of Change

The Navy previously had enlistment programs that allowed recruits to join the Navy and qualify to attend BUD/S training, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) or Navy Dive School after boot camp and Apprentice School (A School).

Back then, there were no Special Operation (SO), Navy Diver (ND) or EOD ratings. You had a normal rating like HM — Corpsman, BM — Boatswain’s Mate or MM — Machinist Mate and were qualified in one of these skills.

After graduating A school, a newly minted sailor had the opportunity to attend one of the three diving training programs. This recruiting program was called the Navy Dive Farer Challenge Program, which no longer exists. However, if you remember the Divefarer recruiting program for SEAL, EOD and diver back in the 1980 and ’90s, you may remember this classic Grinder PT.

In the Navy SEAL and diving community, group PTs were similar and used a variety of exercises that required little equipment. The goal of this workout was to keep up with the instructor. If you could not keep up with the instructor or your repetitions did not look like his, you paid the price when another instructor with a water hose yelled at you to run to the beach and come back wet and sandy.

Though many of these exercises are dynamic stretches, you had the watchful eyes of the instructor staff upon you throughout the hourlong PT session. Here is a video of actual Grinder PTs that demonstrate many of the exercises below:

Four-count exercises are listed as such below: A four-count exercise is one that defines the movements 1 (up), 2 (down), 3 (up), 4 (down) as one repetition. This doubles the actual repetitions when done in the four-count method.

Jumping jacks: 50 (four-count exercise)

Half jacks: 50 (half jumping jacks done fast)

Cherry pickers: 20 (four-count exercise with stretch in between legs standing)

Hi Jack/Hi Jill: 20 (four-count exercise with alternating overhead shoulder stretch)

Push-ups: 20

Wide push-ups: 20 (hands wider than shoulder width)

Triceps push-ups: 20 (hands touching under your chest)

Press press fling: 20 (four-count with stretch and flex)

Windmills: 20 (legs spread with bent-over alternating toe touch with left hand to right foot and right hand to left foot)

Dive bomber push-ups: 20 (Start in the down dog position, end in the up dog position with a push-up in the middle)

Up/back/over: 20 (arm shoulder rotations with stretch and flex)

Push-ups: 20

Wide push-ups: 20

Triceps push-ups: 20

Swimmer stretch (standing triceps stretch)

Trunk bending fore and aft: 20 (complete hip hinge movement)

Arm haulers: 30 (four-count)

Sit-ups: 100

Flutter kicks: 100 (four-count with alternate lifting legs off the floor from 6 inches to 36 inches)

Lizard stretch: 1 minute of stretching the stomach like cobra pose in yoga

Truck rotations: 20 (four-count standing. Bend forward, left side, back, right side = 1 rep)

Push-ups: 20

Wide push-ups: 20

Triceps push-ups: 20

Chase the rabbits: 30 per leg (similar to mountain climbers with running in UP push-up position)

Dive bomber push-ups: 20 (Start in the down dog position, end in the up dog position with a push-up in the middle)

Back rollers: 20 (Sit up and roll backward so your feet go over your head, then back to sitting position)

Leg levers: 100 (Lift legs together off the floor from 6 inches to 36 inches. Keep legs straight.)

Neck exercises: 50 up/down and 50 left/right. (While on your back, lift head up and down and left and right 50 reps each.)

Good morning darlings: 50 (four-count)

Trunk bending fore and aft: 20 (Complete hip hinge movement by bending at the hips forward and backward.)

Eight-count bodybuilders: 50 (eight-count)

Pull-ups: 8 x 10 reps (Rest was two other classmates in front of you doing their pull-ups on instructor cadence.)

Dips: 5 x 20 reps (Rest was two other classmates in front of you doing their dips on instructor cadence.)

Final Series of Stretches Before a Beach Run:

Standing calf stretch: 30 seconds each

Standing hamstring stretch: 30 seconds each

Standing groin and inner thigh stretch: 30 seconds each side (side step stretch)

Standing thigh stretch: 30 seconds each side

Hurdler stride stretch: 30 seconds each side while sitting

Butterfly stretch: 30 seconds

After all of this, you went for a conditioning run on the beach for 4-5 miles. The day was not over, as this was just 90 minutes or so of your long day of Spec Ops training. Some might even call this the warmup for the rest of a day that might include log PT, obstacle courses, boat races and swimming training. This is a great workout if you have little to no equipment.

Today, the process is similar, but things have evolved, especially in the recruiting world. Now, the recruiting program to get into these diving and special ops jobs is called the Warrior Challenge Program. There are now rates for each of these jobs, including the Special Boat Unit or now the Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman (SWCC). Aviation Rescue Swimmer (ARS) is also part of the Warrior Challenge.

This system makes advancement fair. Many special operators used to have to test to make higher rank by having to demonstrate skills that were not part of their daily job, but competing against fellow-rated sailors who were using those same skills as part of their daily job. The regular Navy also is changing the way it mixes fitness training with recruiting as they seek to recruit athletes with the Navy FIT Challenge.

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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