Many people confuse the training programs groups like active duty Special Ops perform to maintain their fitness levels for the demands of the profession with how they prepare for challenging schools like BUD/S, SFAS / SFQC, and PJ training to name a few.
Here is a question to better describe a very common issue with candidate training program selection:
Stew, I have been watching some Youtube videos showing active duty special ops guys working out like SEALs, Rangers, SF, and others. They are huge and lifting very heavy weights so I have been lifting more and doing less cardio. Is this OK? I am preparing for BUD/S for the next year and trying to gain some muscle mass.
The short answer to your question is YES. This is fine. But you want to arrange the workouts where you decrease your cardio / increase your weight training so you cycle through this type of training for 6–8 weeks — maybe 12 weeks if you have a year to train. Where some special ops candidates make mistakes is they fail to drop the heavy weights and switch to higher repetition calisthenics to help with muscle stamina, and they fail to get good and running, rucking, and swimming at fast / high miles per week. Many people have said, including myself, that they never once wished they had lifted more weights at BUDS — they wished they had run more or had swum more with fins.
For the past 15 years, I have been teaching / performing personally a winter weight lifting cycle that reduces repetitions and running distances to give the joints a recovery period from high reps and impact miles. However, for BUD/S candidates I recommend this is a great time to add in a progressive swimming with fins cycle for extra cardio work. Add rucking in as well if your branch of service training specifically tests that skill too. See related article about how to incorporate periodization though the year.
Making it TO training programs requires you to specifically train for a fitness test. This has been where I have been specializing for over 15 years now. Preparing people for tactical professions:
PRE Training — Acing the fitness test / building a foundation of fitness so your body can handle the actual training (BUD/S, SF, PJ, Fire, Police academies is the specific focus on training you must have. This process can take 1–2 years depending on your starting fitness level or as little as 4–6 months depending on your athletic history. Regardless, you do not want to go to ANY training program without having reaching near the maximum standards of the fitness requirements. Otherwise, the likelihood of injury, failure, other delays are certain. You have to “train for the training”.
Prepare for the Duration - Specificity is ALSO required to get THROUGH the training after you have focused much of your exercise on making it TO the training. If your training program requires graded 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile ocean swims, long runs and rucks, hundreds of reps of calisthenics (pushups, pullups, dips, squats, flutterkicks) several times a week, you need to practice those events and get your run / swim / ruck mile pace down to an acceptable level to insure success.
POST Training — After the shock of Special Ops Selections, Training, other bootcamps, and acadmies, you have to now focus on the demands of the profession — both tactically and physically. This is where the Teams, Ranger Battalions, and SF groups have advanced their programming by hiring actual strength / conditioning scientists / coaches to create functional programs / testing criteria to help make a better operator. There are many elements to consider to creating, building, and maintaining a Special Operator foundation of tactical fitness:
- The constant needs of high repetition calisthenics, long miles of run, ruck, or swimming (or all the above) are decreased — now focus on speed, agility, balance, flexibility, strength, power, endurance, muscle stamina.
- This requires a series of training cycles to progress in each of these elements of the tactical athlete. Periodization is critical to the health and longevity of any athlete as the sports athlete has the luxury of pre-season, in-season maintenance, post-season recovery programming. There is no off-season for the tactical athlete.
- TACTICAL athletes have to get more creative to adjust the workouts so they can actively pursue recovery even during times of interrupted sleeping patterns, fast / ineffective nutrition options.
- Recovery from stress is the key. There has to be down times in your training cycles even if that recovery period is just moments of deep breathing / relaxing prior to sleep or cat-naps. Learn how to adjust workouts to fit your seasonal demands of the profession creating programs so peaking and recovering are logical progressions for you.
Training hard for these programs is how to prepare obviously, but understanding the differences of the training required to ace the “entrance exam” or PFT / PST / PRTs depending on your branch of service to get TO the training is critical to your success. The training required and fitness foundation needed to make it THROUGH the training will build off of the PFT scores and should advance with the specifics of the training required (PT, run, ruck, swim, logs, boats, etc). Finally, the training you will need to perform the actual job of the tactical operator will differ tremendously and it should take you back to the days of sports training where you focused on speed, agility, balance, flexibility, strength, power, endurance, muscle stamina that helps you perform a specific skill at your optimal level.
PS: Here is a related audio interview I did recently much about this subject.