This week, I introduced several spec ops candidates to the grinder. At SEAL training, the grinder is a paved training area where you do countless repetitions of calisthenics while being closely observed by instructors who are checking for perfect form and spraying you with water while you count.
Add in having wet and sandy boots and pants, and you have a recipe for a grueling hour of group PT. Since I am more of a coach than an instructor, this was designed to familiarize the participants with the process so they could see how difficult wet and sandy calisthenics can be on the grinder.
Here is a list of grinder PT challenges to prepare you for a shock to the system when you learn on the grinder that you failed to prepare for a particular exercise.
When you hit the grinder in the first phase, you likely will be wet and sandy from previous events of the day. However, if you are not, it will not take long for the staff of instructors to make the class get wet and sandy and run back to the grinder. From that point, you will do everything with about 10-15 pounds of wet clothes and boots.
Wet and Sandy PT
Get used to it because you will be wet and sandy for a long time. There may only be a handful of days out of six months where you remain dry all day. Whether you are running, doing group PT or even just sitting in a classroom, you will be wet and sandy.
After a while, it will start to feel weird when you are not. My advice is to think of the cold Pacific Ocean water as therapy and a way to cool down after getting hot from exercising. Then imagine the sand as a form of sunscreen to help protect you from the bright California sun.
How you mentally frame things is critically important when you are enduring any selection program.
Individuals must be prepared for criticism on any bad repetitions, and the group will hear near constant negative feedback when it’s not in perfect sync with the lead instructor. You’ll also get yelled at for not counting loud enough and generally not being fired up to perform as a class.
As a student, the grinder is a place where you want to bring a high level of motivation, or you always will be just wet and sandy. Consider not being sent to the surf zone a victory during grinder PT.
All calisthenics are tougher when you are heavier. Prepare for these events with a 10- to 15-pound weight vest or by getting your boots, pants and shirt wet while training.
One of the big shockers for me was how tough flutter kicks, leg levers and scissors were when wearing wet boots and pants. These hip exercises require your legs to be lifted off the ground while lying on your back. Building up to 3-4 sets of 50 repetitions for each exercise is a good idea.
These events triggered a moment of realization that I was not mentally or physically prepared for the wet versions of the exercises. I had done countless reps of these before BUD/S, but none while wet and sandy or wearing ankle weights. At this point, there is only one thing you can do. You must get tougher and bring your “A’’ game to the grinder in preparation for that event.
The good news is that, in about 2-3 weeks, you build up your abilities in these exercises. Some people, though, think they could not handle the training, and they quit instead of letting it play out and improving.
Pull-ups, Push-ups, Dips
These exercises are all more difficult and heavier when wet. Losing your grip on pull-up bars is not uncommon, and you have to find some dirt on the ground to dry your hands off before the next set.
Luckily, the heat from the sun-baked asphalt dries out sand and dirt pretty quickly. At a minimum, build up to 50-100 pull-ups and dips and 200 push-ups in an upper-body day workout.
Sit-ups: The Grinder Reminder
You also will do sit-ups on the grinder. Being wet and sandy is not that big of a deal with sit-ups, but the hard ground and a soft backside will see chafing, rubbing and raw spots (“strawberries”). We call these “grinder reminders,” as you will feel a unique sensation on your backside as you jump in the water for your next wet and sandy experience.
Too many people do not regard calisthenics as tough or something that requires as much preparation as running or swimming, but they are as much a part of training as anything else. Handling the repetitions and recovering for the next day’s events will require significant preparation, good nutrition, hydration, mobility work and sleep. If sleep is limited (and it will be), you have to make sure everything else is near perfect to help your recovery.
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 email@example.com.
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