Ask Stew: How Should I Prepare for BUD/S?

BUD/S candidates participate in strength and conditioning training with logs.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) candidates participate in strength and conditioning training with logs at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif., May 18, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker/U.S. Navy photo)

I received similar emails from two young men who aspire to become SEALs one day. They both are athletic and involved with sports and asked the following questions regarding BUD/S training.

The high school question

"I'm very uncertain about whether to do winter track or swimming and diving. ... Have there been BUD/S graduates from USNA who have learned how to swim AFTER they came to the Academy? I'm really not sure what to do and the deadline for sign-up is approaching. Please answer me ASAP! Thanks."

The college question

"I am trying for an OCS BUD/S billet after I graduate college. I am on the swim team now, so swimming is not an issue. However, should I focus more on calisthenics or running before I go to BUD/S? Or a mix of both?"

First of all, everybody has their nemesis when they attempt BUD/S. Very rarely are there people who are above average in running, swimming and upper-body calisthenics.

Swimmers typically are not great runners due to years of training in "zero-gravity" conditions. The legs have a hard time taking the abuse of running in boots on asphalt, and shin splints or other overuse injuries tend to occur.

Runners are typically lighter in weight and upper-body muscle strength. They can handle the running at BUD/S, but the obstacle courses and daily PT will challenge everyone.

People who are above average in calisthenics are lean and able to handle multiple repetitions of pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups. But they tend to be a bit more muscular and not the best runners. Weightlifters rarely make it. High-repetition calisthenics are much different from powerlifting and bodybuilding.

My story: I was a typical high school athlete who played sports and lifted weights year-round. It took me more than a year while at the Naval Academy to change my body from a football-playing/powerlifting build to a high-repetition calisthenics and muscle endurance athlete. I focused on three things:

1. Running short distances at a fast pace (three times a week)

This means running for 2-4 miles at a six- to seven-minute pace, accompanied by a long run of 5-7 miles once a week.

2. Swimming 1,000-2,000 meters (3-4 times a week):

Incorporate technique training with the "Combat Swimmer Stroke" and one long swim with fins of 1-2 miles.

3. Upper- and lower-body calisthenics:

Complete with squats, lunges, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and other abdominal exercises, I would PT at least 4-5 times a week. I focused on the upper body three days and the lower body twice weekly.

You cannot go wrong with whatever you choose for your sport. Do a sport because you like the sport. Squeeze in the missing parts from the above list in your spare time to become better trained for BUD/S. Remember to have fun while in school. Thanks for emailing me and wanting to become one of the Heroes of Tomorrow.

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    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

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