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Mindset and Weakness

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The question of the main thing to focus on is very common among people preparing to train for Special Operations programs. Do you focus on getting stronger, faster, gaining weight (muscle), or learning skills like land navigation, swimming, SCUBA, or shooting? Or do you focus on getting more mentally tough?

On top of that, how on Earth do you become more mentally tough? Previous articles have tackled the mental toughness question, so for this article the focus is on getting into the right mindset during your preparation training, as well as carrying it over to your selection program where more than half may fail (depending upon your branch of service / unit).
Mindset
I would not even call it a Military Mindset, as that does not accurately describe it. Sure, you need to have a military mindset, but this should focus more on having a NEVER QUIT attitude. Believe me, it is much easier said than done. Saying you will never quit on a social media forum or to your buddies is one thing, but actually NOT QUITTING when you are cold, wet, dirty, tired, hungry, or in pain from carrying rucks, boats, logs, or another person for miles is another.
Part of this mindset requires you to look objectively at yourself and ask, “What are my weaknesses?”

If you can honestly answer that, then you will be on the right path to the never quit mindset, as it takes a logical and mature person to acknowledge a weakness. If you do not work daily on your weakness prior to being tested, it will be exposed at ANY Special Ops Selection program. In fact, one thing we have always said is that BUD/S will show you what makes you average to below average in the first month.
Here are the top weaknesses that will stop you dead in your tracks with the Never Quit attitude if you have neglected them in your pre-training:
1. Special Skills Tested at your Selection: If you have 2-mile ocean swims with fins, long 60-80 pound ruck marches for hours, long 4-6 mile timed runs and you are “not a runner” or “not a swimmer,” you will get your butt handed to you on a near daily basis. That constant average to below average OR worse -- FAILING A STANDARD -- will either push those quit buttons inside your head or cause you to get kicked out for failing the timed events. If cardio is your weakness, do not neglect it or think that getting by on the minimum standard is sufficient in the Special Ops world.
2. Too Much Focus on Endurance: For many of these advanced Special Ops schools it is a “running man’s game.” If you are a solid runner, you will typically do well at most programs, however, if you are ONLY great at running and lack upper body strength, core stability, or a strong lower back, hips, or legs for heavy load bearing movements, you will be crushed either at the pull-up bar or under a heavy log, boat, or ruck. Where this type of endurance / muscle stamina focus solely does work is if you are transitioning from a powerlifting football player type athletic history. Having a foundation in strength is good, BUT you have to work on longer distance cardio, higher repetition calisthenics, and lighter weights. This was my personal weakness -- endurance and muscle stamina.
3. Too Much Focus on Lifting: Some students are worried about “losing their gains” by doing too much cardio and neglecting their lifting. There obviously is a place for staying strong and lifting weights to maintain that strength, but you have to watch trying to get strong at the same time as trying to run a faster long distance pace. Underestimating the amount of running done in a Special Ops program will cause either injury or failure to meet the standard. Dropping your run pace from an 8-min mile to a sub 7- minute mile while doing heavy dead lift and squat cycles will create slower returns in both strength and goal pace running. Do a lifting cycle (periodization), and then do running / PT / Endurance cycles through the year.
Those students who are cardiovascular athletes (running, swimming, triathletes) should focus more on lifting, as upper body strength is atypical with endurance athletes. If you are a swimmer, gravity can be a bear. Running, lifting, or doing anything out of the water can cause lower extremity injuries in the soft tissues, bones and joints, if you are not working on “gravity weakness” prior to attending your selection phase.
Let’s face it; working on a weakness is never fun. When I first started this journey as a former powerlifting football player, I thought anything over 100 yards was long distance running. Swimming a mile? What? People do that? By doing things you at first may hate, but know you have to, you may grow to enjoy the new “strength” as weakness evolves away from a sub-standard performance event. This is the Mindset you have to find by doing THESE types of things. You will know this feeling and mindset when you practice, practice, practice, and then one day finally master something you have never been good at doing. The level of confidence gained from going from 0 to 20+ pullups, or running a 6-minute mile, or swimming 500 yards without stopping the first time, is a big step to gaining the mentality to propel you into the graduation group of the selection class.
Take Your Weakness Seriously. Yes you can get kicked out and fail out of training.
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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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