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SpecOps Prep: Customize Training by Body Type and Fitness Experience

Air Force weather team candidates.

I often answer the very common question of: "How should I prepare for (fill in the blank) Spec Ops Training?" with a short but thought provoking answer of "It Depends".

How you prepare for any one military or special ops training depends upon several factors that mainly include your body type and athletic history.  So there could be dozens of ways to fully prepare yourself with regard to addressing personal weaknesses, specifics of your selection choice, and of course your current fitness level.

There is no such thing as "one size fits all" when it comes to developing someone for any athletic endeavor – tactical athletes included.  If you depend on a book or generic training plan for a specific special ops program, you may have to alter it to fit your genetics and current condition.  Here is a list of typical body types and athletic histories that seek these professions and how to address many of the typical weaknesses you will need to overcome to be successful:

Ultra-lean body type with a running back ground. 

The good news for this type and background is that most of these selection schools are running-centric.  Running is a great gut check to see how bad you want to be in any program.  Lacking a foundation of running is asking for either failure or common overuse injuries if you are not accustomed to the running demands of your school.  If you are a cross-country or middle or long distance track runner, your running pace will be top notch compared to most of the class, but focusing on a sub-5 minute mile pace is overkill when a sub-6 minute mile pace is still above average. 

You may want to use that time to focus on adding weight to your typically skinny upper body.  Just doing your typical PT of pullups, pushups, and dips can be at first challenging, but out of all the groups, this group has a huge and fast growth curve for becoming PT animals. 

However, preparing for rucking, lifting logs, swimming with big fins, carrying boats and other equipment puts a strain on this type of body type.  You should spend most of your training time building core and leg strength and upper body muscle stamina as well as maintain your running and swimming endurance. 

If you are not good at swimming – you will need to focus on the techniques and swimming endurance to get you both TO and THROUGH training (if you seek a Special Ops that focuses on water).

Powerlifting strength and power body type. 

There are many varieties of this type that range from football players, powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes that have a solid strength foundation but may still have a variety of body types depending upon the position played. 

Regardless, being strong, fast for short distances, and considering anything longer than 100 yards long distance running is typical with this group.  Swimming technique may also be an issue.  Your time should be spent building your endurance pace on running, rucking, and long distance swimming depending upon your branch of service.  This can take time. Sometimes up to a year or more to become fully prepared for schools like BUDS, AF PJ, or RECON that involve more swimming than Rangers and Army SF.

I have found over the years of my own athletic history and training others that it takes a long time to lose strength, but you can lose endurance by not running for a week. This group has to stay cardio endurance-focused and keep running and swimming, lose weight (even some muscle mass) to make it through challenging special ops programs that require 30-40+ miles a week of running, rucking, and a few miles of swimming each week.

The hybrid athlete with varying body types. 

Athletes that stay fit for a different sport year round do extremely well at any of the Special Ops schools.  Having a foundation in lifting, high repetition calisthenics, as well as endurance training makes for a solid special ops candidate. 

However, we all have our weaknesses and you have to get specific to what you are lacking.  This could be running or swimming more with better technique.  Most people have to add in rucking and if they are going RECON, Army Ranger / SF.  In fact, rucking is a must for that pipeline. Sports that are considered to build strong hybrid athletes would be lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, water polo, MMA, and even CrossFitters.

But as with any sport history, you have to get specific in your training for special ops.  That means longer workouts than 20-30 minutes, more time spent running fast and long, rucking heavy and long, swimming effortlessly for miles (other cardio), and mastering high repetition calisthenics workouts.  Pound for pound, this group is strong and fast but may lack a few of the elements of fitness needed to specifically be prepared for their selection program.

The Non-impact Athlete.   

Athletes who are most susceptible to running overuse injuries are typically swimmers and hockey players – as well as those who do not run as part of their sport.  If you play an additional sport in gravity, you may help yourself with some common injuries in Special Ops Training. This type needs to get used to moving in gravity by lifting weights, high repetition calisthenics, and running.  Build up to rucking once you have progressed in running up to 20 miles a week.  See ideas for adding rucking to your plan.

The deconditioned body type.

We all have goals and you have to start somewhere.  If you are young, start training with basic calisthenics, walking, and swimming if possible.  Consider playing a sport as well if only for the teamwork skills you will learn. 

Personally, seeing a non-athlete lose 50-100 lbs and get into sports or special ops condition is awe inspiring and possibly one of the most rewarding feelings a coach can have.  Now this one takes time, possibly up to two years depending upon how much weight and how low the current physical condition is. But it can be done with some persistence, mental toughness, and discipline. 

Treat yourself like a beginner.  Start off easy and progress each month. Slow and steady if you goal when you first decide to start training.  It will come – be patient.

Building a Tactical Athlete is a little different than a typical athlete who needs to be great at only a few elements of fitness.  The Tactical Athlete may be GREAT at a few also, BUT also has to be GOOD at all other elements that include:  Strength / power, speed / agility, muscle stamina, cardio endurance, and flexibility / mobility.

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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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