6 Characteristics Shared by Successful Special Ops Candidates

Soldiers from 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct a Fallen Warrior workout, alongside 4th Special Forces Regiment soldiers from the Royal Thai Army in Phitsanulok, Thailand.
Soldiers from 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct a Fallen Warrior workout, alongside 4th Special Forces Regiment soldiers from the Royal Thai Army in Phitsanulok, Thailand, Feb. 23, 2020. (Sgt. Garret Smith/U.S. Army photo)

Are you physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for any special ops-level training program that is both competitive to enter and requires enduring a high attrition rate selection to graduate?

The answer is broad enough to create a book, but here is a concise answer that may help you understand some of the concerns, besides physical preparation, that go through the minds of recruits and candidates:

Stew, out of the people you have worked with or trained over the years, what are the characteristics of those that make it or those that do not when preparing special ops training? Is it more mental or physical? Appreciate you. Dan

Here are six things that successful candidates tend to have in common:

1. They Show Up (Plus).

The people consistently present in the six-day-a-week training program do well physically. These workouts are at 6 a.m., requiring some to travel 30-45 minutes or more to attend. This is a physical minimum standard to getting to and through selection.

The secondary workouts later in the day focused specifically on the weakness experienced that morning and is a characteristic that yields success. This daily commitment is needed and will help you improve your discipline and dedication, and build some needed mental toughness one day at a time.

Showing up when you do not feel like getting out of bed is a great daily test. We all need to learn how to pass this test when establishing why we want to do these types of jobs.

2. They Work Harder but Also Smarter.

The people who can make the workouts a little tougher in some fashion also do well. For instance, add a weight vest to pull-ups, run faster, do more intervals than prescribed or add more reps. Smartly added extra credit can also go a long way to building confidence and durability to handle longer days/nights of selection training.

A second workout on most days is something most successful candidates create for themselves, but you have to adhere to logical split routines and recovery protocols even more.

3. They're Serious About Recovery.

Do not waste a hard workout day on missed sleep, poor food choices or late-night partying if you want optimal results. If you take this journey seriously, take your recovery seriously as optimal performance is mastering recovery.

4. They Get to Work.

Adding in a physical labor job or challenging college class schedule can also be helpful to success on the special ops journey. If you find yourself doing hard workouts throughout the day or taking a nap in between, you may miss out on some of the long days of activity training you need.

The physical challenges are tough, and you need to prepare properly for them, but a long day of work or moving around is a grind. Some of the best students I have seen over the years did early morning workouts before work or school.

Then they worked or attended classes all day and squeezed in another workout or sport at the end of the day. Of course, these are stressful on the mind and body, but managing your day with constant activities, deadlines and workouts will always build an exceptional candidate.

5. They're More Mature.

Both physical and emotional maturity are critical to success. Most of the attrition rate in special ops is riddled with teenage candidates. Some have not even finished growing yet, and many have recently graduated high school, which creates a perfect storm of failure with homesickness, constant negative feedback and being required to perform at the highest levels physically that they did not realize was even possible.

Take some time to grow up fully before attending these programs; they are not for kids.

6. They Don't Have a Good Plan B.

If you have a good secondary option to serve, ending your special ops journey can be much easier. You have to want this chosen profession so badly that all other options are not part of your thought process when you are cold, swimming in dark water, uncomfortable and exhausted on a day seemingly without end. "How bad do you want it?" is always easier to answer when comfortable and pain free.

People have many characteristics and mannerisms when dedicated to a goal in their future, regardless of that goal. The key is to keep grinding and working on those weaknesses whenever you get the opportunity to do so.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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