Ask Stew: How to Train to Be a Navy SEAL

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BUD/S students drag their boat back to shore.
Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEAL (BUD/S) students drag their boat back to shore during their first Surf Passage at the Naval Special Warfare Center at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Blake R. Midnight/U.S. Navy photo)

Everyone has to start their fitness journey somewhere.

Usually that means not being very good at cardiovascular events, like running and swimming, or strength events, like weight training and even calisthenics. Be patient and prepare properly to build a solid foundation of strength and cardiovascular abilities.

This will take time. It may even take 1-2 years, especially if you have significant weaknesses or are lacking in physical development. Here is an email from a young man who is ready to start training. As you can see, where he starts depends on a few variables. Ask yourself these same questions:

Mr. Smith,

I want to start preparing for SEAL training, and I'm not in the best shape right now. What kind of workout plan should I start using? Sean

Sean, patience is required, but so is persistence. If you want to prepare for BUD/S, give yourself at least a year to prepare before even talking to a recruiter. Where and how you begin depends on a few things:

1. You have to first get to the training by acing the physical screening test (PST). What is your current PST score? If you do not know, take the test. Did you pass? Did you fail some or all of the events? Observe your weaknesses and start focusing on them. They likely will be running 1.5-mile timed runs, swimming 500 yards using the CSS and the PT exercises -- pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups. Do the PST enough to learn how to build a strategy to optimize your scores.

2. Once you can ace the PST, see a recruiter. You still will have some time to train, but when you get medically cleared and show up for your first PST with the SEAL mentor, you want to be in the passing group, not the failing group.

Consider this your job interview and your first impression with someone in the SEAL community. Do well. Your scores will be entered into a draft system, and only the best scores in the nation (that month) go to BUD/S. You have to be a competitor. Typical scores to shoot for:

  • 500-yard swim -- 8-9 minutes or less
  • Push-ups 80-100
  • Sit-ups 80-100
  • Pull-ups 15-20
  • 1.5-mile run -- 9 minutes or less

The closer you are to the better scores of this range, the better.

3. Once you ace the PST with a recruiter/mentor, start working on things that will help you get through BUD/S. Start adding new exercises to the PT program with weights, running longer, faster distances and swimming more with fins. For instance:

  • Swimming with SCUBA fins -- build up to 1-2 miles
  • Running four- to five-mile timed runs -- maintain a seven-minute mile pace minimum
  • Mix in lifting to prepare for boats and logs, see the SandBaby Murph Workout
  • Find workouts that include weights, calisthenics, running, swimming, some rucking and pool skills like treading.
  • Keep doing the PST 1-2 times a month. You likely will do this with the SEAL mentor. Just do not get out of PST shape while focusing on other elements of pre-SEAL training, as you still have to pass this at boot camp, pre-BUD/S and at BUD/S again.

4. Once you are in this level of fitness, you will be well on your way to start your Navy journey and have a higher chance of succeeding with your goal.

5. Remember why you want to do this. BUD/S is a very challenging test. It is your test to enter the SEAL community. Be ready.

Motivation helps. Build good habits. Persistence wins every time. Once you create these habits, the discipline and mental toughness you will have gained from not quitting on yourself will help you when the long days turn into nights, hot becomes cold, and clean becomes muddy and sandy. Good luck.

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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