How to Juggle Military Fitness Training with a Heavy Class Schedule

Balancing the time to study while training for a military special operations program is challenging.
Balancing the time to study while training for a military special operations program is challenging. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jamin Gordon/U.S. Navy photo)

Here is a common question from a college student with a difficult course load. He's found that long SEAL prep workouts are making his studies more challenging. There are ways to stay in great shape and retain what you study, but it takes smart workout scheduling and good food for proper physical and mental recovery.

Mr. Smith,

I have a question involving maintaining my performance with minimal workouts. I am currently submitting a SEAL officer package within the next month. I also am in the final three semesters of my electrical engineering degree with a lot on my plate.

I have found that training every day for a few hours makes my memory retention in class horrible and my mood lackluster. My current average time for PST is 9min swim, 100 push, 100 sit, 25 pull, under 9 run. I have been following the NSW physical training guide for 4 years and, in the past 2 years, incorporated your max calisthenics, pyramid calisthenics and sets calisthenics days religiously. They are great. The running and swimming for an hour or so with the workload seems to be hurting my academic performance.

Can you suggest an absolute minimum of days I can run, swim and PT to maintain my PST scores and still have energy for schoolwork? I would like an opinion from someone who has been there.

Thank you for your time Mr. Smith.

I remember those days.  First of all, eat more. Eat like you are trying to gain weight for more fuel for your brain and muscles. Your brain works off of glycogen, so carb up and stay smart and fit.

We used to do the following:

Morning upper-body workout: Here are some great ways to wake up and be fully aware in class. But you need to eat well before class to fuel the body and mind. Do a quick 30-minute run or swim PT before school. We often did 40-45 minutes if we had the energy for a few more rounds of PT, mixed with cardio in a variety of ways: (5-Part Series of PT Workouts)

Repeat 5-6 times.

  • Run or swim four minutes
  • Pull-ups max
  • Push-ups max
  • Sit-ups max one minute

Morning leg days: On leg days, you can run, ruck or swim with fins, mixing in squats and lunges between timed and distance sets.

You can arrange it this way, too: Run or ruck (or non-impact cardio like bike, elliptical or row, if needed) for 30-40 minutes. Every five minutes, stop and do squats: 20 lunges, 10 per leg.

Evening workout: When you have a second wind, which I found really helped with studying, get in a quick second workout before or after dinner. Try an upper body or leg lift or PT (pyramid, superset, max-rep set) with an easy cardio after it. Or add in speed interval training (Tabata or one minute fast/one minute easy intervals) after a run or swim. Focus on your weaknesses during the evening session.

Hope this helps fit in your spec-ops fitness preparation training into a very busy study and school schedule.


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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