Every year people prepare for military, police, fire fighter and special ops selection programs, and every year there are failures due to someone not mastering certain events. As the long list below details, the reasons can range from injury to lack of mental toughness:
- Extreme hot / cold temperatures
- Being comfortable with discomfort
- Lower extremity injuries
- Failure to master cardio challenges and techniques of runs, rucks, and swims
- Lacking upper body strength / muscle endurance
- Lacking strong core, hips, glutes for load bearing events
- Lacking mobility / movement imbalances
- Failure to give time to building a tactical fitness foundation
- Failing specific events (swims, life-saving, knot tying, rucking land navigation course, etc)
- Failing academic events (medical, weapons nomenclature, navigation, dive physics / math)
- Trouble with relationships at home
- Falling for instructor driven mind games that challenge the less confident
- Not used to being given constant negative feedback
- Failing to have the ability when the body fails the mind keeps pushing forward vs quitting
- And many others…
The question is: How do you prepare yourself so that none of these problems bite you during selection?
Here are my top three tips:
You have to get SPECIFIC with your training. Depending upon your branch of service you are training for, you need to learn as much as possible about the challenging events you will be facing. First phase of your training should be to GET TO THE TRAINING. This usually means passing a fitness test. For someit this can take up to a year to master all the events of a fitness test that you will take on Day 1 of Selection to prove you have what it takes to continue with the program. This means working on your running pace for timed runs, swimming (if Navy, AF, USMC), rucking at a steady but fast pace, and high repetition calisthenics (pullups, pushups, situps).
Once you get your entrance exam scores to qualify for the training, now you need to focus on how to get THROUGH the training. Adding specific distances to longer runs, swims, rucks is smart for a stronger cardio base. You will see it is a running / rucking man's game in most of these Special Ops selection programs – even the services with strong water elements (Navy, AF, USMC). Adding specific weight training to simulate boat carries, log PT, equipment carry, heavy rucking is smart as well.
2. Foundation of Fitness
If you've been a long-term athlete through high school/college, you have a solid foundation to build upon to get Spec Ops ready. Finding your weaknesses is what is critical with this section. Athletics requires you to specialize typically in either endurance events (run, swimming), power and sprinting events (track, football), as well as some hybrid strength/speed/endurance events like wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, etc. Regardless, your Spec Ops Selection will expose a weakness. It might be swimming for the wrestler. It might be long distance running for the football player. It might be upper body strength for the cross country runner. We all have weaknesses – find them! Make them stronger if your future training selection requires it.
3. Imbalances and Injury Prevention
Exposing weaknesses that statistically lead to injury is an education in itself. Understanding what MOBILITY is will assist with this area of concern. Check out Kelly Starlett's informational videos at www.mobilitywod.com for more tips on moving efficiently and without pain. There is a difference between flexibility and mobility. It is helpful to be flexible, and yes, that helps with mobility, but to be able to move through your proper ranger of motions carrying uneven weight on uneven surfaces requires specialized knowledge that is available online and in books on the topic.
In the end, to be honest, THERE ARE NO TIPS! THERE IS NOT A SECRET SAUCE! It is more about you enduring pain and discomfort as well as putting out every day. Taking the time to build a foundation is critical – but this takes years of athletics, teamwork training, and finally maybe up to a year of specific training to help you master challenging events at your special ops selection.
Some more info on avoiding Special Ops Selection mistakes can be found at Former Canadian Special Ops Regiment soldier and trainer Wes Kennedy's site and free video series on the 12 Mistakes Special Ops Candidates Make Prior to Selection. Special Thanks to Wes for posting this topic on his social media to spur an article idea this week.
Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.