Humility Is Essential When Training for Fitness Goals

Mental toughness
(U.S. Air Force illustration/John Linzmeier)

This article was prompted by many who ignore their weaknesses at their own peril while only focusing on their strengths. It takes humility to be honest with yourself and say, “I could be better at ______. I will work on ________ for a cycle of training.”

Periodization allows for that if the programming has cycles that focus on different elements of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility, mobility and core/grip strength).

No one is good at all of these when they start their journey. Find out your weaknesses and strengths you bring to the table on Day 1 of your journey, not Day 1 of Selection. Once it is Game Day and you are a few days into your special ops selection, basic training or police/fire academy, your weakness already will be exposed. This now requires you to be more mentally tough just to meet the standard, instead of having proper preparation in order to exceed the standard.

Your lack of humility caused this, not your lack of ability.

The recent articles on What is Good Enough? objectively described a standard that is good enough to get to and through special ops-type training programs. Where most people make mistakes is that they lack the ability to address their weaknesses and instead overwork their strengths, only to be in a state of overtraining/injury on a few elements of fitness and completely lack the ability to meet a standard once in the tactical training. Then it is too late. Because in the end: Exceeding the standard is the standard. So how does humility help?

Honesty, humility, maturity

Most of us prefer to avoid our weaknesses and do what we enjoy -- our strengths. However, when preparing for something that inevitably will expose your weakness, the lack of honesty with yourself, maturity and just humbling yourself to learn from people who can help you will be your downfall.

Life is humbling

Life has a way of humbling us regularly, usually at the time in life when we need it the most. For instance, when we go from eighth grade into high school, we are freshmen. The lowest of the low. This position can humble us temporarily, but it is time to work hard and grow.

As we grow, we become more confident in the process, become leaders in the school/sports/ clubs and can be cocky. If you can become humble at this moment, you will learn a valuable lesson in life early. Because guess what happens next year? Life will drop you down to size again, as you will be new to a job, a rookie, a freshman/plebe in school, a recruit at boot camp or a candidate in selection. You will start out humble again.

It is difficult to learn when you are a know-it-all 18-year old and have life figured out. Humility stops arrogance and enables you to get focused, hungry and work to be better each day. Besides, after your selection, you are brought down again as a “new guy" with even more to learn and more to prove to the team, with higher stakes. Your humbling yourself and learning from your teammates is critical from here on out.

The humble team player/leader

Knowing you do not have all the answers and sharing that with your team/platoon/boat crew/group places you in a position to be open to suggestions from the team, make mistakes and ask for help. By being a humble teammate or leader, you open yourself up to growing together as a team and build some resiliency as a group to handle future challenges and losses -- learning from them. But it also will help you be a good winner and learn to handle with grace and dignity.

Being a leader or teammate who is approachable will create a supportive team environment, and being open to taking calculated risks starts with being a humble servant leader.

Meeting the standards – competition and teamwork

Closing your mind to being humble can cause a leader or teammate not to fit into the team very well. This can cause issues with meeting the standards as a team. Members who are failing to meet the standard set by the program will be replaced soon by other members of the class or overall group who are.

These people who failed to prepare properly eventually will weed themselves out and quit, or the system will drop them. Have trust in the system to work, as it is not the job of a teammate to run fellow students out of the program. Besides, success is not a good teacher; failure makes you humble. That is why many who try for a second time tend to do better and graduate.

There are times in training/selection where there are individually timed events, and your personal efforts are graded -- not as a team but as an individual. These are the times where a healthy dose of competition with your teammates is helpful to your performance and others around you.

By pushing yourself and setting the standard that is exceeding the standard, others around you will follow. Sometimes you lead; sometimes you follow. Even though you are competing, you are being a good team player by doing so. A good teammate also gives technique, advice or strategy tips to others in the class is what a good teammate does.

Humility breeds patience

When you are humble, you realize the weaknesses you may have. You have considered training options to get better, and you realize that you do not have to be in a hurry to join. Read Perfect Storm for Failure.

Most age brackets to serve in special ops programs are as young as 18 years old and up to 29-30+ in some branches of service. You have plenty of time, as that is not an age window but more of a barn door. Make sure you have met the standards of your future training program before you leave for training. If you do not know the standards, you are not ready.

Being a mature, humble person means you have done the research because you realize you do not know it all. Once you realize your weaknesses, you will set a different timeline for yourself so you can address them properly -- if you really want to make it through selection.

You need humility and patience in order to find the right path. Preparation for the journey won’t come fast and it won’t come easy, but it will be worth the wait.

Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. -- John Wooden

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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