How to Boost Your Strength and Size for Special Operations Training

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates run with inflatable boats on their heads during the 'Hell Week' crucible of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California.
U.S. Navy SEAL candidates run with inflatable boats on their heads during the 'Hell Week' crucible of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, June 12, 2023. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan Lavin/U.S. Navy photo)

Preparing for any special operations selection involves making sure you have no weaknesses and have properly developed your strengths relatable to future tasks in your training. From fitness test preparation to getting accepted into these training programs and then preparing to graduate from these high-attrition rate selections, you need a focused plan, time and patience to be successful.

Even then, nothing in this journey is certain, as it often comes down to how badly you actually want to graduate and become a member of a special operations program. Here is a question from a gentleman in his mid-20s feeling he needs a change from his current profession:

Hi Stew,

I really appreciate all you do to help people prepare for service. I am 26 and recently decided to give myself 1 year to train for BUDS. I'm 6'2", 190lbs, and pretty lean, trying to bulk to 205. I have competitive PST scores but think I need to gain some weight/strength and improve my PST scores this next year. PS -- your video on the "old guy" training for BUDS was a big help. Without your articles and videos, I'd be pretty lost in my training. Any recommendations? Thanks, Grant

Grant, thanks for the email. I would not consider you the old guy. I just heard a recent graduate from BUD/S, short for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, was 29 years old this week and knew of several in their early 30s who completed the task. I would say those are "old guys." You may be borderline at best. Just know your age is not your limiting factor at this point, though you need to master your recovery (nutrition, sleep, mobility) to handle the daily grind.

For your training, you do not need PST-specific or calisthenics- and cardio-only programs. At your current height and weight, it may not be a bad idea to add a few pounds for general durability (logs and boats) and cold-water tolerance.

But do not forget your grip training. You will need it for the obstacle course, especially if you are more than 200 pounds. It also depends on your height, as 190-200 pounds is a pretty good weight. I was that weight at 6'1" going through BUD/S, which created some weaknesses because I was on the bigger side.

At your size, you must prepare for some typical weaknesses -- running slower, your grip on the obstacle course and the number of pull-ups you can manage. But you won't get crushed under boats and logs, and your rucking is solid, as are your cold-water tolerance and other load-bearing exercises. Big legs help you handle the ocean swim with fins and rucking as well. For me, running fast was the challenge at that weight, but I was glad I had the mass when under a load with rucks, boats and logs.

No matter what you do now and regardless of your size and body fat percentage, you will have certain strengths and weaknesses, so let that be your focus as they depend largely on your current ability, athletic history and timeline to prepare.

The good news is that after Hell Week (Week 4), there are no more boats or logs, and that kind of load bearing is decreased to rucking in the third phase. BUD/S turns into more of a triathlon-type endurance event after Hell Week (run, ruck, swim, PT/obstacle course), and being lighter may be helpful during the back half of the six-month training program.

Consider a block periodization model like a winter lift cycle that allows you to improve PST scores while getting stronger and gaining weight. Learn about Block Periodization training for the tactical athlete, which allows for you to develop or maintain PST scores while you lift weights to develop additional mass and strength.

After the winter lift cycle, take a PST and see how you do. This assessment is great to determine whether you lack the muscle stamina and endurance in running and swimming you need. Then test yourself in a one- to two-mile swim with scuba fins and a four-mile timed run.

If endurance is your weakness, these tests will show you what your next training cycle needs to be. Most likely, a higher volume of running, swimming with fins and calisthenics will be the final focus on your training cycles before you head to the military ready to take on this spec ops challenge.

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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