How to Do a Taper Week Before the SEAL Officer and Selection PST

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Future sailors line up before a timed 1.5-mile run during a physical screening test.
Twenty-five future sailors line up before a timed 1.5-mile run as the Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Southwest Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations team administers a physical screening test (PST) at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Nov. 9, 2020. (Public Affairs Specialist Todd J. Hack/U.S. Navy photo)

The highly competitive SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection (SOAS) puts applicants from the Naval Academy, Navy ROTC,Officer Candidate School (OCS) and other service academies and fleet officers into the same group of selection pool that will compete for officer billets to attend BUD/S.

These SOAS events are held during the summers in Coronado, California, and these officers and officer candidates get a taste of BUD/S for two weeks. Here is a question from a candidate who wants to max his scores on the physical screening test (PST), one of the objective grading points of the program.

Mr. Smith, I have a PST coming up for my NSW [Naval Special Warfare] application next week. As you know, I need to crush this one to get selected to SOAS this summer. My scores are solid, but I want to make sure I do my best. Do you have any guidance on the best way to taper, recover and eat the week off for the PST? Thanks Roger.

Good luck. This is a tough process, and you only get one shot to take this test. Throughout the SOAS process, there will be many graded events. Physical fitness is one of the events where you have control over the results. Your leadership experience, academic grades and community service will also be on the table for review.

However, the most challenging events will be at SOAS itself. You will be evaluated based on your physical performance in a grueling week of BUD/S type of events, your ability to work together with other candidates as a team and then your ability to lead that team when you get the opportunity.

During the interview process, your grade depends on your ability to communicate, knowledge of current events and whether you can explain to a group of SEAL officers and senior enlisted why you want to be a SEAL officer.

Your physical performance on the PST is important, but there are many more parts of SOAS that have very little to do with your physical performance.

Obviously, the training and testing is still extremely physically demanding. To answer your question more specifically, here is a list of things to consider before taking an important physical fitness test.

1. Nothing New

Make sure you are not doing anything new the week of the test and especially on the day of the test. Eat and drink like you normally would to recover from hard workout days and for energy the following day.

Do not try any new exercises or workouts this week, either. If you are going to change anything, make sure you are getting a good night's sleep each night of the week. See the Importance of Sleep.

2. 4-5 Days Out from the Test

Let's say you are taking your fitness test on a Friday. Four or five days out (Monday and Tuesday) can be your normal workouts, but they should be focused on PST-related events, not heavy one-rep max lifting or other form of cardio.

You need to run, swim and do calisthenics for the upper body (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, dips) on one day, and the other day can be leg-based calisthenics (squats, lunges) mixed with running at your goal pace for the timed run events. No need to ruck or swim with fins today, as normal leg days might be topped off with rucking or swimming with fins.

3. 2-3 Days Before the Test

By Wednesday, consider doing a typical mobility day where you can get some good non-impact cardio mixed with stretching, foam rolling and massage spread throughout the workout. Some will even do another mobility day the day before the test, just to stay loose and keep the lungs working, but the overall goal is to rest and work on any soreness or aches that may be bothering you this week.

4. The Day Before the Test

You can take the day off or do an easier version of the Mobility Day. Get a good night's sleep, eat a good meal with good carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), lean choices of protein and good fats (fish, olive oil, nuts, etc.).

See my related podcast with Army nutritionist Lt. Col. Nick Barringer on his recommendations for pre-game energy: Podcast on Nutrition for Fitness Test.

Note: Your meals today really should not be much different from the previous days. Avoid new foods. No need to try something new tonight and find it does not agree with you and disrupt your sleep all night.

5. The Day of the Test

Once again, try nothing new. This means no new "energy drinks" and avoid too much caffeine, as that can elevate the heart rate too much, based on your sensitivity to caffeine. The butterflies may be starting today, so do things like controlled deep breathing to relax.

Once the swim starts, the jitters tend to go away and you can focus on your goal pace for the events and perform at your best. See PST Strategies. There is also a podcast on the topic.

Call it a PST Taper Week or a few easy days prior to the PST. When you have one chance to score well, you have to be at your best as the process is competitive.

After the test, you have a few months to prepare for SOAS, so maintain your optimal PST scores (or improve them, if needed) and start working on other events, such as longer runs, rucks and swims with fins for your cardio. You will be doing logs and boats, so your strength and muscle stamina are also important. You do not want to get crushed under the weight of these objects when tested.

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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