How Your Weaknesses Can Be Exposed Before You Even Join the Military

A Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) instructor directs SEAL candidates.
A Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) instructor directs SEAL candidates participating in strength and conditioning training with logs at Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Center in Coronado, California. (Anthony Walker/U.S. Navy photo)

There is one thing that all special ops selection programs have in common: They are designed to expose weaknesses. Whether it is an element of fitness for which you're underprepared or your will and drive to endure the daily grind of a high attrition rate selection program, weaknesses will be revealed.

But very often the deselection process begins long before the first day. It can have its roots at the beginning of the recruitment process, basic training or even the prep course.

If you're not careful, weaknesses exposed during the recruitment process will end your dreams before they start. The more of these you can eliminate for yourself now, the less likely you are to fall prey to the grind of training, a loss of confidence in your abilities or injury. Think of a weakness as a gut check you have to deal with potentially on a daily basis that requires your 100% focus and attention to meet the standards -- or you get kicked out. It could be as basic as a weekly run test.

Typically, when we speak of weaknesses, the list below comes to mind, but there are many more weaknesses besides common fitness elements: strength or power, speed or agility, endurance or muscle stamina, flexibility or mobility, and grip.

The good news is that every Spec Ops selection graduate had to endure and push through some kind of weakness. Whether it is the big, strong athlete who had to dig deep when running fitness tests just to meet the standards or the endurance athlete candidate who could run and swim but got crushed doing PT tests under rucks, logs, and boats on head (depending on your branch of service or selection program), both found a way to endure and avoid injury.

During the recruiting process, you will be tested in multiple forms. These will include fitness tests, ASVAB, or other tests like the Computerized Special Operations Resiliency Test (CSORT) or the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) depending on your branch of service. Any one of these can expose weaknesses, so do your homework and study.

Here are some ways candidates' weaknesses are exposed during the process of getting to and through the selection training pipeline.

Bad preparation. I have seen many people come so ill-prepared for their first fitness test that they quit in the middle of the swim. You should practice swimming if you have a swim test and not just assume you can pass any exercise in the fitness test. If you are close to passing, a few months in the program may be helpful, but eventually you not just have to ace the fitness test but start preparing to get through the training, too.

Bad attitude. I have seen people quit in the middle of push-up tests when the instructor did not count the last 10 reps because they were not proper form. Yes, people actually storm out of the testing area never to be seen again. A maturity weakness was exposed, as well as the inability to take negative feedback. You have to get good at that in this journey.

Not ready. Never passing a fitness test to meet the standard even after several months of taking physical screening tests with your mentor is a common error. Joining too soon, thinking it was the recruiter or mentor's job to get you in shape, was the first mistake in not fully understanding the process. In these candidates, the weakness was lack of preparation and failure to learn the requirements of the process and assuming they could pass a test without properly preparing.

Bad decisions. Not taking this seriously and getting into trouble or seriously injured by doing something stupid (drinking and driving, injury playing contact sports for no reason, arrested for anything, etc.) will stop your career progression. Think before you do something potentially that is dangerous or will jeopardize your future. There have been many who had their opportunity to serve in special ops programs shut forever because of disqualifying actions during the recruitment process. Be mature enough to stay out of trouble and smart enough not to do things that are high risks as your ship date approaches.

The goal of the recruitment process is to get people to attend basic training or boot camp, not to crush their spec ops dreams before they even join the military. If you fail during this phase, it is really your fault for not doing enough research. The good news is that many active-duty members get to change their job during their enlistment if they still have that desire and qualify.

The next phases of basic training -- official fitness tests after boot camp that determine whether you stay in the training pipeline, the Prep Courses and the selection program you seek -- will expose weaknesses as well. These exposures are on a much greater scale, as the goal of the pre-selection pipelines is to test how bad you want these jobs.

But if you just do your basic research on the process long before you start the recruitment phase, you may just find that you can go in better prepared to at least get to the training. Getting through the training and joining a special ops unit still holds a 50%-80% attrition rate on average with the people that make it past the initial recruitment hurdles.

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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