Ask Stew: US Naval Academy From Plebe to BUD/S

Jubilant USNA graduates celebrate their successful completion of school (photo courtesy of US Naval Institute).

If you are about the graduate high school and were accepted into ROTC or the Service Academies, congratulations and thanks for choosing to serve.

My recommendations are similar to any tactical profession journey – To and THROUGH the training.  Basically, you spent a significant part of your high school life performing at high standards to get TO the training, now you have to start to prepare yourself to get THROUGH the training.

When it comes to ROTC / College / USNA, etc, that not only means to reach the military and physical standards, but at this point the academic standards and stress will be a challenge.

Here is a common question that comes from many future spec ops candidates who have four years to thoroughly prepare themselves for their future training, but you won’t get there if you are not meeting the standards in everything else you have to do in order to graduate:

Hello Sir. My name is Hank. I have had the honor of accepting an appointment to USNA, and I am looking forward to plebe summer. My long term goal is to become a SEAL from the Academy. I am working on “military fitness” now that sports are complete. I run a 6 minute mile, can do 97 sit ups, 70 push ups, and 12 pull ups, each within 2 minutes. I know I have a very long ways to go, but I am constantly exercising to improve. I am however, not a swimmer.  Do you think I need to focus on swimming or take lessons before I show up to Plebe Summer? If so, should I purchase a pair of swim fins to get acclimated with? Thank you so much for your time. Hank

Hank – congrats! That is quite an accomplishment and a testament to the efforts of high standards in your high school career. So, you just got TO the Academy. Now you have to get THROUGH the Academy with the added challenge of getting a SEAL billet after graduation. Here is how you maneuver through that journey:

Plebe Year – Get through Plebe Summer.  Start learning Navy and Marine Corps basics (history, officer / enlisted ranks, General Orders of the Sentry, Reef Points – USNA, etc). If you are not playing a varsity sport, consider the Spec Ops Team – it is just a club of like minded Midshipmen who train for SEAL, EOD, Marines together after school. Joining the SOT is not a requirement as there are many other sports and clubs that will help you prepare for BUD/S (Triathlon Team, Endurance Team, Rugby, varsity sports, etc). However at the SOT, they will walk you through the process and you will see what fitness is for those juniors / seniors in front of you getting ready for BUD/S, EOD, USMC training.

Study Skills – you will have full schedule of classes from Chemistry, Calculus, Naval Engineering 101, English, History, Leadership classes to fill your day and your nights studying.  TIME MANAGEMENT skills will help you be able to find the time to fit in your physical training. (See ideas)

Youngster (Sophomore) Year – Life will be less stressful for you, but the academics grow more challenging as you get to select a major.  Pick something you are interested in doing. You will find more time to train this year and you can really jump start your spec ops level training and learn how to ace the PST (swim, run, pullup, pushups, situps). This is the year to “up your game.”

Second Class (Junior) Year –This is the year when you must tryout for your BUD/S billet.  During the Fall and Spring of this year, you get the opportunity to attend BUD/S Screening if you qualify (ace the PST). BUD/S Screening at the USNA is roughly a 48-hour event that mimics many of the more challenging events of Hell Week and First Phase BUD/S. Having PST scores in the 8 min 500yd swim range, sub 9 minute 1.5 mile range, and 100 pushups, 100 situps, and 20 plus pullups will put you in good stead with the upper half of your classmates to qualify for SOAS – SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection - this upcoming summer, IF you endure the BUD/S Screener.  All officer candidates must attend SOAS (Service Academy, ROTC, OCS). By the way, this year, the academics are typically the toughest as you will take Electrical Engineering, Thermodynamics and more of your major courses.

First Class (Senior) Year – It all starts for you in the summer before your senior year. You will spend three weeks of the summer at SOAS at Coronado, IF you pass the SpecWar Screener and have high enough PST scores. Consider this your test as you will be interviewed, physically tested, observed for your leadership, teamwork skills, and maturity the entire time. After a few weeks of running, swimming, rucking, and challenging PT workouts, you wait. When you get back to USNA, you will find out by Thanksgiving if you were selected and given the opportunity to go back to BUD/S after you graduate. If you do not get selected you can go Surface Warfare with the goal of lateral transferring back to BUD/S in a few years, or pick another job that you qualify for (USN / USMC Pilot, USMC, Surface, Submarines, etc) and serve for the next 5 or more years.

Regardless, the journey is a challenge, but fun and worth it. Be patient with your training.  Consider training for the long run with periodization program each year and grow in all the elements of fitness throughout the final years of your teens and into your early twenties. But to answer your questions, no I would not worry about it too much this summer. You will have plenty of time to prepare and learn how to swim at USNA. Take a SCUBA course when there and you will get all the gear your need (fins, mask) to advance your training when you are ready. For now, continue your running and PT exercises and learn more about the Navy as you will be tested during Plebe Summer.

About Stew Smith CSCS

Stew Smith is a Navy SEAL Veteran who supports the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  He also has over 1000 articles on Fitness Forum and over a 100 Podcasts focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

As a writer on the tactical fitness topic, Stew creates multi-week training programs to help you prepare for any test, training program, or just lose weight and get fit for duty. has the answer.


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