Ask Stew: Advice For Your Younger Self

U.S. Navy divers with the U.S. Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Naval Special Warfare Group 3, dangle from a rope attached to an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during SPIE training at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, June 18, 2013. (U.S. Army/Capt. Richard Barker)
U.S. Navy divers with the U.S. Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Naval Special Warfare Group 3, dangle from a rope attached to an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during SPIE training at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, June 18, 2013. (U.S. Army/Capt. Richard Barker)

Many of us look back 15, 20, even 30 years and think “had I known then what I know now” or “if only I would have done this” what would I have become. Similarly, young students will often ask their instructors, mentors, and teachers, “What advice would you give your younger self?”

Here is a question recently asked that I thought was a fun mental challenge and journey through time:

Stew,

My goal is to get to and through BUD/S and serve in the SEAL Teams. I was curious, what advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time? I am also a similar athletic background as you (football, rugby, lifting) and think my preparation will be pretty much the same as yours. I have read your Change Needed article about your training journey, but anything else I need to consider for my athletic history?  Thanks, Jacob S.

This takes me back to 1990 when I was about a year out from starting SEAL training. If I could go back, I would first say, invest your money in Apple and Amazon and ride out the 90s. But seriously, I would really focus more on recovery health more than performance health. The following list would be my top five items I would share and try to teach my younger self if such a thing were possible:

1 – Take a recovery day.  When you are 20-21 years old, your body may feel invincible.  That is great and push hard obviously, take a day off and learn how to cycle the elements of fitness throughout the year versus trying to get good and stay good at everything every day of the year.  Pull back and learn how to lick your wounds one day a week. Related articles:  20 Year Periodization and Recovery / Sleep / Rest.

2 – Mobility Day – Add in mobility days, get massages, and get the encyclopedia out (pre-google in 1990) and learn about myofascial release.  This technique will be very helpful in post-workout recovery, pain from running, log pt, boat carries, and general overuse.

3 – Eat Well – Drink Less – Turning 21 is a fun time but can take you down a slippery slope if you do not exhibit some discipline in your training.  Enjoy the social scene and unwind, but not so much you get in trouble, feel like crap for two days, as the drinking can take its toll on your training.

4 – Slightly modify your running. As a powerlifting football player, I was rightly concerned about not being in good enough cardiovascular shape and having enough muscle stamina to handle the runs, swims, and high rep PT sessions. Instead of running long slow runs, make your runs a little shorter (4-6 miles – no more) and focus on running them faster – at least 7-minute mile pace.  Try to push some 6-minute mile paced runs too. Going in at 190-195 lbs. will prove to be a good weight to keep you warm, sturdy under the logs and boats and will be light enough to still run at a moderately fast pace.

5 – Mindset – You will doubt yourself, everyone does. But do not think for a minute what you are about to undertake is impossible.  Many people every year graduate BUD/S training and other special ops selection programs just as tough, why not you?  You are prepared, have a good plan, turning your weaknesses into strengths, and will build your confidence this year one day at a time, one workout at a time.  Keep moving and trust in the system.

But also – keep doing your plan.  You and your teammates will do fine, but you have to put in the miles of running and swimming, get those reps of calisthenics in each day (upper / lower body splits), and stretch. Keep working hard (but not overdo it) because it will be from this work and preparation that gets you through, not you coming from the future telling you that you are good to go. One final thing – make sure you ask Denise out on a date senior year – that goes really well for you.

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Fitness Navy SEAL Training