How to Prepare to Be a Navy SEAL — The Road Less Travelled

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Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. (Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt/U.S. Navy photo)

Joining the military to be a special operator is no easy task.

Many people seeking to serve in the military (specifically the Navy SEAL, SWCC, EOD, diver pipeline) struggle to prepare physically for the challenges they face. Most will think they are good to go and not train enough, some will overtrain and break quickly, and some (20%-25%) will find the right amount of preparation to get both to and through the training process. The process to join the Navy and charge forward into the special ops requires you to take critical steps before you join.

The number one goal and first step of the process is taking the physical screening test:  500-yard swim (learn the Combat Swimmer Stroke – CSS), push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and 1.5-mile run. You have to be good at this test, with competitive scores in the following zone. 

You should have taken this test so many times on your own that you have created a strategy to succeed with competitive scores. See the Official Navy SEAL Website for the PST Calculator and see where you match up with previous recruits in the process of getting to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. You also should be so familiar with the official Navy SEAL website so that there will be no surprises when you speak with a recruiter.

However, there is no need to speak to a recruiter until you can crush this PST. Recommended scores that traditionally are in the competitive range are the following:

  • 500-yard swim: 8:00-8:20 or faster
  • Push-ups: 90+
  • Sit-ups: 90+
  • Pull-ups: 20+
  • 1.5-mile run: 9 minutes or faster

There will be a SEAL mentor in each recruiting district who will test you regularly to make sure you can keep these scores (or get to the scores) during your delayed entry program process. But if you are a chronic PST failure week after week, you never will get to BUD/S after boot camp.

You will be required to join the Navy with a different job. After a few years in the Navy, you can get orders to BUD/S via the lateral transfer process (see official site) but realize this upfront before signing anything. Consider your first PST with the SEAL mentor a job interview and perhaps with one of the first SEALs you ever have met. Do you want to be in the failure group or the passing group?

Once you get those scores that make you eligible for the rest of the Navy SEAL training pipeline, now you can start to focus more on getting through BUD/S. Build up and progress to four-mile timed runs and one- to two-mile swims with fins. Still work on your high-repetition calisthenics, but add some lifting for prepare the body for carrying boats, logs and heavy backpacks. Consider some of these types of workouts:  Sandbaby Murph, Rucking/Running Programs.

This journey to prepare for tough selection programs should not start in the recruiter’s office. It should be a significant amount of time that depends on your current fitness level, athletic history and tactical fitness weaknesses, because BUD/S will expose any weakness in the first few days of First Phase.

This can take up to a year or more. Too many times, the Perfect Storm For Failure has caused many to lose sight of their goal when all they were was just underprepared.

If you have some time, give yourself a year before speaking to recruiters. You can find that a periodized program will yield the results to becoming a well-rounded tactical athlete that can endure the process of boot camp, pre-training, selection, post-selection training and the job itself. Eventually, you will be able to check off The Ten Signs That Prove You Are Ready to Serve.

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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