Why You Don't Have to Be a Certain Size or Shape to Make it Through BUD/S

Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) 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)

I often receive emails concerning guys who are "too lean," "too short," "too tall" and "too big" to attend SEAL training. This is one of the first "doubts" you will have about yourself about whether you are tough enough to make it through SEAL training. There is not much you can do about what God gave you physically, but the good news is that the SEALs need men of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and colors.

Here is a sampling of emails I receive on a nearly weekly basis, and this hopefully will help you clear up the self-doubt you are having about attending SEAL training.  My answers to the varied questions are in italics below:

Too lean

I've heard that guys at BUD/S without enough body fat have a really tough time, that they have to carbo-load even more than the normal person.

True, some guys go to BUD/S and are lean -- meaning sub-5% body fat. Not only will you want to eat more carbohydrates, but you will have to eat more fat and protein as well in order to maintain your weight. We had one really skinny kid in my BUD/S class who was tough as nails and was cold all the time, and he had to eat extra meals - sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to eat some pizza or protein shakes to keep weight on.  But in the end, he was actually one of a few BUD/S graduates who actually gained weight by the time BUD/S was over.

You will be cold, but we all are. Your muscles will keep you warm like fat will. In fact, it is the muscle shaking that produces body heat so do not be scared of shaking. It warms you up; it is when you stop shaking that it is dangerous.

In the SEAL teams, you will be able to get into places others cannot and perhaps be a cardiovascular stud and outlast many others. To me, that is an advantage in many situations.

Too tall/long arms

I am 6 feet, 7 inches tall and have long arms. Push-ups and pull-ups are tough, but I imagine carrying that boat on my head will crush me. How do I get around that if I get to BUD/S?

Sounds like an excuse already. We had tall guys in BUD/S who made it through, no problem -- or should I say with just as many problems as everyone else. You have to get stronger by doing more pull-ups and push-ups, no matter if your arms are long. You can spread your arms wider to create a natural 90-degree elbow bend during your push-ups as well as with pull-ups. But it takes practice and many, many reps of both. I like the Perfect Pullup and Pushup for that reason. Instead of doing sets of 50 push-ups, I am limited to about 50% of those with both devices, meaning I can reach failure faster.  Therefore I grow and understand the pain involved with hard work and become more mentally tough. 

As far as your head, all heads get banged up, but you will be placed in Boat Crew #1, which is for the tallest guys in your BUD/S class. This is always guys usually 6'4" and above, so I do not see that being an issue.

Everyone has a nemesis at BUD/S, whether it is cold, running, swimming, SCUBA, upper-body strength/endurance or just sheer pain tolerance. Find the weakness and make it a strength.

In the SEAL teams, you will be able to reach areas others cannot without assistance so that is an advantage as well in many situations.

Too short

I am only 5'2". Am I too short for BUD/S?  Most guys I see are huge on TV.

First of all, we all look bigger on TV than we really are in life.  But secondly, your height is fine. You will no doubt be in the "smurf boat crew," meaning all the shortest guys in the class will have their own boat to carry. But pound for pound, shorter/lighter guys do well at BUD/S and usually have above-average PT scores and even obstacle course scores (if they can get over the obstacles -- i.e., the Dirty Name). 

In the SEAL Teams you will be able to go places many others cannot, so your size will be an advantage in many situations.

Too big -- a former football player or weightlifter

I am a former football player and powerlifter and not much of an endurance athlete; 1.5 miles is considered long distance to me. Also, I am over 230 pounds -- how can someone like me become a SEAL?

SEAL teams are all about being a team player, so you already have the skills developed to be a team player from your sports experiences. That is a plus! Now, I remember one guy on the SEAL team that was 6'2" and 230 pounds and could do 30 pull-ups and run three miles in 18 minutes. So your size really has nothing to do with it. It is all a function of how hard you work to become a good runner and muscle endurance athlete. 

We recruited a stud football player who weighed 280 pounds. He was a great leader, had just passing PT scores but assured us that he could lose the weight and perform on a BUD/S student level. In a matter of four months, he was down to 200 pounds and could PT, run and swim with the best of his classmates at BUD/S.  He even later went on to DEVGRU (the Naval Special Warfare Development Group)!  So you cannot be discouraged about your size; in fact, embrace it and work hard to be a better performer.

Physiologically, it is easier to go from powerlifting muscle fiber to endurance/strength muscle fiber than in reverse order. I did it, and so can you. I did not lift weights for nearly two years prior to going to BUD/S and just ran, swam and PT'd my butt off.  It worked, and when I started lifting again, I was only about six weeks away from my previous maxes when I went on a weight-gain cycle to prepare for cold water SDV diving in the winter.

In the SEAL teams, you will be one of the bigger guys so you have to work hard not to slow the group down, but at the same time, your strength and even teamwork ability will keep you in good stead with your peers.

I always tell people that there is strength in diversity. We all carry unique skill sets, whether they are physical, mental or the experience of life, that all come together to create a platoon of well-rounded SEALs in a team. If you make it through SEAL training, you obviously have "something special" to share with your teammates and add to the strength of the team.

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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