CrossFit for Special Operations Training?

Cardio vs. Resistance

Over the past decade CrossFit has motivated and turned the fitness community into a daily competition with quick workouts of the day (WODs) in a group or online group atmosphere. There is not a day that goes by that I do not see a WOD posted up on a Facebook page or shared on Twitter, so people are very excited about their fitness these days. Which is GREAT! And you cannot argue with results. People see results with CrossFit workouts more than not. However, this question is asked quite often and it is about time I post on it as people tend to get a few things confused when it comes to Special Operations fitness. This question is specifically asking about Navy SEAL training and using CrossFit to prepare for BUD/​s:

Stew, I know you recommend calisthenics and no lifting when preparing for BUD/​S, but what do you think about CrossFit workouts to prepare for SEAL Training? I know many SEALs, Army SF, RECON guys do CrossFit and recommend it for their own training. What is your take on it?

As a former powerlifting football /​ rugby player prior in high school and college, I grew up lifting. Just because I wrote a book with no weight training in it does not mean, I don’t like lifting or solely recommend calisthenics for SEAL preparation training. I add a cycle of lifting in my WOYs (Workouts of the Year) every year and have found through periodization with logical progressions in many elements like running, swimming, calisthenics, lifting (powerlifting not bodybuilding) works best for the Tactical Athlete as well as the aging athlete like me.

Learn more about Special Operations Forces.

Airman lifting weightsSo lifting is very important and the lifting, high rep calisthenics in CrossFit offer a solid foundation to Special Ops candidates, BUT CrossFit is not the ONLY answer to this question. You need much more. I often say to any Special Ops candidate, “There is no 30 minute weight room workout that will prepare you for a day of SEAL training.” If you like to lift or do CrossFit do it, but make it your warmup to the many other events you will be tested in at your future training program. You will be pushed often to perform multiple sets of pushups, pullups, dips, rope climbs, and a variety of ab exercises so muscle stamina is critical. You need to build up your cardiovascular endurance so you are able to swim 5–6 days a week for at least a mile to two miles a day (with and without fins), run 5–6 days a week with a progressive running plan that gets you to run 4 mile timed runs fast (sub 7 min pace) and up to 5–6 miles a day, and for the Army SF /​ RECON guys — put on a backpack and ruck for miles at a time — which takes hours — several hours — as you build up to 6–10 miles. The core, posterior chain, and shoulder girdle strength gained from lifting and CrossFit helps with rucking and other types of weight bearing events like Log PT and Boat Carries. Higher reps are better versus 1 rep max lifts as you will be doing these events for hours — even days in Hell Week.

Special Forces training with tireMany SOFs will tell you that it is a running man’s game at training, however once you are finished with your gut check of BUD/​S, Q Course, and other Spec Ops pipelines to the Teams, your fitness requirements change. Sure you still need a good cardiovascular base, but not as much as a Triathlete needs or a Spec Ops candidate needs. Your fitness will change to quick movements, sprints, agility, strength and power as you conduct urban, close quarters, tactical missions. CrossFit is very popular with this group of operators. That is why many teams in the SOCOM world have hired athletic strength coaches to build better and longer lasting operators. Here is where many of the SEALs and SF operators get HUGE! They lift big, eat big, train hard and still have a strong cardio base that they can rely on when needed for longer insertions /​ extractions usually wearing rucks. Many Spec Ops candidates get confused with how big the SEALs or Green Berets look when they are operating. This is because the athletic requirements of the job from Spec Ops candidate and Special Operator are DIFFERENT from pre-​​BUD/​s to post BUD/​s and they gained weight /​ muscle once in the Teams.

So if you are training to get big and powerful for BUD/​S stop. Have a solid foundation and add lifting cycles to your annual training program, but you will never get to be a faster runner or swimmer at the same time you are trying to dead lift a truck or max 1 rep anything. Arrange your workouts so you can have speed /​ endurance gains as well as strength gains — see related articles for ideas.

PS — I have nothing against CrossFit — it just does not hold ALL the answers when it specifically comes to Spec Ops training. CrossFit has not claimed it was the answer, but many confused teenagers who are fans (short for fanatics) have gone to BUDS and lasted about 45 minutes.

I do not follow CrossFit but I like many of the workouts and warmup with the Murph workout near weekly as well as some other ideas CrossFit has brought to the fitness world. Take a lesson from some OLD SCHOOL advice when it comes to your Pre-​​Spec Ops training: See the FITS Principle:

FFrequency — How many days per week do you train? IIntensity — How hard do you train? TTime — How long do you train? SSpecificity or Type — Are the methods you are using to train going to specifically answer the fitness goals you seek?

CrossFit has the F — I down. It has the T down as well if you are into 30–40 minute workouts of the day. But if you are going Spec Ops you have to put in the TIME. Several hours before or after a long workday is recommended. Now, the S and to SPECIFICALLY train you for Spec OPs world, you need more longer distance running, longer distance swimming, and high rep calisthenics base in order to get TO and THROUGH any Special Ops Training program.

Related Articles: Periodization

Navy SEAL Prep — For the PowerLifting Athlete

Navy SEAL Prep — For the Endurance Athlete

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