The Five Psychological Phases of Fitness

A participant navigates a tire obstacle during the Marine Corps Marathon Run Amuck.
A participant navigates a tire obstacle during the annual Marine Corps Marathon Run Amuck at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, June 23, 2018. (Lance Cpl. Alexander Cockrell/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

I often have used the five phases to describe to people how they are going to feel in the near future about starting a fitness program, whether as a beginner or as an advanced athlete preparing for Navy SEALs or Special Forces training.

I have found that both the out-of-shape beginner and the advanced Special Operations candidate develop their goals through the process described below:

Phase One

The first phase of fitness requires a person to make a decision to get healthy or become a Special Operations candidate. This phase takes 2-3 seconds, but it actually takes about 2-3 weeks to make habits that will fuel your desire to obtain your goals. Hang in there at least that long and build good habits. This phase is filled with motivation and a general excitement about fitness and exercise.

Phase Two

In the second phase, doubt enters and either can crush your progress or make you stronger. It is absolutely natural to have doubts about what you are undertaking. My advice is to start doubting yourself as quickly as possible and get over it. Realize that self-doubt is part of the process. Even SEAL trainees doubt themselves, but those who become SEALs conquer their doubt. Those who lose 60-80 pounds in a year conquer their doubt as well.

Phase Three

Phase Three, when you realize you have conquered your doubt, is one of the most exciting phases. You may have to redo this phase continually throughout your quest for fitness or Special Forces status, but once you do, you can do anything you set your mind to.

This is where the mind and body connect. Use the workouts to be a catalyst in all areas of your life: work, relationships, school, etc. I am a firm believer that exercising your body will give you the stamina and energy to exercise your mind and achieve your lifelong dreams.

Phase Four

Phase Four is the total identity change and self-confidence realization period for most people. You now associate yourself with fit and healthy people. Now you are fit in mind and body. Your example will inspire others. Be a role model to another heavy person or aspiring Special Operations soldier. People will be amazed by your new work ethic at work and play. Eating healthy is now a habit for you, too. Eating fast food or unhealthy snacks makes you feel slightly ill.

Phase Five

Phase Five is the next step, but the journey never ends. Set and conquer goals for yourself. Whatever you like -- run, swim, bike, lift weights -- challenge yourself to run a 10K, lift 400 pounds or compete in a triathlon. Fitness is a journey, not a destination.

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

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