What You Should Know if You Want to Become a SEAL

A high school student tries to do a pull-up during a Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge.
Capt. Adam Curtis and Cmdr. Brian Casson, assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command, help to motivate a student during the Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Michelle Kapica/U.S. Navy photo)

Does the thought of jumping out of planes, SCUBA diving and backpacking for miles excite you? Judging from the number of e-mails I've received asking about the training of the U.S. Navy SEALS and other Special Forces groups in the military, some of you are intrigued by such professions.

Getting accepted into these groups requires a motivated person -- not only physically fit, but also mentally tough and a quick thinker. Here is the physical fitness test for the Navy SEALS' training program, known as BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs). Are you up to it?

Swim 500 yards

The maximum time allowed is 12 minutes, 30 seconds, but to be competitive, you should swim the distance in at least eight to nine minutes, utilizing only the combat swimmer stroke, side stroke or breaststroke.

Recommended workout and training tips: Get technique training and learn to pace yourself. Try 5-10 sets of 100-yard swims, working on a pace that will get you below the competitive times. (Rest 10 minutes after swimming the 500-yard test before moving on to the next exercise.)

Max push-ups

The minimum number is 42 in two minutes, but you should shoot for at least 100 for an average score. Do not pace yourself. Push as many push-ups out as fast as you can, but do not neglect proper form or the SEAL instructor will not count them. (Rest two minutes, then move on to the next exercise.) 

Max sit-ups

The minimum number is 52 in two minutes, but you should strive for at least 100 in two minutes for an average score. Pace yourself. Try doing 20-30 sit-ups in 30 seconds; that will put you within the 80- to 100-sit-up range for two minutes. (Rest two minutes.) 

Max pull-ups

The minimum is eight pull-ups with no time limit, but you cannot touch the ground or let go of the bar. You should be able to do 15 to 20 to be competitive. Try a pyramid of pull-ups. Work your way up from one pull-up the first set until you no longer can do any more sets, then return down the pyramid, repeating in reverse order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1). (Rest 10 minutes before the last exercise of the test.)

1.5-mile run

Wearing boots and pants, the maximum time allowed for this one is 11 minutes, 30 seconds, but you should be able to cover the distance in nine to 10 minutes to be competitive. Pace yourself. Do not start off too fast on the first lap. Shoot for a 90-second, quarter-mile run time around a standard high school track. Repeat this pace for 6-10 sets until you no longer have to rest between quarter-miles.

Learn More About Navy SEALs

One of the best workouts to assist increasing your scores in the PT and run is the following:

  • 100 pull-ups in as few sets as possible. Run a quarter-mile in 90 seconds between sets of pull-ups
  • 200 push-ups in as few sets as possible. Run a quarter-mile in 90 seconds between sets of push-ups.
  • 300 sit-ups in as few sets as possible. Run a quarter-mile in 90 seconds between sets of sit-ups.

This is a tough workout that can take 30-60 minutes to complete -- if you can complete it.

There is very little difference in the type of person who joins the Army Green Berets, Marine RECON, Air Force pararescue jumpers or Navy SEALs. There is one main thing that all of the Special Forces units have in common: Minimum standards are ignored, and they always push themselves to their maximum physical effort.

If you shoot for these minimums, you are destined to go to BUD/S and just try to survive each event of the day. That mentality will wear on you quickly, and you most likely will quit or become injured from lack of training or overuse injuries.

Do not go to BUD/S just wanting to survive the training. You have to be more aggressive than that and not let the mind games and verbal harassment from instructors affect you negatively. You can succeed only by channeling any negative feedback from the instructors and turn it into a positive, self-fueling energy.

You should think that nothing anyone will say will make you doubt yourself or your abilities. If you can do the above recommended standards, you are more than halfway to graduating. The next half of success is the internal drive and determination, coupled with the understanding that you know you will be driven to discomfort most of the time.

Remember that the BUD/S physical fitness test (PFT) is a tough workout. As with any workout, if you know you are not up to it, do not try it. If you have doubts, consult your physician.

Related Navy Special Operations articles:

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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