Your Weakness Will Be Your Toughest Event at Spec Ops Selection

Hell Week BUD/S SEAL
U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training on January 23, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

As you prepare for any special ops program in the tactical professions, you will be faced with grueling events that will test your physical, mental and tactical skills every single day.

Here is a question from a special ops candidate about specific events that prompted an answer that discusses overall preparation mistakes for special ops training.

What are the events at SEAL Training (BUD/S) that most people don't properly prepare for, the ones that cause them to be cut for performance or dropped on request (DOR)? Thanks, Tristan

There are many events that challenge the will of students during SEAL training. Before you even start, the anxiety of the first day will begin the attrition process, as many candidates quit the training before it gets underway. Dealing with questions about your own pregame mental performance or confidence can go a long way to helping you succeed. Quite often, the hardest test is just getting started.

First Three Weeks

The grind of the first three weeks will be the biggest challenge for all students. The first phase will introduce you to four-mile timed runs on the beach, two-mile swims in the ocean (with scuba fins), obstacle courses and the challenge of working as a team with your classmates under the load and strain of carrying logs and boats.

These days are long. The biggest challenge usually comes when the day has turned into night, and you are wet, sandy, cold, tired and do not see an end to a normal training day.

What matters is how you respond in that moment of truth. You either want it bad enough, or you do not. Most of the attrition occurs during these first three weeks. Can you handle the day-to-day grind, along with purely performance-driven timed events?

Hell Week

The hardest week, by far, is the 120-hour, nonstop evolution known as Hell Week. After the high attrition of the first three weeks, this one week manages to cut the class in half again. Remember the old adage of "How do you eat an elephant?" during this week, as you have to mentally break up the week into digestible chunks of time.

Making it to the next meal (every six hours) is the most common way most graduates talk about their Hell Week experience. Meals are a break, but they are also a fueling stop. Hydrate, eat a thousand calories and get back out there, one meal at a time.

After Hell Week

Once Hell Week is over, the attrition drops significantly. Most of the attrition after this point comes from a failure to meet the standards in the physical events, academic tests, or the tactical training (scuba diving, land navigation, etc.). You will be fed a huge amount of information through a fire hose and expected to perform to the standards required by the course of instruction.

Most people do not prepare well enough for running pace, being strong and durable enough not to get crushed under logs and boats, swimming fast with fins, water confidence, treading water with no hands (with fins and weight), and rucking. All of these skills are things you can master before joining the military and long before you start the training.

Be honest with yourself and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Once you have identified the weaknesses, work hard to improve them but make sure you maintain your strengths as well. Your preparation matters, as any weaknesses you ignore will be quickly exposed during those first 3-4 weeks.

Of course, there is also the general failure to understand just how uncomfortable you will be while training. You may have only a handful of days in the six months of training where you will remain dry and warm. Nearly every day, you will be cold, wet and sandy, so you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That discomfort is part of the daily grind in any of our military special ops training programs.

-- 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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