Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse When It Comes to Military Preparation

A Marine performs a deadlift.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Joel Ponce, an administrative specialist with Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, performs a deadlift during the HQBN 1000-Pound Club competition, Oct. 25, 2019. (Cpl. Matthew Kirk/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

There are many young, motivated teenagers who have planned their future of service and are now ready to prepare. Many of these young men and women have 6-8 years before they will start a selection program or boot camp. If you are a younger teen and have several years to prepare yourself for future endeavors in the military, here is a process of building a strong body and smart mind that you will need to succeed:

Foundation training

You have to have a solid foundation of fitness, teamwork, communication skills and more to succeed in your chosen future occupation. Pick an activity you enjoy -- not because it is the latest SEAL sniper workout but because you like it. This could be any number of sports; every season of the year, specialize in one sport or activity. The point is to build a solid foundation of fitness and activity that you can grow from to be even stronger and faster as you age into your late teens and early 20s.

The mistake I often see is a young person, someone about 14 years old, preparing for SEAL training by skipping team activities, missing out on teamwork skills and not learning how to work together toward the same mission. One skill you definitely will need to have is teamwork when you eventually join the military. Practice now with many types of activities other than sports; there are plenty of good options -- band, dancing, theater, scouts, or make your own clubs or teams with like-minded friends and do races or other competitions together.

Focus on getting to the training first

Many people will ask about a workout that will prepare them for Navy SEAL sniper training 4-5 years before they even join the Navy. Please -- build your foundation of fitness first, join the Navy, get to BUD/S, then get through BUD/S before you worry about sniper workouts or teaching yourself expert shooting techniques. (You will have to relearn this anyway.) Also, if you are 14 years old and want to go to the Naval Academy, then on to SEAL training, don't worry about the SEAL training prep now.

Focus on being a great student and practice leadership skills and getting to the USNA/ROTC programs instead of spending many hours per day by yourself doing SEAL workouts. Getting to any training is competitive and requires you to be a good student, have some leadership skills and ace running, swimming and high-rep calisthenics tests.

Once accepted, focus on getting through the training 

This is where the training starts to get more specific for your immediate future goals. You need to look at your fitness background. Are you a strength and power athlete, or more of an endurance athlete? Whatever your weakness is, it is something you need to make a strength. 

For instance, football-playing powerlifters who want to be Special Ops one day need to drop the weights and focus on turning their "long-distance" run of 1.5 miles into a faster-paced run and build up to 4-6 miles at a fast pace (six- to seven-minute miles).

Typically, to get through the training, a strength and power athlete needs to focus more on their muscle stamina, cardio endurance, and swim and running technique and conditioning. The endurance athlete (run, swim, other) will need to focus on upper-body, core, and leg strength to handle heavy lifting events like log PT, boat carries or injured man drills.

Spending time learning how to lift is important, but you cannot drop the cardio conditioning, either. You still need to run, swim and ruck. The lifting also will help you prepare for the weighted backpack runs that occur in just about every military branch (Special Ops, especially).

You will find that you tend to keep your strength for months or even years after reducing weight training if you are a strength and power guy, but you can lose your cardio conditioning in less than a week if you do not keep up with the events that get the heart and lungs pumping.

So if you have many years to prepare for your future military career, start off with increased activity every day. Have fun; be a kid while you can. There is no need to do the latest Rambo workout by yourself. It is more important at this age to build a solid foundation of all the elements of fitness (endurance, speed, strength, power, agility, muscle stamina, mobility), along with teamwork and peer leadership.

In a related article, I spoke more specifically about there being two types of training you have to do to get into any military and/or Special Ops program. You have to get to the training first by acing competitive fitness tests and then prepare to get through the training by doing many of the specifics of that selection and training program.

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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