Top Ten Questions to Assess Whether You Are Physically Ready to Join Special Ops

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A high school football player goes through special-ops training.
A Clovis High School football player exercises at the 26th Special Tactics Squadron’s gymnasium during his team’s tour at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 19, 2017. The students endured the rigorous regimen that 26th STS Airmen follow to maintain mission readiness. (Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer/U.S. Air Force photo)

Good things come to those who wait, right? Or do good things come to those who get out, bust their butts and make things happen? Patience makes us better people and is a character trait that any potential special-ops recruit must cultivate.

I was asked recently whether I thought four months was enough time to prepare for military special-ops selection programs. The answer is no, but it also depends upon the person, the job and the actual timeline until selection once in the military. When most people ask that question, they typically mean, “I am starting to train for _____ special-ops team in the military.”  Typically, they have not been training for a few years specifically for that spec-ops training program and have four months until basic training.

One must understand that this is not a summer training program to prepare for fall sports in high school. It takes much more than a summer of training to prepare yourself adequately even to pass the fitness test to get into competitive training programs, let alone the actual long selection program after it. Read To and Through Training.  

The following is a list of questions you need to consider concerning your goals and current and future fitness levels. If you are not asking or know the answers to these questions, you may need more time to prepare than you think.

Ask Yourself

  1. How much time do you have per day to exercise? Days per week?
  2. What equipment do you have available to you?  A full gym? Pool? Track? TRX? Other?
  3. What is your current fitness level? Run, swim, ruck, PT scores, one-rep max lifts (1RM)
  4. What are your recent workouts?
  5. Do you have a current manual labor job during the day? Night shift?
  6. What is the fitness test in the future to get to the training? 
  7. Any aches, pains or injury issues that are present, recently recovered from or are typical to running? 
  8. What are your goals? Future job?
  9. How many miles a week are you running currently?
  10. Do you need to lose or gain weight? How much?

Responses to These Questions

  1. If you only have 30 minutes a day to train, you do not have enough time to train in a day. There is no 30-minute workout that will prepare you for a day of spec-ops training. Put in the time, running, rucking, swimming, PTing and lifting in a smart tactical fitness training program. Over time, you need to build up sometimes to 2-3 hours of activity of lifting and calisthenics. The run, swim and rucks can add more than an hour to your training day.
  2. If you want to be a better swimmer, you will need to swim in a pool or safe water area. You will need a place or equipment to lift (either barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells) or simulate these with weight vests, back packs, sandbags and other heavy equipment to lift. You will need a place to run and learn the time for the distances you need to master.
  3. If you do not know the score for the fitness test you need to take, take it. If you do not know the times of runs, rucks, swims or how many push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups or other exercises you can do in a given time, you are not ready.
  4. Do you lift, run, swim and do calisthenics already? If so, for how long? What does a current week of workouts look like for you? If you do not lift, run or need to learn how to swim, you are not ready. If your workouts do not look like the events of your PT test and selection or at least help you build the strength to endure those events, you are not ready. What do you do when you are not working out? If you have a manual labor job, great. Keep doing it. If you sit in a desk all day, you may need to add another workout before or after work, too, and stretch throughout the day. Working the night shift is rough on normal sleep patterns, which equals better recovery, but if you can eat, sleep, hydrate well and still train hard, you will find being used to night-shift work will help you when the days turn into night during training.
  5. You better have taken the fitness test so many times that you know what your scores are and have developed a strategy to mastering the fitness test to get to your training. You must master this fitness test. Otherwise, you are not ready.
  6. If you are injured, just recovered from surgery or endured a long period of recovery, you are not ready. You should focus on healing and preparing what you can, then rebuilding after injury. If you get injured running, rucking or lifting easily, you need to build your strength with a cycle in the weight room, then specialize in your training and selection goals.
  7. Your goals should be to crush a fitness test and prepare for the selection program to achieve your tactical profession of choice. If your goals right now are to lose weight and get into better shape and take the fitness test for the first time, you are not ready yet and need much more time.
  8. You should be progressing to more than 20 miles a week, at a minimum, if you are months away from training. Most will recommend at least 30 miles per week with fast three- or four-mile timed runs and even faster 1.5- to two-mile timed runs for PT tests.
  9. If you need to lose weight that can take many months or up to a year, getting into better cardio shape at the same time is typically an easy combination. If you need to gain weight, that can take a few cycles of lifting and eating to gain weight while maintaining or building your cardio endurance, too. These are goals that require patience in training and the process of growth or losing mass.

New Look at Patience and Preparation

Do not be in a hurry to serve. Read Perfect Storm for Failure. Most age brackets to serve in special-ops programs are as young as 18 years old and up to 29-30+ in some branches of service. So you have plenty of time.

Sometimes you need patience in order to find the right path. Preparation for the journey won’t come fast, and it won’t come easy, but it will be worth the wait.

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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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