How Best to Approach the Navy SEAL Grinder PT Workout

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs students swim 100 meters with bound hands and feet as part of their first-phase swimming test.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs students swim 100 meters with bound hands and feet as part of their first-phase swimming test. The test is used as a tool to examine how comfortable each student feels underwater. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle/U.S. Navy photo)

The definition of "grinder" is the concrete-asphalt area at BUD/S, where the students do their calisthenics workouts. It is surrounded by pull-up bars and dip bars, along with the instructors, training officer and commanding officer's offices. You have the constant feeling of always being watched while you are on the "grinder."

So put out hard, count loud and cheer your class through the workout, or you will wind up doing the workout "wet and sandy" or spend an hour in the leaning rest.

The Grinder PT Workout has been developed out of a concern for those future BUD/S candidates who may not be as prepared for SEAL training as they thought they were. Many members of the PT Club, as well as readers of "The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness," have felt like they were in great shape when they arrived at BUD/S, but some were not prepared for the instructors' verbal harassment and mind games.

Statistics kept since the beginning of SEAL training say that most people who quit BUD/S do so in the first 3-4 weeks. This program is designed around those first 3-4 weeks with many events of mental and physical challenges.

This is not a workout that I would recommend doing often. It is so challenging that it may be best done only once and kept as a reminder and reference guide to the certain mental challenges you will face before Hell Week. My BUD/S class (182) had more than 120 people start in the first week and lost more than 40 before Hell Week and about 20 during Hell Week.

If you are not ready for such a challenge, there is a Phase 1 Navy SEAL workout, as well as a Navy SEAL Phase 2 and 3 prior to doing the Phase 4 Grinder PT workout. "The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness" is a good program to complete before the Phase 4 -- GrinderPT -- The Key to Mental/Physical Toughness ebook.

To give you an idea of what type of mindset you should have before arriving at BUD/S is the goal of this program. For instance, you should go to BUD/S with the mentality of competing to win every event, such as the runs, swims and obstacle courses. At the same time, you should be a cheerleader to those behind you and cheer them on to finishing.

You should not go to BUD/S with the mentality of just surviving and striving for the minimum standards. Too many people quit BUD/S by achieving the minimum scores listed on the BUD/S physical fitness test (PFT) criteria.

The minimums and the recommended scores are below:

  • Swim 500 yards: The maximum time allowed is 12 minutes, 30 seconds, but to be competitive, you should swim the distance in at least 8-9 minutes, utilizing only the side or breaststroke.
  • Max push-ups: The minimum number is 42 in two minutes, but you should shoot for at least 100 for an average score.
  • Max sit-ups: The minimum number is 52 in two minutes, but you should strive for at least 90-100 in two minutes for an average score.
  • Max pull-ups: The minimum is eight with no time limit, but you cannot touch the ground or let go of the bar. You should be able to do 15-20 to be competitive.
  • 1.5-mile run: Wearing boots and pants, the maximum time allowed for this one is 11:30, but you should be able to cover the distance in nine minutes to be competitive.

If you shoot for these minimums, you are destined to go to BUD/S and just try to survive each event of the day. In fact, you only have a 6% chance of graduating with these PT scores. If your peak is the bare minimum, that mentality will wear on you quickly, and you most likely will quit or become injured from overuse injuries.

You should go to BUD/S with high standards for yourself and compete for the best scores of the class in several events. Do not go to BUD/S thinking you are just wanting to survive the training. You have to be more aggressive than that and not let the mind games and verbal harassment of the instructors affect you negatively.

You can succeed only by channeling any negative feedback from the instructors and turning 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 portion is internal drive and determination, coupled with the understanding that you know you will be talked to negatively by instructors at times and driven to discomfort most of the time.

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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

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