podcast episode 3: HOW TO TRAIN FOR NSW
By U.S. Navy SEAL + SWCC Scout Team
Posted March 7,, 2018
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
DF: Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. We all know it’s not easy to become a Navy Seal or a SWCC, but if there were ways to mentally and physically prepare yourself that could set you up for success? I’m Daniel Fletcher, and today I’m speaking with the director of fitness, SEAL and SWCC training, Mike Caviston to find out more
DF: We’re sitting here in the birthplace of SEAL and SWCC trainees, the Naval Special Warfare Training Center. Today, we’re in Mike Caviston’s office, director of fitness for SEAL and SWCC training to get some expert advice. Welcome, Mike. Thanks for joining us.
MC: Thank you for having me.
DF: So, can you tell us a little bit about what you do here?
MC: Well, my title is director of fitness. It’s actually a pretty broad job. A big part of it is education. My background is education. My background is kinesiology, and so I tried to educate people at all levels, and certainly a big target audience are anybody interested in entering the program from the very beginning. And I try to coordinate the advice that I give with statistics that I’ve gathered based on the success of people that have actually entered the program. So, I spend a lot of time looking at the different training requirements, what people are physically doing and making my recommendations for how to prepare for that.
DF: It seems like a lot of people that are in the Special Forces have a physical fitness or a sporting background. I think that maybe you could comment on that, that the kinesiology of the athlete, it seems obviously that the Navy SEALs are looking for athletes that are capable of even more. Do you think that there’s a specific sport that lends itself specifically to success the Navy SEALs?
MC: I don’t think there’s a particular sport. I don’t claim to have the final answer on that. I know that there have been a wide variety of SEALs that have come from different sports, in other words, just about any sport you can think of is represented in the community. I would say based on my observations and experience and what is required in the program that anybody with a good endurance background is going to have a leg up. So, somebody that’s been, you know, competitive runner, swimmer would probably be a good candidate.
DF: There’s definitely going to be some younger folks listening to this. I think that kids’ lifestyles or teenagers’ lifestyles are largely dependent on their upbringing and their parents and, you know, what kind of physical activity and environment they’re raised in, but for those kids that might have the option to maybe pursue a specific sport or change their lifestyle, seeing as you grew up in a really active environment, and you continue to live in that currently, what recommendations do you make to either parents or kids, you know, about lifestyle as a young person?
MC: Just general physical activity. You know, it’s, I don’t think there’s any magic formula, any one particular sport. I am asked questions or see online those types of questions all the time, younger people interested in what sports they should play in high school or even before. Doing something is the biggest component. Again, I always come back to I think being involved in an endurance sport is a good thing, and if you can become comfortable in the water, that’s a good thing, so swimming or water polo or something that involves being in the water, something that involves running, maybe not automatically track or cross country, although those are probably good options, but something that features running as part of the conditioning process would be good sports to choose. But just being active in general is a good concept, so, you know, spending less time in front of the computer, in front of the television or whatever and more time outdoors doing anything is going to be a good start.
DF: So, kind of promoting an active lifestyle in general…So, you mentioned endurance sports or endurance practice a couple times. Other than running, can you maybe list off a few other types of endurance sports that you recommend?
MC: Yeah, absolutely. I talk about running and swimming because those are measured. I mean before you can get into the program, you have to pass a test that proves you’re a competent runner and swimmer. In the NSW pipeline is the SEAL and SWCC training programs, selection programs. There’s a lot of running and swimming, so you do have to be good at that, but what I find to be the, the biggest factor is just overall endurance, and that can be developed in a number of different ways. And so, if you come from a cycling background, my background is rowing, and I’ve talked to a lot of athletes that rowed before they got into the program that have done quite well. Anything that has a strong cardiovascular fitness component is going to be a good activity, and one of the things I encourage people that are preparing, “Oh, I hear you have to be a good runner,” and I provide statistics that show better runners perform better, so, okay, you want to become a good runner. Some people will take that maybe too much to heart and over-train, and so I want people to become a better runner, but I don’t want them to set themselves on the road to over-training and injury too early. And so, do other things. Do plenty of other things. And so, I mentioned, yes, cycling and rowing are good activities. If you get into a gym and get on some of the different cardio machines once in a while, that would be fine. I mean your heart really doesn’t know or care what you’re doing, you know, as long as you’re doing something that gets it to beat a while.
DF: So, it seems like we have a lot of real specific parameters, guidelines, goals, metrics that are in the, the training philosophy for just getting initially prepared for your first test. At what age do you think people should maybe start training to those specific metrics? Is this something that changes frequently or?
MC: Well, it would depend on when they actually plan to get into the program, and so somebody wants to graduate high school at about 18, and they want to enlist in the Navy and do it then. You know, you want to be thinking maybe two years out would be a good time, definitely by a year out, you want to be specifically preparing. You don’t have to I think prepare five years out, especially at that early age, or if somebody’s plan is to college and graduate, so they’re going to be about 22 by the time they enter the Navy and try to enter the program. Then, again, a couple years out is time to be specific.
DF: Do you think that the environment and climate, altitude of training has a big impact on when people show up to take their first test? Do people, do they need to be training at a specific environment to be able to excel and do well in this program?
MC: I wouldn’t make that recommendation. I don’t have enough evidence to, you know, to make an informed recommendation, but my instinctive response to that question is no, I wouldn’t overthink that…People definitely come from all over the country and all walks of life and are successful. I’m not even current on what the, on what the latest information shows, which parts of the country, and, you know, why that is, is it because of climate, is it because of socioeconomic background, is it because of a variety of different things, so if I’m asked a question like that, my short answer is no, I wouldn’t worry about it.
DF: So, I’ve looked over pretty extensively the, the Navy Special Warfare physical training guide, and it seems like a really good foundation for people building up a program for themselves and readying themselves. I come from a CrossFit background, and it seems like there’s a tremendous amount of overlap here. I mean it is that style of training something that you recommend in a baseline preparation for this test?
MC: No, ss a matter of fact, I’d probably say more the opposite. I would advocate people having a very structured approach, have a very determined end state. For the physical training guide, first thing is to think about their score on the physical screening test, the PST. And again, that references the swim and run components as well as doing some pull ups and push ups and sit ups, and there are certain standards that they have to achieve to even be selected into the program, and certain components, especially the run and swim portions are more strongly correlated with actually getting through the program. So, it’s one thing to be admitted into BUDS or the SWCC program. It’s another thing to, you know, complete the selection process. So, my thinking in terms of designing the physical training guide was to have a very structured approach with a very determined end state.
DF: Okay, that makes a little bit more sense cause you’re really shooting these for very specific numbers for people. And if people are listening and they want to get this training guide, SEALSWCC.com [SPELLS] is the website where you can find this PDF download and print it out and start training for yourself. How often do you guys make adjustments, variations or changes to this guide, or is it something that’s kind of a Bible now?
MC: I wouldn’t, I’d be a little bit arrogant to use it as, you know, to say the word Bible, but it’s been pretty, the format has been consistent for as long as I’ve been in the program, about ten years. I mean that was pretty much the first project when I was hired, was to develop the physical training guide, and I actually modeled it on my coaching background in rowing and working with the premise that the PST features of run and swim portion, where, you know, the timeframe is pretty consistent with how long it takes to complete a rowing event. And so, I just plugged in running and swimming numbers, and, of course, I’ve been fine-tuning and adjusting and trying to figure out, you know, what is usable by, by our audience, but the basic structure has been pretty similar for years. We’ve tweaked the actual guide a little bit, and I’ve added a few things. One of the things I’ve gone back and forth with over the years, my original guidance in terms of putting the PTG together was keep it simple. You know, you want to be just, you know, one recommendation is like one page, and I just put up a 26-weeks schedule. It’s something that people could put up on their refrigerator and follow, and, okay, simplicity is good, but then in practice, people have a lot of questions, and you mentioned, where they can download the PTG. I’d also encourage anybody interested to look at the other supplemental information that’s on the website. We’ve got additional information, some training videos that illustrate some of the exercises that are mentioned in there, and so other resources, but over the years, I’ve received many, many questions related to the PTG, and so over the years, we tried to cut off some of those questions or answer some of those questions, or, you know, make it even more clear in terms of what the intent is and how to go about achieving the goals.
DF: What type of questions do you, can you maybe give a couple examples there or maybe some questions that maybe continually still get to this day that are, there’s not covered anywhere?
MC: Yeah, there are some that are hard to answer definitively, but one of the things I always recognize is that every person’s schedule changes or is different, and so things come up, and so if I say, “On Monday, you do this, and this is the distance, and this is the pace, and on Tuesday, you do this, and this is the distance, and this is the pace, and Wednesday, you do this,” and somebody will come along and say, “Well, I’ve got a problem on Wednesday where I can’t do that. What if I double up on Tuesday, or what if I wait until Thursday, or, you know, what if I think I’m in good shape, and I want to run faster than you say I should run, or what if I’m not getting better, and, you know, what should I do about that?” So, all those sorts of things, I try to make it a little bit more flexible and say, “Look, this is a guideline. It’s not carved in stone,” and I try to educate people on the principles behind the program so that they can make informed decisions in terms of how to, how to modify their program. Now, people still have lots of individual questions, just as I said, and so, I’ll try to answer some of those, and hopefully people will be able to look at that and understand, you know, what the, what the basic intent is so that they can answer those questions on their own.
DF: So, it seems like most of the questions revolve around the programming, specifically in scheduling.
MC: Scheduling is a big thing. Programming, understanding, you know, I try to make the instructions pretty simple. I understand I’ve been doing this for years. What is second nature to me isn’t second nature to, you know, especially maybe a 16, 17-year-old kid. I’ve, I’ve dealt with that my whole career, and so I have to step back and say, “Okay, explain it to a beginner, and, but there will still be some questions, and one of the things in terms of some of the different formats, I give them different options in terms of what type of workout to do, and, you know, they sort of want to know, “Well, what if I did A, B or C? Would that be okay?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s a whole different thing, and I try to make them see what the differences are.
DF: That seems to kind of transition into the crawl, walk, run philosophy that’s kind of the foundation for this specific manual, is just getting people to crawl phase really. Is that a correct correlation you think?
MC: Well, that is a correct correlation, and it was designed and intended for people that are interested in the program, maybe don’t have a very strong fitness background, they don’t feel like they’re in great shape. There are a lot of programs I’ve seen out there, you know, 8-weeks to BUDS, or, you know, whatever. No, that’s not enough time, so this is a 26-week program, and I would say take at least 26 weeks, but you need to start somewhere and build progressively.
DF: Yeah, that’s, that sounds about right. I was talking to my sister. She’s a CrossFit coach and a mental performance expert, and her assessment was, you know, six months at the bare minimum or around there, and that seems like that’s pretty consistent with what you’re saying. What would you, if you had to guess, what percentage of people that come through the program are using this document?
MC: I shouldn’t have to guess although I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head. It’s something that our recruiting directorate looks at, and we’ve got a program that exists in Great Lakes, Illinois, so between finishing boot camp and coming out to Coronado and starting either the SEAL or the SWCC pipeline, candidates go through a preconditioning program called NSW Prep. And at that point, they’re interviewed and answering questions like that, and so all I can say is a pretty high percentage.
MC: I mean I would say virtually everybody’s aware of this. I can’t definitively say who actually follows it. Again, we can poll them, they’ll tell us, will they tell us the truth, I don’t know, will they tell us what we want to hear, I don’t know. I talk to candidates in the program all the time, and, again, you know, they tend to tell me, “Oh, yeah, it’s been great,” but they might just be telling me what I want to hear.
DF: I guess my takeaway there is from the person that might be a collegiate athlete, who maybe is studying kinesiology or exercise science, who might think they, they heard something from their professor, and they have the golden key, it seems, I would urge people just based on listening to you speak here, and I think you would the same, is don’t get ahead of yourself. This has been structured and created for very specific use case, and it seems to be very successful, so if it’s more simple than maybe someone who’s more advanced in the fitness community, I would say don’t shy away from it just from speaking to you. You think that’s correct?
MC: It is correct, and I had one point I was going to make before, though, is that it was set up to be an introductory program, people with minimal experience, not much fitness, but it’s actually designed or structured in such a way that you can maintain it for an extended period of time. And I, you know, it’s based on my training. I’ve been following it for more than 40 years now, you know, so it’s not something that you only do for 26 weeks and then stop, or say, “Okay, now I’ve got to move onto some other program.” It’s like if you follow the basic program, the principles in the program, you can use it to, you to fine-tune the program or to increase the level of difficulty or to increase the volume of training.
DF: Yeah, it seems to be scalable, right…
MC: Absolutely, but sustainable is the other point I’m trying to make. I mean not just for, not just for a year but for, for many years.
DF: It seems like the concept of endurance athletes and endurance practice is important to a successful career as a SEAL or SWCC… do you see injury as a kind of a hot spot, a common issue for candidates going through your training program, or is there specific body weaknesses that you see? It seems to me that it would likely be a specific area of the body that people neglect and then also the mental aspect, which would, those are kind of my guesses.
MC: I will come back, or we can talk about the mental aspect a little bit more, but in terms of injury, I’ve got a ton of information. I mean it’s just something not only became, before I came to this program, it’s just something that, part of my discipline, part of my education, part of my training is to look at any sport and say, “Okay, what are the common injuries?” You know, any coach wants his athlete to be on the floor, not on the bench or not in the training room, so if we can avoid injuries and get that good athlete in the game more, that’s what we want, and we want the athlete to be able to play for several seasons, not just, you know, one or two seasons, and that’s absolutely true in the Special Warfare community. We want not only to get candidates through the tough selection process, but we want them to be operators for many years, and so we want to try to establish a good physiological profile that will allow them to perform well with minimal injuries. And I’ve spent a lot of time working with our medical staff and looking and talking with the doctors and the physical therapists and the athletic trainers that have dealt with these injuries for years, and, what do they say, and, well, “Okay, here are the common injuries that we see, and here are the things that might help prevent them.”
There’s no way to completely eliminate injury. It’s going to happen, especially in a very tough training program, and I think that’s true not only in NSW, but in any sport. If you’re serious about your sport, you can train hard, you’re competitive, you put yourself at risk for injuries, so it’s going to happen, but we want to have fewer injuries, and we want to have less severe injuries. And so, we can reduce the risk of injury by adopting a training program that specifically looks at, well, what, what is the nature of the training that you’re going to be doing and what are the common injuries that we see, and so let’s try to get ahead of the game and try to prevent the injuries before they occur. Anybody who goes into a rehab clinic, and they work with a therapist, they’ll give them, “Okay, you injured that body part. Here’s what you do to rehab.” It’s like, well, that’s kind of a little too late. Let’s do that before you get injured so you probably aren’t going to have to go into the training room.
DF: Are there good resources or any recommendations that you have to people, I’m sure you’ve seen my guess is a fair bit of shin splints just based on the amount of running that’s in the programming. People’s hands probably torn up from the number of pull ups they’re doing. Are those pretty accurate guesses of common injuries that of people that are preparing at this stage of entry into the program?
MC: Well, to enter into the program, yeah, common training injuries would probably involve things like shin splints, probably involve knee pain, so a lot of probably running related pain. Again, part of the problem is that people might be doing too many miles too soon, and so I try to walk the line between saying, “Yep, you’d better be a good runner. If you’re not a good runner, you haven’t much of a chance here,” but at the same time saying, “Well, you’re not going to become a good runner overnight.” You got to invest some time, you’ve got to train smartly, you’ve got to build your mileage gradually. There are common running related injuries that you might be able to, you know, eliminate or at least reduce the risk of getting if you add these strength training exercises to your routine along with your running. And we want people to show up day one of training here in Coronado feeling fresh and fit and not having an injury because if somebody has an injury, and many people do, they have, well, maybe they’ve had an injury, and it’s healed somewhat, but it’s not 100% gone, it’s going to come out in the wash. I mean, you know, it’s just going to, it’s just going to be aggravated, so.
DF: I think that that’s a good point, saying people are very ambitious, especially the people that are candidates here and want to train and want to train a lot. The takeaway there is to take your time and not try to race to the finish line, and there’s a measured approach, which seems to be really well documented by you guys that’s a recommended approach, and included in that is the amount of time that’s taken to kind of ramp up the mileage that you might need to be at.
DF: Are there any weight or body mass index numbers that are clear markers, either for success or failure? Obviously, there’s outliers like if you’re really overweight, but can you speak to that a little bit?
MC: A little bit. I look at the height and the weight of all the classes that come through, and it turns out that the average is almost always like 5’10” and 180 pounds, you know, so the average candidate is 5’10”, 180, they’re definitely, you know, it’s more like a bell curve. There are shorter, lighter guys, taller, heavier guys. Both extremes make it through training. I don’t know that I really have the data to look at, you know, the frequency, so I wouldn’t discourage anybody from coming through if they were a little shorter or a little taller than the average. Those guys make it through, but the statistics are pretty clear that the typical candidate or operator is about 5’10” and starts out about 180, might put on a little bit more weight once he’s been in the teams for a little while, but it gets a little, adds a little more muscle, but getting through the selection, the SEAL or the SWCC selection programs, there’s a variety of different things, and so I think, you know, the middle or the average is probably suited for more of those things.
DF: That’s interesting, especially for a group of people that is considered to be so “unaverage,” you know. Let’s talk a little bit about nutrition and sleep and kind of the care our bodies require for recovery. I’d imagine like, I mentioned earlier, a lot of these guys that are training our pushing themselves really hard. Do you find that lack of sleep or lack of good nutrition is an issue with a lot of people that come through the selection program?
MC: I think we’re doing better in terms of educating them more and earlier, so I think in terms of especially nutrition that we’re farther ahead than we were ten years ago, always room for improvement. In terms of sleep, I’m not sure the best way to address that either by my expertise in that field or by recording what is actually happening, so I think one of the, I think misconceptions a lot of people have about preparing for the program that comes out in a number of different ways, whether it’s nutrition or sleep or how to handle the environment or how to train, is that, they have ideas about what the selection process is going to be, which may or may not be accurate, but they have those perceptions, and so they want to try to replicate them in advance of coming here. So, one of those things might be, “I’m going to deprive myself of sleep, and I’m going spend a lot of time in cold water so I get used to that. I’m going to, you know, practice bad habits just because I want to get used to them because I know that’s what it’s going to be in selection,” and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t encourage that. Hopefully, people that are serious about coming into the program are trying to arrange their schedule so that not only are they working hard, but they can actually recover and get plenty of rest because that’s necessary to be able to adapt properly.
DF: So, do not try to deprive yourself of sleep and put yourself, I just want to reiterate that. Don’t try to mimic training that you don’t know what it is…
MC: Well, that’s, that’s a theme of mine I come back to many, many times because it’s, it’s a strategy of so many candidates. It’s like, “Oh, that’s what the program is. I’d better do that first,” and I’ve tried to come up with a number of analogies over the years to try to convey the error in thinking there. You know, you want to run a marathon, the way to prepare is not to run a marathon every day for a year until you do your race. Football teams don’t scrimmage all the time. You know, boxers don’t get in the ring and box all the time. They do plenty of other things and then just a little bit of high intensity every now and then to get ready for the fight or the game, or in this case, BUDS or SWCC training, so, yeah, I say that often. Don’t try to recreate what you’re going to come cause it’s not designed, it’s not a conditioning program. It’s a program that’s designed to break you down, and so if you do it before you get here, you’re going to be broken down before you start, and that’s not a good strategy.
DF: Not the right time for that, for sure. You mentioned at the, in the end of the training guide here keeping a record of your training, and that’s something, my father’s an endurance athlete, I come from a military background, and he’s always kept a catalog or journal of his exercise. To me, this seems like a really valuable thing to do. At what point in the process do you recommend people starting to journal their experience here, whether it’s just fitness or what? You think it’s something they should start right away?
MC: Well, as soon as they make a decision that they want to do the program, if they haven’t already, they should start recording their training. You can record more or less information. I’m not fully up to date on all the different technological advances people have and the way people record their training, different apps and electronic aids and so forth. I still do it with a notebook, and I actually take that and put it into Excel, but, you know, that’s about as technical as I get. But you do want to keep track of what you’re doing, and you can get really anal and keep track of absolutely every single detail. Sometimes it takes more time to record what you’re doing than it does to actually do it, so there’s got to be, there’s got to be a balance there somewhere, but to answer the question you asked is that if somebody is interested in coming to the program, they should right away start recording what they’re doing, and then the key there is not just to write it down but to actually go back and look at it from time to time to see if you’re training the way you think you’re training. I mean that’s certainly something that almost anybody, even experienced athletes are guilty of. I know I’m guilty of it myself. I have a program, I have experience, I have knowledge, I think I know how to train, I think I know how I am training, but then I go back and look at my journal, and I say, “Oh, I did something a little different than I thought,” and, you know, maybe it was, again, I was out of town, and I did something different, or something changed, and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Anyway, you’ve got to go back and verify that you’re actually training the way you think you’re training and getting the results that you think you’re getting if you want to be able to improve.
DF: How often do you think it’s advisable to go back and look back at your workouts and kind of take an assessment? Is it something that you do on a regular basis?’
MC: On a regular basis, certainly on a weekly basis, if not on a daily basis, and, you know, it could just be, again, a quick check to verify, but if you’re more inclined to pursue it further, you know, there are different ways to analyze, like I say, I like to use Excel, and I like to go back and look at different things, or I like to look at, okay, my performance in a recent race, is it what I expected and look at my successful races versus my less successful races, and, oh, okay, what are the common elements, you know. This is what I did right, this is what I didn’t do right. I want to do the right thing more often so that I have more good performances, and anybody that is trying to prepare for the program, and maybe they’ve got a PST, physical screening test, coming up, and they’re trying to reach certain numbers. They’ve got to verify that their training is going in the direction that they want it to.
DF: So, let’s touch on that a little bit real quick. I know that something that can be, that screening test could be fairly, fairly easily assess on yourself or a self-assessed PST. How many times do you see most candidates self-assessing themselves to hit this benchmark, or can you talk a little bit about the process?
MC: Yeah, probably just to get used to the format, you can do the basic format, you know, weekly. I mean if you don’t, if you don’t pursue it as an actual test where you’re trying to maximize your performance, and you’re structuring your whole week around it, and you’re trying to peak for that event. You know, if you, if you just, “I want to get used to the format. I want to get used to running and swimming in the same workout. I want to get used to having to do some pull-ups before or after I’ve swam. My arms are tired, and now I got to do some push-ups and pull-ups. I want to get used to that.” You can incorporate that into training, but you got to be a little bit more patient and cautious about really trying to nail it, and so about once a month, you know, if you want to self-assess, and that can be a great way to see how you’re doing. You know, about once a month say, “Okay, I’ve had a month of training now. I should be better than I was last month. Let’s test that out,” and they can verify that.
DF: Yeah, obviously that’s something you want to put in the log, for sure. You talk a little bit about recording some things that maybe some people might not think about in the journal, and it’s something that I thought was interesting when I saw my father’s journal for his runs, his mood, state of mind, and I think that that’s something that’s a lot more powerful than people are really able to quantify easily because there’s so many exterior, or life stressors that can kind of inhibit your, your exercise program, fill in the blank. Talk a little bit about how you recommend people deal with the psychological state of mind aspect of this training process.
MC: Well, I’ll definitely talk a little bit about it. It’s part of my background. I’ve got a lot of experience in that area, but I don’t want to talk too much because we actually have many dedicated subject matter experts in that area that I don’t want to, you know, sort of step on their toes or go into their, into their backyard so to speak. But, clearly, psychological and mental performance is a big factor, and I think that the way I’ve structured the training program allows people to practice some of the basic things we’ve been teaching here for a number of years. And so, whether it’s goal setting, you know, we have what we call the big four, one of them is goal setting, set long-term, medium and short-term goals. And so, the way you can go through a weekly training session or a monthly or a, you know, six months of training, you can break it up into smaller segments and have smaller range, medium range, long-term goals, and that feeds right into that. Self-talk, you know, just how you talk to yourself during a workout or during training can influence and so just trying to be a little bit more positive and, you know, emphasize the good aspects, get used to being upbeat a little bit more about your training. You can practice that as well. Imagery or visualization, I, you know, would encourage people that throughout the day at some point when they’re in a, in a down state maybe and sort of sitting quietly to think about what they’ve done and what they’re going to do next, and so just to go run through it in your mind. It might be just the procedures of doing a PST, “Okay, I’m going to swim first, and I’m going to get out of the water, and then what am I going to do next?” and practice it in your head several times so that when you do it for real, it’s just more natural, what other situations that might come up that you might have to deal with, you know, think about that mentally.
MC: And so, another of the big four is arousal control, and for many athletes in, you know, a big game situation, they don’t want to choke. The pressure is, is overwhelming, and you have to learn to deal with the pressure, and the same thing is true in our selection pipelines. The candidates going through face pressure, you know, many times, and so learning to control arousal and taking deep breaths and calming down in certain situations, and then in other situations, trying to get psyched up. I need to, I got to go down and get the adrenaline flowing, and so being able to regulate your arousal in the direction that you want is certainly something that you can practice in training.
DF: The other huge aspect of training for the PST is your strength. Obviously, endurance is very important, and that definitely builds a lot of the foundation for its success. Can you talk a little bit about specifically training for the PST in terms of strength training?
MC: Absolutely. I emphasize the importance of endurance all the time because statistics show that people that run better and swim better will be more successful, but strength is obviously an important part of fitness. The problem is that different people define strength differently. And so, when I talk about training, and I encourage people that are interested to read not only the PTG but the other resources we have on our website to talk about this in a little bit more detail what strength means, and what I’m trying to get people that are interested in the program to recognize is that you’ve got to be able to maintain a high tempo of activity for several hours a day for several weeks on end, and so you’re going to have to have the strength to maintain certain body positions, and you want to have the strength of a lot of, I guess I’d call them more supplemental muscle groups that most people aren’t thinking about when they’re in the gym lifting weights. And so, if you look at our videos, and if you look at our recommendations, there’s a lot of information about training the shoulder with things like external rotation and something called the Y exercise, training the legs, not just doing squats and lunges, which people want to do hours and hours a day, and I would say do some squats and lunges, but don’t do them for hours and hours a day. Do a few of them, and then do a bunch of other things that will also give you an overall strength profile that will make you more successful. So, the lateral hips are weak in a lot of people, and that leads to a lot of problems that may cause problem down in the knees, for example or just core fitness, and there’s a lot of different opinions or definitions or interpretations of what that really means, but the sort of things that I’m recommending is some basic, simple exercises like the front plank and the side plank and the bridge exercises that will get the smaller muscles that provide integrity to the spinal column, active, and give them not only the strength but the endurance that they need to keep the body in the proper position to undergo some of the challenges that they’re going to be facing here. Many people want to lift heavy weights. That can be part of training. It’s just not something I emphasize. And probably I go to the extreme of underemphasizing it just because so many people are so enamored with heavy lifting.
DF: Yeah, I guess a lot of people think that strength equals muscle and size, and that’s not necessarily the case if you can’t hold your body up right.
MC: Well, you need to have the endurance to do some of the basic things like pass the push up and the pull up portion of the PST. When you’re in the pipeline, you need to be able to maneuver your body through a lot of different environments, and so, just having simple body weight strength is important. There are a lot of different activities in BUDS, you know, the log PT or the boat PT people are aware of, and they want to prepare for, so they think that the secret is to lift heavy weights, and there’s no absolute way to verify one way or another. There’s just no way to gather the data, but my opinion, my subject matter expert opinion is that people spend a little too much time lifting the heavy weights and not as much time doing the, again, the supplementary exercises and the core strength exercises that I think really make the difference.
DF: It’s reoccurring to me, and it seems like my big takeaway is training for the PST, not for BUDS training, not for being underwater and wet and cold and all these other things that are going to happen in the training. The structured process has been well researched by subject matter experts, and I think a key takeaway that I’m hearing is don’t try to outthink this process because it’s laid out right there, step one, step two, step three.
MC: Well, I think it’s an excellent way to phrase it, don’t try to outthink the process. We see so many candidates here, from so many candidates, talk to so many people that try to prepare by doing things that really aren’t going to help in the long run. And so, again, they see, you know, on the Internet, or they’ve watched the special on the Discovery Channel, they’ve talked to somebody, or they’ve read a book or whatever it is, and they think, “Okay, I’ve got to be out there running in soft sand wearing boots. I got to be carrying logs over my head or trying to, you know, carry a cinderblock overhead to simulate I’ve got try to do, all kinds of extreme things all the time so I’ll be ready,” and that’s probably not going to help them. It’s probably only going to hurt them, and so get ready for the PST. You won’t get into the program unless you get a good PST score, so, you know, preparing for BUDS before you get a good score on the PST is not a productive way to advance your career. But underlying it all is something else that it sounds a little bit counterintuitive, but I think it’s true if you actually follow the program, the physical training guide, prepare for the PST, you will, in fact, be doing a good job of preparing for BUDS or the SWCC training as well, so getting a good base in endurance, doing some targeted strength exercises, some very specific injury prevention exercises, doing that in a progressive fashion for a long period of time and getting you ready to take the PST and do well on that, when you’ve finished that, you’ll actually have a good foundation to continue preparing for the program that you’re entering.
DF: Mike, if you could just give us a summation, kind of wrap up here, main takeaways that you’d like people that are just entering this thought process or training process to take away from, give us your top bullet points that you think most people maybe overlook or takeaways you think you’d recommend.
MC: Well, looking at the success rates, you know, again, for many years, and looking at what candidates tend to make it through the program and what candidates don’t, you want to be an endurance type athlete, and so you want to, you want to develop your running and swimming ability. There are some very common injuries that we see, and I won’t go into them a great detail here. People can, can look up the information and see what injuries we’re talking about, but have a definite conditioning program that will address that so you minimize your risk of getting injured before you even start the program or when you go through the program. And then third is probably to say, again, don’t try to recreate the program before you get into it. Don’t try to do what you think you’re going to be doing during the selection process. Just getting good general physical shape, don’t get injured, be smart and progressive about your training, and let the process work its course before you get here.
DF: Mike, thank you for all the great information. Where can people find out more about this process and get some more materials?
MC: Well, our website, SEALSWCC.com, has not only the physical training guide, but it has a lot of other supplemental information that includes answering common questions that people have asked over the years in areas related to strength training, related to swim training, related to running training. There are sections on nutrition, injury prevention. We’ve got a video library that gives people visual representations of the various exercises that we describe, so the website has got not only the physical training guide but a lot of other information that can be helpful.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
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