Everything within the following article series will be based of a beginner/novice level of physical training experience that I frequently come across. That being said, I know some of you will be a little more prepared and some of you might be a little out of shape. The purpose is to give a general idea and game plan to prepare for any given selection course.
In our SOF Selection Prep series, we will review the common demands placed upon you in Special Operations selection courses, common misunderstandings about training, and how to prepare for your Special Operations selection class. We also include a 6-week training plan at the end.
When you look at the various Special Operations selection courses, they each have their own uniqueness that they are built on and known for. No matter the course, though, they all have base commonalities between them. This is where we will focus – where most guys go at training up for them wrong, and what you should do to prepare for the Special Operations selection course that you will attend.
Embrace The Suck, Because No Matter What, You Will Be Rucking And Running
I have written extensively about my views on the amount of rucking, especially running, needed in your training prep leading up to your selection class, and to keep up with the demands placed on you during. A very common thing I see is far more focus and emphasis put on this section than anything else when preparing for selection courses. While in every course there is a huge emphasis on both rucking and running, most selection courses tend to have a lot more rucking involved in them. While one of our main goals is to increase your rucking/running abilities, we will accomplish this by NOT beating a dead horse spending one-quarter of your training time doing it.
When I see people spending so much time running and rucking every single day, they drop focus and time spent on other areas within a proper Special Operations selection candidate prep training program. In theory, and in your head, you feel that by spending so much time and focus on this one area, you are doing so much more for yourself and progress. In fact, you are losing out on the potential progress you could be making by cutting back and spending that same time and focus within the other areas of your training, which we will dive into more in the series.
Over the years, I have seen better results by cutting back the massive amount of time most people spend and think they need on running/rucking, and putting that extra time into strength training, recovery work and general physical preparedness. Again, we will dive more into these as we go further into this series.
Maximal/SubMaximal Strength and Muscular Endurance
Every selection course you will go through is meant to mentally and physically break you down. From hour-long rifle PT, brutal smoke sessions, odd object carries for unknown distances, obstacle courses, team events, you name it, they each require repeated exercise movements: pick up, carry, and push odd heavy objects. This is an area in which people need more guidance than anything.
Most candidates training for a selection course stick to the typical thing they see in the gym, which is whatever someone just read in the latest issue of FLEX magazine or the like. Not to say there is anything wrong with bodybuilding, but we are not training for a bodybuilding competition. So training in body part splits or sitting around on a bunch of machines taking 5-minute breaks between sets is not the training you need.
You need to be picking up a barbell, working your squat, deadlift, press, and bench training in your maximal/sub-maximal strength. Hitting a lot of body weight training, picking up heavy shit, carrying it, and training your body as a whole. You need to train the body equally in a proper proper ratio of push/pull movements, not just your mirror muscles.
Your grip will play a huge factor in barbell training and a lot of odd object carries, so this will be a huge benefit to have in your selection class. This is another reason we want guys training without gloves and actually grabbing weight and moving around, not just sitting around putting on gloves and looking for a matching purse at the same time. You would not ask the cadre if you could put on some gloves would you? Then why are you wearing them now?
Your Mental Edge
We mentioned that you will be purposely broken down mentally and physically during selection. This is why you want to physically push yourself within your training program, and with proper programming you will gain more of a mental edge without burning out prior to selection. Nothing in your training will be the same as your actual class, but that does not mean that you cannot mentally and physically push yourself in a way where you will be at 100% and better than ever coming into your selection class.
Within your training and the tactical athlete programs we do, you want to push yourself just shy of the edge at 90-95% of where current physical limits are at that time of your training. Not everyone is at the same level and this is where you can, at each training session, become a better version of yourself. There are days in our programs where we put in some soul crushing and go 100% and make you smoke yourself. We program this so you get a nice gut check, preparing mentally and physically for the guaranteed times it will happen in your selection class.
Recovery is one of the hardest things to get people to understand. Without proper recovery, you will not be able to perform at your very best each training session. While it might not seem like a lot, going without proper recovery for a few sessions here and there adds up over time. That one here or that one there adds up to a week of half-ass training, then a month and even more over time.
When you do not allow yourself the time to recovery properly, you just increase your chances of injury leading up to your selection class. And if you don’t go into selection class at 100% tip top shape, you increase your chances of getting a med drop and you’ll be forced to do it all over again. I can not stress enough how important recovery is for you!!!
I have guys constantly coming to me saying they feel like they can do more, that they are not completely smoked and dead at the end of training, with some gas left in the tank. If you are in the military I understand this mindset, that while old and outdated, it has been beaten into your head that you must be wrecked at the end of every training session. Remember, 90-95% is our goal here. This will keep you from over-training and getting optimal recovery between training sessions. Letting your body naturally do what it needs to do, pushing just to the limit with the external demands placed upon it, recovering and raising the bar to the previous external demands. Then continue in the process.
The results do not happen instantly at the time of the training, although guys always look in the mirror thinking so. You won’t grow an inch on your bicep right when you finish, or just drop a minute off your run time. The progress happens in the recovery process. After you break down the body it recovers and adapts, making it easier on you the next time those external demands are placed upon it. No matter how many times I say it, some people will just not listen. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it. (I have no idea why I brought up a horse twice.) Typically, when guys don’t listen, it usually takes an injury for them to finally learn all this.
Remember, our goal here is to raise your personal best before going into your selection class, not to turn your training into an extended mini version of selection. No matter how hard you train, your selection class will still be the hardest thing you have done to date; it will beat you up. The goal is to keep pushing you more and more, almost to the edge in your training, then recover and do it over again. This way you will come into your selection class stronger than you have been, faster than before, and fully recovered, making you as prepared as possible.
We have our motto for a reason: Train Smarter, Operate Harder. I know I will beat it to death (no horse remark…oh wait), but I cannot stress enough that the goal of your training is to prepare you to be the best in the best way possible. It does not have to kill you each and every day – leave that for your selection class, as it’s guaranteed to. The smarter you train, the better you will perform, avoiding injury and making your selection class.
Stay tuned for the next part of the series, where we bring all these together and make the magic really happen. You cannot just jump in doing some random exercises, running and rucking here and there, and expect amazing results. The magic is in the madness and method of programming all the pieces together.
(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDS)