By: Mike Caviston, Director of Fitness, Naval Special Warfare Center
Posted: August 20, 2020

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) (through Hell Week) does not exist to get people in shape. It is intended to weed out the weak and uncommitted. It is the toughest, most demanding selection program there is. Attrition is high and fewer than one in four make it through. To have even a chance, you must prepare seriously, work hard for several months, with a deep commitment to do what is necessary to make yourself ready for the challenges you will face. But probably the most common mistake made by prospective candidates is to try and recreate BUD/S when preparing to come to BUD/S. They do thousands of reps of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and other exercises. They go for long runs wearing jungle boots carrying heavy rucksacks. They try to simulate Log PT with irregular objects. They deprive themselves of sleep or expose themselves to cold to try to get used to being tired and miserable. This type of behavior won’t build an invincible warrior, it will tear down a good athlete and leave a broken one.

Numerous sports analogies illustrate the point. A marathon runner doesn’t train by running marathons every day to “get used” to them. Football teams don’t full-contact scrimmage day after day to “get used” to getting hit. Boxers don’t spar all the time and invite their partners to connect so they “get used” to taking punches. And BUD/S candidates shouldn’t try to “get used” to a week-long beat-down by beating themselves down day after day. Smart athletes focus on conditioning and staying healthy to make sure their bodies have the strength and stamina to absorb punishment when necessary. Simply getting beat is not a practical or sustainable strategy. Simulating the big race or game or match is important, but coaches limit the number of long runs for runners, full speed contact plays for football players, and hits in the ring for boxers, and they make sure the athletes are physically prepared before the season begins and monitor for signs of taking things too far during hard practices.

Another analogy: imagine being a sailor in the British navy in the 18th century about to embark on a voyage around the world. Scurvy would be a serious concern. Would it make sense to prepare by avoiding fruits and vegetables and fresh food for months before sailing, to “get used” to lack of vitamins and build up a “tolerance” for poor nutrition? Or would it make more sense, knowing nutrients would be scarce on the voyage, to eat as healthy as possible before sailing to make sure you were in peak health before the inevitable decline? Many candidates preparing for BUD/S think they can “get used” to overtraining and build up a “tolerance” for exhaustion, but unfortunately they can’t.

You can’t get ready for BUD/S by trying to “do” BUD/S. That will only start the clock early on the inevitable physical (and mental) breakdown BUD/S creates. You can test your character and resolve by making a plan and sticking to it in the weeks and months leading up to selection. Entering BUD/S in top physical shape without lingering training injuries (if they haven’t healed before BUD/S, they sure aren’t going to heal during BUD/S) is the best strategy for success. Use the Physical Training Guide (PTG) to plan your step-by-step training plan.


Naval Special Warfare Assessment Command