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

Physical training and preparation prior to starting Naval Special Warfare (NSW) selection Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) or Basic Crewmen Selection (BCS) determines the probability of completing the program while remaining injury-free. Strength is a fitness component that must be addressed but many people don’t properly understand how strength affects success.

Measures of performance that deal with strength have consistently shown a different relationship with success than endurance. These measures include the Physical Screening Test (PST) exercises (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups) as well as bench press (max reps at body weight (BW)), 25lb pull-ups (max reps), and dead lift 1 rep max (RM) (estimated from a 5-rep protocol). The relationship between strength measures and success can be generally described as a U-shaped curve. Candidates with low strength scores (e.g., < 5 reps on BW bench press) tend to perform poorly and drop on request (DOR) at a higher rate than candidates who perform around 10 reps. But, candidates who perform 19+ reps also drop out more frequently than those who perform around 10 reps. Furthermore, the proportion of candidates who become medically rolled back rises as the number of reps increases, with a sharp rise for the most reps (19+). These patterns are similar for all the strength events, not just bench press. Being weak is a limitation but very high levels of strength may not be an advantage. BUD/S and BCS evolutions, even Log and Boat PT, are not Strongman events. Pursuit of excessive strength (e.g., 19+ reps for BW bench press) may lead to injury during training, trying to get that last rep or those ten more pounds, or contribute to imbalances that increase susceptibility to injury.

Other fitness tests that have been performed by candidates before selection include the 300yd Shuttle, 5-10-5 Agility, and Standing Long Jump. These anaerobic- and mobility-oriented tests correlate favorably with success (faster or farther is better) and avoiding injury, though the effects are not as large as those for running and swimming. Sprints and jumping/plyometrics should be incorporated into your training program.

Strength training is essential to preparation, but keep your program streamlined to maximize gains with the lowest volume possible. Broaden your program to include a variety of exercises for the whole body, and don’t just focus on the traditional triad of bench, squat, and dead-lift. Simple exercises are effective. See yourself not as a weightlifter who also runs occasionally, but as an endurance athlete with strength. That is the profile of successful NSW candidates. Consult the Physical Training Guide (PTG) for details.


Naval Special Warfare Assessment Team