How To Get In Shape Like A Navy SEAL

Health & Fitness
A U.S. Navy SEAL candidate swings to an elevated cargo net at a Naval Special Warfare elevated obstacle course.
U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Les Long

Between taking out pirates on rolling seas in the dead of night and the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the Navy’s elite warriors hold a near-mythic place in military and popular culture. For those who want to get in shape like Navy SEALs, they need to train like them.


Task & Purpose spoke with Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL officer who has been writing on fitness for the last 17 years, about how to get in shape like one of America’s elite warriors.

Related: A Navy SEAL’s ultimate tactical fitness workout.

First things first, you need to have some foundation in athleticism and fitness, explains Smith. This could be a history of playing team sports, like football or lacrosse in high school and college, or something more individually oriented like swimming or track and field.

Assuming you have that, Smith recommends training for the Navy SEAL’s entrance test, which consists of a 500-yard swim, pushups, situps, a maximum set of pullups, and a 1 1/2-mile run. If the goal is to get SEAL fit, you’ll want to complete the swim portion in under 8 minutes; do 100 pushups and situps in under 2 minutes; do 20 pullups; and complete the run in under 9 minutes.

To get to that point, Smith suggests breaking the week up, with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday reserved for building upper-body strength and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for cardio, calisthenics, and legs. Oh, and let’s not forget running and swimming.

Sunday is left open for either rest or a coma, depending on how brutal you find the workout.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

“You’re going to want to do pullups, pushups, and situps and balance that out with some plank poses, so you can get familiar with being in a leaning rest for long periods of time,” says Smith, who recommends using one of three workouts.

  • Super sets: 10 sets of 20 situps, 10 pullups, and 10 pushups with a quarter-mile run in between to give a slight break in your reps.

  • Pyramid program: Every set gets a little harder. If you do 20 pushups for your first set, you may do 30 for your next, and so on.

  • Max repetition: 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 situps in as few sets as possible. Four, five, or six sets is pretty typical, says Smith, for guys heading out to SEAL training, but adds that “if you can get it in three, that’s phenomenal.”

In the video below, Smith walks through how to do a set of log-pressure presses in between obstacle course runs.

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

These days should include ruck marches and running for a set period of time. A half hour is a good starting point with a break every 5 minutes to do squats and calisthenics, says Smith. Throughout the training, running and swimming should both be goal-based, with a good score on the SEAL entrance exam as the benchmark.

To get in the right shape for the 500 yard swim, it’s a good idea to try to reach 50 yards in 50 seconds, which “puts you in the ballpark” of where you need to be — 8 1/2 minutes — according to Smith.

Watch Smith’s workout video on the combat swimmer’s stroke below.

While the training regimen Smith laid out is daunting, so is the task of trying to get in shape like one of the military’s top-tier warriors.

“You’re not going to prepare yourself for SEAL training,” or get in shape like a Navy SEAL “if you don’t put in the time,” says Smith, adding that the training day for a prospective SEAL is nine hours long. If you're just starting to work out, it can be for an hour a day, but the workout needs to build upon itself. As much as physical stamina and fitness are key, you also need to cultivate the right mindset.

A critical part of that is consistency.

“You just have to do it, even when you don’t feel like it, you have to do it,” explains Smith, adding that a lack of consistency, is one of the worst habits you can have.

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