If you read the article “Look, Feel and Perform Like An Ancient Spartan Warrior – How To Become An Absolute Physical Beast“ or listened to my recent podcast with SEALFIT Commander Mark Divine, then you know that in an effort to challenge my body and mind, to become a stronger person, to inspire others, to set an example for my children, and to live life to the fullest…
…I’m personally adding some epic events to my 2014 calendar, such as the Spartan Trifecta (A Spartan Sprint, Super Spartan and Spartan Beast), a week-long SEALFIT Academy and the brutal SEALFIT Kokoro Camp.
But I have a secret to share with you: I absolutely hate exercising using my own training plans. Sure, I have plenty of smart, effective and even hardcore training programs out there, such as Shape21 and Tri-Ripped – but I do much better and become far more motivated when I'm doing a workout that someone else has written out for me.
So when it comes to preparing for events like the Spartan Trifecta and the SEALFIT experience, what type of training program am I personally going to use – or what can YOU use if you want a similar experience for your body and mind?
I've recently had the opportunity to review three different books and training programs that will turn you into a beast (or at least give you a bit of an experience of what Lone Survivor style training feels like):
1. “8 Weeks To SEALFIT” by Mark Divine
2. “You'll Know At The Finish Line: A Spartan Guide To The Sport of Obstacle Racing” by Joe DeSana and Andy Weinberg
3. “The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout” by Stewart Smith.
In this article, I'll give you a review of each book, tell you which program I've decided I'm personally going to use, and finally show you triathletes out there how you can modify an obstacle racing or Spartan-style training program to add additional swimming and cycling if you're wanting to include triathlons (I'm doing this because in addition to obstacle races, I'll also be competing in a handful of Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons this year).
8 Weeks to SEALFIT
Think of SEALFIT like Crossfit on steroids.
If you're not familiar with CrossFit, you may want to listen to my podcast episode with Brain Mackenzie, the author of the book “Power, Speed, Endurance“. You can listen to that episode at “What Is Crossfit Endurance & Can You Use It For Marathons or Triathlons?“.
Basically, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program with the aim of improving, among other things, muscular strength, cardio-respiratory endurance, and flexibility. It advocates a perpetually changing mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weight lifting. CrossFit Inc. describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad modal and time domains,” with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” Hour-long classes at affiliated Crossfit gyms, or “boxes”, typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, the high-intensity “workout of the day” (or WOD), and a period of individual or group stretching. Performance on each WOD is often scored and/or ranked to encourage competition and to track individual progress.
Crossfit founder Greg Glassman describes Crossfit like this:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”
Now, enter SEALFIT.
Commander Mark Divine, who I interviewed in the episode “Secrets Of The Navy Seals: How To Train, Eat & Think Like The World's Toughest Fighters“ says it’s no mistake that his SEALFIT program is so close in name to CrossFit. He started off as a CrossFit instructor, and still requires that all SEALFIT instructors become Level 1 Crossfit certified. You can think of SEALFIT as almost an advanced version of Crossfit.
As Mark describes in my podcast with him, SEALFIT goes above and beyond CrossFit by integrating principles of “warrior spirit development,” including breath control, meditation and yoga, with strength, stamina, work capacity and endurance in running, swimming, rucking, durability, teamwork and leadership.
Mark sees CrossFit as a good base for SEALFIT, although SEALFIT attracts athletes who are often more interested in long-distance workouts and improving endurance. SEALFIT workouts are long and hard. For example one recent workout posted to the SEALFIT website consisted of a two-mile run, two-mile swim, another two-mile run or six rounds of 400-meter run, 50-meter bear crawl, 25 burpees and 10 dead-hang pulls.
In 8 Weeks To SEALFIT, Mark covers the 5 Mountains of SEALFIT, his “Staying in the Fight” mentality, the physical training techniques and standards for developing Strength, Stamina, Work Capacity, Mental Toughness, Endurance and Durability, and of course, a very large handful of extremely difficult workouts that go way above and beyond Crossfit, particularly in regards to the emphasis on durability and endurance.
If you want a done-for-you program that also teaches you the valuable mental components of fitness, then this book is for you – but expect a great deal of difficulty, a relatively high amount of work volume, and up to 2-3+ hours per day on some of the bigger workout days. I don't recommend this book as a “general fitness” program, but instead as excellent preparation for a long and hard event, such as 2-3 hour+ Spartan race or other obstacle training race, a SEALFIT Kokoro Camp, or a multi-day adventure race.
There is some swimming, but not much cycling in this book. Later in this post, I'll give a detailed sample week of SEALFIT style training, and how to modify for triathlon training.
You'll Know At The Finish Line: A Spartan Guide To The Sport of Obstacle Racing
This book is available as a completely free download from the Spartan race website – and I actually downloaded it, then printed it at my local FedEx so I could easily access the workouts – and not burn my eyeballs out reading it on my computer.
Here's what they say on the website:
“Eons ago, we humans lived wild. We threw spears, climbed trees, and hiked through woods and fields and mountains. But somewhere along the way, we traded our wildness for weariness. Instead of throwing spears, we shot rifles. Instead of hunting, we shopped. Instead of running and playing games, we sat and watched tubes. This denial of the inner animal left us unfulfilled, overweight, and bored with our inactive, comfortable lives – until now!
In You'll Know at the Finish Line, Spartan Race founders Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg present a thrilling alternative to mundane, sedentary life in the form of a sport that anyone – yes, anyone – can do. They outline the Spartan training philosophy, inspired by the courage and discipline of the Ancient Spartiates and dedicated to functional exercise, which requires neither equipment nor gym membership – just a body, a will, and the great outdoors.
Packed with comprehensive workout strategies and heartfelt personal testimonies from Spartan Legends like Hobie Call and Lisa Demetriou, You'll Know at the Finish Line blazes the definitive trail for the long-lost sport of obstacle racing.”
As a guy who is just getting into obstacle racing, I found this book to be a fantastic overview of exactly what to expect in all the different Spartan race distances, and I also was very impressed by the simplicity but effectiveness of the workouts, which include tasks such as:
“Warm up for one mile in zone 2. Find a hill, about 200 feet in height (roughly a 4-minute hill) Run up the hill as hard as possible, but maintain a steady pace. (You should be very tired at the end.) Jog down the hill. Do 10 burpees. Repeat 8 times. Jog easy to cool down.”
None of the workouts really require much equipment or a gym membership – just a body, a will, and the great outdoors. The book also dishes out some interesting mental workouts, particularly on recovery days. For example:
“Train your mind: memorize the 10 longest rivers in the United States and recall them at lunch. Do math in your head walking from your car into work. Sum the license plates from the first 10 cars you walk past. At lunch memorize the UTM coordinates of three of your favorite vacation spots. Recall them at dinner.”
While the book is from the Spartan Race team, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it if you are doing a different race, such as a Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash. The workouts, tips, and strategies they discuss will apply to most obstacle races and mud runs, so everyone can pick up some useful information from it. In addition they have interviews and insights from some of the most decorated athletes in the sports, which provides an interesting perspective you might not have seen before.
The book also outlines the Spartan training philosophy, inspired by the courage and discipline of the Ancient Spartan warriors and also has heartfelt personal testimonies from Spartan racing champions and legends like Hobie Call and Lisa Demetriou. Better yet, after checking out the photos, workouts and inspiration in this book, my wife decided to sign up for a Spartan race in Montana and my twin boys are now on board too.
The workouts in You'll Know At The Finish Line: A Spartan Guide To The Sport of Obstacle Racing are perfect for the trails and hills behind my house, and later in this article, I'll reveal what portions of this book I'm personally going to use as a build-up to my SEALFIT training.
The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout
I was interested in this book because it combines the power and strength characteristics of weight training with the endurance and durability characteristics of SEAL training – making it useful for an endurance athlete who needs to get stronger or a strength athlete who needs to build endurance.
Author of The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout Stewart “Stew” Smith is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a former Navy SEAL, and author of several other fitness books such as The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, The Special Ops Workout, and S.W.A.T. Fitness.
Stew has trained thousands of students for Navy SEAL, Special Forces, SWAT, FBI, ERT, and many other military, law enforcement, and fire fighter professions. He is currently the Special Ops Team Coach at the US Naval Academy, which prepares future candidates for SEAL, EOD, and MARSOC training and runs a non-profit called Heroes of Tomorrow where he trains people seeking tactical professions for free.
You may have also seen Stew on National Geographic's Fight Science – Special Ops where he was subjected to a hypothermic test and combat shooting course.
So the dude knows what he's doing.
One of the most common questions Stew receives is “How do I mix weight training into my Navy SEAL or Spec Ops Training Preparation?”
His answer is this book, which features a hardcore calithenics, running, and swimming program designed to not only help candidates ace the Navy BUD/S Physical Screening Test, but also help prepare for the high reps, miles of running, and swiming at BUD/S. However, this book can be used for preparation for obstacle racing, Spartan racing, adventure racing and more.
If you are a powerlifting football player who thinks long distance running is anything over 100 yards, Stew recommends dropping the weights and start working on your mileage (run/swim/ruck) and high rep calisthenics vs 1 rep max of squats, deadlifts, and bench press. But, if you are an endurance athlete without a strong foundation in strength and power training, he recommends you start training in weights for a 8-12 week cycle a few times a year.
The The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout is arranged in a way to build strength, develop core stability, increase speed and endurance, but at the same time includes strategic rest periods to help your body recover from high mileage impact activity (running / rucking) and high repetition calisthenics.
This workout has been tested over the past five years with the Heroes of Tomorrow groups preparing for Army SF, Navy SEALs, Air Force PJ, Navy SWCC, USMC RECON, as well as local and federal SWAT Teams. Each member was able to achieve increases in strength and power and when they started a new cycle of higher mileage / calisthenics repetitions, they were faster than previous months in running and swimming tests.
The most impressive part of this book is that Stew shows off his knowledge of periodization and proper strength and conditioning programming, and includes a cycle of weights, PT, and cardio mixed in a challenging but smart progression that leads to results – but not over-use injury and over-training syndrome.
Ultimately, if you're a strength athlete who needs to build endurance or an endurance athlete who needs strength, and you want a well-rounded approach that includes some swimming, lots of running and plenty of time in the weight room, this book is for you.
My Personal Plan
The answer is…
…a mash-up, hybrid version of a couple of the books above.
First, I'm kicking off the season with the Spartan Sprint and Super Spartan in Temecula, CA. This is January 25 and 26th, and will simply give me a taste of how to properly race a Spartan.
Next, since I'm already relatively strong from doing Dan John's Mass Made Simple plan during the off-season, I'm skipping anything from The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout and jumping straight into 8 weeks of Super Spartan Plan from the You'll Know At The Finish Line: A Spartan Guide To The Sport of Obstacle Racing – with two sprint triathlons thrown in as substitutes for a couple of the weekend workouts, and culminating in an the early April Super Spartan race in Las Vegas.
Then I'm launching into straight into the Operator WOD's from 8 Weeks To SEALFIT, with the triathlon modifications you'll read about below – which will end with the SEALFIT Academy and the SEALFIT Kokoro Camp in the middle of August. Over the summer between April and August, I'm also sprinkling in a few sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, the Montana Spartan race, the Mountain Canyon Games and a 3 day REV3 adventure race into this build-up.
Finally, after a week of complete rest, I'll jump back into You'll Know At The Finish Line: A Spartan Guide To The Sport of Obstacle Racing – this time with the Spartan Beast plan from that book – culminating in the Vail Lake Spartan Beast in September.
I'd love to hear about your racing plans in the comments section of this post, but first…for you triathletes out there…
How To Modify Spartan, SEALFIT and Obstacle Training For Triathlon
Are you a triathlete?
If so, none of the 3 programs above include adequate amounts of swimming or cycling to have you prepared for a triathlon. For me personally, this is an issue, since I plan on racing a handful of Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons this year. So how can Spartan, SEALFIT or other obstacle training programs be modified for triathlon?
I've written before about “How To Combine CrossFit With Endurance or Triathlon Training and Not Mess Up Your Body” and I've also written programs like this that combine popular mass gain and strength building plans with triathlon training. Similar to the way I've modified those programs, there are three simple rules to follow when you modify these other plans:
1) Include extra swimming. Since swimming is primarily all about efficiency in the water, you don't need much extra swimming and it certainly doesn't need to be hard and fast. One to two extra days of swim drills, preferably on the programmed recovery days in the plan, are adequate, and will help to enhance blood flow for recovery. I rely on the SwimSmooth website and book for swim drills. Bonus if you do these in cold water to get a cold thermogenesis effect.
2) Commute on your bike, and substitute cycling for the warm-up and cool-down. Most of these plans recommend running, pushups, squats, sit-ups, swings, light lifting, etc. for your warm-up and walking, foam rolling, etc. for the cool-down. But I'll personally be warming up and cooling down with an easy mountain bike ride or a ride to and from the gym instead. In addition, whenever I do errands, such as the grocery store, returning a movie, etc. I ride my bike. For any workouts that take place at the gym (as mentioned above) I'll ride to the gym (for me, that's a total of 7 miles of bike commuting there and back). So – extra cycling is basically sprinkled throughout the week in a “Grease the Groove” style. With all the squats, lunges, and leg work you're doing in these plans, that's all the extra cycling you'll need.
3) Occasionally substitute the long, hard weekend workouts with a hard Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon race or race simulation. For example, the Day 7 “Devil's Mile” workout in the sample week below could instead be a hard 1500 meter open water swim followed by a 20-25 mile hard bike ride and a 5-6 mile hard tempo run.
Using these three basic rules, here's how a sample week of SEALFIT training from “8 Weeks To SEALFIT” by Mark Divine could be modified for triathlon:
Warm-up: Light run for 15: minutes before stretching. Focus on hamstrings, adductors, quads and hips. 5 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats in before measuring out the 100 meters for the strength workout. Triathlon modification: instead, just ride your bike for 15-20 minutes to the gym, or do a trail ride on your mountain bike with lots of alternating from standing to seated position.
WOD: 100 meters of overhead weighted lunges with 45 lbs. Arms locked out and knees to the deck for each movement to count. If you must stop there is a 15 push-up penalty for each infraction that goes up by 5 each time. 15 the first time, 20 the second and 30…. The more you stop, the harder it gets.
Endurance: 45 minute ruck march with 35 lbs. If available, get 10 minutes of hill time on a modest slope (5 – 10% at most). Consistently move, set a pace and stick to it.
Coach’s comments: Equipment needed- Ruck, sand bag and 45 lbs. Post workout hydrate, stretch, roll out and ice if necessary.
Warm-up: Start off with a light KB or DB snatch, approximately 20% of body weight- 2 sets of 20 reps. Move onto dive bomber push-ups and pause when you’re all the way back with your arms extended. Really push those hands into the ground and extend as far as possible to stretch those shoulder joints. Start light with the front squats and move up in 5 – 10 lb increments to find that working weight. Triathlon modification: instead, just ride your bike for 15-20 minutes to the gym, or do a trail ride on your mountain bike with lots of alternating from standing to seated position.
WOD: How many rounds can you accomplish in 10 minutes of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 sit-ups?
Strength: Front Squat 5 sets of 3 reps, go heavy
Endurance: Pace run: 7:30 – 8:30 per mile for 30 minutes. Find that pace and hold it as long as possible. Mark down the total time you’re at that pace. We’ll work on increasing that threshold for work capacity at that level.
Coach’s comments: Equipment needed- Olympic bar, weight and somewhere to run. Wait at least 3 + hours after the strength and WOD before starting the endurance. Post workout hydrate, stretch, roll out and ice if necessary.
Benchmark: Isabel – 30 snatches at 135 lbs for time. Triathlon modification: finish with 20 minutes of SwimSmooth swim drills, such as 3 rounds of 100m single arm swimming, 100m side swimming drills, 100 meter front balance drills and 10×25 hypoxic swimming.
Warm-up: Start off with a light 5 minutes swim or jog and really warm up the shoulders, hamstrings, adductors and groin. The sprint work is going to be a fast and hard interval workout for a set distance. Once you’re ready get on it and push hard. For the WOD and strength, start light with the shoulder presses and move up in 5 – 10 lb increments to find that working weight. Both workouts are shoulder intensive, so take your time and really focus on getting a decent stretch and warm-up.
WOD: Backwards Fran 9 – 15 – 21 reps with 90 lb thrusters and pull-ups. Same weight, different scheme, totally different workout!
Strength: Shoulder press 3 sets of 3 reps then drop weight by 20% and 1 max set.
Endurance: Swim 800 meters with intervals of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. If no pool is available, run 2 miles with the same 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off interval.
Coach’s comments: Equipment needed- Olympic bar and weight. Endurance will come first today. Split the WOD and Strength away and do them 3 + hours later if possible. Post workout hydrate, stretch, roll out and ice if necessary.
Rest and recovery day. Light walk or other restorative activities. No impact today. Triathlon modification: do 20 minutes of SwimSmooth swim drills, such as 5 rounds of 50m catch-up drill, 50m broken arrow drill, 50 meter corkscrew and 5×50 hypoxic swimming.
Warm-up: Begin with a 15 minute jog and start light by practicing 2 sets of 5 – 10 reps of each exercise before stretching out the lower back and shoulders. Make sure they’re warmed up prior to beginning the WOD. Triathlon modification: instead, just ride your bike for 15-20 minutes to the gym, or do a trail ride on your mountain bike with lots of alternating from standing to seated position.
WOD: 75 of each exercise for time: 20” box jumps, cleans (from the deck) with 90 lbs, 55 lb dumbbell or kettle bell swings, pull-ups and knees to elbows. Kettle bell or Dumbbell swings need to clear at least above the eyes and for each box jump or clean the hips need to open up all the way. No need to complete a single set at a time. Break them into
Endurance: Ruck march with 35 lbs between 30 and 45 minutes.
Keep a consistent pace throughout.
Coach’s comments: Equipment needed- Olympic bar and weight. Wait at least 3 + hours after the strength and WOD before starting the endurance. Post workout hydrate, stretch, roll out and ice if necessary.
Warm-up: 400 meter light jog then side plank left 20 seconds, side plank right 20 seconds and
20 seconds of push-ups, repeating for as many rounds as you can without letting your knees touch the ground. Get a good stretch in today everyone, it’s a nasty one on the shoulders and lower body!
WOD: “The Devil's Mile” (Minus the B.A.T. flips…)
400m walking lunges
30 push ups
400m broad jumps
400m Overhead carry #45/#35 plate 30 burpees
400m bear crawl
Strength: 3 sets of max push-ups, 3 minute rest between each. Endurance: Rest
Triathlon modification: Do the warm-up recommended above, but instead of Devil's Mile, do a HARD Sprint or Olympic distance simulation. Bonus points if you finish the triathlon with the bear crawl.
Coach’s comments: Equipment needed- 35# / 45# plate and 400 meters measured off. Get that warm-up in and make sure you’re stretched out prior to the WOD. Get the WOD lined up and knocked out first before the strength workout. Post workout- hydrate, stretch, roll out and ice if necessary.
That's it! Easy, eh?
So…did the Lone Survivor movie get you inspired? Which plan are YOU going to try? Are you going to do a Spartan race, SEALFIT camp, or other obstacle race or intense physical and mental experience this year? Do you have other books you'd recommend?
Leave your questions, comments and feedback below!