Warning: Kokoro and the SEALFit Academy constantly change in terms of location, evolutions, etc. Your exact experience may differ from what you read in this 3 part series. So be prepared for curveballs. I am happy to hop on a personal consult with you if you want any one-on-one coaching. Click here if you want consulting or coaching.
Welcome to Part 2 of my experience with SEALFit Comprehensive Academy and SEALFit Kokoro Camp, in which you’re going to get as many tips and tricks as possible for the SEALFit Academy. Part 1 is here. Even if you don’t plan on attending any SEALFit events, there are plenty of takeaway gems here for anyone who wants to achieve challenging feats of physical or mental performance.
In the next article – Part 3 of this three-part series -you’ll learn exactly what happens at SEALFit Kokoro, and some my own takeaways, tips and tricks – but in the meantime, let’s jump right into what you need to know for the six days of the SEALFit Academy.
Even if you don't plan on ever going to a SEALFit event, you're going to learn a ton of useful information about how to get physically and mentally stronger!
SEALFit Academy Day 1
Day 1 abruptly began at 4pm with a very brief orientation from Coach Dave (most of the coaches here go by “Coach”, followed by their first name – so don’t call them Sir or Mr. or anything like that), during which we introduced ourselves and selected a team leader. We then went straight into the coach barking orders at us as he led us through the initial PT test on “The Grinder”, which a hard, textured concrete surface at the US Crossfit facility in Encinitas, California.
The Grinder looks like this (fun, eh?):
During the PT test, which is performed in highly stylish black pants, white t-shirt and combat boots, myself and the 10 other Academy attendees were tested for the SEALFit Academy physical standards, which are:
-50 pushups in 2 minutes
-50 situps in 2 minutes
-50 squats in 2 minutes
-10 dead hang pull-ups (6 for women)
-1 mile run in 9:30 or less
Here’s a photo of the PT test from Academy.
As you can see, based on my physical training for the Academy (read about it in Part 1 of this series), I did just fine. But come prepared, because the candidates that failed (red circles) were pretty severely reprimanded for it. Take the standards seriously.
Other quick tips for the Academy PT test include:
1. Pay attention and be mindful, especially if you have a creative mind that wanders (like I do). Reign it in! Focus. Every tiny little detail matters at the Academy, especially when a coach is giving instructions for a WOD (Workout Of The Day) or any other activity. For example, I incurred a 50 burpee penalty for our whole team by simply running on the sidewalk rather than the road during the run portion of the PT test. I thought this would be safer, but it turns out that at SEALFit Academy and Kokoro, they pretty much avoid the sidewalks and almost always run on the road, even at night.
2. Suffer in silence. No grunting or weird workout noises. Be careful with grimacing too. Practice keeping a stone face, or better yet, smiling even when the going gets tough. Deep breathing helps with this.
3. Don’t show off or be a Rambo. Be a team player. As soon as I finished my run well ahead of most of the others, I was instructed to sprint back out and bring the rest of the team in. Unless instructed otherwise, always prioritize helping your team vs. just showing off your fitness.
4. If you can lay down a strip of duct tape or kinesiotape vertically down your spine, it will help you not get back blisters from situps on the hard Grinder surface. This helps because if you start the week with a chafed back, it’s going to hurt a bunch during the rucks, leg levers, flutter kicks, and pretty much any other time something is rubbing against your back. I learned that lesson the hard way.
5. Practice strict pull-ups to an above the bar chin position and full extension at the bottom, along with a hook grip in which your fingers wrap around your thumbs. Avoid“suicide” gripping on the pull-ups (a thumbs off position).
After the PT test, we sat in on a lecture with Coach Mark Divine – the owner of SEALFit, in which he introduced the core principles of The Unbeatable Mind, adapted from concepts in his book by the same name. I’d highly recommend you read both Unbeatable Mind and 8 Weeks To SEALFit well in advance of showing up for any of the SEALFit events. You will be way ahead of the game if you read them and do both the mental and physical activities in the book.
Following Coach Divine’s talk, we were cut free for a team dinner on our own. As the team leader, I was given $100 to divvy up among the team, so we went out for some team bonding at a restaurant across the street from the SEALFit headquarters, then an early bedtime. When you get a chance to sleep at the Academy, plan to do it – as you don’t get many chances for a solid night of sleep and you never know when you may get ripped out of bed and thrown into the ocean or shoved into a midnight workout (seriously – keep reading for more details on that).
SEALFit Academy Day 2
We awoke to a glorious breakfast on Day 2. Unlike Kokoro, you don't get crappy MRE's (stands for “Meals Ready To Eat”). Instead, the Academy is catered by a trained chef named Kathryn, who is also a nutritionist, yoga teacher and meditation expert. For breakfast on Day 2, Kathryn served us scrambled eggs with vegetable, gluten-free raisin nut muffins, and an assortment of fruits and yogurts.
Of course, the only downside is that as soon as your glorious breakfast ends, you can expect to be rushing to a hard workout – during which you'll often get the unique experience of tasting breakfast a second time, especially if you overeat on proteins and fats. As a matter of fact, at the SEALFit Academy you can pretty much expect to be rushing from the moment you awake – to breakfast, to a workout, a lecture, another workout, lunch, another workout, a lecture, a skills clinic, etc. Sometimes the rushing seems intentionally programmed to keep you slightly outside your comfort zone. For example, for lunch on Day 2, we had a fantastic but extremely filling chicken sausage and squash casserole – which was immediately followed by a 1 mile fast run in the heat.
This takes me to an important lesson: the use of digestive enzymes to help digest meals more quickly. I used this trick many times during Academy week and even during Kokoro – popping just a couple digestive enzymes with or immediately before meals to help things get through my digestive system more quickly and to help me absorb extra nutrients.
After breakfast, the first workout of Day 2 was “Grinder PT” with Mark Divine. You can get an idea of what it looks like in the video below. We did movements like this for a solid 2 hours, and finished with a sandbag run to the top of Lookout Hill, which sits about a quarter mile from the Academy.
At the top of Lookout Hill, Mark finished by bringing us through a Warrior Breathing session, which involves hyperoxygenating the body with sharp intakes of oxygen through the nose, then very quick exhales. During our Warrior Breathing, we practiced visualizing our “internal warrior” (Coach Divine's is King Leonidas of the Spartans). But I was baffled and slightly frustrated during this exercise, as I simply couldn't find or visualize my internal warrior. Images that floated through my head included a wolf, an archer (like Robin Hood), and even a shark, but none of these seemed quite right. I know this sounds cheesy and woo-woo, but being able to picture your warrior before a hard workout or intense physical challenge can give you a huge advantage. On Day 4, which you'll read about below, I had my first intense emotional breakthrough of the Academy, in which I finally did discover my internal warrior.
After the workout, Coach Divine gave a lecture on the principles of SEALFit, adapted from the book 8 Weeks To SEALFit. Then we moved on to a 2 hour clinic that covered sandbag skills, kettlebell skills and barbell skills, in which we learned 8-10 different exercises and movements for each of these tools. This doesn't sound like much of a workout, but 2 solid hours of practicing with sandbags, kettlbebells and barbells adds up pretty quickly.
After lunch, we had another lifting clinic, this time with Coach Adam, who taught us proper form for deadlifts, cleans, overhead press, push press and bench press. As you are probably noticing, you can expect to spend a lot of time with a barbell in your hands at SEALFit events.
Next, we settled in for another lecture with Coach Dave, during which Dave discussed training principles and the SEALFit components of Endurance, Strength, Stamina, Work Capacity and Durability. At the end of the lecture, he abruptly announced that we'd go do “Cindy” – a relatively famous Crossfit workout consisting of an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 20 minutes of 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups and 15 air squats. After 26 rounds, my hands – already a bit rubbed raw from the amount of barbell holds – were ripped open and bleeding. So I'd recommend you bring tincture of benzoin and Second Skin to clean and cover bar blisters on your hands and rucking blisters on your feet, and also bring Duct Tape or Rock Tape to cover your hands during any workouts that involve sweat and lots of time on the bar. Or get very, very calloused hands before Academy.
As soon as we finished Cindy, we were rushed into another lecture with Coach Lance Cummings. Despite his stern demeanor and constant sneer, Coach Cummings is an extremely impressive dude. He recently retired from Active Duty Navy Service with 30 years of combined Active and Reserve service. After graduating BUD/s Class 124 he deployed overseas in support of US Foreign Policy with six different SEAL teams on both the east and west coast. He served at the Naval Special Warfare Center as a Basic Underwater/SEAL (BUD/s) instructor where he earned his Master Training Specialist classification. He also worked several State Department Security Team contracts with private employers during his time in the Naval Reserves
An accomplished athlete, he has represented the United States at the international level in Military Pentathlon and won several Marksmanship awards in inter-service competition in both handgun and carbine categories. From 1990 to 1995, he competed in 200 triathlons, from sprint to Ironman distances. He was on the USA Dragon Boat Team in 2011, winning Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in World Cup competition. His current hobbies include Outrigger Canoe racing, mtn. biking, running, and CrossFit training. A licensed Chiropractor, Lance also is certified in Cold Laser Therapy, Functional Mobility, Thermal Imaging, and is a registered Emergency Medical Technician.
Anyways, Coach Cummings lectured on heart rate zones and endurance training principles, then we were cut loose for dinner – sweet potato casserole with beef tacos and guacamole. I collapsed exhausted at the end of this day. If you were doing the math, you'd see that we exercised relatively hard for a solid 5 hours, and I found that as camp progressed, about 4-6 workout hours per day was pretty standard for physical workload during the Academy.
SEALFit Academy Day 3
We were ripped out of bed early on Day 3 for one of SEALFit's famous “Operator WOD's“, which consisted of some endurance training with a Grinder PT warm up led by Coach Divine, followed by:
-Stamina: 21-15-9 Deadlift to Box Jumps with 400m run after each
-Strength: 3×5 Heavy Front Squat
-Workout Capacity: 50 meters burpee broad jumps, 50 barbell step-ups, and a 400m farmers walk with 50lb kettle bells
This is exactly the type of WOD you'll find in the 8 Weeks To SEALFit book, so do lots of these workouts before the Academy. After the WOD, we moved straight into the durability part of the workout, which was led by Coach Cummings and consisted of a 3 hour ruck with sandbags in our ruckpag, and a quick stop for an MRE lunch (pinto bean veggie chili – yum) during the ruck.
I learned a few tips about rucking that I'd highly recommend you use at the Academy, including:
1. Completely smear your toes, heels, and crotch in some kind of friction-proofing cream. For the longer rucks I used a product called Ex-Goo that we were supplied with by the Academy, and for shorter workouts I used Hammer Balm (use 15% discount code 80244). Also use a lube such as BodyGlide liberally on neck, shoulders, and armpits – all places that a backpack will rub during a ruck.
2. If a blister begins to form, stay ahead of it with moleskin by simply cutting a hole in the middle of the moleskin and covering/protecting the blister with this doughnut shape.
3. You can bring your own rucksack to the Academy, and the one that Coach Lance recommends is an internal frame “Kelty” brand rucksack. This is the same brand the Seals use, and although it's pretty expensive, your back and shoulders will thank you and you'll be far more comfortable during the Academy if you bring one.
We came back from the ruck and went straight into a 2 hour Olympic lifting class with Coach Rick, during which we practiced all elements of the Power Clean and initial instructions for the Snatch. Day 4 finished with a lecture by Coach Divine on breathing and positivity, along with the importance of using the Observe, Orient, Act, Decide (OODA) loop to respond to stressful situations. Later in the week, during Kokoro, I relied heavily on this loop to respond to the extreme physical and mental stress we were thrown into.
SEALFit Academy Day 4
I cried three times during the Academy – not from physical stress, but from mental and emotional breakthroughs. The morning of Day 4 was the first such experience. We began the morning with a 30 minute “box breathing” – set to a background music of a special 436 hertz frequency designed to enhance alpha brain wave production.
Box breathing, a big component of the Academy that Coach Divine often uses as part of a WOD warm-up or at the beginning or end of the day, involves a 4-20 count in, a 4-20 count hold, a 4-20 count exhale, and a 4-20 count hold. During this time, you practice positivity and visualization. I'd recommend you start with a 4 count if you don't want to hyperventilate, and use the Box Breathing app to help you stay on count for your box breathing. You'd only use a 20 count if you were extremely skilled at box breathing, and the highest we got during the Academy was an 8 count.
Anyways, during the box breathing, I experienced an extremely intense vision of my internal warrior that immediately got me shaking, trembling and weeping. My vision was of me not as a lone wolf or a quiet archer but rather as a noble king – very much like the famous King Arthur of the round table – placed here on earth to lead and teach with love, to help people achieve amazing feats of physical performance and also to built a great legacy with my two young boys. Again, I realize this all sounds a bit airy-fairy, but the vision was extremely powerful, and returned to me again during many of the other visualization and box breathing sessions during the week.
The box breathing progressed straight into a skills clinic and workout with Coach Lance, who led through a 3 round circuit of sledgehammers, tire flips, log PT (carrying, lifting and moving a heavy log as a team), rope climbs and wall ball throws.
During lunch, Kathryn lectured to us on meditation, and then we moved straight into a 2 hour yoga and meditation class. As our entire team finished the class in an extremely relaxed state, we slowly stood up, wandered outside to the Grinder, and were instantly snapped back into reality by Coach Divine.
“Get down on your hands and knees and crawl!”
We all dropped and began crawling on the hot Grinder, which immediately formed heat blisters on many of the team members' already bloody and beat-up hands.
“Who spit a luge on my Grinder?”
“I said who spit a luge on my Grinder?”
One of our team members finally piped up, “Me Coach.”
We were immediately forced into a 50 burpee penalty (during which we were sprayed down with hoses and had coaches screaming in our faces with megaphones, a common experience on the Grinder), followed by an incredibly difficult two and a half hour WOD that we had to complete in “Battle Mode” – meaning no talking and only cooperating with hand signals. The WOD consisted of:
-3×5 heavy power clean
-5 rounds of dumbell hang clean with thruster to 10 350lb tire flips to 3 second handstand hold
-3 rounds of 50 wall balls throws, 100m prowler push, and 1000m row
When the WOD finally ended and the smoke cleared, we had a quick shower, then went straight into a goal setting and visualization with Coach Divine, which was an extremely powerful session. After several minutes of Box Breathing, we were tasked with forming a visual mental image of our “mind gym” – a special place where we could go inside our head to escape, to train and to prepare for stressful situations.
My mind gym was an old log hut in the forest besides a cold pond in the deep snow- very similar to Rocky's winter training center from the Rocky IV movie. As I explored my mind gym, still as the warrior king from the warrior breathing visualization, I felt another strong presence in the mind gym, and suddenly found my old dog Bruno by my side. Bruno was a muscular boxer dog with a spiked collar and intense personality, and was one of the most important parts of my childhood. But he was tragically struck by a van when I was 16, and I hadn't realized until this visualization how much I had suppressed the emotions from his death – or how much it had formed my aversion to having any pet or animal “companion” since then. When I realized his spirit was still there with me and I began to run and explore my mind gym with him, just like we used to play in the fields outside my childhood home, I began to tremble and cry uncontrollably with joy and relief. This was a very intense moment for me, and one of my most powerful memories from the Academy.
Later in the week, we returned to our mind gyms and I experienced yet another emotional breakthrough in the mind gym, but for now, this visual of Bruno was enough to have my head spinning for the rest of the night. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, knowing that my old dog was back with me and that I could now fight through anything and experience life with him by my side.
That night – excited for a good night of sleep – I was instead abruptly ripped out of by bed by the team of SEALFit coaches, thrown into the grinder and thrust into a battle-like simulation of a brutal workout session on the Grinder that culminated in a night run with 50lb packs and group sit-ups and push-ups in the ocean with my team at almost midnight. I'll let your imagination wander, but suffice it to say: be prepared for little surprises like that.
SEALFit Academy Day 5
Academy Day 5 began with a little bit of box breathing, then a 1000 pushup WOD (yes, 1000 pushups) led by Mark Divine. Here's the video:
Of course, after you do 1000 push-ups, the first thing on your mind is gymnastics, so we went from the pushups directly into a gymnastic lecture and a gymnastics clinic with Coach Dave, in which we covered hollowing your core, rolls, kipping pull-ups, rope climbs, handstands and a variety of other body weight moves. Dave also gave us a good progression for getting stronger at new moves. Here's an example (perfect if you want to work your up way up to, say, 5 sets of 5 pull-ups):
Day 1: 11111 (that's one pull-up, rest, another pull-up, rest, etc.)
Day 2: 21111
Day 3: 32111
If you wanted to work your way up to 10 pull-ups, you could just keep going, like this:
This is actually a really good technique, and one you should tuck away for getting stronger at any body weight move.
Next, we moved on to a 2 hour Snatch Clinic with Coach Rick, followed up by a laughing yoga session with Coach Divine. Laughing yoga? That's right. Check it out:
After working up a good sweat with laughter, we moved on to a team and leadership workshop with Coach Cummings, and also covered periodizing for an event and planning out your year based around “crucibles” or tests of your fitnes. For example, in 2015 my major events are:
-September 2014: Spartan World Championships (goal: top 10)
-Summer 2015 Crucible 1: Turning Steel
-Fall 2015 Crucible 2: 6 day bow hunting trip at elevation
-September 2015 Crucible 3: Spartan World Championships (goal: top 3)
We finished Day 5 with another mind-gym exercise. This turned out to be the 3rd time I cried at the Academy. In this exercise, we were encouraged to invite someone into our mind-gym and ask them one question.
My question to my special visitor (going to keep that secret for now) was:
“What's my purpose?”
The reply was:
“It's not about you. It's about building your legacy and raising two amazing human beings who will grow up to make this world a better place.”
Sheesh. Talk about clarity. My whole body was shaking, trembling and crying again after this intense mind gym exercise.
SEALFit Academy Day 6
Day 6 – the final day – began with yet another morning WOD, this time starting with sandbag Turkish Getups to 200m run, then sandbag ground to overhead to 200m run and finally sandbag thrusters to 200m run.
This was followed by a big mash-up of exercises that for some reason I don't have recorded. Anyways, we moved on from the morning WOD to 2 hours of pool work led by Coach Lance, in which we learned combat side stroke, did some hypoxic breath practice and simply worked on water skills.
We then headed out on a 5 hour sandy beach ruck that included a run-swim workout, during which we practiced combat side stroke with a partner. This stroke is perfect for “keeping track” of someone swimming in the water next to you, and also moving quickly through the water without making much of a splash – a good way (as Coach Lance noted) to avoid getting a grenade tossed at you if you're sneaking through water.
After the ruck, we moved on to mobility and stretching work on the foam roller and the TRX with Coach Lance, and then headed into the yoga room for the final session of the Academy: warrior breathing.
During this warrior breathing exercise, led by an intense bearded martial artist and yogi that Mark Divine brought in for the special purpose of blowing our minds, we laid on the ground while booming music played and hyperventilated/hyperoxygenated our bodies with about 50 rounds of warrior breathing, which is a fast and deep nasal inhale followed by a quick exhale. We then relaxed and did deep breathing in between each set as our bodies tingled and trembled from the hyperoxygenation phase. This was an incredible exercise that left my crying once again as I completely floated outside myself and went into a trance in which I was hovering above my physical body and simply observing the entire experience. Crazy stuff, I know – but you have to experience it to understand.
Here's a video that may help you understand:
And that was it! Shaking, crying, emotionally charged and physically spent, we finished with a few invigorating rounds of laughing yoga and then the Academy graduation ceremony. This left me with just 12 hours to check into the Days Inn down the road from US Crossfit, get a few hours of sleep, and prepare to show up the next morning for Kokoro – an intense 50-60 crucible of pushing through extreme physical tests on zero sleep. Coming next, I'll be telling you everything you need to know about Kokor, and sharing some absolutely amazing stories from the life-changing experience.
In the meantime, if you have signed up for a SEALFit Kokoro or Academy event and want to hop on the phone with me for a personalized one-on-one consult to get you ready physically and mentally, just click here and grab a 20 or 60 minute consult, whichever you'd prefer.
Leave your questions, comments or feedback below, and stay tuned for Part 3, in which I'm going to fill you in on the nitty-gritty details of exactly what to expect at SEALFit Kokoro Camp and how to get the most of our experience, complete with plenty of “in-the-trenches” tips and tricks!
Also published on Medium.