[01:44] About Commander Mark Divine
[03:11] How Mark Went From Financial Accountant to Navy SEAL
[11:47] A Background on SEALFit
[26:05] Mark’s Top Tips in Dealing with Extreme Cold and Fluctuations in Temperature
[30:17] Two Tricks the Navy SEALs USE to Deal With Sleep Deprivation
[42:55] A Sample Workout To See if One is Fit Enough To Be a Navy SEAL
[48:31] What The SEALs Do About Overtraining and How Not To Overtrain
[54:22] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield here. And if you read the article over at bengreenfieldfitness.com a few weeks ago entitled Look, Feel and Perform Like An Ancient Spartan Warrior – How to Become an Absolute Physical Beast. Then you know that I’ve kind of got this personal goal during 2014 to challenge my body and my mind by adding some epic events to my 2014 calendar doing things like The Spartan Beast and Multi-Day Adventure Racing as well as something called the SEALFit Academy and the SEALFit Kokoro Camp which are also two kind of difficult tests of both physical and mental toughness as well as ways to learn physical and mental tricks and strategies to basically take things to the next level. Now whether you want to turn yourself into an absolute physical beast as I described it in that article or perhaps just get the mental edge to be tough when it really counts, then today’s podcast is for you.
I’ve got Commander Mark Divine from SEALFit on the call and this guy has an amazing history. Not only is he the author of multiple books on Amazon such as “The Way of the Seal: Think Like An Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed”, “Unbeatable Mind”, “8 Weeks to SEALFIT,” but he himself has quite a history as a Navy SEAL and as a CrossFit affiliate and also as kind of the mastermind behind the SEALFit program. And we’re going to hear a little bit more about his history today and then delve into all of the advice that he has from making yourself more physically and mentally tough. So Mark, thanks so much for coming on the call today.
Mark: My pleasure, Ben. Looking forward to it. Thanks for having me. And that was a pretty expansive intro. [laughs]
Ben: [Laughs] No worries.
Mark: You make me sound like a bad-ass.
Ben: I practiced in front of the mirror a lot before we start.
Mark: [Laughs] I bet you do.
Ben: I think that even though I introed you, people might want to hear a little bit more because it’s always interesting when you talk to somebody like a Navy SEAL. I mean, you guys are known to be some of the world’s toughest fighters and some of the most mentally strong folks on the face of the planet. I think it’s a mystery to a lot of people kind of like how you got started as a SEAL and what leads up to that? So for you what was your history? How did you get started in all these?
Mark: Yeah, mine is kind of interesting so I’m happy to share it. Being a SEAL was not my first career. Most people think you go to high school and you join the Navy. A lot of times because you don’t have anything else to do, right?
Mark: That wasn’t my case. I had a lot to do. I was actually hired to head down to New York and go to NYU to get my Masters in Accounting which was kind of interesting as I had no Accounting background in my undergraduate degree which was up at Colgate University in upstate New York. But it was one of these kind of consolidated programs so they said, we’ll hire you in a work study. It was Coopers and Lybrand which is now PricewaterhouseCoopers, come down to New York City we’ll send you to NYU, you work for us. Most of the year you go to school during the summers and then in night school during the regular year and then come out of woods with a Master’s Degree and a CPA once you pass the exam and someday you’ll make a perfect partner because you got a Liberal Arts background and not an Accounting background. And I took the job primarily because it sounded like a good job, right? It wasn’t exactly a tremendous amount of forethought put into it…
Mark: But probably not uncommon when you’re a 21-year old college graduate. So I did that. I went down to New York and went to NYU. I hated Accounting. I actually transferred in the MBA program and got my MBA in Finance shipping away and it took me four years. And I really didn’t like the work of public accounting. I just wasn’t suited for it. So I found myself feeling after a couple of years into it striving for these goals of getting my CPA and MBA but the work part which occupied obviously a good 12 hours in my day was somewhat miserable and to make the long story short, Ben what really was the life-changer for me is when I started got into the Martial Arts. My first real foray into the martial arts was right when I got in to New York, I started a place called Seido Karate and Grand Master Keicho Nakamura, amazing man. One of the few examples of true mastery that I’ve seen in my life. He had such an impact on me. He was so powerful as a character that I’m telling you there’s literally a day that goes by that I don’t have some insight from those four years I spent with him getting my first black belt.
Anyways, how does that relate to becoming a SEAL, you ask. I’m sure your listeners are wondering, where are you going this Mark? Well, the thing about the martial arts that Nakamura, his brand was very, very traditional. And he looked at training not just to go kick ass or to win a tournament or to be an MMA fighter. He looked at training the martial art as really a refined full person development program. Like an authentic martial art was. And so we spent just as much time doing inter development working in as we did spending working out. So a hard core training session on the dojo floor will be followed by a meditation session and a lecture on some sort of topic that was really interesting and also very insightful. And so, the meditation practice was traditional ZEN which was Japanese, very austere kind of Spartan-esque meditation style. But anyways, as a kid growing up in upstate New York to suddenly be exposed to these warrior development, it started to crack me wide open and I started to have a sense that there was more to life than just what I have been taught in the American dream. Just kind of march these orders and do these things and get a good degree and go make money and get in the work force and get married and have kids and now you’ve got your white picket fence, your house and all that and whatever.
Mark: And so I started to think well, maybe there’s more going on here and I started to practice even deeper than meditation and got into visualization and soon I started to sense that I was misplaced. I was misaligned and that this corporate world wasn’t for me. And so I dug into that and drilled all about it and thought about it. And these all happened over this three to four-year period from 85 to 89. And what came up was that I really felt this strong calling into a more warrior tradition. And the SEALS became my siren call. I found out about the SEALS through a guy that my brother worked for who had a stuff, had been a UDT guy Underwater Demolition Team. I talked to him about it. He highly encouraged me to take a look at it deeper. I went to a recruiter. I got the normal run around that everyone does but did get a video from them. The title of the video was Be Someone Special and that really spoke to me because it really was the first time in my life that I understood or I started to open up to the fact that we have this untapped potential inside of us and it really just needed the skills and the training and kind of a mentoring to go mine that potential.
And so Nakamura was my mentor, my siren call my vision was to become a SEAL and so armed with that I went to work internally. I started to visualize myself becoming a SEAL. I started to really align with that as opposed to align with being a corporate Titan. And sure enough it just came to pass. Within a year I was actually standing on the podium at Navy SEAL Headquarters at the SEAL Training Command in Coronado and I was getting awarded the Honor Man Certificate which is as good as the number one graduate of my BUDS training class in class 170 which was in 1990. All that happened very fast but it wouldn’t have happened had I not been able to what I just called win in my mind. And so essentially that was the first experience I had with winning in my mind.
Later on, after my active duty SEAL career, I got back into business, I started to take all that really seriously and apply it in a business context and beginning to train SEAL candidates, special ops candidates and launched the business SEALFit and I started to experiment with some of the principles that allowed me to succeed at that level as a SEAL and as a leader and also as a business owner, an entrepreneur. And that’s where I started to develop some of the principles and concepts and tactics and tools that ultimately ended up in the program Unbeatable Mind that I teach to my spec ops candidates and a lot of the tools ended up in the book “The Way of the SEAL” which was really more of a business leadership for business leaders.
Mark: That was kind of a long and winding road but how’s that for? [laughs]
Ben: It’s probably not too common to go from financial accountant to Navy SEAL but that’s a fascinating story and I think it’s really interesting how you experience success going in already having some of that mental strength and almost putting the mental before or on a pedestal with the physical which was…
Mark: Right. That was a big deal for me going into the SEALS and now it’s become kind of the main thing, right? I understand implicitly that the mind comes first where the mind leaves the body will follow. And that physically you’re capable of far more. Hell week taught us this in the SEAL you could go far more than you had any concept or any ability and a lot of your listeners who are ultra-runners and adventure athletes know this already. So I’m not teaching them anything new. It’s all mental. When your day 6 of an adventure race, your body, screw that, it’s been gone long ago but it keeps on chugging along for you as long as your mind is sharp and as long you have the right goals and as long as you could see things properly, things are clear in your mind, your body will follow.
Ben: Yeah, and I definitely want to ask you a little bit about hell week in just a second and some of the crazy things that happen during hell week but before we jump into that and kind of how you deal with the sleep loss and everything else that happens during an experience like that. As far as this SEALFit goes for example, I’m coming down I believe it’s in August to San Diego to do your SEALFit Academy…
Mark: Special staff lined up for you.
Ben: [Laughs] Thanks. I appreciate that. That sounds scary.
SEALFit Academy as well as I’m kind of finishing up to SEALFit Academy and jumping straight into your Kokoro Camp. Two things that you do there at SEALFit. Can you kind of give us like the birds eye overview of what those kind of things involve?
Mark: Sure. Let me give a little background on SEALFit. When I started I had this idea, Ben, back in the mid-2000’s that I was so influenced by my martial arts training and I continued my martial arts training by the way, beyond Seido. I ended up as an instructor in the SEALS and I got very close to my black belt Ninjitsu before that school kind of folded and I just continued to train in martial arts. Then I picked up yoga and so for 15 years since about 1998 I’ve been practicing ashtanga yoga and then I started to begin teaching it. And combining what I’ve been learning in CrossFit and Navy SEAL style endurance training, functional training, with my martial arts training and my yoga training, I found out I was going nuts trying to combine three schedules at three different studios you know, CrossFit gym and martial arts studio and a yoga studio and yet I found extreme value in all three traditions that were unique and different that didn’t really overlap but combined works extremely powerful. And because they really then address this inner and outer training aspect so not only was the outer training way more effective with functional training in the high intensity interval training of CrossFit and combining that with some of the innovative strength training techniques from Wendler and Westside Barbell. That was all very cool and I wanted that and it was taking me new areas physically. But then the mental training of yoga and the martial arts and some of the awareness and intuition development and also the spiritual development that I experienced, I wasn’t finding through the fitness training. And so I said you know, there’s got to be a way to kind of integrate these and bring them together. And so I said, well, let me start with the CrossFit affiliate and then I can kind of experiment use that as my petri dish so to speak, to experiment with this.
So I opened up US CrossFit in Encinitas, California which is my hometown. US CrossFit we are like affiliate number 375 or something like that, don’t quote me on it but somewhere around there. So that was in early 2007 my CrossFit certification was with Coach Glassman and Dave Castro and Nicole who are now kind of widely known through their CrossFit games the explosion of CrossFit. So I opened that up and started really mastering the movement and the principles of CrossFit and yet I knew that wasn’t quite enough for me and I wanted to train the way I trained in the SEALS but using new cutting edge methods, right? So in order to operate at the level that a Navy SEAL needs to operate; number one you’re not phasing it like a sports athlete. It’s got to be phased so that you can be at near peak performance for long periods of time because you’re pumping overseas time and time again and you don’t really have time to cycle through different training cycles and so what the SEALS do is they load up in viome, they get good at everything and they don’t really need to master everything, right in the fitness domain.
Mark: So you find some SEALS that geared toward endurance training and some SEALS that gedear toward strength training but as a whole they can all carry their load in both domains, right? And so I looked at the model of CrossFit so that’s not good enough for SEALS and so I wanted to develop something that would be good enough for SEALS and I already had SEAL candidates coming to train with me.
Ben: And not good enough, are you referring to more of the lack of the endurance aspects?
Mark: Yeah, probably not a good term, not good enough, ‘cause that could certainly be quoted out of context. I love CrossFit. What I meant was wasn’t complete enough or maybe even another way to look at it, it wasn’t narrow enough in terms of the domains to be trained.
Ben: Got you.
Mark: And the philosophy of the training is slightly different. And I’ll explain in a second. So I launched this program called SEALFit and I started training it locally with my little group of guys who were doing I call it the pre-soft training program. I had a guy named Rob Ord who was helping me with that and we are just experimenting on these kids and we are combining endurance training using the functional domains that a special operator would dig deep working. So swimming, swimming even with gear and stuff like that. Running underload, rocking underload, it’s all team-based because SEALS don’t really train alone unless they’re supplementing for something. They train as a team and the impact of team training is different than individualistic training. And then we train for team outcomes rather than individual performance measures like Crossfit does and so it started to mold to be quite different.
And the domains of fitness that I really narrowed to focus to were strength but mostly relative strength, Ben, even though we use some one round max tight measures that’s really so we understand we could track our progress and we know where to work for building relative strength so that you could be useful to your team.
Mark: And so we focus on kind of strength lifts that were easy to perform, not overly complicated and had a crossover effect to build strength for the entire body, for your entire systems. So back squat, dead lift, being the two primary we also do push press and throw in a bench press in there. And so we narrowed our strength training to those kind of strength movements and looking for relative strength that will be useful making you more useful to the team. Shore up some weaknesses, right?
And then we focus on stamina and development. Now stamina is I’m sure most people on your listening group are aware is not endurance. Stamina really is more muscular than endurance. The ability of your muscles to fire repetitively and efficiently and recover quickly so that you can work for longer periods of time at kind of moderate to more maybe like anywhere from 50-75% output. And so we specifically train for stamina. And then the third domain is really that where CrossFit comes in. We train for work capacity which is and the way I define it is the ability to do a [curse word] ton of work in a short period of time. [laughs] Right?
Mark: And that’s for the fire fighting. So every one of these domains you can relate to a SEAL mission, right? The fourth domain is endurance and the fifth is durability. So endurance training as I mentioned would do that functional endurance running, rocking and swimming. And durability is really to do the things that most people know they need to do but they don’t take the time to do. So active stretching we throw yoga drills in there, sleep and recovery are a big part of the training for durability. Learning how to pre-habilitate, range of emotion and then rehabilitate quickly through training if you get injured, and also deep, deep core development. Those all fall in the bucket of durability.
Now those five domains you will think about a SEAL mission, right? If you’re going to jump in and swim three or four miles to the beach and then rock 18 clicks to your objective then you need strong functional endurance and durability to accomplish that. Throw in a little mental toughness for good measure, right?
And then let’s say you get to your ORP which is your rally point. You need to build something, I mean build some hide sights or maybe even build some structures maybe it’s a forward operating base since you need stamina. You’ve got work to do so you need stamina and you’re going to be tired and you just need to be able to do a lot of work. And then let’s say you go do your mission and you get into a firefight, you need work capacity for that. And a firefight might last from five minutes to forty-five minutes but you better be on and you better have that explosive power and you better be able to stay focused and calm and clear headed and be able to shoot, move and communicate as a team in that 45-minute period or whatever that ends up being. It’s intense. And of course, then that ends because you’ve killed all the enemy and now you’ve got to hump back to your ORP and you might be carrying a wounded man on your shoulder, okay? Now you need stamina and for that again and then endurance to get your butt out of town. And so all that is trained and the volume is significant, the typical workout is two hours long maybe a little longer but what happens is when you get used to that volume it becomes doable and very enjoyable and your body just kind of adapts to be this what I call warrior athlete.
Ben: And that’s what this academy is built around is basically taking people through all those concepts that you just described and teaching them and then also putting people to the tests incorporating these concepts…
Ben: In the workouts and I guess special challenges that you create for a week like that.
Mark: Exactly, thanks for bringing it back to that. The academy was the question so the academy is where I train all of that at a deep level plus I train mental toughness. So the academy is a live-in academy. What you’re going to experience you stay on site with us, we feed you and you basically turn off the outer world. You leave your iPhone and whatnot behind, we hope I mean obviously we don’t strictly enforce that for business professionals like yourself but the spirit of it is that you’re in kind of a warrior monk, warrior athlete monk academy, right? So leave all the outside.
Ben: Yeah, I actually I went through an unplugging last year when we did a five-day wilderness survival camp and the first couple of days you think about your cellphones and emails a lot and then within a few days you kind of forget all that.
Mark: It doesn’t matter and then you’re afraid to turn them back on [0:21:49.5] ______…
Mark: So we wake up at five in the morning and the academy has a very kind of yin and yang approach. So we wake up at five in the morning and you might do a hard workout like you might do the SEALFit workout. And then we’ll come back in and after some breakfast we’ll do a session on mental control where we’ll work on some of the [0:22:11.0] ______ mind principles to develop your metal control and focusing techniques and then maybe go out and do some sprints and then come back in have a classroom lesson on mental toughness and lunch and then after lunch maybe we’ll do some skill development on all the functional skills of SEALFit, right? And then after that maybe another classroom on leadership and then after that, you get the picture of durability exercise using the TFX. And so it goes from hard to soft to classroom to hard to soft to classroom.
And this is five-days long unless you’re doing the three-week Special Ops Immersion Camp which is three weeks long. The Special Ops Immersion Camp we throw in a lot of ocean swimming, a lot of rocking and a lot of self-defense. And then it culminates with the 50-hour Kokoro Mental Toughness Camp and that is really kind of our version of hell week. Big differences instead of trying to entrite you getting you to quit, we try to teach you how to overcome those rough spots where you want to quit. It’s different for everybody. Some people it’s a mental fatigue or a lack of motivation. For others it’s an emotional control issue or resiliency issue. For others their spirit is broken. They can’t see to connect to a higher purpose, why they’re doing that. And for some, actually a small majority, they weren’t physically prepared and so physically they just break down too much and w can’t get them through.
Mark: If we wanted to get everyone to quit we could but one-third of the camp will ultimately not make it.
Mark: [0:23:49.4] ______ or for other reasons but we try to get a run through. Now why is Kokoro Camp so powerful? Again, same reason that hell week was so powerful is that you do more than you think is humanly possible. You do more physical work. You do more mental work. You take yourself to places that you didn’t know were places and you basically you meet yourself at a deeper level. For the first time…
Ben: And you could refer back to your own experience in hell week or draw from examples in the Kokoro Camp but I’d love to hear a few of the crazy things that you’ve observed others to experience or you yourself have experienced as far as the mental or physical rigors. Give us a few concrete examples of something that really challenges you or that you think is one of the more challenging aspects of something like a Hell Week or a Kokoro Camp.
Mark: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot there. For most people there’s two primary challenges that really take them so far in their comfort zone that they’re not sure how to deal with it. One is the physical discomfort caused by the cold. Okay, so cold can obviously sap your energy and usually ocean where in and out of the ocean a lot during the 50 yards and I’m not going to tell you how much ‘cause you’re going to do it but it’s a lot. And so you’re cold and wet and sandy and somewhat miserable and so you’ve got to essentially embrace misery. Embrace that suck and lean into it and make it your friend…
Mark: If you can’t do that then it’ll become very difficult and so a lot of that is framing and creating new relationships with things that you avoided in the past. And so not unlike an adventure where you run your first race you know, he’s like wow I’m not used to training or moving non-stop around the clock but when you make it your friend and you learn the tactics for how to accomplish that then you have much better chance to success…
Ben: Now a lot of our listeners they experiment with cold thermogenesis, cold showers, cold immersion things of that nature and I know that many of them have written to me saying, how do you get over that initial hump of dealing with the cold? For you, do you have special tactics or tricks that you use to allow the mind to overcome cold exposure or rapid temperature fluctuations like that?
Mark: Yeah, well there’s two primary and they fall into this grouping that I call the Big Four of Mental Toughness. The first is deep diaphragmatic breathing and that’s not going to probably shock a lot of people because they probably heard that before but it’s one of the main things that I teach and encourage people and I have some practices around that. Deep, deep breathing when combined with the second thing, It’s visualization can ward off hypothermia. Now it’s not going to ward it off forever and it’s going to be different for every person. And you’d be hard-pressed to point to a scientific study because of the risk factors. But it can. You know one great place to look for this is Stu Smith, who was a SEAL buddy of mine did an episode I think on Discovery Channel it’s like Fight Science or something like that, maybe you’re familiar with that where they immersed him in an ice bath for like 20 minutes, I can’t remember the exact duration. And first of all, they benchmarked him. They ran him through an obstacle and had him shoot and they immersed him on ice bath and then he did the same obstacle course and shot after the ice bath.
Ben: Yeah, I saw this episode.
Mark: Yeah, he performed better.
Mark: And what was he doing?
Ben: His heart rate was slower and his nervous system was kind of calmed down from the cold.
Mark: Right. He ran into a deep breathing kind of meditative/visualization practice while he was immersed and literally willed himself to calm down and to warm up to stay warm and then he went off and was able to perform. It’s not unlike how a SEAL teach themselves how to shoot after running an objective, right? Heart rate is racing, his body is on fire and yet he’s able to calm and really settle down instantaneously so he can pull the trigger with effectiveness. The combat conditioning training that we go through really helps us prepare for that. Same thing for cold and also sleep deprivation.
So when you combine cold and sleep deprivation that’s where your both your physiology and psychology are frayed. You get really frayed at the edges. Now the cold just freaks your physiology out and if you can’t stop that shivering that takes an enormous amount of energy to shiver, right? Which is your body’s natural response to try to stay warm. Deep diaphragmatic breathing where you just take a deep in and you’re really, really focusing solely on that breath does two things: one, you’re calming your body because obviously you’re activating kind of your stress release response. Deep diaphragmatic breathing through the nose is universal shut-off switch for fight or flight and so you’re calming your body down telling it’s okay. And then the breathing itself if you start to pick up the intensity will actually warm you up and so use that breath to warm you instead of the shivering process. And you can kind of control and slow down and stop the shivering eventually.
And then again going by just focusing on that breath, you’re collapsing your mental focus, your thinking mind too the process of warming your body breathing. And so you’re not allowing your mind to think about, oh, [curse word] I’m cold. I’m dying. This is sucks. I’m not going to make it. All that mental chatter starts to go away. And you’ll get through the rough point. Now of course, in the training environment you also have the added benefit of knowing that we’re not going to kill because you’re a client [laughs] and so eventually you’re going to get out of it and so you’ve got to set your goals to just getting through this hard spot. Don’t think about anything else. Just get through this tight spot. You make it five more paces, make it 10 more breaths, make it whatever. And then…
Ben: Now. Go ahead. I was going to ask you about sleep deprivation, but it sounds like you were going to launch into something else?
Mark: No, let’s talk about sleep deprivation.
Ben: Okay. And obviously I know, like you and I could talk forever but I want to get into a few nitty gritty practical tips for folks on some of the things that they can do. I love the idea of deep diaphragmatic breathing for getting ready to deal with extreme cold or fluctuations in temperature. You obviously experience sleep deprivation. What do you do about that or how do you teach people about how to cope with sleep deprivation whether they’re a busy mom or dad a CEO or somebody who’s like maybe they haven’t slept and they’ve got an Ironman Traithlon the next day or something like that?
Mark: Right. Well, I tell you what. It might sound like a broken record. Let’s talk about sleep first. First of all, sleep is highly under rated. Meaning, [laughs] you’ve heard the term sleep is highly overrated that’s all [curse word]. Sleep is so important. It’s incredibly important. When we went for five or six days without sleep in hell week we tricked ourselves into thinking we’re performing but the only reason we were performing is ‘cause we’re doing super simple tests. Like caveman-type test. If we had to perform any higher or brain functioning problem-solving we would have been diagnosed as drunk probably with a bloody alcohol level of .08 over .10. And it done a lot of studies within the last few years on sleep and its affect on your ability to control higher order of reasoning and thinking. And so, if you’re someone who was routinely short changing their sleep and only getting like six hours of sleep or five hours of sleep at night and you’ve gotten through it like a big tough American guy and you think that that’s all you need because you’ve trained yourself to not to need any more then you’re really kidding yourself. And it’s accumulative, right? And that one hour to two hours on average you need seven roughly seven plus change hours of sleep at night. And that’s kind of what the average has been in our age on the last 100 years of something like that or maybe not quite that much ‘cause we used to sleep a lot more when there wasn’t electricity, but the optimal sleep patterns are about a little over seven hours…
Ben: Yeah, we need professional athletes incidentally swearing by close to the 9 to 10 for a lot of people who are training two plus hours a day.
Mark: Yeah, you need that, right ’cause you need that actually recovery time. And the other thing is the quality of the sleep is [0:32:26.0] ______ is importance so you really only release growth hormones when you dip into that deep, deep delta sleep. Don’t quote me on this I don’t have the stats in front of me but you’re really only recovering during one of the three primary phases of sleep, the deepest phase. And so if your cortisol levels are elevated you’re never going to tap dive into that deep depth that you need to do the recovery. And when your cortisol levels elevated it’s when you have too much stress in your life or you now you say you’re drinking too much caffeine or Red Bull or whatever or if you’re drinking alcohol within an hour or two before bed. And so you’re not going to allow your body to dip into that deep recovery and you’re not going to get the growth hormone release and the testosterone and whatnot.
And they went through a study with the SEALS recently and there were some SEALS you know, SEALS are notorious for dealing with sleep by waking up early and working out, right? So like you can’t get to sleep ‘cause your cortisol levels are jacked because you’re always on edge and always going a thousand miles an hour with your hair on fire. And they cure that by slamming a few beers before bed which gets them into a light level sleep and then they wake up at four o’clock in the morning and they’re like [curse word], you know. Not as much as I wanted but look I’ve been asleep for four hours that’s pretty good all things considered. So they wake up and they go to the gym and they bang out a SEALFit workout for a couple of hours. That kind of flushes away the fatigue and they go out and operate well, I mean that sleep deprivation is slowly building up and their testosterone levels when they tested them they had like the testosterone level of a teenage boy.
Mark: Or teenage girl, I should say. They were just like 14% of where they should have been. And that’s a big eye opener for a lot of these guys who are rough and tumble guys are going holy [curse word], where did my testosterone go? [laughs] And because they weren’t recreating any at night. And so anyways, all of that was kind of in the build-up of just how important sleep is for endurance athletes and adventure athletes and all of us who work hard and play hard.
Mark: And so how do you deal with sleep deprivation when you have to perform? Well, I go back to a couple of things: one is to ensure that what you have to do is something you’ve trained to do over and over and over. For instance, going and running a triathlon is a fairly simple process physically, right? You just move your legs in one pattern for the bike and you kick them another for the swim and you move another for the run. And so physically the movements are radically simple, easy to perform even if you were like sleep walking or running. And so you know that even when sleep deprived you’re going to be able to perform the physical movements. So then it’s the mental management, right?
So the mental management you get back into some sort of homeostasis through deep breathing and concentration drills, right? And so the deep breathing is going to clear your mind and so when you start to do what I call box breathing is my practice for that, when you box breath and you clear your mind you literally actively visualize bringing energy into your body and into your brain, right? So you’re activating and energizing your brain. Now this visualization, whether you’re actually bringing energy in that’s a whole another discussion. The Eastern traditions will say that you are because life, force and energy is what you breathe in with every breath. Well, let’s just leave that aside and say you are visualizing it and so what happens is you get the sense that as you see the energy coming in maybe through the crown of your head or into your nose and recharging your body and so level, you’re charging your body with positive energy, right? So you’re visualizing kind of light or however you want to represent energy.
And you’re visualizing your body responding with health, with optimism, with excitement that is getting recharged because before it was challenged. It was sleep deprived. And so I highly encourage my trainees to start to look at their bodies as balls of energy that have been coagulated into this physical state because that’s really what we are. In quantum physics it’s finally helping to prove that at an ultimate level and so we can affect that through our mind. We can affect the quality of the energetic state of our body through our mind so the deep diaphragmatic breathing gets us control of the body and it collapses our mind, our thinking mind so that we’re not thinking a lot. It’s not unlike a meditative practice it’s just I call it box breathing because I don’t want my SEAL candidates to think that I’m trying to teach them some esoteric meditation with a mantra. I’m not. I’m literally just teaching them how to breath and how to concentrate and that’s all meditation is. And then you add the visualization and then the visualization for sleep deprivation is energetic visualization. I’m charging myself up, feeling good. I’m going to have plenty of energy for this performance. I just actually did this yesterday. I flew out to New York because I got a quick turn, can you come and be on Fox and Friends to promote your new book “The Way of the SEAL”? They want you on at seven o’clock Sunday morning and I got the word on Friday. So I flew out Saturday and I live in San Diego and going from West to East sucks.
Mark: When you fly East, you lose that three hours and all of a sudden it’s very hard to get to sleep so sure enough I was exactly like that SEAL I described earlier. I got to bed at like 10 or 11. I woke up at like 3:30am and had barely any sleep. No real deep recovery sleep and so I said, okay what’s going to be the best thing for me to do to try to go back to sleep or to get up and practice? So I said, okay I’m going to get up and practice. So I ran the stairs in the hotel for about half hour just to break like an intense sweat and I did hand stand push-ups at every third floor.
Mark: Then I came back in and I did box breathing and this energy visualization and I did it for a good 45 minutes.
Mark: And then I went did the interview and I felt great.
Mark: Now later on in the afternoon when I got back on the plane to head back West, I conked, you know what I mean?
Mark: And then I had trouble sleeping again last night. So it really is a temporary performance thing. Eventually, you’ve got to get to sleep.
Ben: Yeah. Now do you guys in the Navy SEALS or you personally, do you ever do some of these things that you see a lot of like CEOs and airline pilots and folks doing like everything from modafinil to aniracetam to freaking aspirin plus coffee. Do you guys do much or is that just a big no, no for like a Navy SEAL or someone in the Armed Forces?
Mark: Uhmm, it’s a no, no but having said that, some guys will do it if they have to maintain some level of alertness. A lot of the special operators especially like a place like JSOC and the Tier One units. In the past have had a really bad understanding of sleep and they think that they’re tougher than anyone else and they’re going to sink their gut through it and they’ll have all night planning sessions and then go out and operate you know what I mean, the next day early in the morning.
Mark: One of my buddies has done a lot as a SEAL who became a doctor and then and became a medical doctor for the SEALS and then he made it his mission to study sleep and he actually just gave us a presentation at Unbeatable Mind Retreat a few weeks ago and it was just super interesting. And he was talking about how the Tier One units are just so far off with how they do sleep and using some of these stimulants to stay awake. The problem with these stimulants is that they don’t allow you to drop into that deep recovery cycle that I was talking about earlier to keep you in the surface levels and then you kind of screw yourself if you’re doing that for long periods of time. Your testosterone drops, your growth hormones drop. It’s going to weaken your body and it’s proven to actually put fat on your body. You see an hour of miss sleep a night will lead to about 14 pounds of fat gain during a year.
So people ask, I’m working out so hard that I barely eat anything and I’m gaining weight. I’m like, sleep? That’s it. There’s no other answer, right?
Ben: Yeah. You know, you mentioned mental enhancement, deep diaphragmatic breathing, we’ve talked about focus a little bit, I had a podcast guest named Dr. D’Agostino on a call a couple of months ago talking about ketosis as a potential strategy for eliminating free-radical production from like hypoxy experience during diving in SEALS and also talking about enhancing mental performance by upregulating ketone presence in the bloodstream. Have you seen much in terms of that or use that dietary strategy yourself or are you seeing Navy SEALS pick up stuff like that?
Mark: Personally, I haven’t. I think it’s pretty early in the game. I’ve just literally learned about this myself recently. As a general rule, I’m a little weary of reductionism in science that tries to narrow everything down to one protein or one nutritional element that’s going to change the game. I mean, our bodies just don’t work that way and these complex systems and every new system is going to be a little bit different so what works for me isn’t going to work for you and so. Honestly, I’m not saying ketosis isn’t worth checking out, I’m just saying I’m a little weary about anything that’s going to be a universal simple thing ‘cause you know what, there’s no wonder drug. The wonder drug is basically to learn how to train smart and do trial and error on yourself and basically train hard during the day, get great sleep at night and then have fun along the way.
Ben: Now, let’s say folks want to train in a way that would be ideal to prepare them using some of the strategies that you described earlier. Those five strategies that you got into, you kind of created as you got away from CrossFit and designed SEALFit. Can you throw a sample workout out at folks who want to kind of throw something at their body and see if they’re able to handle? Like what are some exercises or some workout someone could do?
Mark: Sure. First of all, I post all my workouts for free to the public at sealfit.com and so you can see our workout of the day. And each workout has those five segments I talked about. I didn’t talk about the first. So the first segment is really what I call baseline. And that’s where we do our box breathing and then we do ranger motion drills which is a durability training, right? Getting our joints and getting lubed up and making sure we’re moving properly. And then we’ll do a little warm up and that’s to get the team on the same page, right? Everyone’s coming in with different levels of sleep and fatigue and this and that, and so we do a little mini-wod so to speak. It might be something as simple as like three rounds, 200-meter run followed by 20 push-ups, 15 pull-ups and 10 dips. Something like that. And so for a beginner that might be a hard workout, for us it’s just a little warm-up.
And then we’ll go into our strength training and so let’s say we’re working on push-press. We’ll warm up our push-press. You know, push-press is essentially doing a dip drive and a press overhead. It’s not a strict military press you want to use that. You don’t push heavy weight overhead just by strict pressing it in the field you do it by dip driving and using your hip explosive motion. So we’ll do a push-press and so we’ll warm up. We already know what one rep max is then we’ll do like 10 rounds of three reps on the minute at 70% of that one rep max. So that’s the strength training component.
Now stamina, I’m just making this up off the top of my head but with stamina what we’ll do is we’ll work with that same strength movement and then we’ll back it down and do a lighter load so we can do more reps, more volume. And so the stamina might be let’s say three rounds not timed. These are kind of a measured working as a team pace. So three rounds of maybe 20 push-press maybe at 55 or 60% of your one rep max followed by a motion that will complement the push so maybe we’ll do dips again, ring dips so maybe 25 or 30 ring dips something maybe even more, I don’t know. And then we’d like to do the third element of that stamina section. We’d like to do some team exercise like a buddy drill so maybe like a 50 meter or 100 meter body carry.
Mark: And so that’ll be with the three or four rounds of that, that’s a stamina. And then the work capacity is really that CrossFit piece. The we’ll take a little break, hydrate, break down the gear and then set-up for work capacity.
Mark: And the work capacity is balls to the wall timed evolution. Like today’s work capacity might be a [0:45:52.7] ______ like thrusters which non- five pump thruster where you do a full fun squat followed by an overhead press in a very dynamic motion. So we do 21 thrusters followed by 21 pull-ups and then 18 thrusters, 18 pull-ups, 15,15, 12, 12, 9, 9, 6, 6, 3, 3. And that’s the wod for time as fast as you can with good form.
Ben: Cool. Yeah, I can definitely see how you’re incorporating some elements of something like CrossFit but there is great deal more sustaining…
Mark: There’s more going on. And after that, Ben, we’ll then take a break and hydrate maybe eat something and then we’ll go out for a run as a team and then come back and
Mark: Now that you work through that. It takes about two hours and…
Ben: Yeah, I was going to say that’s a much longer workout than like a 20-minute wod or something like that.
Mark: Yeah, for sure. And like I said if you’re a sport athlete or using a CrossFit style training to supplement your endurance training it’s great because then you can do less of your sports-specific endurance training and get stronger overall by adding those three CrossFit workouts a week.
Mark: So through a sports specific endurance athlete doing the SEALFit programming might not be optimal for you. Having said that, throwing in one SEALFit wod a week and doing it soup to nuts with the team will have another impact and that is to develop serious confidence in mental toughness, right?
Mark: And so if I was a triathlete I would essentially track my volume of running, biking and swimming down by about 30% and add two CrossFit workouts and one SEALFit workout a week and see what happens. And I think the impact what I found was some of our athletes who were triathletes also, they’re actually improving their times. They’re having more fun and they’re experiencing fewer injuries because they’re now training functionally and they’re starting to build some strength and it’s not the kind of strength and mass that’s going to slow them down. It actually speeds them up because that functional is training the fast twitch muscles that’s not hypertrophy at all.
Ben: Yeah, and I’m sure that our listeners will hear more about SEALFit workouts over the next few months because that’s kind of the program I’m going to be using merged a little bit with triathlon training just because for example, I’m heading over to Israel next week to do a half Ironman over there and I’m certainly so going to be swimming, biking and running at least once a week but I’ll keep our listeners posted as to how those SEALFit workouts are going.
Now I want to squeeze in one other topic here real quick, Mark. Since we talked about fitness and since you emphasized the importance of recovery, how common is over-training in something like a Navy SEAL population or the folks who are doing these SEALFit workouts ‘cause they seem pretty intense and voluminous and kind of as a follow-up to that, do you have favorite ways that you measure the body or look at markers of over training or under recovery?
Mark: Yes, definitely possible and a lot obviously has to do with your level of readiness to handle the volume and so we always ask SealFit people coming to the program to spend a lot of time in a CrossFit style workout and then start to ramp up their endurance training before they begin the SEALFit training.
And so there’s two parts there: one is you have to understand the skills. The skills of the lifts and even the CrossFit modality you’ve got the Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts take years to really refine and develop to be able to do them safely and properly. And so we want you to have the foundational skills to be able to move safely and to not be a detriment to the team. Let’s put it that way. And then the volume you just need to start to develop the ability to handle the volume and sometimes there’s a little bit of trial and error and you might over step and so we ask people to really listen to develop their awareness of their own bodies and to understand when you’re pressing into what I call disintegrating pain versus integrating pain. Integrating pain is you know, does workout really sucks? It hurts bad. I’m pushing into new territory but I also know that I’m not hurting myself and so I’m going to just keep going. And disintegrating pain is something feels off in my back on that back squat and I don’t think I pulled anything but boy, I don’t know, right?
Mark: Something feels off and if you don’t listen to that and you do another lift or you push it all of a sudden pew! The spring’s going to pop right into your muscle.
Ben: Yeah. Are you guys doing much as far as like heart rate variability or any biomarker or anything along those lines?
Mark: We don’t, right? We don’t (a) because we just don’t have the time and (b) I’m not trained in those kind of scientific skills or those measures. I think that they’re valuable. My preference personally is to develop the inner awareness to be able to self-manage and that takes time, right? That’s why I haven’t certified any SEALFit coach beyond two civilians who worked with me for four years who are highly trained endurance athletes. One’s a former NFL player. The other’s an ultra-runner, a CrossFit gym owner and then on the other ones are SEALS who are all SEAL instructors and own CrossFit gyms and are just uber coaches. And I have a ton of people who’ve said, Mark, I want to get certified to teach SEALFit. I’m like, no quite comfortable to do that because there’s a lot of intuition that goes in what we do and at least as it pertains to the Kokoro Camp and the Academy especially. Going out and doing the SEALFit workouts anybody can do those but when it comes to doing the sleep deprivation training and the cold water training and putting it all together and whole package takes a lot of finesse.
Ben: Got you. Well, man I could talk to you forever and I’m sure our listeners…
Ben: Are geeking out on these stuff big time but what I’ll do is for folks to want look into Mark’s books, I’ll put links to them in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. I will put a link to the SEALFit Academy and the SEALFit Kokoro Camp that Mark talked about. And then if you have follow-up questions stuff that you still are curious about, just leave them as a comment or question in the show notes for this podcast over at bengreenfieldfitness.com and I’ll jump in and kind of help stir you in the right direction so…
Mark: Yeah, I’m happy to help out as well there, Ben.
Ben: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Sometimes folks who come onto podcast interview aren’t that keen on hopping on and responding to comments but I’ll be sure to send any our way that are specifically addressed to you so that’s great.
Mark: It’s too awesome. Let me know when you post this so we’ll retweet it and get this interview out to our tribe as well.
Ben: Oh, for sure. Cool. Cool. Well, that being said folks, thank you so much for listening in to this podcast with Commander Mark Divine. I would highly encourage you to act on the knowledge that you’ve just learned everything from deep diaphragmatic breathing to box breathing to implementing all the components of physical fitness. Not just being say, a chronic repetitive motion endurance athlete or not just being a high work capacity CrossFitter but kind of getting the best of both worlds so to speak. Focusing on the mental component. A lot of practical stuff that you can start into right away and some things for you to kind of add to your goals going into the New Year.
So Mark, thanks so much for coming on the call, man.
Mark: You’re welcome, Ben it’s been a blast. Really appreciate it myself.
Ben: Alright folks, this is Commander Mark Divine and Ben Greenfield signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
If you read the article “Look, Feel and Perform Like An Ancient Spartan Warrior – How To Become An Absolute Physical Beast“, then you know that in an effort to challenge my body and mind, I'm personally adding some epic events to my 2014 calendar, such as the Spartan Beast, the SEALFIT Academy and the SEALFIT Kokoro Camp.
How about you?
Do you want to know how to train, eat and think like the world's toughest fighters?
Turn yourself into an absolute physical beast?
Or perhaps just get the mental edge to be tough when it really counts?
-CPA, New York State
-BUD/s class 170 Honor man
-SEAL TEAM 3 Platoon CDR
-Commanding Officer, NR SEAL TEAM 1
-Commander, US Navy Reserves
-Colonel, Kentucky Order of Colonels
-Ambassador, SEAL (NSW) Foundation
-Ashtanga Yoga Instructor training
-Combat Defense Master Trainer
-S.C.A.R.S. Military H2H instructor
-Seido Karate: black belt
-Goju Ryu Karate: black belt
-Saito Ninjutsu: brown belt
-Various CrossFit and Self Defense certifications
-Mark's unique story of how he went from financial accountant to Navy SEAL…
-Some of the craziest things that happen during the SEAL'S infamous “Hell Week”…
-Mark's top tip to deal with extreme cold and fluctuations in temperature…
-2 potent tricks the Navy SEALs use to deals with sleep deprivation…
-5 components of fitness to make you extremely physically tough…
-A sample workout to see if you're fit enough to be a Navy SEAL…
-What the SEALs do about overtraining, and how to make sure you don't overtrain…