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Fitness: It's 90% Mental

Stew Smith, CSCS

Have you ever heard of this statement? Often it refers to challenging military / law enforcement training programs. The first time I heard the saying was at SEAL training and I never quite understood what it meant at the time because it felt like 100% physical at the time. I promise you this. It does not refer to 90% mental being academic studies at SEAL Training. There is academic studying you must do, but typically it refers to how well you mentally push yourself through pain. But, today, a former college football player said his coach taught him that “if you show up out the shape the mental is twice as hard.”

This concise statement is what I have been trying to say for years when explaining rigorous training programs. Personal experience has shown that the better condition you are physically, to more likely you are better able to handle stress, understand a tactical concept, perform a task to precision, and be better able to master other job related duties.

Too often recruits show up reaching the minimum standards of fitness for boot camp, basic, indoctrination, etc and all too often fail at something like land navigation, shooting, and other job related skills. Or the out of shape recruit is likely to become injured on normal daily activity PT / runs because he/she is not conditioned for even the most basic of activities. From here the de-conditioned recruit will miss valuable training and will likely be rolled to a different class, quit, or be dismissed from the training program altogether. That is what happens when you show up not prepared.

Striving for minimum standards (plus) – When preparing for a training program that you know is going to be physical (military basic, special ops training, police academy etc) take the minimum standards for acceptance into those programs and increase the standards for yourself. Typically a minimum standard recruits has a very low percentage of completing, graduating, or excelling in any part of the program.

Rule of Thumb for Preparedness:

For calisthenics type testing – pullups, pushups, situps – you will see a minimum standard for acceptance into the program. Recommendations range from 50-100% increase in the minimum standards – sometimes more! For instance, the minimum standards for SEAL training pullups is 6, it is recommended to be able to do 20 before attending BUD/S. Typically pushups / situps minimum standards for many of the branches of service and police range from 20-40 repetitions to pass. I would recommend striving for 50-100% increase in those numbers from the minimum standards.

For cardiovascular testing – running, swimming, etc: This one is more difficult to gauge generally, but if you can get 1-2 minutes under the minimum standards on a run or swim, then you are setting yourself up for better performance / conditioning throughout your training. For example, if the minimum standard for a 1.5 mile run is 12:30, then it is recommended to be able to run a 10-11:30 to create a cushion for yourself.

It is true. If you show up in shape the mental part of training is much easier. Now there is a mental side to training that is being able to mentally will yourself not to quit. There will be a time when you “feel” you cannot run another step, or when you “feel” like you cannot do another pushup. In advanced training programs, this is where mental toughness comes into play in order to push through the pain and discomfort of long days / nights. I am a firm believer that through tough physical fitness training you will sharpen the mind and allow it to build tolerance to pain when most people will quit from exhaustion.

Whether you are seeking to serve in the military, law enforcement or the special operations community, you should ask yourself, “Am I using the minimum standards as my capstone goal for training?” If the answer is yes, then you should re-think your training plan and give yourself some more time to reach far and above past the minimum standards. If you do this, training will be fun, educational, and you will look back at it with confidence. This will affect everything else you do in the future and create a higher standard for you personally, professionally, physically, and yes – even mentally!

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