SEAL grinder PT sits down with Stew Smith to find out more about his background and some great ideas to make your a better athlete. If you want to train like a Navy SEAL — then Stew Smith has a lot to tell you about making it through BUD/S and keeping yourself in killer shape to be ready for anything anytime.
SGPT: Tell us about yourself, Stew.
SS: I am a former Navy SEAL and fitness writer. My articles, books, ebooks, videos can be found at Stew Smith.com. I grew up in Suwannee County FL, joined the Navy via the Naval Academy, and now live in Severna Park MD, a suburb outside of Annapolis. I was an athlete all my life – playing football, baseball, wrestling, power-lifting, and track. I have combined my fitness experiences into a writing style that incorporates training to pass fitness tests as well as programs that prepare people for military, law enforcement, fire fighting schools. I have grown more into an endurance / muscle stamina athlete over the past few decades, but still like to add in a 12-18 week power-lifting cycle during my year of training. But mainly, I stick with calisthenics, TRX, running, rucking, and swimming.
Trying out new workouts is one thing my workout group does, so I am open to new challenges. I started a non-profit FREE workout program called Heroes of Tomorrow (www.heroesoftomorrow.org) where we will actually train over 5,000 kids this year for FREE to prepare for military, spec ops, police, fire fighting professions.
Stew Smith interview by Don Shipley
Check out Stew Smith Ebooks @ SEALgrinderPT.com Store
SGPT: What was your inspiration to go into the SEAL Teams?
SS: When I went to the Naval Academy, I was a football playing power-lifter and wound up playing rugby while there as my sport. We had many students on the team who were training to be SEALs and they were the toughest and best in shape people I had ever seen. The SEALs stationed at the Naval Academy inspired us all. After my first SEAL PT, I was hooked. Got my butt kicked, but hooked. I knew I wanted to be like those guys who easily handled this workout. After researching the actual job of the SEAL (remember no internet back then), I knew I wanted to challenge myself for that goal. It took me a good 2 years to prepare myself for what I thought was “ready for BUDS.” The good news is – I was right. I needed to PT, run, and swim and get my endurance up. As a former power athlete, I had the strength, I just lacked endurance, so I actually did not touch a heavy weight for two years prior to training.
SGPT: What kept you going and kept you from quitting in BUD/S?
SS: After four years of the Naval Academy, I knew what I wanted to do – be a SEAL. I also knew with a greater passion what I DID NOT want to do – be a SWO officer. No offense Surface Warfare Officers, but that was not a lifestyle that was for me. I think that alone was the biggest thing that kept me from quitting. But to be honest I never once thought about quitting. I tell folks that you have to go to BUDS ready to compete in every event you can. Strive to win or be in the top 10% of the class in every run, swim, PT, obstacle course, or test and you will never once think about quitting because every day is like competing in a race.
SGPT: What is your philosophy on training for Spec Ops?
SS: One of my saying is “Train to Compete – Not Just Survive.” I found that the guys who went to BUDS in survival mode – striving to pass or meet minimum standards were destined to drop or get injured. I compare it to the day I ran my first and last marathon. I was training to finish the event in sub 4 hours – actually got 3:45, but when I was stretching I saw a man from Africa getting ready. I thought he is not even worried about whether or not he is going to finish. He is trying to take a minute off his best time. He was in competition mode. That is mindset you need for BUDS. I was in survival mode and hoped to finish. I had a goal which helped, but I was still in survival mode in that run.
I also think everyone is different and there is no ONE right way to train for Special Ops training – there are several right ways. Everyone has a nemesis at BUDS. Swimmers tend to do horrible with leg injuries due to years of not training on land and gravity. Runners tend to have issues with the PT, Log PT, obstacle courses and upper body strength. Stronger guys in PT / weights, tend to have issues with running and endurance. Thinner leg guys tend to have issues with the swimming with fins in the ocean. So you have to find that weakness and make it a strength.
One thing is for sure, I never once said to myself at BUDS, “I wish I had lifted more weights to prepare for…” It was more like, “Man I wish I was a better runner.” So running is what I had to suck up to “stay with the pack” at BUDS. For others, weights is a good idea as log PT, boat carries, and man carries is tough if you do not have that muscle development from years of athletics.
Also something to consider: Focus your time preparing for BUDS / Spec Ops Training on tests that can get you kicked out. Weekly 4 mile timed runs, weekly ocean swims with fins, PT / beach runs, obstacle courses are timed / effort events that can get you kicked out. Your performance under a log or boat will not get you kicked out. It might get you kicked by your boat crew if you are sand bagging, but not kicked out. Well, I guess, unless you are completely falling out and not hanging with your crew you can get boarded for performance.
SGPT: If an athlete had limited time and equipment – what are 3 bodyweight exercises that an athlete could do to help them get in better shape?
SS: Running and swimming should be the cardio option depending on your goals. But my favorite exercises to do with NO equipment are pull-ups (run to a playground with monkey bars if you have to or build your own bars), 8 count bodybuilder pushups, squats or lunges.
For a minimal equipment answer, I have a TRX suspension trainer and a barbell with a total of 225 lbs of weight where I will do TRX Atomic Pushups, power cleans, and push presses. Those are my favorite.
SGPT: Do you recommend training with weights?
SS: Absolutely! I love weights. As a former power lifter I cut my teeth in fitness with the Olympic lifts from high school and college. I am not into bodybuilding weight lifting as I have not found a use in isolation lifts other than for aesthetic fitness. I train for performance fitness for your profession or fitness tests. I still feel that not all athletes need to lift prior to their Spec Ops or military training. In fact some need to stop lifting and start running, swimming, and high rep PT-ing.
I still lift each year for 12-18 weeks to work the muscle differently and give my joints a break from high rep calisthenics workouts and long miles of running. When I lift I usually replace running with more swimming and rucking for cardio benefits. It is really based on science of Periodization. See article.
SGPT: Tell us about your books? And website?
SS: When I got out in 1998, my first book The Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness was published and my StewSmith.com website started. Over the past 12 or so years, I have added another 5 published books on military / police fitness, more than 30 ebooks specializing in fitness testing, and over 400 articles on a variety of topics from Ab workouts to Weight Gain / Loss tips.
I work out to get ideas to write about. I started a FREE workout program locally in Maryland where I see more than 3500 kids a year between local delayed entry programmers, OCS candidates, police and firemen, USNA midshipmen and others. These are the Heroes of Tomorrow that inspire me to work out hard and help them prepare. We test out workouts, gear, new exercises, and discuss other preparation methods for their future jobs.
SGPT: Can your books and website help an athlete that is not going the Spec Ops path? How?
SS: Sure – we get many local high school football players join us in the summer and they all remarked how well they were ready for 2-3 a day practices in August. We run distance, sprints, PT, lift weights, swim as well as add PT / weights on the pool deck in between laps for swim PT. This will get anyone in shape.
SGPT: What are some suggestions you would give an athlete to improve on pullups?
SS: I have a couple methods. The thing to remember is that pull-ups start off as a strength / power exercise to get your first few. Then to succeed with double digits, pull-ups become a muscle stamina / endurance exercise. If you are stuck under 10-15 I would recommend my Pull-up Push Workout where you do pull-ups each day for 10 days straight – rest for 3 days and test on day 14. Typical growth is 50-100%. Weighted pull-ups is another way if you are stuck at 20 and want to get up to 25-30 pretty quickly. Also I have seen guys go from 15-25 in 4-6 weeks with the 100,200,300 pull-up workout where you do 100 pullups in as few sets as possible. See link for more details. I recommend once a week for 4-6 weeks to see improvement from 15 to 25. Add two other upper body workouts in that week as well.
SGPT: I like your 8-count bodybuilder-pushup-pullup-sprint workout. Where did that idea come from?
SS: This one came from an obstacle course simulation we had at USNA. I coach the Midshipmen Spec Ops Team (club) at Navy and we thought there needed to be a pulling exercise and a pushing exercise mixed with some short runs (in between obstacles). So we came up with the 8 count bodybuilder pushup / pull-up pyramid. We like to do this one often and are now getting up to level 20 which equals 210 pullups and 210 8 count pushups when finished.
SGPT: They say that BUD/S is 90% mental and 10 % physical. Can you elaborate on that more?
SS: I wrote an article on this one. 90% Mental / 10% Physical. In short, it does not mean academic studies – that is for sure. It means that you have to be in such good physical condition that you have the athletic foundation to mentally push yourself passed perceived limits.
SGPT: Thanks for the interview Stew!
SS: No sweat – thanks for letting me chat with you and your website.
Questions from our readers:
Question: How do you go about putting on muscle with calisthenics only? Check out Stew Smith’s Ebook here on workouts.