Top 10 Things to Know Prior to Army Special Forces Training

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Army soldiers undergo special ops training
U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct small unit tactic training near Panzer Kaserne, Boeblingen, Germany, Oct. 24, 2019. (Rey Ramon/U.S. Army)

Getting ready for Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), the first step to attending the Special Forces Qualification Course, requires commitment and a near lifetime of preparation. I recently spoke to a Special Forces operator and we discussed the top 10 things a SF candidate needs to know before taking the SFAS challenge. He spoke of many different elements you should focus on during your training preparation. Here is the Top 10 list:

1. Have a Solid Running Base

You not only will run everywhere you go, but you will be running quickly with a backpack. Shin splints, knee tendinitis and foot problems occur in those who do not have a running base of at least 25–30 miles per week. Prepare your legs and lungs by putting in the miles. Run long distances and run them fast. The runs are no more than 10–12 miles at the very most, but we moved out. My SF buddy mentioned, "One day we took off, and I recorded we were running a 6:10/min mile." He continued, "I am not sure if this is still the case, but if guys want to be successful, I would suggest they get out and do some intervals in addition to their longer runs."

2. Leg Endurance and Muscle Stamina

Two things will give out on you if you are not prepared -- your lungs and legs. Mix in a lung and leg workout with running and leg PT. Run at a timed pace for a half-mile -- rest with 20 squats and 20 lunges. Repeat up to 5–6 times or build up to it over time, depending on a logical progression. Try a few quarter-mile lunge walks in your training to prepare for a lunge walk around your training area.

3. Strong Lower Back

Carrying backpacks, logs, and performing injured man drills requires a strong back. Dead lifts, hang cleans, farmer walks, fireman carries and body drags will prepare your lower back for lifting weight and walking with it. Be prepared to stand up all day; don't even sit down at all. Also see the new lower back plan for a calisthenics-based back plan on which to build.

4. Land Navigation

Much of SFAS and the Q course is getting from point A to point B in the quickest amount of time as possible. Know how to read a map and use a compass.

5. Ruck Running

SFAS is all about time and moving to your points quickly. You need to be able to move out when you are in a time crunch or are stuck in a draw. To prepare, put 45 pounds in your ruck and move four miles as fast as you can. A good goal is to get four miles in less than 35 minutes. If you can cover that distance during SFAS, it's a game changer.

6. Shoulder PT

During SFAS, you will have log and rifle PT. This isn't every day but a very extraneous event that gets a lot of guys to quit. I would recommend doing a lot of push presses, snatches and lightweight military presses to get ready. The weight isn't heavy, just very repetitive. Learn to work under the log as a team, and it helps -- especially if everyone can do a push press at the same time. Really muscle-bound guys could get the weight up with no problem but get smoked really quickly in these events.

7. Swim

Swimming is a passable event in the course. Besides being a great non-​​impact aerobic activity, the survival swim with gear on is tough and quite a shock if you never have tried it. You have to be able to swim 50 meters in a pool with boots and a uniform. If you are a weak swimmer, get to the pool and do some laps. This was one event that got a few people, because they did not incorporate it into their workout plan.

8. Attitude

You can be the fastest and the strongest and crush the course physically, but if you have a poor attitude and are not a team player, you will not be selected to go to the Q Course. Help your classmates when you can and stay in receive mode when learning a skill from the instructors.

9. High-Rep, CrossFit-Like Training

The biggest reason I say this is because they are doing mostly CrossFit workouts in the course. Morning PT incorporates kettlebells, barbells, pull-​​ups, etc. So if you have a little bit of a CrossFit background, you can keep up during PT. Use CrossFit workouts as a warm-​​up. You still need to put in a lot of time with running and rucking. 

10. Upper-Body, Round-Robin Prep

The upper-body, round-robin prep test consists of seven upper-body exercises, along with a speed and long-distance run. It is becoming the new SF PT test. My SF buddy mentioned. "I just completed my first one a few months ago during my E8 development course. It hasn't become a go/​no-go event yet, but it's being heavily considered as the new standard and is already in use by some of the teams." CIF companies are already using it as their must-pass event. As you can see, it's a big test and is taken all at once. So you have to have some serious chest strength to knock it out and ace a five-mile timed run.

Take these recommendations seriously. My SF buddies from REFactor Tactical are serious operators and still are operating with the reserve SF units and other NGOs. I'd like to thank them for the recommendations. For you future Spec Ops warriors, I wish you the best of luck and would like to remind you to keep working hard to prepare for the first step of a career in the Spec Ops world.

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Stew Smith works as a presenter and is on the editorial board with the tactical strength and conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

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