Ask Stew: How to Train for Special Forces When You're a Teen

A soldier competes in a bench press competition.
A soldier, with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), presses 225 pounds for as many repetitions as possible Dec. 3, 2018, during the Menton Week team lifting event. (Sgt. Ian Ives/U.S. Army photo)

Many young adults begin to prepare for military training by playing sports, weightlifting and learning teamwork and mental toughness that will help ready them for future military challenges. Others will get involved in martial arts, skateboarding, band or academic clubs.

A cross section of society will find its way to the military. The military is stronger for this diversity, but the one common denominator is that, you eventually need to prepare your body for the work capacity and durability required by your future profession.

One cannot rely on basic training to get into military shape. You need to join with a foundation of fitness so you do not injure yourself or fall to overtraining symptoms such as shin splints, tendinitis or, worse, rhabdomyolysis.

Here is a sample question from a young man seeking to serve with very challenging future selection programs in his future:

Hello, Mr. Smith.

I'm 15 years old. I currently play football and am looking to join the wrestling team and possibly a spring sport. Since I can remember, I've wanted to join the military and serve my country like my dad did. As of right now, my goal is to become a Green Beret. I'm doing a lot of powerlifting because of football. I know that having that background can help me on things such as rucking and obstacle courses, but I also know that I will need to work on my muscular and cardiovascular endurance. I have begun working on a fitness plan to help me achieve my goals of Special Forces. Any suggestions? -- Jack

Dear Jack,

Football and wrestling are great for several things that will help prepare you for special ops. These sports will help you develop strength and power for load-bearing activities, speed and agility for fire and movement, and learning to endure pain to develop mental toughness. Wrestling is excellent for cardiovascular health, muscle stamina, combative activity and one-on-one mental toughness that will go a long way into building you into a solid soldier.

In season, I would focus on your sports rather than adding more workouts. By adding workouts into the mix, you might affect your sports performance negatively. During the offseason, you should start mixing in a combination of lifts, calisthenics and running longer distances -- 2-5 miles built up over time.

Try to follow these rules when putting together training programs:

Don't work the same muscle groups daily. Alternate upper-body and leg workouts every other day. Supplement calisthenics using the same muscle groups on days you lift, such as push-ups on days you do bench presses or squats and lunges with no weight on days you do squats/deadlifts with weights. This will help mix in some muscle stamina.

Focus on running or lifting. If you're working to get faster at running, don't do heavy one-repetition maximum lifts with your legs, as both activities will suffer. You still can run after lifting, but do not expect to get much faster in timed runs and do not run too much, or you could lose the strength benefits of lifting that day.

Mix in calisthenics. When not in a lifting cycle, doing legs days for running, mix in calisthenics squats/lunges like this:

My No. 1 recommendation is to be a kid while you can. Play sports, have fun and learn how to be a good team player. That is a great skill to go into the military with -- knowing how to work with your peers. And finally, join the military when you finish growing and are fully prepared, not just because you turn 18 years old.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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