Ask Stew: How to Go from Your Plebe Year at the US Naval Academy to BUD/S

Blue Angels perform fly-over at Naval Academy graduation.
Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2009 cheer as the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team perform the traditional fly-over at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (U.S. Naval Academy)

If you are about to graduate high school and were accepted into ROTC or the service academies, congratulations and thanks for choosing to serve.

My recommendations are similar to any tactical profession journey -- to and through the training. Basically, you spent a significant part of your high school life performing at high standards to get to the training. Now you have to start to prepare yourself to get through the training.

When it comes to ROTC/college/the U.S. Naval Academy, etc., that not only means to reach the military and physical standards, but at this point, the academic standards and stress will be a challenge.

Here is a common question that comes from many future spec-ops candidates who have four years to prepare themselves thoroughly for their future training, but you won't get there if you are not meeting the standards in everything else you have to do to graduate:

Hello, sir. My name is Hank. I have had the honor of accepting an appointment to USNA, and I am looking forward to plebe summer. My long-term goal is to become a SEAL from the Academy. I am working on "military fitness" now that sports are complete. I run a 6-minute mile, can do 97 sit-ups, 70 push-ups and 12 pull-ups, each within 2 minutes. I know I have a very long way to go, but I am constantly exercising to improve. I am, however, not a swimmer. Do you think I need to focus on swimming or take lessons before I show up to plebe summer? If so, should I purchase a pair of swim fins to get acclimated with? Thank you so much for your time. Hank

Hank -- congrats. That is quite an accomplishment and a testament to the efforts of high standards in your high school career. So, you just got to the academy. Now you have to get through the academy, with the added challenge of getting a SEAL billet after graduation. Here is how you maneuver through that journey:

Plebe Year -- Get through plebe summer: Start learning Navy and Marine Corps basics (history, officer/enlisted ranks, general orders of the sentry, reef points -- USNA, etc.). If you are not playing a varsity sport, consider the spec-ops team, or SOT; it is just a club of like-minded midshipmen who train for SEAL, EOD and Marines together after school. Joining the SOT is not a requirement, as many other sports and clubs will help you prepare for BUD/S (the triathlon team, endurance team, rugby, varsity sports, etc.). However, they will walk you through the process at the SOT, and you will see what fitness is for those juniors/seniors in front of you getting ready for BUD/S, EOD and USMC training.

Study skills -- You will have a full schedule from chemistry, calculus, Naval Engineering 101, English, history and leadership classes to fill your days and nights studying. Time management skills will help you find the time to fit in your physical training. (See ideas)

Youngster (sophomore) Year: Life will be less stressful for you, but the academics grow more challenging as you get to select a major. Pick something you are interested in doing. You will find more time to train this year, and you can jump-start your spec-ops level training and learn how to ace the physical screening test, or PST (swim, run, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups). This is the year to "up your game."

Second Class (junior) Year: This is the year when you must try out for your BUD/S billet. During the fall and spring of this year, you get the opportunity to attend BUD/S screening if you qualify (ace the PST). BUD/S screening at the USNA is roughly a 48-hour event that mimics many of the more challenging events of Hell Week and First Phase BUD/S. Having PST scores in the eight-minute range for the 500-yard swim, a sub-nine-minute, 1.5-mile run range and 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 20-plus pull-ups will put you in good stead with the upper half of your classmates to qualify for SOAS -- SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection this upcoming summer -- if you endure the BUD/S screener.  All officer candidates must attend SOAS (service academy, ROTC, Officer Candidate School). This year, the academics are typically the toughest, as you will take electrical engineering, thermodynamics and more of your major courses.

First Class (senior) Year: It all starts for you in the summer before your senior year. You will spend three weeks of the summer at SOAS at Coronado if you pass the SpecWar Screener and have high-enough PST scores. Consider this your test as you will be interviewed, physically tested, observed for your leadership, teamwork skills and maturity the entire time. After a few weeks of running, swimming, rucking and challenging PT workouts, you wait.

When you get back to USNA, you will find out by Thanksgiving if you were selected and given the opportunity to go back to BUD/S after you graduate. If you do not get selected, you can go to Surface Warfare with the goal of lateral transferring back to BUD/S in a few years, or pick another job that you qualify for (USN/USMC pilot, USMC, surface, submarines, etc.) and serve for the next five or more years.

Regardless, the journey is a challenge, but it is fun and worth it. Be patient with your training. Consider training for the long run with a periodization program each year and grow in all elements of fitness throughout the final years of your teens and into your early 20s. But to answer your questions, no, I would not worry about it too much this summer. You will have plenty of time to prepare and learn how to swim at USNA. Take a SCUBA course there, and you will get all the gear you need (fins, mask) to advance your training when you are ready. For now, continue your running and PT exercises and learn more about the Navy as you will be tested during plebe summer.

Related video: How to Get to BUD/S

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    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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