Top 10 Things to Know Prior to Army Special Forces Training

Army Special Forces Training

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 life time of preparation. I recently spoke to a Special Forces operator and we discussed the top ten things a SF candidate needs to know before they take the SFAS challenge.   He spoke of many different elements you should focus on during your training preparation.  Here is the Top Ten List:

1. Have a Solid Running Base: You will not only run everywhere you go but you will be running with a back pack and fast. Shin splints, knee tendonitis, 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 your lungs by putting in the time — and the miles.  Run distance and run it fast. The runs are not very long, 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 your legs. Mix in both a lung and leg workout with running and leg PT. Run at timed run pace for 1/​2 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 1/​4 mile lunge walks in your training to prepare for a lunge walk around your training area.

3. Strong Lower Back: Carrying around back packs, logs, and performing injured man drills, you need to have a strong back. Exercises like dead lift, hang clean, farmer walks, fire man carries, and body drags will prepare your lower back for lifting weight and walking with it.  Be prepared to stand up all day — not even sit down at all.  Also see lowerbackplan for a calisthenics based back plan to build upon.

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 45lbs in your ruck and move 4 miles as fast as you can. A good goal is to get 4 miles in under 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 everyday but a very extraneous event that gets a lot of guys to quit. I would recommend doing a lot of push presses, snatches and light weight 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 you all can do a push-​​press at the same time.  Really muscle bounds guys could get the weight up no problem but got smoked really quickly into these events.

7. Swim: Swimming is a passable event in the course. Besides being a great non-​​impact aerobic activity, the survival swim with all your gear on is tough and quite a shock if you have never tried it before. 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 snuck in and 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 an attitude and 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 they are now doing mostly crossfit workouts in the course.  Morning PT incorporates kettle bells, bar bells, pull-​​ups etc. So if you have a little bit of a crossfit background you will be able to keep up during PT. Use CF workouts as a warm-​​up. You still need to put in the time with running, rucking, and more rucking and running.

10. Upper Body Round Robin Prep: This is a fun new fitness test the Spec Ops World is testing: This 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/​nogo 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 be able to ace a 5 mile timed run.

Take these recommendations seriously. My SF buddies from REFactor Tactical are serious operators and are still 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.

US Army Special Forces Motto

Special Forces units perform seven doctrinal missions: Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Combatting Terrorism, Counter-​​proliferation, and Information Operations. These missions make Special Forces unique in the U.S. military, because they are employed throughout the three stages of the operational continuum: peacetime, conflict and war.

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  1. A.J. says:

    Great post Stew. I am out on Coronado doing some training and trying to channel enough of your SEAL spirit to get me through the over the horizon swims and the SEAL O-​​course (the weaver is a killer).

  2. notice this article is by a former SEAL and he doesn\‘t mention having great hair as a means to get into SF? Ha ha Great article Stew Smith. Will be posting to the Kill Cliff page for sure!

  3. Lightfighter says:

    Lost several back in the day during the 50 meter swim with boots and a uniform.

    • Stew Smith says:

      Swimming with clothes /​ gear is NO JOKE. It is a shocker if you have never done it and you are getting tested on it for the first time.

      • R.J. says:

        Wow you guys hit the nail on the head on this one, with boot on you will feel like you are wearing led boots going no where. Any practice pointers for this?

  4. 18Z says:

    Not a bad read, very accurate on several points. Don\‘t think that just because you can handle the PT part you\‘re in, attitude is a very important part, and you can be a non-​​select because of it. Someone is always watching during SFS&A

    • Stew Smith says:

      You know that is a great point. I have seen many super fit guys who were not team players or just bad attitudes when it came to learning /​​ listening and did not make it. I may edit my top ten and put that in there. Thanks…SS

  5. Sam says:

    I\‘m glad that you had that lower back program in there. I was recently attending an EOD/​MDSU training in Ft. Story with the Sea Cadet program and injured my lower back and had to go home. I\‘ve been looking for a good workout plan for that since then.

  6. Carl says:

    Some of our military service branches, who’s men and women earn their titles right out of boot, pound their chests and constantly tell you how tough they are.

    Yet it seems that it’s the men (and some women) who have to endure the longest trials and the highest dropout rates to earn their titles, who speak the softest about their accomplishments.

  7. taz says:

    What? this is a joke right!

  8. richard says:

    Stew
    Excellent article! When i had to do my pt test just to be support at NSWDG i thought that was tirering lol. But i am actually going back into the military after being away for 8 yrs, and im going army and doing the 18 xray program and some of the things you mentioned on here ive already done, but now i will try the others like the shoulder reps. This is a great trainer ‚but i think the mental part will be tougher than any physical lol.

  9. Rain says:

    I went through SFAS back in 1988. There wasn\‘t quite as much emphasis on physical fitness as now, but the importance of proper attitude remains. It\‘s not enough to think in terms of how tough YOU are, but in terms of how tough WE are when you are working as a team. \“Rambo\” attitudes got people in trouble when I went through, and I\‘m sure that is the case now.

  10. Rain says:

    Typo-​​not SFAS, but SFQC. I went through before they started the pre-​​course selection phase. We lost people in SFQC not because of lack of toughness or physical fitness, but lack of proper attitude or simply not able to hack the pace of learning.

  11. David says:

    Thanks! Got recommended at SFRE but this post seems more realistic in obstacles to overcome. Some actual selects said selection rucks were easier than SFRE… But like I can\‘t count on that. I did 12 weeks to BUD/​a twice ad haven\‘t been training much since last March because of ITB and patellar tendonitis… I have a good running base but I was going way too hard doing 12 weeks to BUD/​s and plyos/​crossfit and skateboarding… Overuse injuries suck! Rest and stretching is everything! Now that I have a recommendation I plan to go 18X/​Rep63 and continue your recommendations. Thanks for being a beacon of light unto all the civilians who want to take the plunge! I feel confident physically which was my only
    Uncertainty. Thanks Stew!

  12. David says:

    Ignore my poor typing. iPhone and pizza is the devil

  13. jake says:

    Former Marine/​ military contractor and just joined the national guard. Cant get enough of the red white and blue. Trying out for 19th group soon. Fell out of shape after i got out but trying to self motivate. Just so hard to push yourself after you used to be able to run 3 miles in 17 min to now running it in 28 min. Any advice?

    • Stew Smith says:

      Yes — get back to training but you need to progress logically toward former goals /​ markers. I would start off with a running plan to build up to 5–6 miles, then start adding weight in a rucksack and build up to 6–12 mile rucks regularly before you attend SFAS, Qcourse. I would give yourself at least 6–8 months of training 5–6 days a week before going.

  14. Floyd says:

    Great resource. Thank you. One thing I would add is rope climbing technique practice. There\‘s a huge difference in efficiency when you can get your feet high up on the rope (think knees-​​to-​​elbows) with a solid foot lock.

  15. DDP says:

    Hey Stew, I am 30 yrs old will be 31 soon, I want to join the army in the direction of the 18 (class) or the SF. Not sure exactly where i could fall (18x, 18b, 18z etc..) I am married and have a family but i\‘ve always been a bit of a gypsy and I don\‘t mind being gone. My questions to you are, Am I crazy? Am I to old? I am not in bad shape and I figure by the time I get through basic and AIT I would be in better shape, however i will be pushing 32 by then if not already there. And i plan on having a good personal fitness program of course which I am working on currently. I have the mental strength and physical strength to do the job but I just don\‘t now if it\‘s a smart life changing step or if I even stand a chance of becoming 18(class) material. Obviously without seeing my exact physical shape or knowing me you can\‘t say for sure but i would love your opinion. Being older I have seen and done a lot of things and working as a team is one of my favorite things. I have been a wildland firefighter for 12 years now and that is the highest point of my career, when all the men/​women come together as one unit to achieve a goal. I guess in conclusion I am looking for your insight to the lifestyle and family stress. And without mincing words, is it a job that won\‘t condemn my soul to hell? I am a firm believer in god. He\‘s pulled me out of few spots already. But a shovel and gun are two different tools. Also as a side note, i\‘m a country boy and guns are a way of life, not a new \“tool\” for me. Anyway, I realize thats long but i\‘d appreciate the thoughts. Great insight to what the requirements are in your article fyi. Thanks again

    • Stew Smith says:

      No you are not too old for SF. In fact most of us in Spec Ops and post Spec Ops peaked in the mid 30s (cardiovascular /​ stamina /​ strength). Now the recovery is the issue once you get into your 30s and beyond. Get yourself a foam roller and learn how to use it. I have a physical therapy buddy who swears by it and recommends doing a search on YouTube to find a variety of videos on the usefulness of the device. Helps me with recovery from long runs /​ rucks in the legs /​ lower back.

      Focus on your core strength too and flexibility. Naturally the better runner you are the easier most of the training will be. You want to be able to handle long days on your feet with weight mixed in with lots of running and PT.

      But yes it can be done in your 30s — very well too.

      • James says:

        18x has an age restriction ..30 is the oldest.. however if u enlist in the army with a different MOS 11b or 19d preferably (but not necessarily) then u can volunteer and the age restriction wont apply, im about to join possibly with a 12b contract.. and ill take it from there my goal is SF.. and im turning 32 by the end of this month..

        • Stew Smith says:

          Very true — I have seen older soldiers (30–40+) go to the through SF training. They do look for more mature operators as you are not only trained in Special Warfare skills BUT you have to know it so well you can teach it.

  16. Brian says:

    What is this talk about full heads of hair? What does that have to do with anything?

  17. 102 says:

    Running sub 9 minute miles with a ruck on for 4 miles seems like something that would get you hurt during train up, or am I just nieve?

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Stew Smith

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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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