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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.

To see more from Stew Smith, check out www.stewsmithfitness.com

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Workout of the Week (#22) — First 5 x 5

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As the weather gets cooler up here in the Northern hemisphere, we typically transition from the higher rep calisthenics, mileage of runs, and move toward the heavier lifting cycles, some cold weather rucking, and indoor swimming for a healthy mix of non impact cardio.  If you do not have a pool and cannot swim with fins for 1–2 miles of cardio, try the stationary bike, elliptical, rower or a SPIN class even.  Here is our first 5 x 5 workout of the season.

Workout of the Week (#21)

Combat Swimmer Stroke

We developed a new workout this week using a theme often used in the swimming workouts by making pyramids of the following distances:  500, 400,300,200,100.   Check out the adjustment to exercises and reps:

Warmup with burpee pyramid run:  1 burpee — 50m run, 2 burpee — 50m run, …3,4,5…stop at 10 = 55burpees

Stair crawl — (up /​ down 1 flight in bear crawl mode)

Periodization — Do I Need it?

Top fitness concerns for men

Here is a short but sweet question that requires a fairly lengthy answer to do it justice.  Periodization is nothing new to fitness and the training world, but it is one of those things that people have a hard time applying to their fitness program.  Here is the email question:

Stew, I am in my mid 40’s and have been doing roughly the same thing for more than a decade (run, lift, and some PT) – seems to be working for me.  I read about your periodization concept.  I think I understand the basics but what is periodization and why it is important to me?

The best definition I have seen:  Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.  (Kravitz)

Operator Grip

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Having a good grip comes in handy not just shaking hands, but doing many tasks required of military and special ops personnel.  Here is a recent email asking about improving grip for exercises that include rope climbs, pullups, and even dry firing with your non-​​dominant hand.

Stew, I am actually pretty good at pullups, but have found it tough to do multiple sets of higher reps not because I cannot do any more pullups, but because I cannot hang on the bar any longer.  My forearms are on fire!  I have the same issues when doing rope climbs and even some tactical skills.  How can I get my forearms stronger?  

This is an excellent question as there are many things you can do to supplement your workout to get a better grip.  Your grip muscles are actually located in your forearm and your hand is mostly tendons attaching them with a few hand muscles involved as well.  This is why when doing pullups, rope climbs, farmer walks, and other tasks you feel your hands getting tired as well as your forearms.  The good news is that grip and forearm strength /​ endurance /​ muscle stamina can be added fairly quickly with a 5–10 minute circuit following normal workouts for upper body.  In a few weeks, you will notice a difference if you do the following circuit 2–3 times a week.  In a few months, you will have that “old man grip strength” that can hold onto anything for long periods of time too.

Week #20: Favorite Workout

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This series of articles is a favorite workout of the week for TWENTY weeks.  This is WEEK 20.  See links below for weeks 1–19 for great ideas to add to your workout routine.  These are some of the latest workouts we have been doing with our Spec Ops Heroes of Tomorrow group.  If you are ever in the Annapolis MD area and want some of these workouts they are FREE to people seeking military, police, fire fighter professions or those serving /​ have served.

This is a mix of weights and calisthenics and higher intensity cardio events using the Tabata Interval protocol.

We do 5 minute sets of the Tabata Interval which is a 20 second sprint /​ 10 second easy pace repeat 10 times (equals 5 minutes).  Then you spend roughly 5 minutes in the gym doing a Push, Pull, Full Body, Ab exercise for 1 minute each.  Give yourself 15–20 seconds in between each exercise for transition time.

Running More Than You Want To

Top 5 Tips for Proper Running Form

Every so often, I get asked how to train for a long run like a half marathon or marathon.  Many young men and women prefer the accountability of a race and the thrill of competing in runs while preparing for Special Ops professions.  If running is a weakness you must work on in order to succeed in future training programs, preparing for races that are also entertaining can be a great way to turn a weakness into more of a strength.  Though a marathon is not necessary, it does make a great gut-​​check if you can keep from getting injured prior to your training.  Here is an email from a young man who is making the transition from a collegiate power athlete and working on his skills to become a better long distance runner:

Stew, I just finished my senior year of college in AZ and have been trying to get better at running as I am preparing for Army Special Forces.  As you know, this training requires you to run and ruck many miles each week, but I am having issues with keeping my focus during longer runs.  Any suggestions?  Should I try running different locations, races, marathons, different cities, elevation, beach/​desert, trails?  Thanks – Sean.

What is the best way to…?

2012 London Olympics

For over a decade and a half of writing about working out and acing fitness tests primarily, I often get questions that start off with, “Stew — what is the best way to (insert event)?  The most common one is “run faster in timed runs”.  Or “do more pull-​​ups, push-​​ups, sit-​​ups” is often asked.  And, of course, there is swimming times related question — “What is the best way to increase my swim speed /​ decrease swim times per given distance?”  Or a very controversial topic — “What is the best way to build muscle?”

The reason why I bring up this topic is after reading an email from a young man trying to ace his situp test, I got distracted.  He is seeking a goal to keep a pace of one sit-​​up per second or scoring 120 situps in 2 minute period.  This is a great goal!  It is not uncommon in the Spec Ops candidate world to see 120+ on 2 minute sit-​​up tests and there is a way to build up to get there.  Is MY way the BEST way?  I do not know — depends on how you define BEST.  Here is the question:

Week #19: Workout of the Week

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Here is a different type of 50–50 split workout we like to do in October as we slowly transition from higher rep calisthenics and move into more weight training programs to build strength and power.  The term 50–50 refers to the workout being about 50% calisthenics and 50% weight training.  This is one of our new workouts we created this Fall.

Related articles are periodization, Preparing for the Tactical Fitness Test

Weight Room
Burpee /​ Run Pyramid:
1 burpee — run 30m
2 burpees, run 30m
3 burpees, run 30m
4 burpees, run 30m
5 burpees = burpee 1–5
Max Pullups
Max dips
Stair crawls down/​up

Traits of a Special Operator

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We all have had some form of psych test in our lives.  Do you remember the Myers-​​Briggs test you may have seen in high school, college, or in the military as well.  I know I have taken it at least three times in my life.  A recent question brought back some of those memories and prompted a little thought on the topic of personality types.  Here is the question:

Stew,
What are some of the personality types that make it through Special Ops training programs and go onto to serve in various Special Ops programs for a profession (like SEAL, EOD, Army SF, SWAT Teams, etc)?  I saw your article on some of the traits needed for Mental Toughness as well as the many fitness requirements you recommend, but what type of people finish the training?

Sleep Deprivation Video from TED Conference

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If you have not seen or heard about the TED conferences you should subscribe — especially if you like to hear about new and innovative things occurring in the world with science /​ technology based research and development.

TED = (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference share the best ideas in the world for FREE by video.  Check them out.  This one is conducted by former Navy SEAL and current medical doctor — Kirk Parsley.

Workout of the Week # 18: 50–50 Workout

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As many of the readers know, I use a method of periodization that evolves with the seasons.  Some have called it the Solstice Running Plan, while I tend to just like changing my workouts every quarter (12–13 weeks) so not to burn out with any one type of exercise.  For instance, each change of season brings in something new and gradually fades something out:

Spring (March — May):  Progressive running build up as well as shift from winter weights to higher rep calisthenics, taper from longer swimming workouts, with shift in speed /​ agility training.

Summer (June — September):  Peak build up of miles running, high rep calisthenics, high speed on swimming, only bodyweight exercise to include fireman carries, crawls, log PT, etc…(Almost no weights — focus is PFT testing scores)

Fall (September — November):  Drop high rep calisthenics, introduce weight training, increase swimming distance /​ rucking, reduce running mileage over 12 weeks and focus on faster paced shorter runs.

High Blood Pressure During High School Physical

Heart Health Hand

Teenage high blood pressure occurs with some frequency and is often caught when high school student-​​athletes get physicals prior to joining a JV /​ Varsity athletic team.  Here is an email from a young man who wants to one day serve in the military but tried out for football this past summer.  He states:

“Stew, I took your advice and joined some team sports while is high school in order to prepare for being a part of a team when I join the Marines one day.  But, I was borderline high blood pressure and not sure why — during my annual physical for sport.  Is this something I can reduce with more exercise, diet, or do I need to see a doctor and get medicine?”

It is never a bad idea to do more than occasional blood pressure checks over the next several months.  I would get your blood pressure checked at least every month to establish if borderline high blood pressure increases or decreases due to many causes. If you see any more high blood pressure scores, then yes, I would go to a doctor, BUT there are many causes for TEMPORARY high blood pressure.  In fact, only about 1–3% of teenagers actually have high blood pressure, so it can be something you have to deal with but chances are low.

Workout of the Week #17

Combat Swimmer Stroke

Here is a swim workout that requires a video to best explain.  The focus is on three events:

Life Saving Buddy Tow — 25m
Combat Swimmer Stroke 50m
Freestyle 100m (6–10 strokes per breath)

The goal is to push yourself on the buddy tow — recover with the 50m CSS — then push your heart /​ lungs with 100m freestyle hypoxic type swim set.

Workout of the Week #16

Stew Smith Navy Seal

It is testing focus month for us in August /​ September (1st week) so we tend to mix in fitness testing elements with workouts.

Here is one we did to help with PT and running:

Top Reasons Why People Fail Special Ops

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I love getting email questions that require me to think and recall over the years some of my experiences to share.  These questions are from a future SOF candidate, who asks a simple question, “Why is the attrition rate so high?”  Here is his specifics:

I was curious Stew, why are the attrition rates for SOF so high? It seems that to get into any SOF training program you have to pass a physical examination to show you can handle training, academic tests, and reach a pretty high level of fitness. Therefore; all those who start should technically be able to complete the course? But of course most end up quitting. Through what means do trainees feel that the course isn’t for them? Or is it that people believe the workload isn’t worth the reward? Is it naive to think that because you only meet the minimums that you cannot succeed in the course? Is it more of a solid success-​​driven mentality requirement?

Workout of the Week #15

workout-of-the-week

Here is a favorite combination workout we like to do once a week during late Summer /​ early Fall.  It is a combination workout of weight training, running, calisthenics, and swimming and/​or rucking.

Full body workout in it’s truest form:

Advice on Over-​​Training

Advice on Over-Training

For years, I have written about and discussed the fine line between training for Special Ops type programs and over-​​training.  But until recently, I realized I forgot one very important piece of information:

TELL OTHERS AROUND YOU THE SYMPTOMS OF OVER-​​TRAINING.

Because, you will not notice it until it is too late (typically).  Even though, over-​​training is actually hard to do by just training — it is easy to see symptoms pop up occasionally when your recovery balance is off:  Not enough sleep, not eating or hydrating well, and too many crazy workouts in a week are just the things to push any training program into the over-​​reaching /​ over-​​training zone if not attended to.

Workout of the Week #14

Workout of the Week #14

This is a way to mix in running mile pace runs with PT Pyramid training:

Pt Pyramid /​ Mile Goal Paced Runs

Run 1 mile timed  

Do 10 sets of

Pullups x 1

Pushups x2

Abs x 3

(do ten sets of the pyramid of the three exercises in circuit fashion selecting your abdominal exercise of your choice — for example situps, crunches, flutterkicks, plank pose (per second) Sample Set 1:  pullups 1, pushups, 2, situps 3  each set progresses until set 10 = 10 pullups, 20 pushups, 30 situps.…

Training You Shouldn’t Neglect

Training You Shouldn’t Neglect

We all enjoy different types of fitness, be it throwing heavy weight around in a gym, running, swimming, CrossFit and the millions of other things we do to stay in shape. Too often though, we neglect certain types of training until it is too late.  It becomes “too late” when we injure ourselves due to an imbalanced training regime. Lets face it, we all do it, and lots of people do it often.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about warming up correctly, going after certain support muscles (not just the ones we want to look better), stretching, flexibility, and correctly cooling down.  All of these things are key to maintaining a training balance. I’m going to explain each of them briefly, so you know what you shouldn’t be forgetting.

Workout of the Week #13

pullupup

This week is a combination workout that combines moderately heavy weights, cardio intervals, mixed with calisthenics.  Following the non-​​impact/​lift, you mix in a run /​ pt followed by a swim (or ruck for Army guys).

Also see links to previous 12 weeks of workouts of the week at the bottom of the page: