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Ten Domains of SEALFIT

Mark Divine, founder of SEALFIT

"Better to live each day with discipline than to suffer a life of regret"
--Mark Divine, founder, SEALFIT

Few would argue that Navy SEALs are extremely fit and competent at their chosen profession of maritime special operations. The environments that SEALs must operate in and the missions they take on require an uncommon level of physical and mental fitness. Because the stakes are much higher than what most individuals and teams face, the training that SEAL operators do must be more comprehensive and include mental skills as well. Mission success depends on the operators developing and maintaining a broad scope of skills, which is what I designed SEALFIT™ for. It just so happens that these domains of mastery are extremely valuable for all athletes and leaders, so I offer them for consideration here.

The run-swim-rinse-repeat, or hit the weight room for the standard strength routine of back, legs, arms and core work, dominated the fitness scene for too long. What resulted were skinny runners and puffy, inflexible weight lifters as the models for fitness. Physical training did not inspire the masses, who were led down the disastrous path of "easy street" in training and diet. Fortunately our culture is breaking this pattern and showing signs of promise with emergent hybrid cross- and integrated training models. I am not suggesting that endurance and strength training are not important—rather that they should be trained in a manner that also incorporates other important physical capacities. SEALFIT is one such hybrid program, which I originally developed to prepare SEAL and other Special Ops candidates for their military training. The training turned out to be popular with other endurance and warrior-athletes, so it has been expanded to include anyone willing to step up to the workload and ethos we espouse.

Mark Divine SEALs in the desert
 
So just what does it means to be SEALFIT? The obvious answer is that it means to be fit like a Navy SEAL. However, there is more to this statement than just getting buff and looking good in board shorts sporting your tats. Before getting into specifics, it is helpful to know that the term "SEAL" is an acronym for "Sea, Air, Land," denoting the environments that SEALs must master—especially the harshest conditions in these environments. The rigorous training of the SEALs has them develop functional fitness and mental resiliency so that they can achieve mission success while operating in the cold abyss of the North Atlantic Ocean, the parched Arabian Desert or the rugged, rocky steppes in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Most of the work of a SEAL is done at night, adding even more of a challenge. Let’s just say that the training of a Navy SEAL is REAL DEAL training—which is why SEALFIT focuses on ten domains of mastery to forge not just better athletes, but better warriors and leaders too.
 
These ten domains, stated as practical operator needs, are:
  1. Endurance: the ability to go long to get to the target.
  2. Strength: the ability to carry your share of the load
  3. Stamina: the ability to work over long periods of time with that external load.
  4. Flexibility: the ability to bend like a reed when the wind blows, and to change your plan and thinking instinctually.
  5. Intensity: the work capacity to engage at super high intensity for short durations.
  6. Athleticism: the ability to shoot, move and communicate with a high degree of coordination and accuracy.
  7. Agility: the ability to acquire new targets quickly and shift fire.
  8. Balance: the ability to maintain your center in movement, in conflict and in life.
  9. Durability: the ability to avoid injury or illness and remain an effective teammate.
  10. Offensive Mind: the ability to stay in the fight until victory is achieved.
SEAL training on Coronado Beach
 
Let’s take a closer look at why each of these ten domains is uniqely important to achieving the level of physical and mental fitness required of the SEALs, and why it may be equally important to you. We will wrap up with a comprehensive "Operator Workout" from SEALFIT.

Endurance

No doubt you are familiar with endurance training. For some years I focused a lot on endurance as a competitive swimmer, rower and triathlete. It was one of the reasons that running the beaches and swimming in the ocean in San Diego during SEAL training came so naturally to me. It wasn’t until I reached the team that I realized I had major gaps in my training arsenal. Developing a foundation of endurance is crucial. The term means to develop your oxidative energy pathway (aka "cardio-respiratory system") to gather, process and deliver oxygen (and CO2) to your body for fuel. It is typically associated with a mono-structural movement that allows for movement of the body over long distances (i.e. running, swimming, hiking or biking). In the SEALs, endurance training was very functionally oriented—we endured loaded rucks, or equipment swims in the ocean. Though we did also do a lot of slick (no weight) road running and pool swimming, we never lost sight of the need to move the body with load in rougher environments. First and foremost, SEALS are endurance athletes to ensure they will survive the elements while moving to and from their targets.

Mental endurance means that you develop the capacity to stay at a task for the long haul. Getting a black belt, finishing college, becoming a SEAL, all take mental endurance alongside the physical endurance. In everyday life it requires emotional and spiritual endurance to raise a child or provide hospice care for a parent. You must master endurance at all levels to live life well.

Strength

Mark Divine SEALFIT WOD barbell deadliftLet’s face it—being weak is a liability to yourself and your team. Strength elevates confidence and utility in challenging situations. As strength coach Rippetoe likes to say, "Strong people are generally more useful and harder to kill." I concur. SEALs win most of their battles because they train to be strong—mentally and physically. They push themselves harder than others, and ensure that they can handle a relative share of the workload. Strength is measured by the ability of your muscular system to apply force to overcome resistance—typically by picking up, pushing overhead, or squatting down with a load. How much load makes one strong? It depends on your body size and composition, but at SEALFIT we want you to be able to pick up and move with your own body weight at a minimum. Typically guys and girls can do much more, especially with the classic strength movements of the deadlift, back squat and push press. Grip strength and core strength are also important aspects of a SEAL’s training—recall the functional focus on mission accomplishment.

Stamina

If endurance is King and strength is Queen, then stamina joins the court as a Prince in our training program. Stamina is your body’s ability to use overall energy for work over time—essentially to overcome resistance on a repeated basis over a period of time or distance (usually both). Pick something up, then pick it up again, and again and then move with it. It requires serious stamina to buddy carry an injured teammate for a mile out of the danger zone. A SEAL who has strength and endurance, must also develop the stamina so they can continue to work when others have cashed it in. A SEAL will never be the guy who says, "I can’t," when called on to pick up something heavy and move fast with it. Mentally, stamina allows us to maintain an unwavering focus on our task in spite of fatigue and boredom.

Flexibility

"Semper Gumby" is a term we used in the SEAL Teams to mean possessing a mindset of flexibility. We learned to be bendy, like Gumby. Being bendy led to fewer injuries and quicker recovery. Though we didn’t really get into the physiology of why being bendy was important, we performed both dynamic and static stretching every time we trained. The dynamic movements were part of a warm-up and continued during our extensive "Grinder PT" sessions as interludes between the hard output. Additionally we used active stretching, or even yoga (later on in my career) to ensure we remained flexible. Now I understand just how important a good stretching and mobility routine is that includes range of motion, joint and spinal integrity drills.

MarkDivineYoga
 
Mentally it is important to be a Gumby as well. Learning to rapidly flex to new realities on the fast paced battlefield was key to survival and mission accomplishment. Interestingly, developing a flexible body also has the effect of honing a more flexible mind.

Intensity

MarkDivineTireFlipWhen the bullets start flying, SEALs run toward the sound of the gunfire, demonstrating an intensity of focus and ability to throw the heart of a lion into the fight. This intense "work capacity" is found by developing the ability to recruit and deploy explosive power and speed simultaneously. Think of an ambush or a mission that requires a team to enter a hornet’s nest of bad guys to clear them out. The work is hard, chaotic, fast paced. It requires every ounce of focus and energy that can be mustered. Power and speed are cultivated with short, high intensity workouts and by using ballistic movements. Kettlebells, Olympic lifts and sprinting are the primary allies for this effort. At SEALFIT we like to sprint while pulling or pushing an object (such as buddy pulls, sled pushes, and other fun drills). Intensity training has the added benefit of increasing confidence and functional utility during a crisis. You’re more likely to spring into action knowing that you have the power, speed and work capacity to forcefully succeed.
 
Speed is the rapid repetition of a muscular pattern—typically with low levels of resistance such as sprinting. Intensity is also found when you can increase the load and still safely move fast. Most SEALs (and most folks in general) don’t need to run like a gazelle to be effective lifetime athletes—but increasing your speed and power allows for more effective results and a much higher tolerance to pain. This pain and workload tolerance co-develops your mental intensity and focusing power. You can make decisions faster and are less likely to become confused or decision impaired when the pain reaches intolerable levels in a training or real life event.

Athleticism
 
Mark Divine Jump Rope Double UndersSEALs tend to develop great athleticism as the result of refining accuracy and coordination. Sport training and fitness training have evolved into two separate disciplines in the past 40 years. However, I believe there is an athlete locked inside all of us, even if we do not see ourselves as one. Developing athleticism leads to much more enjoyable training, and you are able to have more fun outside the gym doing athletic things. What I love most about CrossFit™ is the need to get pretty good at the clean, jerk and snatch–and also many gymnastics movements I hadn’t done since grade school (of course kids these days don’t get to do any gymnastics unless the join the YMCA or a CrossFit kids program). When you take on these complex whole-body movements, magic happens. You begin to develop more grace and body awareness. All the other components of your training will improve demonstrably in quality.
 
Most important, training for accuracy and coordination gets you out of your training rut and learning again. You can set specific skill-based goals for learning, rather than just achievement-based goals based on loads, reps and time. Formerly most of this work was locked in the more sophisticated skill development of athletic programs. Not anymore…get out of the mindset that you have to get on a machine or strap on running shoes to get in a good workout. Try mastering the muscle-up, the GHD sit-up, L-sit, and the snatch. Consider running an obstacle course and then testing your accuracy in throwing a ball at a target (or if you can, firing your rifle accurately as with the biathlon). These complex skills requiring accuracy and coordination will enhance your overall fitness and bring inspiration back into your training routine.

Agility
 
Agility allows one to quickly transition from one mode of movement to another without losing any momentum or getting disoriented. Physical agility is important during intense work because there is a lot of juking and jiving that goes on when you are in the arena. Imagine being in a firefight needing to run and gun, jump over obstacles and dive behind barriers. Agility is very helpful in these situations for translating your weight forward, aft, and side-to-side, while maintaining your center of gravity and keeping your eye on the target. Mentally, agility is a skill closely aligned with flexibility. The ability to be agile in decision making means you can assess situations quickly, size them up, and shift on a dime to meet an emergent demand.

SEAL Training Coronado Beach Boat
 
Balance
 
Balance is the ability to control your body’s alignment over its base and centerline. Balance is clearly involved in athleticism (accuracy and coordination) as well as agility. In fact those four skills are what separate elite athletes from everyone else. For SEALFIT, balance takes on a new importance when a trainee is loaded up with weight, then has to ruck at night up a windy mountain road for twenty miles. Or when the athlete must climb a swinging caving ladder up the side of a ship while being whipped by the wind and sea. Having a balanced body also supports a balanced mental state—which leads to patience, equanimity and more life balance in general.

Durability
 
A SEAL’s durability allows them to stay in the game over the long haul. You’re no good to the team if you get hurt before a mission, or worse, if you get injured on an op due to inadequate physical preparation. Durability comes from a combination of hard and soft skills. The hard skills include muscular strength, joint mobility, tendon and myofascial elasticity and nutritional support. The soft skills include deep body awareness, intuition and learning how to manage your energy. Most injury accidents occur due to a lapse into a lower state of awareness from fatigue, boredom or just messing around. A combination of the following is the SEALFIT prescription for a durable athlete:
  • Core engagement exercises from SEALFIT Grinder PT
  • Flexibility & mobility movements
  • Fueling & hydration planning
  • Rest (no training, sleep)
  • Active recovery training (yoga, light endurance, light bodyweight training)
  • Myofascial release (foam rollers)
  • Targeted supplementation
  • Awareness development
  • Planning and emergency readiness
Training for durability is part education, part skill development and a lot of slowing down and paying more attention to the details. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance!
 
Resiliency
 
Mark Divine Winter SEAL training
During our immersive Special Ops Academy, I drill the "Big 4" skills of mental toughness and emotional resiliency until the athletes can recite them in their sleep and use them on demand. These skills include effective goal setting, arousal control, attention control and visualizing success. Though they may sound simplistic, the impact on your resiliency and the key attributes of mental toughness is profound when they are merged with physical training. I try hard to embed the big 4 into our physical training workouts, called the "Operator Workout of the Day" (OPWOD for short).

Below I present a daily training session to get a feel for how the ten skills could be developed through the training program, one day at a time. Over a period of months the training forges the character of what it takes to be fit like a SEAL.

The Advanced Operator Workout
 
The OPWOD integrates the skills described above and is representative of a Navy SEAL platoon’s workout session. Here it is:

Baseline: Brief, visualization and box breathing. Then Range of Motion drills. Then complete 5 rounds of: 10m sled push (heavy) + 10m sprint (rest as needed between efforts).

Strength: Front squat: Warm up then, 3-2-1-1-1-1-1 (Work up to a max for the day)

Stamina: 4 rounds, not timed: 10x 2-arm KB front squats (53# to 70# men / 35# to 44# women), 5x box jumps (30-36in box men / 24-30in box women), 50m buddy pull with heavy band.

Work Capacity: Complete the following for time:
  • 100x double unders
  • 80x chest to bar pullups
  • 60x pistols, alternating
  • 40x GHD sit ups
  • 20x DB snatch, alternating (70# men / 50# women)
Durability: SEALFIT Yoga Mobility drills. Hydrate and fuel within 30 minutes. Journal post training session SOP.

Give it a try and begin to reap the rewards of increased confidence, functional fitness and mastery of the ten skills. For more information about SEALFIT please visit www.sealfit.com or call the SEALFIT Training Center at (760) 634-1833. Our SEALFIT Online Training community is a great place to get started and get some coaching.

MarkDivine introspective thumbnailMark Divine is a retired Navy SEAL Commander, founder of SEALFIT, NavySEALs.com, US CrossFit and the popular Unbeatable Mind integrated coaching program. He is the best selling author of 8 Weeks to SEALFIT, published by St. Martins Press, The Way of the SEAL, published by Readers Digest and Unbeatable Mind, published by Amazon.com. He lives in Encinitas, CA close to the SEALFIT Training Center.
 

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