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High Altitude Training (options)

This week, I received a question concerning endurance training at higher altitudes.  This is an interesting training method and has been studied for years by Olympic and other elite athletes.  Many adventure races today involve a section of higher altitude events, which requires people to train their bodies to prepare for the lower oxygen levels.

The theory behind High Altitude Training (HAT) is that if you can adjust your body to perform at competitive levels with less oxygen in your blood and muscles, then when you travel to sea level to compete you should have a higher level of endurance.  The “extra” oxygen will prevent the early build-up of lactic acid and keep your heart rate lower even though you are pushing yourself harder than at altitude.  Many elite athletes “live high and compete low” meaning they live at 5,000-7,000 feet above sea level and travel to compete in races.  For higher elevations – you should train with hypobaric training facilities where you can reduce the level of O2 in the room you are working to acclimate yourself better over time.

There is NO better way to train for altitude than to be at altitude so your body can “get used to” or acclimate itself to the lower levels of O2.  That is why for expeditions who climb mountains like Mt. Everest will set a base camp that is still significantly higher than sea-level in order to allow the body to work with less O2 for several days before climbing further.

The question received this week was, “How do you train to prepare for higher altitude when at sea-level?”  This may sound tough to do but it is easier than you think.  When I played rugby for Navy and we went to the Air Force Academy to play them, we picked up are training 2-3 weeks prior to the game to prepare for the lower oxygen levels.  Basically, it got us in better shape to deal with the decreased O2 levels.

Our workout consisted of the following running and swimming plan:

Normally, practice consisted of long sprints, and 4-5 mile runs in the afternoons, but prior to traveling to high altitudes, we would train in the morning as well doing sprints to failure.  One of the workouts I remember was:

Repeat this 8-10 times
Run ¼ sprint in between 70-90 seconds
Jog ¼ recovery between 2:00 – 3:00

Every other day we would mix some leg PT into the recovery to really burnout the legs with such exercises as:

Squats – 30-40 reps
Lunges – 20-30 reps per leg
Heel Raises – 30 reps

But one of the best ways to prepare for higher altitudes is to try the hypoxic swim workout.  Hypoxic swims mean – “low oxygen swimming”. Basically you are asking your body to work harder with less oxygen by not breathing as often as you normally would. This is tough training and should be done with a buddy or lifeguard just in case you push yourself too hard and black out. I do not think I need to discuss the dangers of blacking out in the water…I have never seen it happen but it could happen.

I like to do hypoxic swim 2-3 times a week of a distance of 1000-1500m.  The best way to build your endurance is to pyramid up the following way:

Swim freestyle 2 stroke then breathe for 100m, then increase the strokes / decrease the breath in the following manner:

4 strokes per breath for 100m, 6 strokes, 8 strokes, 10 strokes, and even 12 strokes per breath for 100m each then repeat in reverse order.  This workout will total 1100m of swimming 11 sets of 100m.

Once again – this is a tough workout and should not be done alone, in fact you should never swim alone or without a lifeguard.  But, I do this workouts 2-3 times a week regularly and it will increase your endurance, lower your resting heart rate, and help you when you are hiking in the mountains or competing in Mile High Stadium in Denver.

Please feel free to email me at stew@stewsmith.com if you have questions and check out the Article Archive Guide – and see older articles written about diet, military training, injury prevention and more..

Questions and Answers with Stew Smith Concerning SEAL Training

With regards to meeting the physical requirements to gain entry to BUD/S, I have a few questions you may be able 
to answer...MY ANSWERS ARE IN CAPS AMONG YOUR QUESTIONS…STEW SMITH
 
o       Will someone be standing on my feet while doing sit-ups? YES
o       How long do I rest between sets in your Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness Book? TRY NOT TO REST THAT LONG 
BUT REST AS LONG AS YOU HAVE TO SO YOU RECOVER – IF YOU DO NOT FULLY RECOVER AFTER 1 MINUTE REST
THEN START AGAIN WITH THE NEXT SET ANYWAY
o       Right now I rest for 30 seconds between each set – THAT IS FINE
o       What can I do about hitting a plateau with my pull-ups & pushups? PUSH THRU THEM - HAVE YOU SEEN THE ARTICLES? :
THESE METHODS WORK IN THE ABOVE ARTICLES FOR A FEW TIMES A YEAR WHEN YOU HIT A RUT IN PERFORMANCE –
YOUR BODY RESPONDS TO CHANGING STIMULI (WORKOUTS) BEST SO CHANGE THINGS UP A BIT WHEN YOU HIT A PLATEAU.
o       I've only been making small gains for the past 3 weeks, is this even something I should worry about?  NO – 
AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT LOSING PROGRESS…THOUGH YOU WILL LOSE SOME PROGRESS IN THE MIDDLE
WEEKS OF THE 12 WEEK WORKOUT AS I AM PUSHING YOU HARDER DURING WEEKS 5-8 THAN ANY OF THE
OTHER WEEKS SO YOU WILL BE BURNED OUT…
o       Do you think Rugby is good practice fore BUD/S?  YES – I PLAYED RUGBY TOO IN COLLEGE FOR 3 YRS – PLUS IT IS 
FUN – TRY NOT TO GET INJURED.  BUT OTHER GREAT SPORTS ARE WRESTLING, BOXING, CREW, SWIMMING, CROSS
COUNTRY AND EVEN FOOTBALL – THOSE ATHLETES TEND TO DO WELL AT BUDS.
o       Each practice, we'll typically do 5 miles of running/sprinting. The downside is that it wears down my shoulders
 quite a bit. Your thoughts? RUNNING IS GREAT BUT YOU SHOULD WATCH YOUR SHOULDERS – TRY TO PROTECT THEM AND
DO THE LIGHTWEIGHT SHOULDER WORKOUT FOR MORE STABILITY.  OF COURSE SWIMMING AND BEING COMFORTABLE 
IN WATER IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IF YOU WANT TO GO TO BUDS. 
o       Have you heard of the PowerLung? If so, what do you think about it?  HEARD OF IT NEVER USED IT…SOME SAY IT 
HELPED THEM, BUT I HAVE NOT TESTED IT OUT…I AM 39 YRS OLD AND CAN STILL SWIM A 50M UNDERWATER SO I AM
NOT SO SURE YOU NEED IT. 
o       Right now, my biggest obstacle is the 50 yard underwater swim. PRACTICE GLIDING IT OUT AND NOT TRYING TO DO 
TOO MANY STROKES ACROSS THE POOL – I DO IT IN 4 STROKES / KICKS AND ALWAYS WITH A SWIM BUDDY OR LIFE 
GUARD WHO KNOWS YOU ARE ATTEMPTING IT.
§         I can do the flip and swim 25 yards but have not been able to complete the full 50.  KEEP TRYING IT JUST 
TAKES TIME…THE HYPOXIC SWIM WORKOUTS WILL HELP YOU LATER TOO – THEY TEND TO HELP ME WITH INCREASED
SWIM STAMINA.
o       Would you recommend drinking protein shakes or sticking to a diet close to what BUD/S will be like?  PROTEIN 
AFTER WORKOUTS IS FINE – YOU CAN TAKE PROTEIN SHAKES AT BUDS TOO IF YOU WISH…
o       Currently I have a protein shake immediately after my workouts – VERY SMART IDEA - I GET MINE FROM 
o       What would a good weight be for military presses? (practice for log PT) I WOULD DO 20-25 LB DUMBBELLS AS YOU 
WILL BE LIFTING 40-45 LBS OVER YOUR HEAD INDIVIDUALLY AND ABOUT 250-300 AS A TEAM…
o       Things I can do to get ready for BUD/S
o       Showering in colder water? – PERHAPS – MIGHT HELP – SWIMMING IN WATER THAT IS 50-70 DEGREES IS PERFECT AS 
THAT IS AS WARM AND AS COLD AS IT GETS IN CORONADO.  I USED TO BODY SURF ALL THE TIME IN WATER TEMP LIKE
THAT AND IT SEEMED TO HELP.
o       Becoming Scuba Certified? – VERY SMART THING TO DO AS WELL.  IT WILL HELP YOU WITH GETTING USED TO
HAVING A REGULATOR IN YOUR MOUTH AT BUDS.  I HAVE BEEN SCUBA DIVING SINCE 13 YRS OLD…
§         I have a friend at usna who is very, very serious about becoming a SEAL (Naval Tri-athlete, Finished 
Dive School, Trained with an SEAL Team 3 this summer, and completed the "Pre-BUD/S Screener"). His view was that they 
teach you completely different ways of using Scuba gear in civilian life vs. BUD/S and that it may do more harm than good. 
NO – IF YOU ARE NOT COMFORTABLE UNDERWATER YOU WILL KNOW BEFORE HAND AND PERHAPS BE ABLE TO
WORK ON IT SOME BEFORE BUDS OR YOU CAN WAIT AND BE KICKED OUT DURING BUDS FOR PANICKING.  SO
WHAT IF THEY HAVE TO RE-TEACH YOU.  YOU WILL LEARN SO MUCH NEW STUFF ANYWAY IT DOES NOT MATTER. 
SAME GOES FOR SHOOTING GUNS TOO – THEY WILL RE-TEACH YOU HOW TO DO THAT AS WELL.
o       Martial Arts?  - NOT A PRACTITIONER OF IT THOUGH I WRESTLED AND DID SOME JUDO / JUI JITSU FOR FUN…
THEY WILL TEACH YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW AT BUDS / SEALS TEAMS…
o       Do you have any books that you would recommend I read?   SEAL TEAM ONE – by Dick Couch, 
Combat Swimmer – Gormly AND ALL THE ONES YOU LISTED BELOW
o       There are a HUGE amount of books on Navy SEALs/Spec Ops, however, sorting out the crap from the good stuff is 
pretty tough. Do you have any recommendations on good ones to read?
§         Ones I've already read...
1.      The Warrior Elite, by Dick Couch   - GREAT ONE
2.      The Warrior Soul, by Chuck Pfarrer  - GREAT ONE
3.      Without Remorse, by Tom Clancy   - OK – NOT REAL - ENTERTAINING THOUGH
4.      Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell  - AWESOME – BEST ONE TO DATE FOR ME
5.      Suffer in Silence, by David Reid  - OK – WRITTEN BY A GUY WHO QUIT BUDS – THOUGHT HIS STORY
WAS NOT VERY REAL IN MY OPINION - FICTIONAL I KNOW
6.      The Coveted Black and Gold, by JD Lock  - NOT READ THAT ONE
7.      The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide, by Patricia Deuster  - OK
Most important of all my questions is this...
·          I know I can reach the physical level that I need to be at in order to have a good shot at passing all the 
physical evolutions of BUD/S...however, the more people I talk to that have had Special Ops experience say that 
90% of it is, "all between your ears". I realize that even the strongest and fastest people may not have the 
mental fortitude to be cold and wet the rest of their lives, much less their time in BUD/S. 
How can I test, prepare, research and study for the mental rigors I'll face in BUD/S? 

YOU CANNOT REALLY PREP LIKE THIS OTHER THAN TRAIN REALLY HARD AND UNDERSTAND WHAT
DISCOMFORT / COLD IS.  JUST BY PRACTICING / TRAINING YOU WILL BUILD MENTAL TOUGHNESS. 
MANY PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO “PLAY WITH PAIN” ATHLETES ETC DO VERY
WELL AT BUDS AS IT IS TOUGH AND THERE ARE DAYS THAT YOU WILL “PLAY HURT” OR EVEN SICK.  
·      THIS IS WHAT MAKES BUDS SO GREAT – IT MAKES YOU GO INTO THE UNKNOWN AND CHALLENGE YOURSELF
WITHIN TO SEE IF YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES…
·     GO TO BUDS TO COMPETE NOT JUST MERELY SURVIVE – TRY TO WIN THE RUNS, SWIMS, O COURSES,
PT CONTESTS AND YOU WILL NEVER THINK ABOUT QUITTING I PROMISE.  I DID NOT.  I ONLY FEARED
GETTING INJURED.
MY 2 CENTS
STEW SMITH  

.

Making the Change – Powerlifting / Football Player to Navy SEAL

People often ask me how I personally trained for SEAL training before there were movies, books, and websites helping people prepare.  As a former power-lifting football player, what I thought was in shape for military training – was not.  I soon learned after arrival at the Naval Academy at age 18 that I was out of military shape.  The email below brought back memories of my transition.

Here is an email from a young man seeking to become a Navy SEAL but is a college football and power lifter. He asks, “Right now my run and swim times are not good, my PT is OK but I do not have any endurance to do multiple sets of high rep calisthenics exercises.  How do you go from thinking long distance is anything over 100 yards to running and swimming for miles and doing hundreds of reps of pushups, situps, pull-ups, etc, etc?”

To truly make this transition, your body can take up to two years to change from a power athlete to an intermediate endurance / strength athlete.  SEAL training requires you to be a master of your bodyweight in obstacle courses as well as in operational skills.  Having the ability to repeatedly (several sets) move your body with power and agility requires similar movements as many contact sports provide, but the endurance to continue for miles or hours requires the training of intermediate and long distance sports in running and swimming.

This type of athlete is now known as the Tactical Athlete and the military is now taking interest in preserving these highly trained “multi-sport” teams of individuals. With literally millions of dollars of training spent on each individual special operations member, all branches of the military now hire physiology specialists to create programs that will enhance the performance and lengthen operational lifespan.  The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a leader in the science of athletic performance created the Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) program as an answer to this growing trend in human performance.

Robb Rogers M.Ed, CSCS, MSCC, who is the director of the NSCA’s Human Performance Center and the TSAC, offered this when asked about transitioning from one type of athlete to another. “In your case, the football player has a foundation of strength and power and should focus on the endurance and muscle stamina training.  There is no need for him to concentrate on his strength development when he is done with football.” He also stated, “For the average guy, periodization is the key to long term success as high rep calisthenics and long distance running and swimming takes it toll on the body as does heavy weight lifting.  Both endurance exercises and strength / power exercises should be balanced through the year to maximize gains in both strength and endurance.”

Here is a basic overview of the physiology that is taking place in your body.  On average, humans have about 50% slow twitch (Type 1) muscle fibers and about 50% fast twitch fibers (Type 2).  Whether it is genetics or adaptation to training routines Olympic endurance athletes can have up to 80% Type 1 fibers and Olympic sprinters can have up to 80% Type 2 fibers.  However, there is a division in Type 2 fibers which enable the muscles to have endurance as well as strength and power.  This is Type 2a muscle fiber, which is a happy medium between fast and slow twitch muscle.  The “traditional Type 2” is actually Type 2b.  The jury is out on whether or not we are capable of changing Type 2b fibers to Type 2a, but I will tell you, I went from power-lifting football player to SEAL shape in about two years by not lifting weights and focusing on high rep calisthenics and miles of running and swimming.

So to answer the question, I would drop the weights to truly make the transition – and if that is not possible yet then simply add the calisthenics (pullups, pushups, situps) on days you work those muscle groups as a compromise.  Running 1-2 miles is tough at your weight so when you are done with football you need to increase your mileage in swimming and gradually increase running mileage in order to lose weight and you will find running, body weight exercises are much easier.  Also remember the 10% rule:   The “10% rule” applies for increasing volume from week to week.  This tends to prevent injury in gung ho type A’s that know more is better.  10% rule – only increase your volume (sets/reps, distance or minutes trained) 10% from week to week and every 3rd or 4th week plateau for a week to allow the body to compensate for the increase.

But I do not think you would be in beginner mode – perhaps intermediate military PT mode. What you will find is that your muscle strength is large but your muscle endurance is weak and that gets better the more reps you do.

Thanks to Robb Rogers of the NSCA for his assistance with this article.  There is a TSAC Conference in November in Las Vegas – Check out their site for more information. Looks like I will be attending this year.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at stew@stewsmith.com or visit the StewSmith.com Ebook Fitness Store for ideas on training to become a tactical athlete for any branch of service.  The ultimate Navy SEAL Cross-Training book is the title Maximum Fitness featuring a 52 week workout.  It has been a post – Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Training program for years now..

Periodization Training = Longevity

As we age, overuse injuries tend to occur if a never changing exercise routine is done for too long or if you start something new and do too much, too fast, too soon.  Whether it is high mileage running, heavy weight lifting, high repetition calisthenics, and anything else for that matter, if we do not change the routine frequently, you have a high chance of getting injured.  Also, frequency, intensity, time doing workouts can play an equal part in both properly training you as well as over-training you.  Here is what I have done now for nearly 20 years and it has enabled me to be without serious injury from training and keeps me in a condition where I can train with the younger generation in their teens and early 20’s.

I use the sun as my indicator of tougher workouts seasons, especially my running workouts.   If the days are longer like in the spring and summer then my workouts are longer.  This form of periodization enables me to keep the gains from hard seasons of workouts well into the shorter days / shorter workout cycles.  During the Fall / Winter months, I tend to taper a bit slowly from running and find more non-impact aerobics and add weight to my calisthenics program – some heavy – some moderate.

For instance, in my “solstice plan” the workout cycle will bell curve to a maximum during the longest day of the year June 20 and will decrease slowly until the shortest day of the year Dec 20.  Now, when the New Year arrives and each day is getting longer, so do the workouts until they peak in June.  And the cycle continues.

Jan – Feb – Mar – Apr – May – Jun- Jul – Aug – Sept – Oct -Nov – Dec

http://www.stewsmith.com/linkpages/solsticerunningplan.htm

As you see, the easier part of the workout comes in the middle of winter and the toughest part is in the summer.  Winter workouts do not mean you do NOTHING – they are just easier in time involvement, mileage, and repetition than the summer season.  My book Maximum Fitness is a 52 week workout that demonstrates the cycle into 4 x 13 week periods that include:

1st Quarter – Calisthenics / Cardio Workouts – The goal of this cycle is to build a foundation of moderate to high reps of calisthenics or bodyweight exercises to improve fitness testing scores, but to also burn off some of the bulk you created during the winter weight lifting cycle.  Progressing the running each week is critical to this cycle as well and will help prevent over-use running injuries when starting back up again.

2nd Quarter – Calisthenics / Cardio Workout (more advanced) – This phase takes the last cycle and builds upon it further with more maximum effort (high rep / high mileage cardio) workouts.  Typically at the end of this cycle you will reach a peak in cardiovascular and bodyweight performance.  At this point, you will be ready for a change.

3rd Quarter – Some Calisthenics / Some Weights / Cardio Workouts – So, you change your routine a bit.  Decrease reps of calisthenics, but add weights incrementally each week to build up your strength.  Cardio options grow by adding more non-impact to your running routine as you taper a bit to prepare for the weight cycle.

4th Quarter – Near 100% weights / less running more non impact cardio –As a former football player and power lifter, I have always enjoyed this cycle and found that within 4-8 weeks, I was back to old max weight (1RM) in several exercises to include bench press, power clean, and dead lifts.  Usually weight gain will accompany this cycle and typical results are 10-15 lbs especially if you like to watch football and eat!  The legs will feel good on occasional runs after a few weeks of tapering down to more non-impact cardio.

When you push your fitness to extremes the way I have throughout my teens, 20s, 30s, and now 40s, you need to create a break from all the elements of the above routine.  The term periodization is required to achieve that and that is what this is – a sample model of a periodized program.  You can create your own to fit your fitness goals.

When I was in the SEAL teams, we actually did this type of program as winter diving always was tough without extra bulk.  So, we bulked up over the winter in order to handle the colder water temperatures.  So this style of training does perform a very useful purpose tactically as well as physiologically. .

The Top Ten Questions about Graduating from A US Service Academy

Every year, I have the honor of working out with more than 2000 high school students seeking acceptance into the Naval Academy during the Summer Seminar program.  Hundreds of emails each year concerning all of the Service Academy programs have prompted me to write the most frequently asked questions I receive.  These emails are from many of the young men and women seeking to serve their country as an officer in any of the services.

Here they are:

1 – Do all of the services have their own academy?  If so how do you get into them? This is a monster of a question so I recommend thorough research on the websites of the Service Academies below.  All services have their own academy however the US Naval Academy has around 15% of its class to join the Marine Corps.

Naval Academy – Annapolis MD – USNA

Air Force Academy – Colorado Springs CO – USAFA

Military Academy – West Point NY – USMA

Coast Guard Academy – New London CO – USCGA

Merchant Marine Academy – Kings Point NY – USMMA

2 – What are the Physical Fitness Tests at the Academy? They are all similar and some identical but here are the actual tests they take before and during the Academy:

USNA – USAFA – USMA – All take the CFA – Candidate Fitness Assessment:

Basketball throw, pushups, situps, pullups, 1 mile run

USCGA – USMMA – pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run

All academies take a pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run every six months while attending the 4 year school.  However, West Point – (Army) does a 2 mile run.

3 – What is up with the basketball throw – where did they get this test? Ha – good one.  It is actually part of an older exam called the PAE – Physical Aptitude Exam which basically measures one’s potential to be a strong candidate / athlete.  The test does demonstrate athletic ability to a degree and shoulder girdle and torso rotational power as well.  I agree it is a bit different from ALL test out there, but the Army, Navy, AF use it so who am I to argue?

4 – Can you fail the CFA? Well, since the academies are very competitive, it helps to have good to great scores in EVERYTHING you can to set yourself apart from the other 10-12,000 or so applicants most academies receive.  Notice – there are no minimum standards!  I love this personally as striving for a minimum standard CANNOT be a part of your work ethic IF you want to get into and especially if you want to graduate.

5 – On average what are the numbers who apply / get accepted / graduate?

Using the Naval Academy as an example, in recent years around 10,000 -12,000 people apply, about 4,000 get nominations, and around 1,200-1,300 get accepted each year.  Usually, graduating classes drop to under 1000 after four years.  My class was 1350 and we graduated a little over 900.

6 – How do you become a Marine at the Naval Academy? As with any service selection opportunity, you will be given a course to follow through your four years there that can take you directly to the graduating ranks of the USMC.  Usually, it requires a few summer training periods with Marine units, attending a summer program for midshipmen seeking USMC officer slots at Quantico, VA, taking the USMC PFT – pullups, situps, 3 mile run and of course keeping up with your academics and leadership experience positions as it is competitive to become a Marine officer.

7 – How do you become a SEAL from the USNA? Very similar to the way you become a Marine.  You should attend the Navy SEAL PTs, spend assigned duty at a SEAL team (internships) during leave time, score extremely well on your BUDS PST:

500yd swim – sub 8 min (recommended competitive scores)

pushups 100+

situps 100+

pullups  25+

1.5 mile run in boots / pants – sub 9 min

Also you will have to endure a 24-36 hour event called BUDS screening which is run by the SEAL instructors at USNA – basically it is all the bad events that occur during the six months training at BUDS compounded into a 24 -36 hour period – pretty tough.  That helps weed out the competition a bit and then the final event is a SEAL interview with a board of SEALs in charge of selecting all officers going to SEAL training.  Very intimidating but relax, be yourself, show confidence, not arrogance and you will be fine.

8 – Can you join the military even if you go to the Merchant Marine Academy? YES – I know of several who have gone onto serve in the military, in fact a few have become Navy SEALs too.

9 – Are the Service Academies “real” college? Depends how you define real!  The answer is yes – they are accredited universities and actually very competitive with Ivy League schools with challenging curricula.  Now – will you have a “real” college experience?  Up to you, you get to leave on weekends and relax and have fun, but during the week, it is work – workout, go to school, do a sport, eat, study, sleep!

10 – Why did you choose the Naval Academy – why a service academy? I knew I wanted to be in the military at about age 16. I just did not know what I wanted to do.  I figured if I can be in the military AND go to college that was even better so I looked into ROTC and Service Academies.  After some research (before internet) I noticed the Navy bases always were near a beach.  Being from Florida, that seemed nice.  After pondering pilot or Navy SEAL, I eventually came to the Navy SEAL decision after meeting several of them on campus.  Also five guys on my rugby team all became SEALs too.  So we were all workout buddies.  It just seemed to fit.

For best results, visit the Service Academy websites and read their frequently asked questions pages.  That will be your best source of information for the specifics of all the academies.

Thanks for all the emails that help me write weekly articles.  Keep them coming and I will answer them personally.  Email me at stew@stewsmith.com for any comments / questions on fitness..

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