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Navy SEAL - Hell Week Revisited
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After reviewing my article archives, and more specifically my Navy SEAL related articles, I realized I have written about how to get to BUDS and what workouts will help you make it through BUDS, but I never wrote about Hell Week. I received an email this week asking about my Hell Week. It reads, "Stew, do you think SEAL training Hell Week is still as hard as when you were going through BUD/S." Of course, any old frogman will tell you his Hell Week was the toughest ever, but I have to say, I have seen several Hell Weeks since I graduated from BUD/S in 1992 and they still suck. After talking to some recent BUD/S graduates, we shared Hell Week stories that were as similar today as they were 20 years ago. This article is going to try to explain to you who have not been through Hell Week what it is like and why it is one of the most successful tools in Navy SEAL training in determining a student's desire to serve.
First, My last two years of preparation:
My last two years at the Naval Academy were spent busting my butt preparing
for SEAL training. My 1991 USNA classmates who wanted to go to BUDS
totaled about 50, yet there were only 20 slots. We trained together often
during those years prior to graduation. After hearing stories from the USNA class of
1989 and 1990 BUD/S students as they progressed through BUD/S, we got
excited to challenge ourselves like our mentors did. Then one day, we
heard four Academy grads quit during Hell Week. This sent shock waves
through the community as the Academy grads get pre-screened to go to BUD/S
quite thoroughly for two years prior to graduation and not many ever quit!. Many of my
classmates, changed their minds about going to BUD/S as it rattled
the Class of 1991 midshipmen who were seeking to go to BUD/S too. We knew
the guys in 1990 who quit were tough as nails. "What was it that got
them?" "Is this possibly our future too?" We all asked, "How do we
better prepare ourselves for Hell Week?"
As you might imagine, we all had the same doubts in our head of if we were tough enough, but we were so well prepared we were able to turn that doubt into - "NO way am I quitting - I just pray I do not get hurt." We also turned each day into a competition with each other. All the BUD/S classmates had their strengths and worked on the weaknesses prior to BUD/S so the weaknesses were now moderate strengths. Little victories like winning the obstacle course, doing the most pull-ups on the PST, or fastest swim were daily challenges that really turned BUD/S into a competition and fun - not a torture session where we were just trying to survive each day. This is where I came up with the saying - Live to Compete - Not Just Survive. It really helped make BUD/S a series of races vs. pain and torture.
When BUD/S Class 180 started First Phase we had 120 students, by the time Hell Week started, we were down to less than 90 students in our class. People left everyday for a variety of reasons. Too cold, too much stress, too many pushups, too much running, too many water skills - pretty much BUD/S will give you TOO MUCH and TOO MANY of everything.
The night before Hell Week, we were all jacked up. We couldn't sleep, but we forced ourselves and just waited for the late October Hell Week in 1991 to begin. BUD/S class 180 was about to break out for Hell Week. Hundreds of rounds of blank M-60 guns and many smoke and concussion grenades made us all aware Hell Week started. We had about 90 students start Hell Week that Sunday evening in October. We spent the first thirty minutes staying as close to our swim buddies as we could and did hundreds of reps of pushups, flutter-kicks, running to the surf zone, and getting wet and sandy while the sounds of bullets / bombs and instructors with bullhorns directed your every move. We stayed wet the entire week and lost 40.
We eventually low crawled from the Grinder to the ocean (about 200m mostly
on pavement) and stayed in the surf zone locked arm and arm singing songs in
the dark for a few hours. We were cold, but not freezing, but already
had members from the class quitting while we were in the surf. We got
out of the water an hour or so prior to midnight. We knew we would eat
roughly every six hours and our mental goal was to make it to the next meal.
So during the next two hours, we grabbed the logs and started log PT.
We knew that after Hell Week we would be done with Log PT at BUD/S so we
were actually excited to start AND FINISH our last Log PT at BUD/S.
The Days Turn Into Nights - So we made it through the night,
got some chow and were ready to go to the next meal. The first day was
spent doing four mile timed runs as a boat crew (only fast as your slowest
man) and more surf torture and low crawls. The whistle drills became
instinct after hundreds of times. One whistle - DROP and prepare for
incoming, two whistles - low crawl toward the instructor. This was a
constant double whistle (tweet - tweet, tweet-tweet) and you kept low
crawling until you could touch the instructor blowing the whistle.
Three whistle blast meant you could stand up and recover, but you it always
took at least 100 yds of low crawling. In fact, after Hell Week
for a few months, when my alarm on my watch would wake me up with the same
(beep-beep, beep-beep) I woke up low crawling in my bed. The days
got warm but not hot, but the nights got cold as we sang goodbye to the
sunshine and hello to the darkness. "Goodbye Sunshine - Hello
Darkness," we sang every night until the instructors got tired of our
we spent the next few hours in the surf zone either singing or doing boat
Running with the Boat on Your Head - There is nothing worse
than this during Hell Week - many people agree about the constant pounding of
the boat on your head. You will do this for miles and pray you will be
in the water soon so you can paddle vs. run. There is no good spot to
get under the boat. The middle of the boat gets constant pressure on
your head and the front and the back get to bouncing on your head as you run
with your 6-7 man boat crew under the 200-300 lb boat. How can you
prepare? Neck exercises are smart to add into your training as
well as good core workouts for both abs and lower back. I wish I would
have had the TRX back then in my preparation phase as my back at 43 is
stronger than it was at 23 due to the constant core work the TRX does for
me. But some
hang cleans, power cleans are good too
if you do not have that background under your belt.
After you bust your butt for three days, you pretty much go into zombie mode
and just get things done. There is a point where there is nothing the
instructors can do to hurt you. What are they going to do to you?
you do more pushups, get you wet and sandy and cold, make you run more?
However, there are moments toward the last half of Hell Week where you have
to engage the thinking part of your brain again and actually plan mini-missions of
stealth and concealment and hide from the instructors. Winners get to
hang out by a huge bonfire and you can stay with your boat crew as long as
someone in the group tells jokes that make the instructors laugh. You
also start running like an old man with serious chaffing after 4-5 days of
being wet, cold, sandy.
The Heroes of Tomorrow program was developed by former Navy SEAL Stew Smith, fitness author. We can help prepare you for ANY profession that requires a Physical Fitness Test and YOU pay nothing for the training! Warning - it is rather advanced but we can scale it back a bit and teach running and swimming techniques and help you build up to your goal level of fitness.
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Workout - Good Gear / TRX Atomic Pushups - see
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 StewSmith.com
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Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
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Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
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The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT
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