Toughing It Out with SEAL PT

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That’s right. SEAL PT (Physical Training). Like in Navy SEAL, the most elite of all fighting forces.

You’ve probably seen them on the news most recently because they’re the bad-asses that took out Public Enemy Number One, Osama Bin Laden.

The media mesmerized and inspired us with 24/7 video of the torturous training the Seals survive, tactics that are designed to either break them or to prove that they really are the best of the best, ready to face down any obstacle and withstand the brutality of any foe.

fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-navy-seals-hell-weekThey swim in frigid water with hands and feet bound, crawl through mud flats and desert conditions, endure Hell Week and emerge the toughest, most capable and cohesive fighting unit in the world.

Situation

What can this possibly have to do with a two-week long fitness program operating in Central Park?

If you ask yourself that question but sign up for SEAL Physical Training’s boot camp program anyway, you’ll get your answer the hard way, during the first thirty seconds of your initial 5 a.m. class, when Marine AND Navy SEAL veteran Jack Walston arrives and explains in no uncertain terms that he is not to be called “Sir” but Instructor Walston, that he suffers no fools and expects commitment, consistency, and 110% effort.

Then he’ll make the whole class drop and give him thirty pushups in the gravel for no apparent reason other than to put an exclamation point on what he’s just barked.

And then he just might make you all repeat that thirty again because one of your classmates groaned or bitched.

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Punishment for disobedience, for whining, for not doing things the way Walston wants it, for calling him “Sir” instead of “Instructor Walston”, all comes at a price for the whole class – that’s one of the ways you’re taught about responsibility to the team.

Oh, and one more thing he’ll let you know – the $695 you paid is as good as gone – no refunds for quitters … and each session generally has a couple of them.

This is boot camp the SEAL way, and all other boot camp programs grovel at its feet and wave a white flag of surrender.

Meat Grinder

While other boot camp programs may start from the ground up, putting together a fitness regimen – whatever it may be – and then toughening it up, adding more reps and making you hold positions longer or exhorting you to go faster to make it all seem more extreme and give you a truly tough workout, what Walston did in developing SEAL PT was to start at the pinnacle and break it down.

fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-toughing-it-outHe took the proven training program that he’d personally withstood, and that the military continues to use to test their recruits’ mettle, then distilled it down to what might not actually kill normal human beings, but still would make them wish they were dead.

The real Navy SEAL program generally ends up with about 14 that make the cut out of a starting group of 200.

What Walston took from that program rubs civilian men and women raw and bloody, leaves deep bruises and scratches that take weeks to heal and muscles that would scream out loud if they could, and yet yields graduates who are inexplicably grateful for having experienced it, shaking their heads at what they survived and accomplished and how they grew.

To try to understand how a SEAL PT boot camp class feels, there are a couple of things you need to know.

You need to know that “HOO-YAH” is the official war cry of all Navy Seals, and if you don’t yell it loud enough, or in unison, or when Instructor Walston thinks you should, then the whole class is going to be “chasing the rabbit.”

fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-chasing-the-rabbitThat’s a frenetic and humiliating exercise that involves hands flat on the ground, body arced in an inverted V with your butt pointing to the sky for all to admire, and your legs awkwardly flying as fast as the imaginary treadmill under your body can go.

Fall on your face, chin bleeding, dirt in your eyes? Think you chipped a tooth? Better swallow it and get up, because the entire group – including you – has to do it again now that you messed up.

Don’t expect sympathy from Instructor Walston; he’s a lot more likely to bark at you for failing and make you do it again – or share a bit of wisdom. “Periodically he shared stories from his military experience about soldiers who had been burned to a crisp because of failure to follow directions.” (Eleena De Lisser, Wall Street Journal, 10/21/2003).

The other thing you need to remember – ice baths after class. Numbness is the goal, and not hearing what your body is trying to tell you can be a blessing.

For those who may think that the tough instructor bit is nothing but theater, this class is as serious as a heart attack, and you may well think you’re having one by the end of the initial day.

fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-pushups-to-failure Things kick off with a fitness assessment consisting of as many sit ups and push-ups as you can do in two minutes. You’ll top that effort off by spending the rest of the class doing more calisthenics then you can count, in the hardest way possible, over and over again.

Classmates who had fretted over whether the class would present them with enough of a challenge are doubled over, trying to overcome relentless cramps and heaving after suffering through repetitive sets of jumping jacks, squat thrusts, sprints, more push-ups and planks.

It’s all topped off by challenging quads that are already burning with hundreds of squat jumps back and forth across a field that seems to get broader with every set. fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-squats-to-failure

One class graduate recalled returning on the second morning this way. ”After showering for 30 minutes, I still couldn’t lift my arms, so I poured the shampoo against the wall and rubbed my head against the tile.”(http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/14/arts/weekend-warrior-when-punishment-is-good-for-the-body.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm).

And yet you bring your broken body back for the next day’s session, which begins with a jog in formation around the park.

Perseverance

The sense of tranquility and ownership of Central Park before dawn can be magical, but your reverie is quickly interrupted by the sound of Walston’s voice warning of the dangers of going faster than your slowest man, or forcing you to the ground for 50 push-ups for not having yielded the path to a lone jogger.

Courtesy, to each other and to all, is a core value for SEAL PT, and it is stressed with the same passion as perseverance.

fitness2xtreme-images-seal-pt-sand-exerciseThe group is led to the Central Park’s beach volleyball pit, which is commandeered pre-sunrise by the SEAL group as its own personal torture chamber.

It’s still dark as the day’s horror is detailed for you, and soon you’re scrabbling awkwardly through the wet, cold sand in a series of low crawls back and forth, sand filling your mouth as you gasp for breath, blinding you as it’s swept into your eyes by the teammate struggling just ahead of you.

You’re miserable, sand is down your underwear and probably infiltrating areas that you know will be painful later, and all the while it’s inexorably tearing your skin off as you struggle your way across and back again on your belly for seventy excruciatingly endless minutes.

The exhaustion in every muscle in ineffable, especially as this is following the previous day’s work out that had made you almost giddy with pain, but soon you stop focusing on wanting to quit and just pray for each minute to go by a little faster and bring you closer to the end of this class.

Sometimes reminding yourself that the real Navy Seals go through this for real can help – sometimes it helps if you imagine that bullets are flying over your head. It’s not unusual to hear weeping at some point in the sandpit, but Walston wants no part of it.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself! You can’t buy mental toughness. No one can give it to you. You must develop it on your own! -“WEEKEND WARRIOR; When Punishment Is Good for the Body” by Joe Glickman, NYTimes.

Ding! Next Round

The next day at five a.m., grains of sand still lurking in your teeth, you’re marveling at the fact that you returned for more, and that what you paid for this pain could have bought a night at the Ritz Carlton.

Walston announces that you’re back in the pit; this time you’re on the ground for a sort of progressive relay race; two push-ups, then flip onto your back for two flutter kicks, then leap to your feet for two squat jumps.

Now run through the sand to the other side to repeat those exercises again. Another trek across the sand back to the start and drop for four, then cross and give them another four.

Back and forth, again and again, but this time do six, then eight, then ten on up to twenty … and you’re just about half way done.

Back down to eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen all the way back to two.

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The cement blocks that had been your legs at the start of the week can barely lift your feet and each time you drop to do another set your mind is questioning whether your arms can possibly support you again.

The split seconds when you’ve rolled onto your back to start each flutter kick tempt you to just lay there, but there is no respite ‘til the end of class is called and you drag yourself out of the park, home to a shower, dreading what the next morning can possibly hold, but knowing that whatever it is, you will do it and survive.

It’s that mental toughness that lies beneath the tough-as-nails approach; that and an insistence on teamwork that becomes part of the overall commitment.

If you think you can handle additional mental and physical challenges, you might also want to consider SEALFit. SEALFit is also run by an ex-SEAL, Mark Divine. It is more geared towards military personnel but any physically fit civilians can participate

Far Beyond Expectations

By the end of a grueling two week session, SEAL PT students are boosting each other over walls and through obstacles despite arms that they can barely lift to support themselves; the weakest members may be carrying heavier members who are injured, or sharing the load of twenty-pound sacks and 9-pound medicine balls while jogging in order to help the whole team overcome whatever has been thrown at them and for all to make it through.

What Walston delivers is a brutal workout. But long after the exercises are over and the addiction to Ben-Gay and Tiger Balm is gone, there remains the core lesson that is at the heart of every war story you’ve ever heard and every tale of heroism ever detailed at a Medal of Honor ceremony.

The class teaches each graduate the power of becoming a part of something greater then themselves, and to reach beyond pain and their self-imposed limits for a new definition of what is possible and a new understanding of their own inner strength.

“There were two major parts that I loved about the course! First, after a few days of the hellish calisthenics, I found a mental strength that I can’t remember seeing in myself for 18 or more years. Secondly, I loved the values and ideals that the instructors stressed. I think in the last two weeks I have remembered and learned more about myself than anything in the last twenty years. You have my sincerest gratitude.” – R. Northrup

It’s a lesson that, once learned, Walston rewards.

His best graduates are invited for membership to a Lifers’ club that not only tests them further physically, but continually introduces new lessons in integrity and dedication.

Remarkably, after suffering for two weeks at the hands of this man, most who achieve Lifers status return proudly and repeatedly, having learned that whatever is being dished out is something that is going to hurt but that they can take, and that they’ll come out better and stronger on the other side.

Boot Camp Info

 

Name: SEAL Physical Training (PT)
Website: http://www.sealpt.com
Location(s): Houston,TX (since 1997) & NYC, NY (since 1998)
Owner(s): Jack Walston

 

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    […] don’t think you can make it to SEAL Fit, an alternative program called SEAL PT. SEAL PT is offered on both West- and East Coast and it is also run by an ex-SEAL. Depending on […]

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