So you want to take part in one of those TV military fitness programmes, or actually join the army?

Maybe you like the idea of being a reality Tv star, or you want to meet Ant Middleton, but lots of people want to get onto programmes like SAS: Who Dares Wins and Special forces Ultimate Hell Week.

Interest in military fitness regimes has also been stoked up by books such as “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins and our relentless diet of war films.

Having been involved in the training of a few wannabe participants, chatted to a contestant who got a good way through the process, and having analysed the challenges, I thought it would be helpful to offer some general training and preparation advice.

I have a motto, stolen from an ancient greek warrior. In a crisis, you do not rise to the challenge, you sink to the level of your training. Success in these types of programs , and indeed success in applying for a position in the army, and their elite corps, requires you to be properly trained for the challenges you can anticipate.

Lower down in this article you find details of how military fitness testing goes, and the standards they expect. However, here is your take home message. To successfully survive one of these regimes, I say you need a good back ground in being “outdoors”. Do you love going for hikes in the rain and getting soaked. Do you know how to manage wet clothing. Are you ok with sleeping outside, and essentially are you ok with operating on limited sleep and getting up at 2, 3am and going for a run. Do you love camping. Would you turn down some super sex for a 10k run?

If your preparation only involves going to the gym, at sociable times, the chances are you’ll be screwed.

Let me rephrase this. You need to be able to put up with crap they don’t even have names for. Are you used to insect bites, going for a pooh in a bush, stinking and running in boots. Have you had blisters on your blisters, and can you work through the discomfort of a wet pant band working their way into your crotch.

Do you like the cold? Well you better like those morning cold showers and going out in all sorts of weather. On the plus side, getting used to the cold has benefits. A few years ago, “Thermal loading” was all the rage!

There is another type of training you should consider. It’s mindset. Doing a lot of mindset work would probably help; learning how to break big tasks into little task: it may be 4 am in the morning, you may have run 8 miles, you may be at the end of your tether but, maybe you can get to that tree thats 50m away. Ok, now let’s try that house 40m away. Not letting the enormity of the task overwhelm you is important.

This involves dealing with fear The science fiction fans amoung you will recall this monologue from Dune

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

To be successful you probably need to distinguish the difference between fear and recognising danger. Fear is often described as False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is an impractical emotion. Recognising danger and taking appropriate action is good. Being paralysed by fear, isn’t.

Lord Moran, ( Winston Churchill’s physician, and a trench doctor in WW1) said “Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will. Courage is willpower.” (The Anatomy of Courage).

This is part of working out how you think . Are you already looking for your excuse, or are you thinking, “I’m going to give this 100%”. Having a victim mentality can quickly bring your performance to an end. Combating a perfectionist mindset is also part of the magic. You’ll be slower and feel like you cannot succeed. Ignore that and just continue.

It’s worth remembering that 90% fail (the real) SAS selection, and most of these simply give up. The instructors rarely have to fail people.

The last thing you need to prepare for is lack of sleep. This is truly awful. Here are the consequences of not sleeping (Ref):

Humans can bear several days of continuous sleeplessness, but it screws everything. It may lead to deteriorated functioning, impaired perception, reducing concentration, vision disturbances, slower reactions, as well as lower capabilities and efficiency of task performance and to an increased number of errors.

It screws with your thinking which means wrong decisions, and emotional disturbances such as deteriorated interpersonal responses and increased aggressiveness.

Being woken up at 2 am to do a run or burpees is really, really awful. It is however a reality that soldiers at times need to operate in a sleep deprived state. There are some interesting tips and hints here but, it seems that you’ll need to set yourself some middle of the night exercise sessions. “Exposing soldiers to fatigue in a training environment teaches them how it affects them and their performance. Learning the consequences in a protected environment will help them identify the issues caused by sleep deprivation, so that they can know how deal with them before reaching combat. Likewise, understanding why you’re tired can help you power through the day”(National Sleep Foundation)

If you are from a farming background, you probably have some experience of sleep disturbing work like lambing, milking and chasing poachers. I knew a financial broker who got up to trade at 3am. I think after a few years he went a bit mad: but that could have been the drugs and the booze.

David Goggins, the navy seal, suggested an interesting task. It’s called a 4x4x48. In other words you go for a 4 mile run every 4 hours for 48 hours. That will give you a very good idea of what sleep deprivation feels like, although, I’d start at something like 2 x 4 x 12, and build up!

So, thats the background . What follows are the physical tests along with some official guidance from the military like this US Navy Seal training guide. Download and read it. Its free and useful

With these points in mind, you need to prepare for the actual standards. Either you have the knowledge to develop an effective training regime to master these, or you need a PT /or a coach

  • 4km loaded march with 40kg within 50mins followed by 2km with 25kg in 15 mins (Infantry/RAC). The times allowed for 16 AAB/Paras are shortened to 35mins and 12.30mins respectively.
  • Fire and movement tactical bounds, followed by crawl and sprint ( 20 x 7.5 m bounds , or mini sprints. Then crawl 15m, sprint 15 m in 55 seconds
  • Casualty drag (110kg bag) dragged 20m in 55 seconds
  • Water can carry (simulates stretcher carry with 2 x 22kg cans) over 240 meters in 2 mins.
  • Vehicle casevac (70kg lift with 3 second hold)
  • Repeated lift & carry (20kg bags over distance) 20 x 30m in 14 minutes

I say you should not only be familiar with these challenges. You should do them, often, as part of your training. I think you should see these as the absolute minimum standards. Whilst I’m not sure, I’d prepare to do these tests with boots on.

The Royal Marines’ Pre-Joining Fitness Test allegedly involves completing two 2.4km runs on a treadmill that is set to a 2% incline. The first run must be completed in less than 12 minutes 30 seconds. You will then have a one-minute break before completing the second run in under 10 minutes and 30 seconds. This time is the absolute minimum requirement, and the expectation is that you will record the best time possible. You can use this chart to assess where you are

There are 4 body weight challenges. You should aim to ace them all. Why would you humiliate yourself on TV if you can only do 10 push ups if you know that 60 is the standard.

  • The VO2 Max bleep test (also known as the ‘bleep test’.) Minimum pass score is level 10.5. Shoot for the max!
  • Press ups are carried out immediately after the bleep test. A maximum score is achieved for 60 press-ups are conducted to an audible bleep (listen to the video below). Arms should be locked into side, shoulder width apart. The partner puts his fist on the floor facing away and counts one repetition for every time the chest touches his fist. If you put your knees onto the floor you will be told to stop.
  • Sit-ups come straight after the press-ups. 85 are needed for maximum points. Sit ups are conducted to an audible bleep. A partner holds the feet, elbows must touch top of knees and then the shoulders and elbows must touch the floor on the way down for a repetition to count. Knees must remain together or else reps will be deducted.
  • Pullups follow situps. A minimum of 3 are required to stay on the course but any less than 5 will be looked at critically and 16 will gain the maximum score. The over-grasp grip is used, the candidate is required to pull and hold the position until told to extend the arms; pull-ups are performed to the “bend” and “stretch” commands. The candidates chin must pass over the top of the bar to count and on the way down our body must be straight hanging down from the bar. Your legs must not cross. If the chin does not satisfactorily pass above the bar, or candidates cannot keep up with the commands, the candidate will be told to “drop off”.

The pool assessments include jumping off a high diving board (3m) in normal swimming kit and swimming a maximum of 4 lengths (approx 100m) of breast stroke followed by retrieving a brick from the bottom of the pool which is 3m deep. Train these skills. That brick retrival can be tricky. Learn to swim outdoors, in the cold, in clothes. For God sake have a life guard nearby. I think there are some outdoor swimming places like this one in the Royal docks in East London.

Other testing includes
  • The “Tarzan Assault Course” conducted up to 30 foot off the ground. Deal with your vertigo issues, or don’t apply!
  • The bottom field assault course which involves team games and other arduous physical activities.
  • An endurance course lasting 90 minutes and covering 2.5 miles undertaken on Woodbury Common
  • An over-night exercise which is intended to promote team building.

To train these, you’d better be a regular at your local Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. You need a t-shirt that says “I do love an obstacle race”. As I have said else where, if you don’t like getting wet, feeling cold, being woken up in the middle of the night, you really don’t want to apply for one of these programs, or the actual army for that matter. Familiarity with rope climbing and ab-sailing can probably be obtained at your local climbing centre. In the East End we have the Mile End Climbing wall

If you want to apply to be on SAS Who Dares Wins click here

If you are insane enough to want to do this, feel free to ask me for some in real life (if you are in the East End of London) or Online PT sessions.