Special Forces Preparation
How to prepare for the stress and unpredictability of one of the toughest jobs, special forces
Special Forces selection is not only physically challenging. It's also an unparalleled mental and emotional stress. To create it, instructors put the candidate in a constant state of uncertainty. You never know how long it will last, what will come next, or how many more tests there will be before the day is over. In fact, you don't even know if the day will end.
Sometimes you keep eating them until the next morning.
You carry your bag to the next meeting point, but you never know how far it is to the next meeting. And you have to go as fast as you can, because you can earn points that way. Or not.
There's no way to tell. You have to do push-ups, run or swim until your instructor tells you to stop. And then, when you think it's over, they say, "Let's do it again. Number one, in the water!"
Most people who leave the draft for special forces don't do so on a stretcher. They still have glucose in their blood and enough oxygen. The pain they feel is unbearable, but in a few days it will be gone. In reality, it is their mind that no longer believes they can continue.
There are many things that make a good special forces operator. And they are all indispensable. That's the most important part of being prepared. At any given time, the most important variable is the one that limits you the most. It doesn't matter how good you are at training if you break down mentally when you don't know how long the next race, swim or other event is going to last.
Special Forces Preparation: Managing Stress
A good special forces operator knows how to manage their stress response. Physical load is only one component of that stress. The body will always respond to that load with some amount of effort. But we have the ability to control the load we add to that physical stress with our emotions, thoughts and opinions.
With each workout, our brains make patterns and associations around all aspects of what we are doing. So we use open-chain sessions to manage some of these associations.
Unlike traditional training, we don't know how long the open-chain session will last. In a normal session, our brains will calibrate our effort and perceived fatigue to the expected volume of work.
"This is what I can do for five sets of five." The open-chain session robs us of this certainty. So the association our brain must build becomes, "I must be able to do this for as long as I need to." We train ourselves to be comfortable with not knowing.
Our perception of predictability and control conditions our response to stress. When we know the variables of the situation, stress remains limited. But when we can't answer questions like:
How long will this last?
Do I have the ability to cope?
Then the intensity of stress increases drastically to prepare the body for the unknown. The open chain sessions change this dynamic. They create the certainty that we can make the effort required for as long as necessary. We no longer need to see the finish line to regulate our stress response.
What is fatigue?
It is easy to think of fatigue as a mechanical phenomenon. Like a car running out of gas. But the reality is much more complex. Our perceptions of effort and fatigue have more in common with predictive emotions. Our brain continuously analyzes the flow of external and internal information.
This includes blood oxygen saturation, blood sugar, external temperature, air humidity, etc. This information is combined with predictive emotions. This information is combined with predictions based on previous experience under the same conditions.
For example, our brain calculates the difficulty of running 5 km based on previous experience of a 5 km race. If it is hotter and more humid than usual, we will run more slowly. Our brain compares past experience to current conditions and adjusts the level of effort to make it bearable in this new context.
Sessions with fixed parameters play a big role in this. They stimulate this evaluation process and create limiting associations. When we do a session knowing that it will be precisely 75 reps or precisely 10 minutes (or whatever other pre-quantified parameter), we then create internal algorithms that set our limits based on these numbers.
But when we have to make the same effort for longer than expected, our brain doesn't know what to do. So it blocks everything. This multiplies the stress we are already experiencing because of what we perceive as a loss of certainty and control.
Special Forces Preparation: Open Chain Session Design
The only limiting factor in designing an open-chain session is your creativity. These sessions work perfectly with variations of the anti-glycolytic protocols that Pavel explains in the Gladiator Bundle training. You can use the aerobic and anaerobic alactic pathway pair for a very long time. But if you play this game with the glycolytic pathway, you will regret it very quickly.
One of our favorite methods is the coin toss. Here's how it works:
Grab a handful of coins from a jar and put them in a pocket without looking. Or, put them somewhere you can't see them. These coins represent the number of rounds you are going to do.
One coin is a set of 5 swings. After each round, take a coin out of your pocket and put it back in the jar. It's important not to see how many coins are in the pocket, or in the jar. This means that you never know how many rounds you have left. This increases the uncertainty and maximizes the effect of this form of training.
Rest for a while, then start again. Do as many sets as you can as long as you can only breathe through your nose or keep your heart rate below 150. You won't know how many pieces are left, and then you probably won't know how many sets you've done. By working this way, you teach your brain that you can maintain this level of effort for as long as you need to. This effort becomes your baseline. Then you can increase it over time.
Your session ends when your pocket is empty.
Some additional ideas
This idea allows for several variations. Choose an exercise that engages the whole body. Most hard style exercises with KB (Swing, Snatch, etc.) are a perfect choice. But you can add exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and other pull-up variations into your selection.
Choose a range of reps that require no more than 10 seconds of work. This could be:
- 3 lunges each side back with a KB in the rack.
- 3-5 Goblet Squats.
- 5-10 Swings.
- 1-2 Strict pull-ups.
- 1 Deadlift. It will take longer than 10 seconds, but that's no big deal. Or, do a partial Deadlift.
- 3-5 push-ups.
- 2-3 pull-ups (Row) on each side.
- 3-5 pull-ups on the rings.
- 1 Snatch on each side.
You get the idea. Get creative. Balance your selection between pulling, pushing, squatting and hip flexing movements. Then, don't forget to include lateral and rotational movements.
Music also works well to regulate open-chain sessions. Just use a random playlist. You decide (or let a die decide) how many songs the session will last. Since the choice of songs is random, you won't know exactly how long you have. You can use this method with long duration efforts (walking, running, cycling, rowing, etc.), but also to set the total duration of high volume glycolytic work.
Special forces preparation: two sample sessions
Every minute, do a Deadlift, 3-5 push-ups and 1-2 pull-ups.
Every 30 seconds, do a Snatch on each side.
Choose your loads so that you can continue for a long time without risking injury.
The next session, you can change the songs and/or their number in the playlist. You will no longer be able to put a mental limit on the number of sets you plan to do. You will have to do them until the playlist ends.
Having a workout partner is also a great help when doing open chain sessions. One day you're the one with the plan and know what's going to happen. The next day, it's your partner who is calling the shots while you're in the fog.
Special Forces Preparation: The Final Word
Open chain sessions are a useful part of a training plan for a special forces operator. But the entire plan should include other elements as well. Fixed parameter sessions have their own value.
With their structure, they allow for the development and testing of qualities that benefit from precise volume and intensity management. Whereas with open chain sessions, you can develop a resilient mindset in the face of uncertainty.
Your physical preparation must be adapted to your goals and lifestyle, since its goal is to prepare you to be a better version of yourself. You should choose your program and exercises so that they build your health and strength, rather than draining it dry. But whatever your choice of preparation program, you must first master the tools.