“Every day is stressful. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through Hell week, you got bullets flying over your head, or if you can’t pay the bills at the end of the month, same stress hormones are flying through your body. But we can all breathe.” — Stew Smith
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Stew Smith is a well-known fitness trainer and author. His latest book is “Tactical Fitness (40+) Foundation Rebuilding.” He and Commander Divine talk about SEAL training, and the important lessons learned about fitness, breathing and mental ability gained. He goes on to describe his work with the Sheepdog community, preparing police, firefighters as well as various branches of the military for service.
- at least part of exceptional performance is learning to overcome your own brain
- mindset is an important part of athleticism, especially functional fitness
- Stew uses breathing to control stress
Listen to this episode to get a glimpse into the value and importance of tactical and functional fitness for powerful service.
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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine. With the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for joining me today. I appreciate your time. I know you’ve got a lot to do.
You’re going to love our guest today. A good friend, Navy SEAL, Stewart Smith. He and I are going to have a great… I love talking to teammates and seeing what they’re up to and seeing how they’re impacting the world. So you’re not going to want to miss this show. But chances are you’re going to hear it since you’re listening to my voice right now. A-ha.
But before I get started let me tell you about the Burpees for vets. If this is the second or third time you’ve heard me, then it’ll be an update. But if it’s the first time, what I’ve challenged my tribe or team or whoever gets this message, to do, is to join me this year in doing 22 million burpees. And it’s to serve the vets who have served us and suffered for us. So we’re going to suffer for them.
And the reason I chose 22 million is because it is a ridiculously audacious and crazy number.
But also there’s 22 veterans a day with Post-traumatic Stress who are committing suicide. And that is a crazy, ridiculous number and we’ve got to do our part. The government hasn’t really helped them. As much as the VA has tried, the problem seems to be getting worse.
And so there are solutions. So we’re going to raise awareness, number one, but also a minimum 250,000 dollars that we’re going to directly use to put as many vets as we can through a program that’ll have an immersion event, where they’re going to learn principles such as we teach in Unbeatable Mind to develop courage, to develop a team again, to develop a vision for their future. Learn how to breathe. Learn how to do yoga. Learn how to manage the stress and bleed it off, so that they can live a healthy life.
And then follow on–this is the most important part–with up to 18 months of mentoring, coaching, kind of after-care.
It’s a new and innovative approach. I’ve got… My teammates in this endeavor are Greg Amundson, who’s a vet himself and a well-known Crossfitter. And Josh Mantz, author of “Darker Souls,” who is a former Army Captain who was shot and killed in Iraq. And came back to life 15 minutes later. An incredible story.
So these guys are on the board of the Courage Foundation with me, and we’re leading this charge. So go to burpeesforvets.com to check out how you can either put a team together to join me, or pledge for my 100thousand burpees which I’m doing this year. I just finished my 300 so I still got sweat dripping onto my Rode podcaster here. So…
At any rate, it’s important right? So let’s do this. Burpeesforvets.com. And you’re going to hear from Stew how you can help him through his organization which is called “Heroes of Tomorrow.” Dot Org.
One last thing before I introduce Stew more formally.
My new book… actually the rewrite of my book “The Way of the SEAL,” is due out Memorial Day. I’ve added 2 new chapters–one on leading in VUCA, one on building elite teams. I’ve updated all the other chapters and have key takeaways at the end. And so it’s pretty cool.
And I’m also offering the tools in digital format at a URL–unbeatablemind.com/wos. But that URL isn’t live yet, so don’t try to go there just yet.
But you can learn more about the book and even pre-order it at wayoftheseal.com. I’m excited about that. And once that’s out I’m going to make haste on my next book which I’m calling “Launch.”
Anyway, so enough on that self-promotional stuff.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL–I mentioned that. He was an officer. He’s also coached the Spec Ops team at the Naval Academy. Those men and women who are interested in EOD and the Navy SEAL program. Probably had some Marines join him there–we’ll find out.
He continues–like I do through SEALFIT–he continues to prepare young men and women to become active members in the Sheepdog community. That includes military Spec Ops–military of all branches–I should say. Because he’s got a number of books and training regimens out.
Also police and SWAT. Firefighters. You know, even FBI agents. So he’s really, really experienced in the dynamics of how do you train and prepare your body/mind for this incredibly rigorous training that all these folks have to go through. And many of you listening have or are about to.
And he’s an expert in leadership and self-defense so he’s got a tremendous, broad range of skills and is a very interesting fellow.
So super-stoked to have you, Stew. And thanks again for re-doing the podcast. Because the first time we did this we kind of had a technical SNAFU.
Stew Smith: No problem. Hey, I’m glad to be on here Mark. As always.
Mark: So how things going? I’ve talked to you literally a month ago. What’s new in your life? Have you published any new books in the last 30 days? (laughing) Have you gone to the moon and back? I mean, what’s going on?
Stew: I will tell you, 2017, I crushed it. And I went nuts with… I actually published 4 books during that time with my publisher. Who your publisher used to work with. “The Way of the SEAL” publisher used to work with this group of folks that published these 4 books. And that was Tactical Mobility, The Warrior Workouts–which is a volume 1, 2 and 3. So it was a 4 part series there. And then I did 4 self-published programs. And it’s all geared for the tactical athlete over 40.
I really… I realized I neglect… I’ve been neglecting the 40 and over crowd. And I’m 49 this year so I…
Mark: It’s interesting, you know, cause I’ve had the same kind of I guess insight about 8 years ago. When I was like, “You know, we’re trying to pretend that we’re 20.” And everyone who wants to train is…
It’s like the whole Crossfit thing. The weight loads that they do for the Crossfit games are ridiculous. Even for the Masters’ division.
So I did the same thing with something I called the Masters workout or the Basic workouts.
So your tactical athlete program is for those over 40? And how did you make that different? What did you do?
Stew: You know what? I made a couple of standard rules and the standard rules are pretty basic. But it’s all programmed into the workout where you don’t run every day. You run every other day and then implement a non-impact activity in between. It can be a variety of anything. Rowing, swimming, biking, elliptical.
And one of those days that used to be your hard work out that you would do, especially if you’re like me, or yourself, that used to do 5, 6 really hard workouts every week. And sometimes that 5th or 6th one just was beating on you a little bit.
So middle of the week, you have to turn one of those into a non-impact mobility day. So that’s kind of the 2 major rules.
And I guess the 3rd rule would be–a lot of us are still eating like we were 20 years old. Even though we’re in our 40s. And finding it harder to lose weight. So you have to kind of go with the realization now that you can’t outwork your diet anymore. So you have to now focus on portion control and things like that.
So those are mainly the 3 different rules of the programming. And it’s been very popular.
Mark: I bet it has. So as simple as you can, can you just describe a seven day protocol for the listeners? In case they can glean something and dial in what they’re doing right now?
Stew: Sure. I have a program… my “Tactical Athlete” periodization program, I focus on all the elements of fitness, but it’s spread throughout the year. So maybe in the spring, I am focusing more on calisthenics and a running progression. And then we kind of peak that running progression in the summer, with some more calisthenics. And we’re mixing in some weights in there too. But mostly pretty light stuff.
And then in the fall and winter, we decrease our running to a point where it’s pretty insignificant per week. And doing more non-impact stuff. Just to give the joints a break.
But we’re lifting more. So we kind of go into that cycle, instead of a Workout of the Day, we kind of make sure it fits into this little program–this workout of the Year.
And a typical week would be really kind of one of two ways. I typically do a split routine where we do upper body one day, lower body the next. Followed by that mobility day. Upper body one day. Lower body the next.
And that gets us through the week. Now we’re on weekend, and usually that weekend is something active. We’ll go run the obstacle course. We have this endurance course over here at Navy that we’ll do. It’s kind of like a 3 mile obstacle loop. We call it our own little Spartan race.
But we try to make it something pretty functional versus staying in the weight room and just lifting. Not that that’s a bad thing, but we just try to get out and try to apply everything we did that week to a little more practical application.
Mark: And what does the running part of that look like? When you’re not in the gym? Especially for the running cycle?
Stew: As far as when? Spring?
Mark: Yeah, spring/summer. How often do you run? And what are the distances?
Stew: Yeah, well if I’m with my Heroes of Tomorrow group, we’re pretty much running every day. Unless there’s an ache or pain and then I’ll make somebody do a non-impact activity that day.
But maybe ten miles. 12 miles a week at first. When we start off in early spring, late winter. And then that will progress over the next 15, 20 weeks to over 30 miles a week.
But every other day is something a little bit different. Instead of just long, slow distance stuff, we’re running hills, we’re running intervals. We’re doing speed work. Throw some agility in there to.
Cause one of the goals with tactical fitness is you can’t be… you don’t necessarily have to be great at anything–you just have to be good at everything. So we try to make sure that we have a good foundation in strength first. Throughout the winter. Strength and power.
And then we go into more muscle stamina. Cardiovascular endurance. And speed and agility and flexibility and mobility. So we put all those elements of fitness and we make sure that we get good at all of them.
And it might take us a whole year to get good at all of them. Because I’ve found that you can’t really peak personally when you’re dead-lifting 400 pounds and you’re trying to get mile and a half time down at the same time. So kind of spread those into different cycles throughout the year.
And that’s been the process… I’ve actually been doing that for 20 years now. I started that process in ’98. Mainly out of necessity.
Cause I got in the teams ’91 and I was really broken by the time ’98 came around. ’97-’98 I already had a surgery. Had a stress fracture in my femur. I had shoulder separation.
And most of these had nothing really to do with training other than just traumatic injuries.
Mark: Right. Well, the teams were brutal back then. I know they’ve gotten a lot better with the… I forget the name of the program…
Stew: Human Performance.
Mark: Yeah, Human performance. Thank you for filling that gap there.
So now they’re doing durability and ice tubs. And they got physical therapists. And they go all sorts… nutritionists and everything. An incredible gym.
When you and I were there, none of that was there. We just beat the shit ourselves… We over trained. And then we went in the field and got beat up more.
Stew: Yeah, I remember going to my SEAL team thinking, “My high school football team had better training facilities and trainers than the SEAL team.”
And now it’s completely changed. I mean, they actually have strength and conditioning trainers that are there. They’re hired to do that. It’s not some crazy in-shape master chief that you’re at his whim to get your ass beat that day.
And I remember doing impromptu Marathon. You know? It’s just like, “Hey, let’s go run a marathon today!” Sure.
Mark: Let’s go.
Yeah, we did the same thing. Isn’t that awesome? (laughing) Those are fond memories. Crazy stuff we did.
Getting into the SEALs
So let’s talk about your… what got you interested in the SEALs? What was that like for you?
Stew: Well, I went to the Naval Academy. And this in mid-80s. ’87 is when I got to the Academy. And originally I wanted to be a pilot. “Top Gun” had come out, and I remember playing baseball and quoting every scene from “Top Gun” with my buddies. It was just what you did. When you’re sitting there bored in the outfield. You just quoting…
It’s what I wanted to do. You know what? As corny and as cheesy as that movie was, it kind of opened my eyes into this thing they called the Naval Academy. And I was like, “Huh. That’s kind of cool.”
And I got recruited for football there. So everything was just kind of falling into place. “Aw, man. This is like a dream come true.”
And then long story short–I didn’t play football. Didn’t make the team. Wound up playing Rugby for 3 or 4 years, but we had… actually 3 and a half years. And then we had a bunch of SEAL candidates who were ahead of me. Some upper classmen, that were playing rugby and so we started working out with those guys.
And I just started… you really revered your upper class. And they were going on to be SEALs and then they made it. And you’re like, “Holy Mackerel.” I kind of had a vision of what it took to be a Navy SEAL. Cause I remember these guys and how tough they were. And so “I want to be like that. I wanna be that tough.”
It gave me a couple years to prepare, and it’s almost like you have to see it to believe it. So I’ve seen people make it, so I had a belief in my mind that I know I could do this. If I just get to this level of fitness and toughness where these guys were. And that’s kind of the path I set myself on…
Mark: Most people listening don’t really appreciate or understand what that level of fitness looks like. Can you describe… Like, I know what it looks like. I’ve talked about it before.
But you describe for the listener what kind of shape you had to be in to get into BUD/S and to make it through at the top of your class like you did.
Stew: Sure. Well, you know, to get to the training… I always try to break up tactical fitness into 3 different segments. You have to get to the training. That means you have to master this PST. Especially if you’re going for something that is competitive. An officer slot to go to SEAL training is very competitive, so you gotta do whatever you can to set yourself apart.
And one way to do that is to master that PST. That’s 500 yard swim, pullups, pushups, sit-ups, mile and a half run. And just be able to crush it.
Not only once, but then do it again. They’re just going to test you and say, “Let’s see how you do it a second time.” You know? And then…
Mark: What are the standards for those elements?
Stew: I would say for good officer selection you wanna break 8 on the swim. Under 8 minutes. Combat swimmer stroke or side stroke. Which isn’t that hard…
Mark: Once you practice.
Stew: Yeah, once you get good at it. You gotta get good at the technique. 100+ pushups, 100+ sit-ups, 20+ pullups. And when I say “plus”… in 2 minutes… and when I say “plus” I really mean “plus.” You wanna be over those numbers. And then you want to be under 9 minutes on the mile and a half.
Which, once again, isn’t blistering fast pace, but it’s fast enough to get your foot in the door. If you can get closer to 8 minutes…
Mark: And it comes after all that other stuff. Right? So you’re already…
Stew: Oh yeah. It’s in sequence. So it’s all that stuff. So if you wear yourself out in the swim, you’re probably going to have worse scores. So all of that is a matter of hard conditioning, and technique and strategy. To actually master that test. That’s kind of what I teach now. With a lot of the kids that want to go Special Ops.
But it’s more than that too. Because it’s also lifting and getting used to log type activity…
Mark: They’re building stuff. So people break. So if you just train for the PST… I tell this all the time… If you just train for the PST, you might make it in the front door, but you could also break the first week. So you gotta train the durability and the strength and that ability to just keep going under that punishing pressure once you get to training.
Stew: Absolutely. So you not only have to be almost like a triathlete, but you have to be a durable triathlete that can handle some load bearing activity. So
And it’s remarkable. I remember… like I said… when you first see what “in shape” is for that, you’re like, “Wow, I really need to up my game.” And that was my direct quote into my brain was like, “Okay, if I wanna do this, I need to up my game on this.”
Because these guys were doing workouts in the morning, they’d go to Rugby practice and then they’d go swim before dinner. And then they’d go study.
And I was like, “Oh man. Okay. I guess that’s what I have to do.”
Mark: 3 workouts a day. And we did that in the teams to. I did 3 training sessions a day. And the job was physical, you know? Most of the time. Diving for 4 hours, or out running.
Mark: So you obviously made it into BUD/S. What BUD/S class did you go through?
Stew: I was in 180 up until about 4 weeks from graduation. Where I injured myself in 3rd phase right before the island. And I would up getting… graduating 182.
Mark: Did they roll you back into 3rd phase? Or did you have to go back to post-hell?
Stew: No. I was lucky. I’d never failed anything. I was a good student. Just had a bad knee injury, and I just started 3rd phase over. So I had to repeat 3 or 4 weeks, but it was that pre-island phase which was kind of fun.
Mark: And what were the coolest things for you about BUD/S? The SEAL training itself? What were the major insights? What did you learn?
Stew: You know what? I would say especially after hell week, I think is when there’s some realization that comes in there. Before Hell week you kind of figure out, “I think I got this. I’m handling this stuff every day. I’m passing these tests. I got this system down. Now here comes the big test–this Hell week.”
And after Hell week, I think right then. That week after. I learned that my body is really 10 times stronger than my mind would ever let it be. So now it was more of a focusing in on mind power, more than body power. Because I knew my body could handle it. I just had to get my mind to a point where it was allowing me to do this.
Because my mind wants me to survive. My mind is there for self-preservation. It doesn’t want me to do these things.
Mark: (laughing) Nobody in their right mind would do those things, so to speak.
Stew: No. Right? There’s a little element in there that’s a part for survival. And it’s ingrained in all of us.
But you have to almost dissociate a little bit from that in order to do some of those things that we’re tasked at doing.
But anyway, that was when I learned that the body is really 10 times stronger than our mind will let it be. And I live with that every day. And if there’s something I need to do that requires me to stay up all night and do it, I can do that.
It’s something… I try not to do it for stupid challenges, like “Hey, can you run up this mountain, or climb this tree,” because somebody dares me to.
Mark: Although that is one way to learn, right? That’s what Hell week was about is one way to prove it. But then you apply it in a more practical manner for your life.
Stew: Yes. Absolutely.
Breathing and Mind Power
So speaking of mind power, It’s more than a realization that your body is capable of10 times more than your mind would allow. There’s some specific things that you do with your mind. And so what did you learn about how to manage your mind, and control your mind and to strengthen it.
Stew: Well, you know? I think the one thing that people can learn really quickly is that obviously life is stressful. Every day is stressful. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through Hell week–you got bullets flying over your head. Or if you can’t pay the bill at the end of the month. Same stress hormones are flying through your body.
But we can all breath. And we can use breathing to help us… and I know you’re really big on this. You’re probably one of the first guys I really have seen really do real well with teaching this process.
But the breathing system… it’s there for us to use and it just helps you be normal. IN a very high stress situation.
I mean, my wife always knows when something’s wrong if I’m… she catches me going (breathing) Just a big deep breath. And, you know, nothing’s wrong. I’m just… it’s almost like you need to just count to ten before you actually say something sometimes. Somethings on your nerves so you just breathe through it.
And it is. I think breathing is the tool that is going to help you when you have uncontrollable stresses all around you. Whether it’s just irritations or it’s actual stressful situations.
And it helps you engage that thinking part of your brain. Where it will help you get through that situation.
Mark: Right. And the thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that SEALs… those who make it through training, we learn it under pressure. Usually through pass-down or some instructor says, “Hey, you know. This is going to help you get through.”
And all of a sudden you realize that you have to do that, or else you literally will be out of control and you just won’t succeed.
Nowadays they’re teaching it. Now, as you know, and we teach it at SEALFIT. But the average person, they don’t put themselves usually under that type of intense environment where you’ve got mentors around you saying, “Hey Stew, slow down. Take a few breaths through your nose. And get your shit together. And then do that again, and again, and again. And you’ll stay in control.”
That’s why it needs to be practiced I think, as a daily practice almost.
Stew: Oh, absolutely. But, you know what? We can practice that every day. Whether it’s your dog’s annoying you, or your kids or something. Just people around you.
Or how about this one? This is a real important one. Driving. Instead of having road rage because someone pulls in front of you, just take a big deep breath and I usually say to myself, “There’s no threat here.”
And using those words and hearing those words come out of my mouth and into my ears. Gives me another level of “Okay, I can relax. This is not a high-threat situation.”
Mark: Well you just described the first 2 skills of the big 4. First is control the breath so you can control your physiology. That’s to get your autonomous nervous system clicking into that parasympathetic–kinda calm.
And then self-talk, right? Managing that internal dialogue. Cause if you’re freaking out mentally saying, “Oh shit. I’m going to die.” That’s just continuing to perpetuate the stress response.
But the breath comes first. So that’s the key for people to realize, right?
The self-dialogue is going to be much harder to manage if your breath is out of control. So start with the breath and then go to the dialogue.
Stew: Yeah, it’s so useful. So useful. In everything. Whether it’s you can’t sleep at night, or you’re avoiding road rage. So many different skillsets. I mean right before you walk into your house after a busy, stressful day at work. Take a big deep breath. Now you’re ready to engage the kids and the spouse and be a normal human being.
Mark: I love that. So using the breath to transition between focus or between attention And the SEALs use that term, “attention control,” instead of positive self-talk or internal dialogue. They’re all kind of saying the same thing.
Attention control is actually, in my opinion, a much bigger field of study and practice than just self-talk. So the SEALs kind of chose a flawed term in my opinion, for that. But it’s an important thing to talk about. It’s like if you’re going to shift your attention from work to family, that takes a little bit of mindfulness, right? To take that breath and get the self-talk about work and the imagery about work out of your mind. And start preparing for a nurturing family environment.
Stew: Absolutely. And you know, it’s really… it comes down to internal awareness, and external awareness. And also we are all very competitive people typically in this job. In the Special Ops community. Or typically type A, competitive people.
So why not take that same set of energy and mind thought process into your family life too? And I don’t mean it in a bad way. I mean like, “All right, I’m about to walk through this door. I’m going to be the best dad in the world right now.” Boom. Right?
And challenge yourself to be the best dad. Be the best spouse when you walk in the room.
And be fully engaged in that moment. I find it’s invaluable. It really kind of sets me on the right mind. Otherwise I bring in everything into my door. And takes me a while…
Mark: (laughing) Dump that baggage right on your wife. Yeah.
Stew: Yeah. That’s the last thing they wanna see.
Mark: Yeah. And that works both ways. So we can train our family, you know?
Stew: (laughing) Oh absolutely.
Mark: That’s awesome. And you mentioned awareness, so we specifically train awareness in the SEALs. Situational awareness is that awareness. All the details and the nuances and the patterns around you so you can navigate both toward opportunity and away from danger.
And then that internal awareness. That’s the one that attention control, and breath control are so… and imagery… are so much about training that internal awareness. And being able to control the emotions.
I have a sense that most people… Obviously you have injuries at BUD/S… you have people that flat out quit. The people who quit usually quit because they just weren’t there for the right reason, would you agree?
Stew: Yeah, I would say that. You know, and maybe lacked enough preparation to get there. And once again, I was able to see what a graduate from SEAL training looked like before he went to SEAL training. And I think that’s an invaluable addition to people. I mean, one of the big things that we have with our group here is that some of the guys come back, and some of the guys leave to go on to boot camp, and go on to SEAL training. And then the guys that trained with them before, maybe met them before they left, they’re like, “Oh yeah, he just made it through? Huh. That’s really neat.”
Mark: “I could do that.”
Stew: Yeah. Exactly. ‘I can do that.” It takes the impossible out of it. And I think that’s where a lot of people when they fail, they go into BUD/S believing the impossible. “This is an impossible course that no one graduates.”
Mark: “I’m just going to go try this.”
Stew: Yeah, I’m just going to see how far I can go.
Mark: Yeah, that’s kinda what I meant. They really weren’t there… their “why” wasn’t strong enough. If your “why” is strong enough then you investigate every frickin’ angle. You meet SEALs. You attend training like what you do, or SEALFIT. You get a mental image of what that success looks like.
What I was going to say… kinda the corollary of that so not knowing your why or not doing the work, that’s one problem. But the second problem is you could have someone who kind of knows their why and does the work, but they haven’t developed the emotional control.
And so just like sand getting into places that you didn’t even know had places. The instructors are like that as well. And the grueling day-in and day-out nature of the training just wears away at people emotionally. And then they just start to get this marauding sense of fatigue… and that’s when the injuries happen.
So we call them “Quinjuries.” Like, they’re “Quit injuries.” And that’s something for people to realize, there’s the short-term, “Hey, I need these skills right now.” And then there’s the long-term slog. These skills are equally valuable for that. And that’s really more of an emotional thing I think.
Stew: Yeah. You know what? Unfortunately that one just comes with time. I tell people all the time, you have to put in the time to make this work. And to make it work for you.
And that time equals preparation, right? So when do you know you’re prepared? That’s the tough one to answer, you know?
Mark: yeah, I’ve had to literally kick people out of SEALFIT and say, “For God’s sakes, go…”
Stew: (laughing) Go! You’re ready! Exactly.
Mark: And then I’ve had people come to Kokoro camp and they quit Kokoro camp and they already have a contract. And I’m like, “Dude. You’ve gotta go back and tell your recruiter that you’re not taking this contract. You need another 9 months. Divine says you need another 9 months to a year to train.”
And they don’t do it. And then, of course…
Stew: That is the exact same conversations I have. Absolutely. Exact same thing.
Mark: That’s amazing. So how long do you… if someone comes to you as an averagely fit high school football player or hockey player or whatever. Water polo player. And you know they got the stuff. But they just need the work. How long does it normally take? How long do you need to prepare them?
Stew: Well, I’ll be honest with you… if they commit to me at 18, I say, “You know, don’t even go until you’re 20.”
Just statistically speaking teenagers don’t fare well. Those that do are just rock-star, renaissance kids that…
Mark: And they’ve been training since they were 14, right?
Stew: Yeah, they’ve had multiple sports. They are perfect team players. They’re just tough kids that really don’t even know any better.
But typically I would say the average kid that comes in the door at 18, 19. I say, “You know what? Let’s get through high school. Don’t go to a recruiter until you are ready to go to recruiter. One you pass this… once you ace this PST, then we can start talking about going to a recruiter. Cause then that’s still going to give you about a 6 month–maybe even 9 month window before you’re actually at BUD/S to keep preparing.
But you don’t want to use that window for 4 or 5 months just to master the PST and then now you only have a couple of months to prepare for BUD/S which is really the hard part.
So it–like I said–it’s a 2 and through phase for me, Mark. It takes a little while depending on who you are, what you’re coming into, this program with.
We just had a 290 pound college football player start off with us. About 8 months ago. Now he’s 210, and just tearing up the PST. He just went to go talk to a recruiter.
But if he’d a done that right out of college, it probably would have been a different outcome for him.
Mark: It wouldn’t have gone well. So 2 and through is 2 years of preparation. That’s about what I think. Anywhere from a year and a half to 2 years. And you’re right, when a kids 18, 19… My son is 18 and mentally you’re not developed until you’re 24, 25. As a male, anyways.
And so they’re ruled by their emotions. They’re all over the place emotionally. And the hormones are all out of whack. And you’re right, they haven’t learned the life lessons of resiliency and focus and concentration and all those things.
I don’t even know why the Navy recruits… I do know why. Because they can manipulate these kids and fill them full of pride and send them into combat, but the SEALs are a little different obviously. They shouldn’t even take kids.
Stew: Yeah, you know… I mean, statistically speaking that recruiter is not going to see a SEAL graduate. If you think about it. Cause you’re looking at 20% graduation rate on good days and good classes.
You know, so I would say if you’re 18 years old, and you don’t feel like going to college, maybe go to a community college but take an EMT course. Take a scuba course. Get a part-time job. Maybe some manual labor.
Cause here’s where it works in. You work out with me from 6 AM to 8AM. And then you go do a job where it’s manual labor for the rest of the day. That’s about as BUD/S like as you can get.
You don’t want to go workout for a couple hours, take a couple hour nap. And then workout again. Take a couple hour nap. There’s no nap times at BUD/S.
Mark: (laughing) You mean your class didn’t have nap time?
Stew: You gotta keep moving. And some of the best guys that I’ve seen come through this program do the workout with us in the morning, and then they’re going and doing landscaping or construction work the rest of the day. And then they may catch up with something on the evening workout. Just to, you know, try to top something off. Or maybe some mobility work. Or something like that. Swimming.
And just that’s their life before they go. And then when they get to boot camp, and SEAL training they’re saying “Wow. Pretty prepared for this. It’s like a normal day.”
Mark: Totally. Yeah the guys at SEALFIT when we… we don’t have our headquarters anymore, but when we did we had interns and we had locals who would come. And they literally would train all day long. Would come and do the OP WOD in the morning, and then I’d have them do some work, you know? Pretend work. Like clean up and empty trash cans and that kind of stuff.
And then they would ruck up, and they’d go for a 4 hour ruck. And get in the ocean and swim. They were doing this couple of mile ocean swims twice a week. They were literally doing BUD/S training. And when they went to BUD/S they came back and they all did Kokoro camp, and they would come back and be like, “Hell week was easy for us.” And what they meant it wasn’t easy. It was easy for them because they had been there before. Some version of that.
Stew: Yeah. It’s kind of taking yourself to that spot, like we were talking about. You know, it’s just that little spot where you have to really engage that brain to say, “All right. I gotta keep moving.”
And then you learn your body is 10 times stronger than your mind will let it be. But then through that evolution, you then realize your brain is what’s actually doing it. And you’re brain is actually controlling all this. Not necessarily your body. You’re disengaging your brain, obviously.
Mark: Right. Something you said earlier that I kind of want to get into a little bit more because it’s so powerful. And it’s the association of training with a team–especially guys or girls who are far more competent than you.
I’ll give you a good example. My nephew, Dylan, is in BUD/S right now. He came out to SEALFIT about a year and a half ago, saying “hey Uncle Mark, I wanna be a SEAL.” And I’m like, “Uhh, okay.” Cause he was a little bit dumpy and out of shape. He had played rugby in high school… or in college, actually. He was a college grad. He was kind of like–I’m not really sure why he wanted to do this. I think it was because Uncle Mark was a SEAL and so I questioned his why. He was definitely not fit enough to even consider it. And so I basically had that conversation. “Dude just stay here and train. If this is what you want, you’ll find out soon enough whether that’s a false wish–a fantasy or whether it’s real.
And the reason that he would find that out is because all these other guys are serious about it. And so he just was smart enough to just watch and to start training and to keep his mouth shut. And it was a rocky road for the first 9 months, and there were times when I was like, “This guy has no business becoming a SEAL.”
And all of a sudden, like a year into this whole experience he’s out there… he’s like, “Hey, Uncle Mark, I’m going to go run 50 miles tomorrow.” I’m like, “Are you serious?” He goes, “You wanna join me?” I’m like, “No way.” I’m done with that stuff.
But anyway so he goes and does it. No problem. Boom.
And just crushing it and now he’s at BUD/S. He just got through Hell Week, and we’ll see what happens.
Stew: That’s awesome. Yeah, you know what? I think something does click. There’s no magical saying or motivational phrase or poster that’s going to give you mental toughness. You’ve gotta earn mental toughness every day through persistence and good habits. You might have a little motivation at first, but there’s going to be days that you’re not motivated. And you have to rely on your habit and discipline to get you through that day.
And those are the days when you don’t feel like working out and you do it anyway, those days make you a little stronger.
Mark: They do.
Stew: And the make you a little stronger and it builds on itself. And you do that for several months, next thing you know, “Hey, Uncle Mark, I’m gonna go run 50 miles.” And that’s the progression that it has to go. Otherwise if you’re not seeing that type of progression just mentally and physically, you might want to give yourself a little more time.
Mark: And for a person who’s not going into SEAL training, the same thing applies. Wake up and think, “What’s the hardest thing I have to do today?” Do it first and then “How can I make myself uncomfortable right away?”
I mean, that’s why I wake up, do my 300 burpees, and take a cold shower. I’m like, “Okay, phew. Got that under…” That’s like, boom. Now I’m standing on a strong foundation, I’m feeling pretty damn powerful.
And then I go do my workout, right? I know. I have a little bit of luxurious lifestyle when it comes to training. Just like you. Getting paid to train is pretty nice.
Stew: I love it. I love it. Workout and write about it. That’s what I do.
Mark: Well you certainly have found your sweet spot so good job.
Stew: Thank you.
Training Comes Together
Mark: A couple more minutes–I know we’ve already been going long and talked about some really cool stuff. But when you were in the SEALs, what was the most impactful experience or series of experiences that helped forge who you are today? And the way you think?
Stew. Well, let me share this one with you, because I don’t think it necessarily–well I guess it did. Here’s what happened. My swim buddy and I were doing an O2 exhaustion dive. So remember those, right? You just went until you both ran out of oxygen.
And this was a ship attack scenario. So we had to swim for a couple of miles in. Doing turtleback in so we had some oxygen left.
But anyway, long story short, I run out of air underneath the ship…
Mark: Not a good place to be…
Stew: As you know underneath the ship, pitch black. You can’t see anything. But I had the wherewithal to keep track of where things were, and before we got under the ship, I showed my swim buddy my gauge and said, “We’re about out, so stand by, basically, for me to be buddy breathing under the ship.”
And sure enough, we were buddy breathing. Pitch black, underneath the ship. Midnight. Underneath a ship in Norfolk. And let me tell you, that doesn’t get any darker. Than underneath a ship at that time.
Mark: That’s terrifying when those… at night in the cold water under the dark hull of a ship. I mean, I agree with you. There’s only a few places that could be more terrifying and that’s if you’re in a North Korean harbor, or enemy territory…
Stew: yeah, this was a training exercise. But here’s what happened though. We went through the buddy breathing exercise–the cool thing about the Dreger you know, you buddy breath one big inhale and then you exhale it into your system. And you can breathe on it for about a minute before you consume all the oxygen.
So we were able to do that. We would get through. We were buddy breathing on our extraction out of there. Got our limpet up there and we’re buddy breathing out. We’re able to get probably another 500 yards out before he ran out of air.
And I just remember coming up to the surface saying, “Wow. All that training that I’ve been doing for the last…” it was about 4 years now, into the teams. It all came down to that moment almost to where it all worked. Everything worked.
Mark: Team work…
Stew: Yeah, team work. Communication with non-verbal communication skills. Execution. Everything worked. And I just remember walking out of there that night saying, “Wow. That says something.” Just kind of gave me some validation to what hard work and training and repetition to that training can yield.
And that’s what it yielded. It yielded a successful dive, where neither one of us panicked. And we got through the situation and, you know… Breathing was the key, once again.
But yeah, I think that that alone has kind of I’ve taken those… that kind of mindset into my training knowing that this is the training. Trust the training. Trust the program, cause it’s going to yield these results in the end.
And if it doesn’t, you can make modifications along the way, obviously. When you’re able to do that.
But at the same time, just trust the training and go with it. It’s there for a reason, and it’s there… all the rules are written in blood. Follow the rules and they’re there to save your life. And save your buddy’s life.
So I would say that’s probably my neatest experience as close to operational as we were in the ’90s.
Mark: Yeah, I had a few like that which were just unbelievable cool that brought it all together and you’re right. So one of my key messages to folks is if you wanna improve then you gotta train every day. And you gotta train not just your body, but you train your mind. And you train your emotions.
And it’s nice to have a skill. Like some people, fitness is their skill, like the CrossFit community. But it’s nice to have a skill to work on. That’s why I do Tai Chi and to me the advanced movements… you train them every day, and you get better and better and better and better. And so training has to be realistic. It has to be relentless. And you just keep doing it and all of a sudden it all comes together and you’re like “Wow.”
And people look at that and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re a master.” And I’m like “no, no, no, no.” We’re just getting warmed up, right? Cause it could take 50 years and you just keep emptying your cup and you realize that there’s so many things you didn’t see 20 years ago.
Stew: Absolutely. And people think of you as being successful in whatever you are doing. But they don’t see the years of hard work that goes in behind it.
I mean, I’ve been writing for 20 years, now. And I’m still learning. And I’ve really focused on writing articles and I probably do 12 articles a month for military.com and another 14 for another couple websites. And so I’m doing that and then still trying to come up with new ideas for book ideas. And, you know, it’s just something that I enjoy doing.
That along with coaching and training these young guys. And that’s kind of what I write about. So I figure if I’m going to train these guys… if I’m going to write about it I need to be doing it.
And seeing the… what works and what doesn’t. And you know, people have a problem how do you work around that problem?
All of those things come into play with everything.
I tell you one thing I have learned. This was a funny one, you’ll like. We used to do this swim workout on the pool deck. And then you hop out. You swim 200 yards, while the other group is doing burpees. If you do 200 yards, you’re looking at 3 minutes, typically. Average swimmer. About 3 minutes doing 200 yards.
Mark: And that’s 50 burpees that you can get in.
Stew: Yeah exactly. 3 minutes of burpees is no fun. But you know what we all got that year? We got turf-toe from barefoot burpees.
Mark: (laughing) I can believe it.
Stew: Barefoot burpees.
Mark: Is that like an infection in your toenail or something?
Stew: No. It’s just a swelling of your toe joint. So it’s almost like you sprained your big toe. And so yeah, we all got turf-toe that summer.
So anyway, I learned not to do naked burpees. That’s my lesson learned.
Mark: (laughing) That’s an important one. I’m sure you wrote an article about that…
Stew: Well, I said, “lesson learned. No barefoot burpees.”
Mark: That’s awesome.
Before we sign off tell me a little bit about the episode you did on Nat Geo “Fight Science” I think it was called or something like that.
Mark: Yeah, I saw the image… I saw the video and I was just like, “yes!” I was so stoked because a lot of times SEALs go out there and they do stupid things. Any time you see some guy on TV who used to be in the teams, you’re like, “Okay, don’t fuck it up.”
Stew: (laughing) Yeah.
Mark: And you didn’t, man. You represented so well. So how did that come about?
Stew: Well, thank you. I’m always kind of hesitant about what I do on television. And I’ll be honest with you, I could have done much worse that day.
And I was very happy with my performance but they made this little obstacle course for me with a decision to shoot the guy with the gun on the back-end of that obstacle course. So they’d have 2 guys pop up without weapons and one guy pop-up with a weapon, so I’d make a decision on who that was.
But before I did that, they stuck me in a bucket of ice for 65 minutes.
Mark: Totally submerged? Except for your head?
Stew: I think they went about chest high. A little bit higher than my chest because they wanted to see the heat exchange between…
Cause they had this infrared camera for glory shots of like “Look at his body from the heart down. It’s frozen.” Right?
And then so anyway, it was all core. I had a core thermometer in there and I was able to keep my temperature up. Mainly just because of natural adaptations to being cold. If you’re going to SEAL team and then I did SDVs, I mean, it’s all cold. I’ve probably been hypothermic at least half a dozen times throughout this journey.
Mark: You just put an image in my head which I need to get out. So core thermometer? Was that stuck up your butt?
Stew: (laughing) No, no, no, no. It was…
Mark: Thank God. That would have been the hardest part. Trying to keep that thing in there.
Stew: It was even worse. It was a nasal thermometer. So I had to inhale it through my nose and then swallow it…
Mark: Oh, good Lord…
Stew: And it went all the way down into middle of my esophagus I guess. And it was awful. That was the worst part of the whole 65 minutes. Just that.
Mark: Sounds like it.
Stew: But anyway. It was able to engage my core temperature and I was able to keep my core temperature up. Mainly by doing a couple things. Focus, breathing, flexing. Core musculature and trying to keep some movement… to a minimum but trying to keep the middle of my body really activated. And warm. And so that was actually helpful.
But then once I got out and started running around, body temperature plummeted to… I think it dropped down to 95. So it was cold.
But I had kept it up at 99 being still, but once all that cold blood started circulating a little more through my colder extremities then it made my core a little colder.
But anyways, by that time I was on my process of warming up. So it wasn’t that big a deal.
But anyway, I was able to shoot the bad guy at the end of that event…
Mark: So did they baseline you? Did you have to do it before and then you get in the ice for 65 minutes and then you did it again?
Stew: Yes. Before and after and I think I was a second slower.
Mark: That’s incredible.
Stew: Wasn’t too bad. Like I said, I could have done much worse that day. I’m glad I…
Mark: What’s cool about that… back to what you said earlier… your body is ten times more capable if your mind wills it to be so. And so if most people think you can’t spend an hour in an ice bath and even… you’d have to be hauled out of there. You wouldn’t even be able to move.
But what you proved is through willpower and mental skills. Breath. You were able to maintain a 99 degree body temp for an hour and ten minutes in an ice bath. That’s incredible. That’s very cool.
Stew: Well thanks. It was fun. It was worth it.
Mark: Yeah, it sounds fun. It’s one of those, like, stupid human tricks. Just do it and then you move on.
Stew: Like I said, I coulda done much worse. I’m pretty pleased that I didn’t let the community down on that one.
Mark: Yeah, me too. I woulda had to kick your ass.
All right, man. So Heroes for Tomorrow. heroesfortomorrow.org. That’s your program where you train Spec Ops guys. How can people support you?
Stew: Well, you know what? Here’s the thing. It’s call heroesoftomorrow.org. And you know what? I’m not looking for money. I’m looking for time. People who want to donate time to train kids for free. Who want to serve. Military, Law Enforcement, Firefighters. If you’re qualified–you got that capability and you got that desire. I’m happy to share with you what I do. And maybe even help you set up in your area, to do that.
Right now we have, like, 25 different cities in the United States. Where people donate their time to train people. And sometimes it’s every day. Sometimes it’s just on weekends.
Whatever you can do, you know? There’s no set thing. What I do tell people is make it your own workout, so you’re going to go workout anyway. If no one shows up, you haven’t wasted any time. People show up, you got workout partners. And you can kind of coach them a little bit with wat they need to do depending on what they need to do.
And I’m happy to send you some of our programming that we have here to help you prepare people if you need it. And I’m here to help answer questions and stuff if they need to do that too.
Yeah, it’s not a… originally I was a non-profit organization. But I wound up… any money we took in was going to lawyers and accountants. And I was like, “You know what? Screw that. I’m just going to join this community center where I’m a program under their non-profit status.”
And what we do is we put on fundraisers for them. So our Heroes of Tomorrow here is… and they let us work out there for free. And we put on fundraisers for them. So it’s nice little marriage that we’ve had in our local community.
And we’re putting out some really good numbers. And preparing high school, college age kids that come from the area. Some of them move here, just so they can train with us. And they go on and do great things.
So it’s awesome. It keeps me young and gives me a little bit of mission. Plus, gives me ideas to write about, be honest with you. I mean, I benefit from it as well.
Mark: Yeah, for sure. It’s a two-way street.
And if you were an athlete who’s interested in one of these careers, can you find a trainer at that URL? Heroesoftomorrow?
Stew: Sometimes. It just depends on the city. I don’t have… obviously finding people who want to donate time is not the easiest thing. And being qualified to do it–to do this type of training… You know, it’s tough finding.
But at worst you can always email me and ask me. And happy to walk you through the process if you need some help.
Mark: And that email contact is at that URL.
Stew: Yeah. If you go to stewsmith.com and click the free workouts link at the very top. That has a constant list that is always updated. Heroesoftomorrow.org is a website to that I run, but it’s a little more informational that it is all the details. It’s not that active. My stewsmith.com with the free workouts link at the top is going to get you a video that shows what we do. As well as a list of all the different cities that we’re involved in.
Mark: All right. That’s cool. Stew thanks for doing what you do, and I’m sure you’re going to do it for as long as you can. Just like me. (laughing) We’ll be doing… we’ll do another podcast in 20 years. How does that sound?
Stew: I love it. I love it. I think that would be great.
Mark: All right buddy. Well thanks again. Go check out Stew at stewsmith.com or heroesoftomorrow.org. But it sounds like stewsmith.com.
Stew’s got a ton of books. Go check out stew at amazon. And his self-published books… you just want to start training, just grab one of those. We even sell them at navyseals.com. So Stew, thanks very much. Have a great day. Stay focused and everyone out there–do the work. Show up every day. Do something tough. Push the envelope, but do it in a sensible manner. Lots of variety.
And but the key is to be relentless and realistic with your training. Elevate training to the same level of importance as eating and sleeping. And then you’ll be on your way to mastery.
Coach Divine out.