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FitDeck Blog with Founder Phil Black

Can Money Buy Mental Toughness

Posted by Phil Black on August 1st, 2014

Volunteers Needed

The military needs more Navy SEALs - desperately. Even though the number of men volunteering for SEAL training has been rising - thanks to the publicity of recent high profile missions and the “Lone Survivor” movie - the near 80% attrition rate still makes it tough to meet the growing demand for freshly-minted SEALs. Finding a solution to this shortfall is a persistent challenge that is costing the Navy millions of dollars.

To combat this, the Navy has employed two strategies: (1) get more SEAL trainees through the front door, and (2) find a way to increase the yield of successful trainees already at BUD/S without lowering standards or diluting the legendary training experience. Either way, there is a growing need for more SEALs to make it through the back door.



Organizations have been commissioned to poke, prod, examine, and perform elaborate studies to discover what constitutes the perfect Navy SEAL. One such study concluded that “water polo players” were the perfect fit. Two years later it was “wrestlers”, then “swimmers”, then “triathletes”, and so on. Each study searched for a group that possessed the perfect combination of strength, size, endurance, flexibility, skills, vision, aptitude, intelligence, and power.

Once a target demographic was identified, a marketing campaign was launched to capture the attention and imagination of the chosen group. The results disappointed. While the demographic of a typical BUD/S class changed to reflect the targeted group, the attrition rate remained unchanged.

Back to the Drawing Board

Targeting specific “groups” may have been a flawed idea from the start. After all, trainees from all walks of life experience success at BUD/S. There had to be a different approach. Maybe the key was how well prepared trainees were prior to reporting to BUD/S.

It stood to reason that if trainees were taught how to run faster, swim harder, do more pushups and pull ups, and eat better before showing up to BUD/S – that even an un-athletic, former Investment Banker from Yale could survive BUD/S. “Strengthen them and they will succeed” was the mantra. This seemed like a foolproof idea. The Navy doubled down.


After talking to a Master Chief SEAL friend of mine, I learned that the Navy recently established a state-of-the-art training facility/program at Naval Station Great Lakes, IL, where aspiring SEALs are put through extended “physical preparation” that simulates what BUD/S would be like.

The course is known as NSW Prep. Let’s call it BUD/S “Light”. The candidates are instructed on how to run, swim, pull, push, hydrate, and stretch. It’s a comprehensive (and expensive), 8-week program that preps trainees for the rigors of actual BUD/S training. By the time the trainees get to the front door, they're already well ahead of the game.


Now that sounds like a plan! I was so excited to hear this news. Get these guys prepared so that they are ready to run, swim, climb, flutter kick, push, and pull on Day 1. Get them strong, confident, and motivated. Such great conditioning also reduces potential for stress-related injuries.

In the old days, sailors were pulled right off a ship after 6 months at sea and were expected to perform. That’s a tall order. While I admire the sailors that pulled it off, surely creating a fitness factory that cranks out physical studs was the better way to go. So I thought.

Say what?

I asked the Master Chief, excitedly, what impact this new physical preparation and mentorship program had on the attrition rate at BUD/S. I assumed it would drop attrition rates down to 50%? maybe even less? 40%?

Without a second’s hesitation, the Master Chief replied, “Hasn’t changed attrition one bit. We just have a bunch of really strong quitters running around now”.

Wow! This just goes to show that there is an X-factor that extends beyond physical fitness. It’s called Mental Toughness and it’s tough to quantify. It cannot be bought for any amount of money. I explore this X-Factor in-depth in a series of free training videos that you might be interested in. Click below for more information:

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