Athletes & Celebrities

Get Seal Team Strong and Ripped

The Ultra-Hardcore Training of Sealfit gives civilians a glimpse into the life of the world's most elite fighting force.

by CSCS
Get Seal Team Ripped

By the time a U.S. Navy SEAL makes it into combat, he is a finely honed instrument of war. He’s a ruggedly built, deadly practitioner of combat who is unflinching in the face of danger. His archetypal superhero physique speaks to the tremendous physical strength, stamina, and durability that are emblematic of these elite operators. Before a SEAL is made, however, he must be unmade— deconstructed, one humbling training exercise at a time.

Yet it is not the sets and reps alone that test a SEAL’s constitution and reveal his mettle. It is also those moments of fatigue when perseverance wars with capitulation, when the realities of human limitation must be consciously and repeatedly dismissed for the sake of mission. And here, in the quiet, well-to-do enclave of Encinitas, CA, civilians and aspiring SEALs alike get to fight those battles every day. Welcome to SEALFIT.

MORE THAN TRAINING

SEALFIT’s 20,000-square-foot training complex lies just a block away from the Pacific Ocean and is a short drive from Naval Base Coronado, whose shores are the first stop for SEALs-in-the-making. The complex features housing for clients, a yoga studio, an expansive flat-top area flanked by pullup towers for outdoor training (the Grinder) and a 1,000-squarefoot box for CrossFit and TRX (uscrossfit.com) — none of which will be wasted today. It’s 0630 in this sleepy suburb, the humid, salty air carrying the faint sound of waves kissing the beach.

Navy SEAL pushups

But as a small white-teed army of participants (read: willing victims) prepares for Day 3 of its 16-day residential Special Ops Immersion Academy, that serenity is replaced with the shuffling of boots, the dropping of barbells, and the audio-caffeinated musical stylings of Rob Zombie.

The man running the show is retired Navy SEAL Mark Divine, author of 8 Weeks to SEALFIT, which landed on the New York Times best-seller list earlier this year. He spent 20 years as a SEAL, retiring as a commander in 2011, but is now fully entrenched in the business of helping others realize their full human potential. Divine, 51, is tall and lean but more approachable than you might expect from such a tested warrior. The physical component, he assures us, is just a small part of it.

“SEALFIT training is really about developing five mountains,” says Divine, who spent time as a CPA before answering his calling as a SEAL at age 25. “Physical, mental, emotional, intuitional, and spiritual. We integrate aspects of these five into the workout. You’re not just working out. You’re not just developing physically. You’re developing as a whole person.”

SEAL Team standards chart

Still, the physical results are quickly apparent. Depending on the program, Divine says, participants tend to walk away from SEALFIT carrying five to 10 pounds more muscle and looking leaner than ever—in days or weeks.

ON THE GRINDER

After some initial breathing drills, yoga, and mobility work, the Grinder rumbles to life with the prescribed “warmup” of 30 sandbag getups and stepups using a 70-pound sandbag and a 24-inch box, which is about as awkward as it sounds. But SEAL training, by design, is expansive and covers multiple physical domains. It’s not enough to be able to swim farther and faster than the other guy. You have to be exceptional at everything to be of any use to a SEAL team.

“SEALs operate in very small units, deep behind enemy lines, in all terrains in rough environments,” says Divine. “You have to have a very broad athletic skill set. If you come into SEALs as a bodybuilder or an endurance runner, you won’t succeed until you morph into a more hybrid athlete. You need the strength, stamina, and functional mobility. It’s the training that weeds out those who can’t adapt. It is no different here at SEALFIT.”

Yes, this multifaceted approach is aesthetically and evidentially productive for most athletes (see: CrossFit), but it just plain makes for a more durable athlete: “Durability increases survivability in the world of the SEAL and therefore cannot be overlooked,” Divine says.

Beau Burgener was one of the first men to go through SEALFIT and then go on to become a SEAL. He’s still heavily involved in developing the school’s programming.

“On the physical side of things, it teaches you to embrace the suck and get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Burgener says. “It teaches you to push the boundaries and shows you what your body is capable of handling.”

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