Recently I took some interest in the military and various armed forces around the world. Ive read some books written by US Marines, SEAL and SAS members. I was very impressed by the training they recieved.

It actually made me wonder - what is the science behind those plans? They seem overly exhausting to me, not leaving enough rest time to allow for muscle regeneration and growth, but those programs still seem to produce, fit warriors. While I am aware that the Hell Week in the SEAL is mostly a psychological test and training, even the regular PT seems really hard, hundreds of pushups, pullups and crunches, and kilometers of running and marching each day.

Could someone make an analysis (or provide a link to one) of a chosen military training program and explain how and why it works so well? One can read about the training plans on various official sites and documents, but Im mainly interested in the more extreme end of the spectrum, like the SEALs physical training regimens.

  • Who said the programs were based in science? In what ways do you think it works well? Also keep in mind the extreme selection bias going on. Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 12:59
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    The scientific basis is assumed by me - do we realy think the army trains its soldiers mindlessly and without research? Anyhow, if we cant get our hands on Army reseach results, Im asking for our SE experts for a scientific analisys of the trainign plan. As for working well - the USA has well trained and very fit soldiers. They are trained this way. Obviously, it must work.
    – K.L.
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 13:07
  • I do not think the Army is evidence-based in all its policies, no. I also urge you to define "fit". Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 14:58
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    The fact that fit people emerge from it doesn't mean that everyone should train like special forces guys. Their programs are intentionally set up to be part fitness training, part team building, and part selection process. Most people would either get sick, get injured, or both, if they tried to train the way elite units train. Also, high-testerone individuals can respond better to a wide variety of training (i.e., simultaneously developing strength AND endurance) where lesser men might need to train those things individually.
    – DavidR
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 20:52
  • Probably less "producing" fit people and more eliminating those not a superfreak
    – Darcys22
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 10:54

2 Answers 2


I cannot provide a link to an official analysis of the training/instruction program of an elite military facility. What I can do is tell you of my own personal experience with it.

You mentioned the lack of regeneration and rest, and you are absolutely right. The idea behind the selection process is to completely maim you psychologically and put you to the test physically, so they can later build you back up as a soldier with the extremely intense memories binding you to your troop. Not only that, but you obviously become extremely attached to your military function. The whole notion of being part of the elite, having passed the selection process gives you a great deal of confidence, pride and trust in your comrades(since they proved themselves tough and resilient just like you). These are all positive features for a soldier, in fact, essential. These selection camps, be it hell week or boot camp, provide all the soldiers with an important common ground, a common achievement if you will. The feeling that unites us soldiers is very strong, and only this ensures a loyal and functioning team, especially under extremely unfavorable circumstances.

Which brings me to a second important aspect. The lack of regeneration is almost mandatory, because these selection programs must simulate intense ongoing stress that a soldier will face in combat. That is why they screw with your mind and play silly games, to make you feel like a tiny little piece of useless stinking garbage. They just want to see how far they can push you, and check your reaction. Sleep deprivation, hunger, cold, fear and constant physical and mental stress is the best way to achieve this.

Bottom line: These methods do not aim to get the best out of your body, they just filter out those men that can take it and not break. Some just do not cope with little sleep. Others get all kind's of physical problems when they work in the cold, don't eat much or cannot warm up properly. Just like not all knees and backs are made to carry around a 50 kg combat pack, and under circumstances, also a wounded comrade on a bar.

My physique has completely changed after 6 months of basic training. I don't have the same peak performance regarding condition (running), long jump, or short distance sprints. The difference is I can do those things under all circumstances. If you don't get injured joints or whatever, you become extremely tough and resistant, but not really a super-athlete. In military terms, soldiers like to compare themselves to machines. Always working, never tired. So their training regimen does work extremely well, depending on what you set out to become: Athlete or Soldier?

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    Yes I can support that conclusion. Regarding your personal training I have some doubts. Since you will always have full control, you cannot even remotely build up the same mental stress. Physically as well, unless you are a freak of nature that can push to exhaustion(toppling to the floor white faced, trembling, vomiting and unable to speak) all by himself. You could simply do high intensity training giving yourself little rest. Sleep only 3 hours each night, approaching 2 if you can. This requires discipline.. you have to suffer, just suffer man! No pain no gain!
    – anaheim
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 11:20
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    @K.L. also keep in mind safety. I wouldn't advise you to do this on your own. In the special forces we were supervised and medics were always ready to intervene.
    – anaheim
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 11:24
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    I see. In that case, I will try to emulate regular PT, while for the really hard, full exhaustion, little to no sleep training, Ill try to take a course with proper instruction and supervision. In Poland there is a civilian event called Selection (Selekcja) which tries to make a taste of special foces boot camp available to anyone tough enough to try it. Thanks for your valueable answers!
    – K.L.
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 11:51
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    @K.L. That's a very reasonable approach, I am sure it will be a valuable experience for you. Wish you all the best, and who knows, you might find yourself enrolling for real. Take care
    – anaheim
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 13:02
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    I can echo @anaheim . I went through the full PT part of pararescue (Air Force) training, and it is just as much mental breakdown/testing as it is physical. Almost anyone can be strong physically, the mental training is much harder.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 17:41

Although I cannot fully answer this question with specific scientific evidence, I can provide input that supports the assumptions of the original question. The original author assumes there is a scientific basis for the physical fitness programs used by the elite fighting units of the United States' military. At least one response called this assumption into question. But this assumption is accurate. Years ago, while at one of the Federal military academies, I can tell you that I saw the countless studies and research that contributed to the a) academies' physical training programs, b) the wider military services' physical training programs, and c) the military's special units' training programs. The military academies and each service had (have?) a small Army (pun-intended) of doctors, dieticians, and health-experts who are paid with your taxpayer dollars to study, research, and implement the programs, but to be fair they are only periodically (think: every few years) updated. But I'm failing to answer the original question here because I no longer have (nor can remember) the specific documents and research I saw, nor the names of the doctors and health-experts from years gone by. I can, however, recommend an Internet search for the various military services' chief medical offices/officers and their web-portals (probably at the Pentagon or St. Louis) and someone there might be able to put you in touch with the right people. I, for one, went through the Ranger training program (and it was hell). As others have noted, it was as much mental as physical. From both personal experience and observation of the science years ago, taxpayers can hopefully sleep just slightly better knowing that, yes, their military uses some type of science, research, and professional process to create the military's physical fitness programs.

  • +1 interesting revelations. Unfortunately I never had the luck to see documents of this type in my countries facility, however I would love to lay eye on those documents. Just out of curiosity.
    – anaheim
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 11:24

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