SFAS: The Downsides of Knowing Too Much

In the modern world of information and opinion abundance, how do we decide what to act on? Although I believe the ease with which we can find answers and info with a simple click of a mouse or the tap of a phone screen is a net positive, it’s not without its downsides.

“Paralysis by analysis” is a real thing that holds many people back from reaching their goals. Since the inception of SFAS in 1988, the attrition rate has held strong at roughly two-thirds—that is, in the average class, two of every three candidates that begin selection end up walking (or hobbling) away without the outcome they’d hoped for. But recently, despite the fact that more information is available on open source than ever before, the attrition rate has been even higher.

What gives? It could be any number of things. We don’t have conclusive data that depicts the exact reasons candidates are struggling as of late. But my work with dozens of aspiring candidates, along with my presence across “one to many” social media platforms provides me with a vast pool of case studies to pick from. From what I’ve gathered, the underlying reason for the low selection rate boils down to this: aspiring candidates spend more time discussing, questioning, reading, watching YouTube, debating, and planning for selection than they do actually doing the things required for success. 

I, along with a multitude of other credible professionals, strive to share actionable, digestible information across many platforms, including articles like this one, Instagram posts, podcasts, Reddit, and through DMs. But no matter which way you slice it, knowing more isn’t the same as doing more.

Gaining knowledge and understanding of important concepts is great—I would never suggest that learning isn’t valuable—but what many people fail to remember is that you won’t become a better runner by reading running books, watching running youtube videos, listening to running podcasts, or buying a running program. You’ll become better at running by, well, running. You don’t become a rucking master by fiddle fucking around with your ruck set up or debating about which boot is optimal for performance and blister mitigation. You become a rucking monster by doing the things that rucking monsters do.

The work must be done, and for most people, this work will be harder than anything they’ve ever done. There are no shortcuts. The failures must be learned from. The setbacks must be bounced back from. 

SFAS began decades before the age of information abundance. I do not have statistics on specific attrition rates of the earlier classes, but I do know this: plenty of people were able to get it done without reading studies, watching youtube videos, or debating semantics on Reddit. They were likely training in accordance with what they thought they’d be tested on.

Now, every candidate in selection has, at the very least, a general idea of what skills and abilities they’ll be assessed on when they go. Most candidates know what’s going to occur down to the day. Yet here we are—just as many, if not more, walking away disappointed.

This article will highlight the most important aspects of preparation for selection. It is not a tactical article. I have many of those, a few of which are linked throughout. The main purpose herein is to provide a loud and clear reminder to stop scrolling, stop marinating, stop second guessing, and get out there and put the work in on that which matters most. 

#1: Rucking Ability 

The one thing that all successful candidates have in common is that they perform well under a ruck. Not all roads lead to Rome when it comes to rucking, but plenty of them do. Some approaches work better than others, and different individuals respond well to a variety of rucking frequencies, intensities, and volumes. But one thing reigns supreme: to become a selection-worthy rucker, you need to ruck consistently. 

Believe it or not, I occasionally get pushback when I recommend rucking to prepare for a ruck based selection; I see claims like “you can get better at rucking without rucking,” and while I agree on a technical sense—you can, in fact, get better at rucking without rucking—you will not be a rucking monster without rucking consistently. Genetically gifted endurance athletes aside, everyone finishing in the top 20% of the ruck gates and finding 8/8 land nav points likely rucked frequently during their preparation. Those who blade run may not have rucked much—but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the top performers in SOF (and elsewhere in life) don’t blade run. They strive to be the best. And being the best takes hard, consistent work.

If you’re fine with finishing in the top 50% and “flying under the radar,” sure, perhaps you don’t need to ruck much. But the process by which one becomes a top performer in any discipline is where the satisfaction lies. So whether you respond best to rucking once a week, twice a week, or three times a week; whether you do long, slow rucks, shorter, faster rucks, or a combination of both, you need to ruck. Your litmus test is simple: am I getting better at rucking? If yes, continue. If no, adjust fire and continue putting in the work.


#2: Middle Distance Running Speed 

Although your running speed is less important than your rucking prowess, you’ll still need to meet a certain running standard. Part of the mystique of SFAS is that no one knows for sure what the exact running pace standards are, nor do they know exactly what distances they’ll need to run throughout gate week. But we all know that being slow is a non-starter.

If you’re running 8-minute miles for a 5-mile, you need to get faster. 7:30 miles are probably fine, but for peace of mind, I suggest shooting for the ability to hold sub-7:30 for 5 miles, even on a bad day. To improve your running, you need to run a lot. Despite the virtually endless information available on running, many people still decide to skip steps as a futile means of expediting the process.

Don’t skip steps. If you’re not a natural runner, you can’t just become one without following a process. Spend a few months running easy, then start running faster. When you’re getting close to selection, most of your running should be fast—repeats/intervals and tempo/threshold work should be your main focuses. You can still run easy if desired, but you’ll also need to remember that running isn’t the only form of foot movement in which you’ll need to be proficient. So plan accordingly. The litmus test is the same as rucking: am I getting faster? If so, continue. If not, adjust fire.


#3: Calisthenics Proficiency

Candidates need to meet a certain standard for hand release push-ups, pull-ups, and plank duration. The main considerations for calisthenics improvement are:

  • Lose excess body fat: If you’re higher than ~15% body fat, you can stand to get leaner. When done in a reasonable, methodical manner and with sufficient protein intake, strength can be maintained throughout this process. Being just as strong at a lighter body weight will improve relative strength, thus making calisthenics easier.
  • Practice: You should be doing these movements weekly, likely multiple times. Some people are calisthenics masters and don’t require frequent calisthenics work. Many people are average, while others really struggle. If you identify with the latter, doing calisthenics several days a week is often the best approach. As a rule of thumb, the more frequently you do calisthenics, the lower the intensity (proximity to failure) your sets should be. In most cases, high-frequency, lower-intensity training (any “greasing the groove” method) with occasional bouts of higher-intensity work is effective. Think of calisthenics as a skill. To improve at any skill, you need to practice frequently.

You do not need to be a calisthenics master to succeed. If you can confidently do ~55 HRPU and ~12 pull-ups with pristine form on any given day, you can sleep soundly knowing you have wiggle room for “bad days” or getting “no-repped.” It takes time to build calisthenic proficiency, so start early if you’re behind the power curve.


#4 Grip Strength-Endurance

What many candidates fail to accept is that the team week events are designed for everyone to fail at one point or another, regardless of fitness level. You’re being assessed on your physical capabilities, but also on how you respond to failure and navigate struggle. It’s no secret you’ll have to carry loads for long periods of time in your hands. But if you lack grip endurance compared to other candidates, you’ll stand out, but not in a good way.

Grip strength and endurance is painfully simple to train, yet it’s a common subject of mental masturbation. The recipe is simple: hold onto a variety of things weighing a variety of different loads using a variety of different grips. You do not need to be able to carry 200 lbs in each hand for 20 yards. You need to be able to carry 45-55 lbs for several kilometers, several days in a row, with periodic rest breaks. In other words, grip endurance beats raw grip strength. 

Farmer’s/suitcase carries, plate pinch carries, captains of crush grippers, and dead hangs should be staples. You don’t need to put yourself through mock team week events in training. There’s a difference between testing and training. Elite marathon runners don’t run a marathon every week to train for a marathon, yet they still put up winning times. Train grip frequently, but be reasonable with it. There's no perfect formula, but if you’re not carrying things or training your grip at least weekly, you’ll struggle. 

#5: Full Body Strength

Selection is an endurance-biased endeavor, but it doesn’t end there. You could run 5:00 miles and ruck 8:00 miles, but if you’re overly weak, you won’t last. Strength training needs to be a constant, especially in the months leading into your final push. Developing a base of full-body strength well before you’re 2-3 months out from selection is the best approach. This will allow you to focus more on running and rucking endurance in the months leading in, while maintaining your strength foundation.

To get stronger, you can follow essentially any strength program in existence. Because most strength programs only program for strength, I personally recommend following more of a hybrid program. There are many hybrid programs out there, but most of them are geared towards the genetic elite or the chemically enhanced, and some of them are so excessive that they wouldn’t even work for the enhanced population.

Jacked Gazelle and T-850 are my two hybrid programs, both of which include training for strength, as well as endurance in a way that’ll lead to actual improvements, not just extreme fatigue. These are not selection prep programs. They’re intended to be followed prior to a true selection prep.

Whichever route you choose, the following movement patterns must be prioritized: squat, hinge, vertical pull, horizontal pull, vertical press, and horizontal press. The tools you use for each of these movements are not overly important, so long as they’re done in a progressive, sustainable manner. If you love barbells, use them. If barbells destroy you, use something different. You don't need to be a competitive powerlifter, but you need to be strong.


#6 Durability

Durability is required to do all of the above, day after day, without injury or significant drop-off in performance. If you’re training appropriately, you’ll become more durable by default. The body adapts to small increases in stressors over time, but it fails to adapt to drastic increases in stressors over time. While certain “bulletproofing” exercises and mobility drills can be useful, they pale in comparison to incrementally increasing volume and intensity to your training, resting when necessary, and adjusting variables as needed. 

Some people are naturally more or less durable than others, but in my experience, the least durable individuals are what I call “Mobility Kings,” or those who try to become more durable by spending more time on mobility, warming up, and “pre-hab” than actual training. There’s nothing wrong with doing some extra mobility work, but if you’re spending just as much time (or more) on mobility as actual training, your priorities are skewed. You don’t become more durable from spending 45 minutes warming up and 30 minutes training. You don’t become more durable by doing bird dogs and cat-cows till you can’t feel feelings. You become more durable by running, rucking, lifting, sleeping, eating, and repeating.

#7: Your Character

Character encompasses multiple facets of non-physical assessment at selection. Your overall presence, self-confidence, decision-making skills, land navigation performance, proficiency in a team environment, attention to detail, and ability to manage extreme stress are all components of your character. While the common adage, “be a good dude,” has worked for thousands of candidates in the past and it may work for you, taking it upon yourself to address your character flaws is not something to brush under the rug.

Most people are lost when it comes to how to build character, and in many cases, they don’t even know it’s possible. Think of all character traits as character skills. Like any skill or ability, character can be cultivated and refined over time. These skills extend far beyond selection, the Q course, and being a Green Beret. These are life skills that will directly influence your trajectory in all domains.

Glaring character flaws are more prominent today than they were back in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s when we didn’t have the ability to live our lives online, disconnected from in-person human interaction. Reading about it, thinking about it, chatting online about it may provide valuable insight, as long as you remember that character is built by doing hard things, making sacrifices, getting out into the world and interacting with live humans, and self-assessing your performances in these situations.

For more on the importance of character and how to build it, check out the following two articles: This one references how character relates to team week success, and this one provides mindfulness prompts to ensure you’re doing the right things in your daily life to cultivate mental fortitude.


#8: Land Navigation Proficiency

As of late, land nav is responsible for the failure of more candidates than any other phase at SFAS. The irony is, we have more resources available for land nav now than we have in years past. Why do so many people struggle with land nav? While there are many factors involved, I believe it’s mainly due to the fact that if we so choose, we can spend virtually our entire day sitting indoors and looking at screens.

Spending time outside, even if you’re not in the middle of the woods using a map and a compass to get from A to B, will subconsciously make you more aware of your surroundings. Your sense of direction will be better. Your ability to identify patterns and tendencies will improve. These effects may be subtle, but when compounded over months, years, and decades, they add up. Those who grew up in rural or wooded areas always fare better than city kids in land nav. When you’re locked inside behind a computer screen, and your “outside” is walking to your car or walking while scrolling, you’re habituating living in a 2’x2’ bubble. When you’re thrown into the woods to fend for yourself, you’re bound to crumble.

But beyond spending more time outside in general, it should come as no surprise that in order to improve land nav, you have to do it. Reading and learning about it is certainly part of the process, but it’s only the first step. As is the case with any skill, knowing how to do it encompasses actually doing it live. The TF Voodoo land nav muster is the gold standard, but there are countless other opportunities to do this, at least CONUS. Check out this article for more on building your land nav confidence, and this one for tactical land nav tips.


#9 The integrity of your “why”

Having a strong reason to be there is a deciding factor for many candidates. No one in their right mind would subject themselves to the rigors of selection unless they had a rock-solid reason for it. You have to want it. But beyond that, you have to have a reason for wanting it. Everyone’s will be different, so spending time on forums asking other people what their “why” is or was is not a worthwhile activity. 

The weakest “why” is usually along the lines of “killing bad guys,” being a “cool guy,” and “growing long hair and beards”. These are almost never strong enough, mostly because they’re essentially irrelevant (you’ll find out why when you get there). If you have a strong “why” to fall back on when things get hard and the gumption to quit arises (it likely will several times throughout selection and the Q course), you’ll be able to remind yourself why you’re there, and quitting will suddenly become a non-option.


In Closing

Focusing on the things that truly matter and getting out there to do the work will take you further towards your goals than reading, learning, arguing, negotiating, marinating, and second-guessing. Selection is hard, but it’s doable. Whether you know what to expect or not, you still have to show up and prove your worthiness. So formulate a plan, get your mind right, and go do it. Adjusting fire along the way is fine, but adjusting fire every week based on a new thing you learned about or heard about will keep you at square one. 

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