- The Optimal Performance Diet Revealed
The energy and restoration demands of the SEALFIT training program require an optimized, high-performance diet. Our recommendations include certain tweaks to what is popularly known as the Paleo diet. In this article, we’ll explore this crucial topic both in terms of the underlying science and thought as well as practical advice on how to make SEALFIT fueling both doable and affordable.
Understanding the Paleo Diet
If the Paleo diet (aka the Caveman diet or low-inflammation diet) sounds like a bookstore gimmick to you, I’d ask you to consider some of the historical facts supporting it before making any assumptions about what it is and whether it might work for you or not.
In a paper on “evolutionary health promotion,” published in 2001 in Preventative Medicine, researchers laid out the essential argument for how the changes wrought in our food supply through the agricultural revolution and subsequently the industrial age have been a root cause of the type 2 diabetes epidemic (and other chronic diseases) that is laying waste to the greater American population and costing us roughly $147 billion dollars annually.
From the research paper:
Since the appearance of behaviorally modern humans perhaps 50,000 years ago and particularly since the Neolithic Revolution of 10,000 years ago, cultural evolution has proceeded more rapidly than has genetic evolution, thereby producing ever-greater dissociation between the way we actually live and the lifestyle for which our genome was originally selected.
This discordance fosters the chronic degenerative diseases that cause most morbidity and mortality in contemporary affluent nations.
A logical model for prevention research (and, potentially, for health recommendations) is an amalgamation of the lifestyles prevailing among early, behaviorally modern humans, before agriculture accelerated genetic-cultural evolutionary divergence.
Wander the rows of a modern day supermarket and it starts to makes sense: most of the “foods” jammed onto the shelves—in supermarkets, there are an average of 43,884 products you can choose from—are designed so for unnatural objectives, like long shelf lives and being cheap to produce (and hence more profitable).
As my buddy Robb Wolf will tell you, a key target in industrial food-making is also “hyper-palatibility”—foods that are processed to trip pleasure circuits in your brain that will drive you into shoving more and more of the crap into your mouth. In a disturbing New York Times Magazine story on the modern science of food processing, the journalist handed a food scientist two bags of store-bought food to talk about.
From the article:
He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”
In my early days serving on the Teams, I had to come to grips with the ramifications I was enduring because I had adopted a bachelor diet that was more about convenience than it was nutrition. Pizza, milk, beer and other junk food. You may know the drill. I was fully committed to the SEAL mantra that The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday. But I wasn’t doing myself any favors with the diet I was eating. I woke up most days feeling like crap. I’d burn some of that feeling off with a 2-hour workout, but then I’d crash after lunch. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was on the energy roller coaster that is caused by the massive insulin spikes that a diet high in processed food triggers.
It was on a deployment to the Philippines that I started to figure things out: Shifting to a diet of fresh chicken, fish and vegetables, the protein all range-fed or hand-caught. I immediately felt better. I looked around and noticed that the local citizenry looked amazingly healthy compared to what you might see in the States.
It was this dual experience that set me forward onto a new path of thinking about food and food’s relationship to performance and health.
Tips for Creating an Optimal Performance Diet
Follow these simple guidelines to get on the right path:
Eliminate sugar. Junk food, soda, products made with with high-fructose corn syrup.
Remove grain-based products from your diet at least 80% of the time. Many don’t think of cereal, bread and pasta as processed foods, but that’s exactly what they are. Supplant these foods with fresh vegetables and some seasonal fruits. Nuts and seeds are good too.
Eliminate cow’s milk, highly-processed cheeses and crappy yogurt. You may not be lactose-intolerant, so settling into a diet that has some dairy (ideally organic, full-fat grass-fed milk, cheese or yogurt) will fit fine into your plan, but the best way to understand how you’re physically reacting to a food is to remove it for a period of 30 days and then test it out to see how it affects you.
Eliminate most starches and legumes (beans, white potatoes, corn). Again, change these out for fresh vegetables and fruits. Sweet potatoes are okay. Eating rice the way you might a condiment is OK too.
Get rid of processed vegetable oils. Cheap vegetable oil is a primary ingredient used in the processed foods industry. As we’ll explore in more detail in this series, this is one of the culprits involved what can be termed “a high-inflammation” diet. Coconut oil is one of the best alternatives. Other good fats to install into your fueling plan are avocados, almonds and macadamia nuts.
Train hard and eat smart.
- Is It Time to Overhaul Your Diet?
Overhauling your diet is not an easy task—the availability of cheap food and the ingredients used to make that food make it tough. Consider the statistics that shed light on the uphill battle: some 45 million Americans each year try a diet, spending an estimated $33 billion on weight loss products.
So in winning the war in your mind first, it’s critical to have a visceral grasp on your why.
Why Would You Want to Overhaul Your Diet in the First Place?
Here are the core reasons why it would be worth your time overhauling your diet.
Improve Your Body Composition
Improving body composition means either shredding off unwanted body fat or it means increasing lean muscle mass. Or both.
Improving body composition drives a large part of the fitness magazine industry. Editors put models with great abs on the cover because they know it boosts how many magazines they’ll sell. The primary interest here, obviously, is the “I want to look good in bed” interest. Or look good in a way to attract potential mates. Hey—there’s nothing wrong with this. Evolutionary biologists will be happy to explain to you how all-powerful the drive to procreate is.
Reducing the Risk of Disease
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports that too much body fat can cause or contribute to the following severe health problems: Heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, infertility. A person who is overweight, with the chronic cellular inflammation that is associated with metabolic problems, can decrease these risks in tremendous ways. In other words, everything your grandmother told you about why eating well can make you healthy is basically true. I’m not telling you anything new here.
Genes—the hand of cards you were born with—are the keyboard that your diet plays upon. Some folks can eat a bad diet and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day until their 90. Others who follow the same routine might have a heart attack at 38. You can get a decent idea of where things stack up for you by looking up your family history.
Founder of the Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears, was motivated to apply his biochemistry and medical training toward figuring out this interplay because his father and uncles died from heart disease, all around the age of 50. “I knew I was a ticking time bomb,” he says. Sears ultimately embarked on a journey to try to repress the heart-disease genes he was born with by eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet. It’s working so far: Sears is now 70 years-old.
Fitness and Athletic Performance
Generally speaking, athletic superstars are athletic superstars not because of what they eat but the genes they were born with. Training is a help, and so is good coaching and other factors. Only in recent years have top athletes in major sports been working with nutritionists in droves. There may be a lot of reasons why this is so, but surely one of them is that some athletes have dismissed the need to worry about diet as long as they exercise a lot.
The question that we really want to drill into is this: Can nutritional dieting be used to improve physical performance? The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes. Research is now clearly showing that by eating a diet that takes it easy on your insulin system, you can, over time, transfer a sugar-burning metabolism into a fat-burning metabolism—allowing you to access stores of body fat for fuel rather than being restricted to the limited supplies of liver and muscle glycogen.
Do you have a problem with energy and mood throughout any given day? Waking up tired, going to bed exhausted, and just grinding through the day?
If you do, know this: It doesn’t have to be that way. By overhauling your diet, resetting your metabolism and building in a sustainable approach to food, you can look forward to waking up refreshed and full of energy—an energy that stays high throughout the day, until you start to wind down for a night of good, replenishing sleep.
People tend to think of Navy SEALs as physical studs capable of incredible acts of stamina, endurance, and all-around athletic prowess. They would be right. But the work also requires superior levels of cognitive performance—even when it’s pitch black out, 0300 hours and you’ve been going all-out for hours or days. (Attend one of our SEALFIT Academies or camps, and you’ll notice how much emphasis we put on mental acuity and high-performance thinking in stressful situations).
Poor nutrition practices can sap brain cells of the nutrients needed to perform routine mental functions, like making good decisions and committing things to memory. Good nutrition, on the other hand, can have you humming along at high-speed even late in the afternoon after a long, challenging schedule of work.
Emotional resilience is the heart of mental toughness. In our Unbeatable Mind Academy, we teach a process for changing mental habits so that dark thoughts and emotions don’t pull you under water into the jaws of the Fear Wolf. By interdicting these thoughts and feelings through a process of awareness and redirection, we learn how to transmute the energy of these feelings from a negative to a positive.
There’s a lot of biology involved here as well and food is a major player. When things get tough, if blood glucose is low and you don’t have the metabolic machinery to access alternative fuel sources, a negative, self-defeating thought can trigger your brain to start shutting things down. Perceived exertion goes way up, thanks to this action by the brain, and everything feels a lot harder.
The option of quitting begins to look good, as you weaken physically, mentally and emotionally. While there are ways to override these forces through training, if your nutrition was optimal—you will have a lot more psychological staying power in the bank to draw upon.
These are the major reasons why you might be inspired to do the work to replace a scattershot, junky diet with a high-test, sustainable nutrition program. So, what is your why? What’s most important to you on that list?
There is no one perfect nutrition plan that suits everyone, so if you want to perform at your peak you need to use your own body-mind as a test lab. I hope you take your fueling to another level and we stand by to help. In the meantime, train hard, stay focused and eat for performance, not just pleasure!
- 10 Ways to Tell How Fit You Are
When you see a high-level SEALFIT athlete in a training session or during a challenge event, one of the things that often surprises an outsider is how effortless they make it look. Of course, it’s anything but—applying a high level of mental control, stamina, work capacity and functional mobility through a heavy-duty grinder session takes that hard-charging athlete to the edge and beyond.
The reason it looks so fluid and controlled to the outsider is that the trained SEALFIT athlete has fully integrated the foundational principles of mental, emotional and intuitional development into the training. This allows them to self-induce a flow state. He or she is a master of the internal domain and it shows up as fluid, effortless movement in the outer domain. But in order to master the internal domain through SEALFIT training, the basics of the physical training itself must first be mastered.
One thing that is important to note is that WODs (workout of the days) are broken into three levels: On-Ramp, Basic Training, and Advanced Operator WODs, relying on the crawl, walk, and run approach to training we relied on in the SEAL Teams. In other words, in order to run, you have to be able to walk, and in order to walk, you have to be able to crawl.
Even the most athletically-advanced newcomers to SEALFIT will start at the beginning—with an On-Ramp training cycle or in our US CrossFit affiliate programmed workouts.
There are several reasons for this, but first, let’s reverse engineer that state of flow we see in the elite SEALFIT athlete.
10 Domains of Being Physically Fit
Someone who has been dedicated to the training program for many months or years has been systematically, on a daily and weekly basis, tasked with improving each of 10 domains of physical and mental fitness. Let’s go through what those 10 domains are.
Endurance is the collective ability of the body’s systems to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. It all starts with breathing, getting air into the lungs, and oxygen into the blood. To improve your performance in distance running, swimming, cycling and rucking, your training needs to improve the efficiency of all the systems involved in cardiovascular endurance.
Stamina and endurance are not the same things. Endurance is about processing oxygen; stamina is the ability of the body to process energy. Stamina is how long muscles can perform at maximum output before fatiguing. Anyone who has taken on one of our crucible challenges, like a 20X or Kokoro, knows how important stamina is. Building physical stamina is a step in cultivating more mental toughness as well.
Strength is the ability of muscles to apply force and overcome resistance. In SEALFIT training we seek relative strength in a manner that makes one able to carry adequate load for your frame, and to be an effective teammate (by hauling a wounded comrade out of a danger zone for instance). Strength can be benchmarked with 1 and 3 round max efforts in classic power lifts such as the deadlift, back squat, and bench press. Further, developing strength gives us greater confidence and mental focusing power.
We define flexibility as maximizing the range of motion of your muscles and mobility of your joints. If you can’t get below parallel in a squat, you may be missing range of motion not just in your hips and knees, but also in your ankles. Flexibility work is often overlooked or not considered as important. Our view is that to perform effectively over a lifetime at work and play, we must develop adequate flexibility and mobility. Flexibility allows us to run, jump, climb, lift, heave, pull and throw without springing a gasket and getting injured. It also leads to greater strength and stamina gains because we are able to recruit energy systemically. Warrior Yoga is our unique flexibility and mental training system that compliments SEALFIT WOD training.
Power is defined in physics by the equation Power = Force x Velocity. It means how much weight you can move and how far you can move it. Power is developed when we move a load at increasing speeds, such as with Olympic lifting movements, like the snatch and clean-and-jerk. Moving weight from ground to overhead is a full body effort which requires significant power input.
Your power will be affected by strength, mobility, speed, agility and coordination. It is probably redundant to say that this type of ballistic power movement develops mental agility and focus, furthering our efforts toward integrated training.
Speed is the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement. Sprinting is an obvious example of speed. Speed is important to the SEALFIT athlete if we need to get to or away from the enemy fast. The “enemy” can be a crisis (imagine outrunning the Thai Tsunami) or a bad guy coming toward you. If you are a sports athlete speed training takes on a different hue. At any rate, speed work also builds durability – just note the different body types of an Olympic sprinter versus a marathon runner for proof.
Coordination is defined by how well you take several movement patterns and align them into a distinct movement. The snatch is an excellent example of a movement that requires a high-level of coordination to do well and at your potential. Greater coordination means greater grace and less prone to injury.
Agility is the ability to minimize the transition time from one movement pattern to another. We are actively training agility when we perform movements like burpee-box jumps or burpee pull-ups. Shuttling gear between and over obstacles while dodging enemy shooters takes agility. Someone who has physical agility will tend to display mental agility as well – another indication of the tight integration of the mind-body system.
Balance is the ability to control placement of the body’s center of gravity in relationship to its support base. When an Olympic lifter is trying to secure a new PR, you’ll visually be able to see the importance of balance and counter-balance at work. Balance is often taken for granted, but, in fact, it’s crucial to everyday life.
Falls are a leading cause of death in unintentional injuries, according to the CDC. Balance can be trained, and does not come naturally to many non-natural athletes, something that we notice doing standing balancing poses in warrior yoga.
Accuracy is the ability to control movement in a given direction at given intensity. When you’re performing a gym exercise like wall balls—dropping into a front squat with a medicine ball in your hands and against your chest—then explode upward and thrust the ball toward a target above you on the wall—you’re putting into play your accuracy skills. As we learn to be more accurate with our external movements, we also refine the accuracy of our thinking.
Clearly there is overlap between these domains and when we train one, we are training a host of them. Also, from an SEALFIT Unbeatable Mind perspective, we leverage the physical skills to strengthen our mental skills, leading to the integrated performance of a trained SEALFIT athlete.
If the training program you’re currently utilizing fails to effectively incorporate each of the above domains of physical and mental development, then you are missing an opportunity to enhance your performance and gain control over your personal flow-activator. It could also open you to the risk of injury and those of you who are warrior or industrial athletes such as a firefighter, or police officer—that can be a matter of life and death.
- 3 Daily Steps You Can Take to Achieve Your Goals
3 Daily Steps You Can Take to Achieve Your Goals
It’s easy to lose sight of your goals in the grind of everyday life. We typically set goals as an emotional reaction to disappointment with where we are now, without considering the logistics of getting things done. And it probably doesn’t help that our biggest cultural push for ambition (the time from Christmas to New Year’s Day) is also our culture’s biggest chunk of time off; a lot of us do most of our goal-setting in an environment far removed from our regular stresses and commitments.
Don’t get discouraged. Get smart.
If you’re like most people, you have a chance every day to chase your dreams at least a little bit. Here are three steps to achieving your goals that will help build the new you even within the confines of the current one:
Look at the Margins
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
You’re probably not sitting on a mountain of free time, and you can’t always rearrange your entire life to grant yourself the time you need for single-minded focus on your goals. Not to mention that well-rounded people usually have targets in several different areas of life, all competing for attention. But if you tinker around enough, you can usually find a little space here or there to squeeze in time chipping away at your obstacles.
Struggling to find time for fitness? Dropping just one TV show from your rotation adds an hour a week or more. Trying to write a novel around a full-time schedule? Bring your laptop to the break room. Make your lunch or brew your own coffee, and you’ve got an extra $50 a week for your savings. Take a microscope to your life and you’ll be amazed at what you find.
Remind Yourself Why
One key step to reaching your goals is to remember that It’s always easy in the beginning, when it feels like a bold new direction. That first longing look at the mountaintop is still fresh in your mind, and you’re probably not even aware of how hard the climb will be. And even when you’re doing it for the right reasons, the good-for-yous from outside observers are bound to put a little wind in your sails.
In the middle, though, reality starts to set in. Any ambitious goal is hard enough on its own; you’ve got to fit it into the life you’ve already made for yourself. And when the inevitable setbacks come, and the target is even further away than it was the last time you looked up, the pressure to settle for a lesser accomplishment, or to give up entirely, can feel overwhelming. It’s important, when you start feeling this way, to make sure you remember why you started.
Depending on your goal, there are lots of little ways to remind yourself why you’re after it. Drop your clothes off at the thrift store; stop to tell someone it’s because they’re too big now. Take a second look at the mailbox once you’ve emptied it, because that’s what getting out of debt looks like. Post a recruitment flyer from the unit/branch/department/company you’re looking to join somewhere you can see it multiple times per day. In just a few minutes or even seconds, you can get yourself back in that first-day mindset and get back at it with renewed vigor.
Take Care of Yourself
If you’re a SEALFIT kind of person, you go and get. Nothing pleases you like hard work at work worth doing, and you’ve got a laser-like focus on the end goal.
There’s a thin line, though, between laser focus and tunnel vision. Your goals are a means to a fulfilling life; working hard to the detriment of your physical, emotional, spiritual or family health destroys the meaning of your accomplishments. And past a certain point, risking illness or injury to keep working jeopardizes your success.
So take some time for family and friends. Eat well, but eat good once in awhile. Get enough water, and enough sleep. Laugh. Pray, or meditate, or contemplate. Know the difference between when it hurts and when it hurts. Your shot at the brass ring will come when it’s time.
- How Navy SEALs Conquer Fear and Anxiety
The training kicks in.
Take a second to think about what made you stressed or anxious last week. Deadlines, traffic, a long grocery line, or some social situations are everyday trivial stressors, but your brain’s amygdala processes them as life-or-death threats.
Stress just means resistance or pressure. We need stress to grow as humans; it can be a positive force if mentally framed correctly — even enhancing performance to blast through a deadline. But prolonged stress erodes your performance and wellbeing.
Here are six ways I learned how SEALs starve fear and feed courage:
1. Positive self-talk.
SEALs are trained to be rock steady, but when I checked into initial SEAL training, BUD/S Class 170, my nerves were sizzling. Adrenaline pulsed through my arteries. My class of 180 trainees had a stream of negative chatter in their minds expressed as anxiety riddling their faces. A sign on the wall said, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
I paused and said to myself: “I’ve trained hard and made it this far. Many have gone before me and survived — if they did it, so can I. Quitting is not an option. They’ll have to kill me to quit. Just focus on performing right now.” This perspective melted my fear to be replaced by the firepower of courage.
2. A “Why” or purpose.
Two hours into the first day of training, trainees were already quitting. While doing push-ups in the surf, my buddy Bush — who’d outperformed me throughout Officer Candidate School — said, “Mark, I can’t do this,” and also quit. I later discovered that he wanted to be a vet. His “Why” for being a SEAL wasn’t steadfast.
During Hell Week (six days of training with just four hours of sleep), an instructor told me, “You’re capable of twenty times more than you think.” At the end of my nine-month BUD/S class, 19 trainees remained. The workload we endured seemed impossible. But, amazingly, it was. Our “Why” enabled us to tap into our 20X Factor and an uncommon resolve.
3. Focus on the immediate threat.
One year later, in the pitch black, my parachute canopy collapsed into a wobbly sheet after a teammate collided with me in mid air. Plummeting towards the earth, I had eight seconds remaining in my 26-year-old life.
Suddenly my training kicked in. My mind, breathing, and time slowed as I felt my way through the malfunction checklist. Suddenly my reserve chute caught enough air before I hit the ground unscathed.
Despite the chaos, a SEAL is trained to focus with single-mindedness on the immediate threat and dispatch one target at a time. Excessive thinking would have killed me. My unconscious competence combined with relentless training saved my life.
Two hours into my five-hour diving mission, water gushed around my face. I could breathe but was blind. I fumbled through the standard operating procedures to clear the mask but to no avail.
I was useless as a navigator but couldn’t abort the mission. My teammate took over. After my frustration and fear had dissipated, I slowed my breathing and held my breath at the inhale and exhale. I focused my mind on the breathing cycle while repeating the positive mantra, “Feeling good, looking good, ought to be in Hollywood!” thus accelerating my concentration and positivity.
Suddenly we came to a halt. We’d arrived at the destination. A miserable three hours felt like an enjoyable 45 minutes just through focused breathing.
5. Visualize success.
When my mentor, Admiral McRaven, led the mission to nail Bin Laden, he had his SEAL Team visualize the mission hundreds of times. They mentally pictured everything that could go wrong, as well as what the victory would look like. They also rehearsed it live in a mock-up of the compound the terrorist was holed up in. This tactic is a key to SEAL success.
SEAL’s don’t take anything for granted and ensure that they win in their minds before stepping onto the helo. The SEAL Platoon will “dirt dive” a mission to visualize every part of a mission before executing it. Visualization focuses their mind on what they can control and identify challenges. It inoculates fear because they’ve replayed all the scenarios, yet are highly trained to adapt to unforeseen events. When things inevitably go wrong and fatigue kicks in, they fall back on their visualization and training.
6. Quitting is not an option.
As a retiring SEAL, I wanted to give civilians or special operations candidates a taste of the training I’d experienced.
49 hours and 45 minutes into Kokoro camp — a 50+ hour crucible modeled on the SEAL Hell Week — we turned up the heat to see how trainees would withstand the pressure. After convincing the trainees that several hours remained, one quit. Moments later, the class was secured, and he was left dumbfounded.
The SEAL ethos makes quitting not an option. SEALs persevere to “find a way or make one.” Things inevitably go wrong, but they don’t entertain the concept of failure. In high stakes situations, quitting means mission failure, even death.
To conclude: developing a warrior mindset makes you approach life’s challenges differently. You’ll face them head on, keep goals short, but stay focused and relaxed, adapting to the changing situation. You’ll look to find humor in the challenge and tap into your 20X potential. You’ll know that you will succeed — with the right training, there will be no wondering.
- A Navy SEAL Commander’s Advice on Developing Mental Toughness
Make positive choices during your weakest moments.
Do life’s events appear random and outside your control? Perhaps you think or say phrases like “I’m stressed,” “this job is killing me,” or “I need a drink.” Do you shrink into yourself, or even quit, when things go sideways? Maybe you get emotionally overwhelmed, and let fear, uncertainty, or frustration derail your mission.
As a retired Navy SEAL Commander with 30 years of martial arts training, and over 15 years of yoga practice, I teach special operations candidates and everyday people how to become mentally tougher and perform at elite levels. The principles are simple, but not easy. Emotional resiliency takes courage and patience.
Here are four ways to get started:
1. Deep breathing.
Mental, emotional, and physical stress can be controlled through deep, controlled, rhythmic breathing. I use the Pranayama Breathing app to “box breathe” for 10 minutes on a morning before Kokoro yoga or pre and post workout. This involves inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding, for four seconds each.
Breathing is free medicine to control your fight-or-flight response, allowing your body to function rather than be overwhelmed by a stressor. It reduces mental chatter, giving you the clarity to make better decisions.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was quoted in a provocative newspaper article about SEALs. As a SEAL captain read me the riot act, I felt my anger rising.
Beneath the anger, I breathed, detached and recognized a fear of loss from the repercussions of my damaged reputation. I envisioned myself as a respected officer who was doing the right thing — and my superior was just doing his job. Ultimately my reputation was enhanced by the incident.
2. Positive self-talk.
Pay attention to your energy. At SEALFIT camps, we ask sleep deprived trainees — who may be facing a night of surf torture — “What dog are you feeding?” We all have the dog of fear or courage inside our mind fighting for attention. After years of negative programming — from the news, TV, family, friends, own self-talk — fear dog normally wins, eroding performance.
You can interrupt negative thoughts by standing tall and shouting power statements that we use in the Navy like, “Hooyah!” “Easy day,” “Piece of cake,” or “Could be worse.” Long workouts can become effortless with mantras like:
“Feeling good, looking good, ought to be in Hollywood!”
“Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
“Remember why you’re here.”
“Stay in the moment. Stay relaxed.”
“Feed your courage. You can do this. It’s easy.”
“Quit now and you’ll quit everything for the rest of your life.”
“I’m doing what I want and know what I’m doing.”
“Not dead, can’t quit.”
SEALs have a saying, “Suffer in silence.” So if a workout or project sucks, don’t complain. Your job is to strengthen your team. Find humor where others can’t. Clinical trials found that a smile can bring the same level of stimulation as eating chocolate!
It’s no secret that athletes use visualization in their training arsenal. Here are two ways to trick your brain into believing an event has happened for real:
- Rehearsal: Practice an event in your mind before attempting it. It could be a presentation, an awkward conversation, or gut-busting workout. At SEALFIT, as a standard operating procedure, we have a pre-workout visualization like this: Find a quiet place to prepare our mind. Dirt dive exceptional performance, dominating every evolution with a smile on our face as you help your teammates.
- Future Me: Mentally project yourself achieving a major life goal like securing Kokoro camp. Repeatedly doing so plants a seed in your subconscious mind to recruit the resources to nurture the event to fruition. Try this regularly with your eyes closed during a meditation: See yourself as a vibrant person, glowing from your efforts. You’re physically strong, mentally alert, energetic, grounded, and centered. The sun is shining. The sky is clear. You note the date and the time. You knew this day would come. You acknowledge all your massive action to transform this dream into reality by first creating it in your mind.
4. Micro goals.
At 3 a.m. on Monday of Navy SEAL Hell Week (six days of training with just four hours of sleep), “making it to Friday” would have been a terrible goal. Instead, I focused on making it until sunrise, then the next meal, then the next step. Otherwise, the magnitude of the experience would have become overwhelming. So if you have to write a book, focus on writing 1,000 words. If you’ve got a massive project, execute the most important task.
In summary: it’s a myth that stress is your problem. How you interpret and handle external stressors determines if you’ll overcome your woes. From now on, embrace your power to choose how you’ll interpret stressful events. With mental toughness training, you can dominate life’s challenges and be twenty times more capable than you think.
- Top 6 Lower Body Strength Training Exercises
Your body is a temple. And it starts on the ground floor.
Arms and abs might move magazine covers, but it’s seven billion lower bodies that move the world. From your feet to the small of your back rests the engine of peak performance, whether it’s just the activities of daily living or a matter of life and death. A well-developed lower body not only makes you stronger, it makes each step a little easier, saving precious cardio capacity for the long haul a SEALFIT athlete often finds him or herself in.
Strengthening your lower body also offers an unparalleled connection to mental toughness. Getting better at anything involves a little pain, but nowhere else do you carry it with you as much as training your legs. If you can walk back to a program that left you crawling away from it, you’re tougher than a lot of what life throws at you.
We’ve put together a list of six essential lower body exercises, most doable anywhere and adaptable with weight or technique tweaks to turn your weak spots into strengths. If you’re new or needing improvement in how you train your base of operations, the following moves will have you moving
Exercise 1: Squat
Working the lower body begins and ends with the squat. While it primarily works the glutes, the squat engages every muscle from the floor through to the small of the back. It’s also one of man’s most quintessential movements.
That doesn’t make it easy to avoid doing it all wrong. Just as all those muscles are strengthened by a great squat, a bad one leaves them imbalanced and at risk of injury. To perfect the standard squat, place your knees shoulder-width apart, keep your back straight, and drop your hips until they’re parallel with your knees, with your knees over your toes. Imagine yourself dropping into a chair, or use the corner of a box to simulate the real thing. Once you’re parallel, push off the floor, keeping your knees over your toes and driving your hips forward until you’re
The squat is also one of the easiest to modify. Once you’ve gotten the strength for 20 bodyweight-squat sets, consider adding weights for strength, or a faster interval for explosiveness. Whichever you decide, don’t let the numbers game interrupt your form. You may see short-term gains from letting your technique slip, but you’ll pay in a lower ceiling for gains even if the increased injury risk doesn’t come back to bite you.
Exercise 2: Lunge
Very few exercises work for lower-body stability quite like the lunge. An exaggeration of the act of stepping, lunges reinforce stability and provide functional strength you’ll use every day of your life.
Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step forward, dropping your hips until both knees are are parallel with the hips, quads perpendicular to the shins. Push off with your forward foot and return to the original position, or bring the back leg parallel with the front. Repeat the action with the other leg. Once you’ve mastered the unweighted version, put a dumbbell in each hand for a challenge that will pay dividends with every step you take.
Exercise 3: Deadlift
If squats are lower body exercise at its most essential, the deadlift represents its most primal: something heavy is on the ground; go pick it up. And whether it’s a buddy’s couch, a line of scrimmage, or a person on the worst day of their life, a strong deadlift can get it moved.
To perform a traditional deadlift, grip the weight on the floor, with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back absolutely straight, push through the floor with your feet, rising with the weight until you’re standing tall with the weight at waist level. (Warning: the deadlift targets vulnerable structures in your back more than any other lower body lift; bad form is not just counterproductive but potentially crippling.)
As your strength improves, your lower body will eventually outpace your grip strength; if you’re using an Olympic barbell, consider using an interval grip (knuckles of each hand facing opposite directions) or letting the weight hang after your last rep as a negative rep for your forearms. The deadlift can also be modified with a plethora of bars and stances to target whatever muscle you’re looking to improve.
Exercise 4: Box Step Up
The box step up combines the stabilizing effect of the lunge with the pure strength of the squat. The form is perhaps the easiest of all: grab a box or other raised platform and step up on it. Bring your other foot to the top of the box. Control your downward descent until you’re back at the base of the box.
Once you’re capable of a string of steps, add weight for strength or consider jumps instead of steps for explosiveness.
Exercise 5: Bulgarian Split Squat
For next-level strength and stability, try the Bulgarian split squat. Place the top of one foot on a bench, then lower your knees and hips until the hips are parallel with the front knee. Push through the back heel to return to the original position.
Modify by adding more weight or increasing the drop angle.
Exercise 6: Heavy Sled Push
The sled is more than an essential lower body exercise. Here at SEALFIT, where the point of strength is to move heavy stuff far and long, it’s the ultimate piece of equipment. Barbells are wonderful in their place, but nothing tests brute strength like your irresistible force, an object engineered to be just shy of immovable, and an open lane to see who wins.
It’s just as useful for building the SEALFIT mentality. While it’s tempting to blow through the sled like the strongest man alive, the real gains come from keeping your form, and on a long push, that means keeping your cool. Control your breathing, keep your arms and back straight, and take controlled, careful steps. You’ll do better, you’ll get better, and you’ll be better prepared to use this skill in the wild for it.
One More Warning about Form
We’ll say it again because we can’t say it enough: maintain your form. These exercises are as dangerous if done incorrectly as productive when done right. You’re working out to make your life better, not move some extra numbers around. You can only get so much better sacrificing technique for a few more reps or pounds, and you won’t get any better at all nursing an injury for it.
- The Mark Divine BLOG: Unbeatable Leader Chapter 2
Happy day tribe! I know I’ve been MIA here on the blog, but it’s because the team and I are hard at work on what feels like a million different projects. One of those projects is editing my next book, tentatively titled Unbeatable Leader. If you listen to the Unbeatable Mind Podcast, you may have heard me read Chapters 1 and 2 of the new book. Today on the blog, I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 2. It’s a look into my experience starting Coronado Brewing Company, and it’s not a story I’ve shared often up until now. Here you go, hope you like it!
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” From Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Awakening naturally causes greater self-awareness. And deeper awareness of what drives your behavior in the stories we live allow us to create a new vision and path that becomes our authentic destiny. Self-awareness unfolds in a progressive manner like peeling an onion. Ultimately showing you that vast 20X potential over time.
In your leadership roles, this expanding awareness also allows you to appreciate the desires, needs, and motivation of other teammates and stakeholders in your sphere of influence and control. Further, you become more attuned to the evolving systems and structures in your life so you can align with and transform them to meet your mission. But this process is not simple, nor immediate, as my first entrepreneurial experience taught me.
Though having had several awakening experiences earlier, my awareness level when I launched the Coronado Brewing Company was still somewhat limited in terms of the leadership capacity we are speaking of in this book. Being a hard-charging Navy SEAL gave me a lot of tools and insights to succeed, but it didn’t automatically propel me to the integrated leadership required to succeed in a complex business environment.
It still had work to do. Imagine that.
I watched the line form outside the new Coronado Brewing Company with anticipation. The year-long journey of financing and guiding this landmark Coronado Island location was coming to an end. But I knew it was also the beginning of the next phase of making it a successful, enduring business and also the next phase of my budding entrepreneurial career. The plan to launch the brewing company was hatched by my brother-in-law Rick and I after he approached me to open a bar with him. “Coronado is home to the West Coast SEAL teams, and a SEAL owned bar could be successful,” I thought. However, after some research, we decided to get into the fledgling brewing business instead. There were just two other breweries in San Diego at the time, which seemed to be doing well. And ours would be a destination for both Coronado residents–which included many of my Navy peers as well as the over-the-bridge folks from San Diego.
The line outside that opening night was a foreshadow of the success we would have. A week before opening and our beer was ready. But the permit hadn’t been issued, so we held an “open house” party. That party was a huge success, and the buzz–so to speak–got out quickly. We were off on a roller coaster ride of business building.
But cracks in our partnership began to show quickly, and it became clear that my vision was different than my partner’s. A large communication gap opened up, which I did not have the skills to solve. Everything I tried made things worse, until we were actively fighting for control of the business. Lawyers, proxies and all. Trust was destroyed and the emotional energy got stuck in quicksand, magnified by the family relationships. This energy pulled me down to an earlier, shadow version of myself which was reactive and negative. I had worked so hard to develop emotional control as a SEAL, and so I was frustrated. What the heck was going on?
That partnership didn’t survive. And after my wife Sandy begged me to get out, I sold my interests to my brothers-in-law and moved on. Licking my wounds.
That’s it folks! Hope you enjoyed that little snippet from my upcoming book. If you would like to hear even more from the new book, head over to the Unbeatable Mind Podcast (it’s available on iTunes and Google Play!) I’m going to try and Until next time, work hard and stay strong.
Looking to gain more leadership skills? Join me and an amazing group of leaders is the areas of nutrition, fitness, business and more at the Unbeatable Mind Summit December 1-3, 2017 in Carlsbad, CA! This 3-day event is an experience like no other. Learn more HERE.
- Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Core
It’s not called your center of gravity for nothing.
Whatever it is you want to do, your core is involved, and strengthening your core makes you better at it. A tougher center of gravity makes you a less resistible force and a less movable object no matter what you’re involved in. A stronger, healthier core can improve posture, increase strength and stability in your back. Strong core muscles also allow you to take in more air with each breath, which increases the output of your cardiovascular system so you can go harder for longer. The core also stabilizes and assists with lower-body lifts. Below you’ll find six exercises to give you a core that can do anything.
Before We Begin: 2 Exercises You Won’t See Here
For decades, core exercise was defined by the traditional sit up and the crunch. It makes sense: most other muscle groups benefit from specific, targeted exercise. The core, however, doesn’t function like the other muscle groups; your core work impacts the use and balance of everything else. Flexing your back over and over can lead to long-term damage, and focusing on one hyper-specific region of your core can lead to dangerous muscle imbalances. It also can strain your tailbone to use it as the fulcrum of fast, repetitive exercise. Plus, let’s be honest: staring at your own knees for five sets of 30 isn’t any fun.
Fitness model abs aren’t what we do. The SEALFIT athlete doesn’t train for the display model, but for when the rubber meets the road. The following are six exercises to give you a core that really works.
GHD Sit Up
While it borrows part of its form from the traditional sit up, the GHD (glute and ham developer) sit up offers more work with less strain. It not only targets the abs as the traditional sit up does, but the quadriceps as well, and the slow, controlled movements required improve posture and control of the spine.
The GHD sit up requires a hamstring curl machine, which is available at most gyms. Place your feet against the machine’s backstop, heels tucked under the holder, with the knees slightly bent and back straight. Lean backwards as far as you can go, fully extending your hands behind your head. Come back up in a slow, controlled manner until the back is perpendicular to the hips.
Make sure you’re keeping your movements slow and controlled on this. Moving too quickly or haphazardly not only puts you at greater risk of injury but can lead to muscle imbalances that affect real-life performance.
Strict Toes to Bar
Toes to bar works not only the abs, but develop the arm and grip strength required for heavier lifts. They also enhance hip flexion, a key requirement for most footwork techniques in sports.
To perform a toes to bar lift, find a pull up bar (you’ll need one tall enough for you to hang from it with legs extended). Keep your back straight and your legs fully extended. In a slow, controlled movement, flex the hips until your toes, as you might have guessed, touch the bar.
The flexibility required for a full toes to bar lift does not come easily. If you find yourself struggling to get all the way up, consider working in some lower body exercise to build strength in the hips.
Squats are often (rightly) thought of as a lower body exercise, but they provide key core work in stabilizing the body as the lifter comes back up. The overhead squat is particularly useful in this because it requires the full extension of the abs to keep the weight overhead. The extension of the weight to be lifted away from the center of gravity also requires and develops better balance and stability. It also mimics the final movement in the snatch and clean-and-jerk, making it a favorite among Olympic lifters, the most explosive people on the planet.
To execute the overhead squat, grip the weight with feet shoulder-width apart and hands wide like in a snatch grip. Remove from the rack (or have your spotter let go) with the weight at shoulder height and core contracted. Push through your heels and extend your knees to lift the bar overhead, With the back naturally arched and arms locked out. Lower your whole body until the hips are parallel with the knees, then bring yourself back to a standing position.
Note: proper form is always crucial for a weighted squat, but particularly so with the weight extended overhead. Make sure your squat form is absolutely squared away, and “guess low” until you figure out exactly what you can handle.
Single Arm Overhead Waiter Walk
It’s a long name, but the exercise is actually pretty simple. Grab a dumbbell with one hand, bring it to lockout overhead, and walk with it. As with all overhead weight exercises, make sure you’re only carrying what your grip strength will allow, and keep your back straight. Also, make sure your steps are stable and straight; move down in weight if you’re not able to maintain the pace.
In addition to the core, the waiter walk works the shoulder and arms, as well as the muscles stabilizing the back.
The plank is one of physical fitness’s best builders of mental toughness. It’s just you, on the floor, with nowhere to go and no contraction period to even get a quick breather. Nothing reinforces the ability to endure like forcing yourself not to move when your body screams for a break. Which says nothing of its physical benefits, including stability throughout the body.
To perform a plank, get on the floor in a pushup position. Keep your back straight and flex your glutes. Now comes the hard part: stay there. You’ll hold that pose for intervals of 30 seconds to a minute.
As your core strength increases, consider enhanced positions relying on elevated feet, different hand placements, or raising a hand or foot in the air.
Mountain climbers are one of the most explosive core exercise, meaning that they not only develop your muscles but provide the intensity you need in training to help you go harder, longer when it’s time to roll. The movement also develops the quads and shoulders, as they’re required to isometrically keep the body stable.
Start in a pushup position, with hands and feet shoulder width apart. Flex one knee and hip, bringing one knee under the body and the foot as close as possible to parallel with the hand. As quickly as possible, alternate the positions for your legs, bringing one leg back to the pushup position as the other comes under the body.
Since you push, pull, and drag every day, training the upper body only makes sense. In addition to the activities of daily living, most active exercise, from sports to physical labor, will at some point require you to carry heavy things or pick yourself up off the ground. A strong upper body will make you better at all of it.
Unfortunately, upper body discussion has been dominated by groups of exercises that build muscle for magazine poses but don’t add much to your functional life. Here at SEALFIT, we’re not about looking better but being better. The six exercises will help you build an upper body for every day of your life.
You’re probably not surprised to see this here. Every sport, PT regimen and home fitness workout features a hearty helping of pushups, and for good reason. Though it primarily works the upper body, an exercise that begins and ends with a plank works every muscle group to some extent. A good pushup is also your ticket to enter a much wider world of upper body exercise. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest exercises to cheat on, or unintentionally get wrong. Proper form is essential to get all the benefits of this staple of the exercise world.
To perform a proper pushup, begin in a plank position on your palms and the balls of your feet, with hands shoulder-width apart, feet together, and back straight. Lower yourself until your chest touches the ground, keeping your head up and back straight. As soon as your chest hits the floor…well, push up, locking your arms out in the original position.
Once you’ve mastered the classic pushup, try weighing yourself down or experimenting with hand and foot placement, as each distance apart or elevation at which you put your points of contact with the ground targets a different muscle group. At advanced levels of strength you can even try pushing your hands completely off the ground.
Dead Hang Pull Up
In many ways the dead hang pull up is the ultimate test of fitness. Suspended in the air and deprived of any cheat to give yourself momentum, it’s just your muscles against your weight. It’s no wonder it’s a key component of SEAL fitness, and by extension, of SEALFIT. It’s not only a full-upper-body workout, but involves the core and develops the grip strength required for heavier lifts.
A dead hang pull up starts with what you might imagine. Grab the bar at shoulder width and lock your knees; if your bar isn’t high enough for you to hang straight-legged, extend them in front of you until your toes clear the floor. Once you’re in position, throw your shoulders back and pull until your chin clears the bar. Try not to let your legs or arms swing; the point is to build strength, not generate momentum. Remember: you’re training to have the strength when you need it, not to put up more reps at the gym.
If you still need to work your way up to a pull up, start with negatives (beginning with your chin above the bar and holding until failure). Avoid weight-assisted pull ups, which take away from the full effort required of a pull up. Once you’re able to put together solid sets of five, start adding weight via a vest or straps.
Suspending your entire body weight from your hands, the dip implicates everything from the shoulders to the core.
First, you need to find or improvise a dip bar. They’re available at parks and gyms everywhere, but in a pinch, two surfaces of equal height (i.e. a pair of sturdy chairs) will work. Place a hand on each side of the bar and raise yourself until your feet no longer touch the floor; if necessary, bend your knees to allow for a full range of motion. Starting at lockout, lower yourself until forearms are perpendicular to your triceps, then slowly raise yourself back to lockout.
If you don’t immediately have the strength, start with negatives. Start at lockout and very slightly lower yourself, hold until you’ve completely dropped, then get back on the horse. As with the pull up, you’ll want to avoid the assistance machine; negatives build the strength you need from day one rather than taking out any of the effort. Once you’ve mastered the basic dip, you can add nearly unlimited amounts of weight via a vest or belt.
A building block of the pull up, the supine row is also a great exercise in its own right. It primarily works the delts and lats but also uses the biceps and lower back. Since it requires you to hold most of your bodyweight in the air, it’s also great for grip strength.
To perform a supine row, find a low-hanging pull up bar, a pair of rings, or situate a Smith machine to chest height. Get underneath the bar, holding yourself up with arms extended to lockout. Once in position, pull your chest toward the bar until it touches, then lower yourself until back in the original position. Be sure the downward motion is slow and controlled, as recklessness can cause injuries to the wrist, elbow or shoulder.
Few exercises test the shoulders like the strict press. It’s also a dynamic, explosive lift key to building upper body endurance.
To execute a strict press, grip just outside the shoulders, with the weight level with your clavicle and feet under the hips. Extend your elbows in front of you to make sure the bar has a straight path upward. Tighten your back and drive the bar upward; don’t move the bar around your head, but rather lean slightly back to allow the bar to clear your chin. Once the bar is above your head, return to an upright position and lock out your arms at the top of your head. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
To execute, lie back on the bench with your back arched and feet on the floor, bar level with your eyes. Grip the weight at shoulder width, then remove from the rack (or if using dumbbells, have your spotter release). Lower the weight in a slow, controlled motion all the way to your chest, then push through your palms, raising the weight until your arms lock out.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the conventional bench press, start adding weight or varying your grip. Each grip of the bar targets a different set of muscles within the overall group.
- How to Develop & Maintain Mental Toughness in a Team Dynamic