When training Special Ops candidates or qualified operators, there are many, many tests I have them perform to determine where their strengths and weaknesses lie. A SOF soldier needs to have a solid base of strength in the following: upper body pushing and pulling, single and double leg, and core; he also needs to have flexibility. The need to be proficient at running, rucking, swimming, and have a large aerobic engine to sustain them in these activities is paramount. They need to be durable, specifically in the shoulder and knee region, where so many injuries occur, many of them preventable. The SOF soldier should also be nimble, quick, and proficient at jumping, bounding, and sprinting.

All of the aforementioned is necessary to endure the physical challenges presented during operations while maintaining a high level of mental clarity and focus. Going “into-the-black” is a weakness that is specifically weeded out during the selection process and not an option for the SOF soldier. SOF are most often deployed with minimal friendly forces nearby and reduced logistical support. A team of SOF soldiers must remain self-sustained for long periods of time under adverse conditions with little to no support.

Absolute fitness is of a high priority and out of all the tests that I have my tactical athletes perform, my favorite “tester” workout for the SOF candidate or qualified Operator is the following:

5 Rounds For Time Of:
350m row
12 Burpee Pull-Ups
8 Wall Walks

Each movement must be completed before moving on and each round must be completed before starting the round anew. The standard for the burpee pull-ups is to have the chest touch the ground at the bottom of each rep before jumping up to a pull-up bar, positioned 6” above max standing reach, and transitioning into a pull-up with head passing fully over the bar with a neutral chin. The standard for the wall walks is to have the chest and stomach touch the ground at the bottom of each rep and stomach touch the wall at the top of each rep, mimicking a momentary handstand hold against the wall before “walking” back down to the floor and beginning the next rep. As for the row, it’s meant to be completed on a standard Concept 2 Rower.

I like this test for the following reasons:

Marine MARSOC Critical Skills Operator (CSO) selection outline

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  1. All of the movements require a low barrier to entry. They are not overly complex in nature and are all movements that a SOF Operator should be expected to accomplish.
  1. The test is aerobic in nature / the SOF Operator’s job is aerobic in nature. The better the aerobic (with oxygen) efficiency that the tactical athlete possesses, the less likely they will need to turn to their anaerobic (without oxygen) system for energy production. Despite the trend to focus almost exclusively on anaerobic work in recent years, this system is not sufficient for the demands imposed on the tactical athlete. It is a limited energy system and one that needs an effective aerobic system to quickly recover after using it. The last thing an Operator wants is to dig deep into their anaerobic system and be out of the fight for the next 30 minutes. If you’ve ever truly tapped into the anaerobic system, you’ll know what I mean.
  1. The workout tests for muscular endurance under fatigue. While it is great to test for max push-ups in 2 minutes and max unbroken pull-ups, a more accurate gauge of the SOF Operator’s readiness is to test for muscular endurance under fatigue. This will more closely resemble the demands placed on the athlete during combat and direct action type events.
  1. The tactical athlete is exposed to all of the following: double leg squatting, upper body pushing and pulling, bending and core, which makes it a great full body test.
  1. The test includes high repetition bending patterns as well as many upper body pulling and upper body vertical pushing: three common weaknesses that I see in tactical athletes. An improvement in these, often lagging, areas will likely be reflected in a reduced completion time for this test.
  1. All of it is done in a tough “grinder” type fashion, which mirrors the typical work required of the SOF Operator. For the most part, the operator’s job does not involve 100% effort for 10-60 seconds. It requires either long, slow sustained work, such as in a Strategic Reconnaissance roll, or it requires digging, lifting, dragging, bounding, and sprinting at 80-90% effort done in a repeatable fashion for a sustained period of time. You can easily understand the significance of the movements chosen if you compare them to the following test:

5 Rounds For Time Of:
500m Bike
15 Sit-Ups
12 Walking Lunges
10 Push-Ups.

If you don’t understand the difference when reading this, I would suggest that you, the reader, go and perform both tests on separate days. Notice how you feel going into the workouts — how you feel during, and how you feel after. Make note of your mood, your energy levels, and your mental acuity and compare.

So now that you’ve completed the test, you might be asking yourself where you stack up. Over the years, I have seen the following times to be reflective of a candidate’s ability to physically complete selection and of an operator’s physical effectiveness on the job.

Sub 30min: Standard
Sub 25min: Great
Sub 20min: Exceptional

Of course, no one test alone can accurately reflect a soldier’s ability to perform his work. But it is still my favorite SOF workout to throw at athletes once they have a baseline of strength, structural balance, aerobic capacity, and mobility in place.