Special operations selection is hard. VERY hard. The entire purpose of selection is to weed out the weak, the average, those who are not prepared. This would make one think that those who perform the average bodybuilding type workouts may not be prepared for selection. In some cases, bodybuilding has its drawbacks. However, bodybuilding style training can prepare a candidate well for certain aspects of selection prep.
**A note here, when referring to bodybuilding in this article we refer to a hypertrophy style training where the purpose to working out is to look good naked and get decently strong. The “bodybuilders” we refer to will likely not be competing in shows.
Advantages to Bodybuilding Style Training
Bodybuilders Enjoy Training
Preparing for selection will take hundreds of hours of dedicated time in the gym, in the pool, out marching or recovering. Having an interest in training and enjoying the process will go a long way to keeping a candidate motivated during some of the more tedious portions of preparation.
Bodybuilders are experienced in tracking nutrition intake, being dedicated to a program and listening to their bodies. Having the experience of being sore, having an injury or two and being able to push through or back off depending on how your body feels is invaluable.
Bodybuilders have robust and strong tendons from years of resistance training and volume. One point that cannot be made often enough is that combat athletes need to be strong. When most people think of military fitness tests there are four things that come to mind: pushups, pullups, sit ups and running. This is true, the majority of units use at least one of these movements in their testing. However, when a candidate must wear a 90 pound ruck and march uphill. They are really performing an alternating single leg squat with 90 pounds. Bodybuilder’s tendon strength will go a long way to prevent acute and chronic injuries such as patellar tendonitis.
Ideally a bodybuilder will have developed a high level of raw strength and structural balance. Although not all bodybuilders are strong, some of them are VERY strong. Anybody who doesn’t think so should look up guys like Stan Efferding. He is “The World’s Strongest Bodybuilder”. Years of squatting, deadlifting, pulling and pushing should give the athlete a base from which to launch their more selection specific prep.
Contrary to popular belief, bodybuilders tend to have a strong aerobic engine from years of accumulating Zone 1, steady state aerobic work. Which is often done to increase caloric output during a cutting phase. Even though the intention is not to develop their aerobic system bodybuilders can actually be quite fit. This fitness can also be seen in their style of lifting which is done typically with limited rest to maximize “the pump”.
Disadvantages to Bodybuilding Style Training
Although bodybuilders will have experience tracking nutrition, often times they follow diets that recommend a lower intake of carbohydrates. Although this may work for body composition changes and fat mobilization a low carb athlete will perform poorly on selection, or much worse than they would have had they loaded carbs prior to selection.
Although bodybuilders do accumulate lots of resistance training volume, the amount of aerobic volume that they accumulate is nowhere near where it needs to be to pass selection. Repetitive, cyclical movements such as running, swimming and rucking must be loaded over time.
Relative vs. Absolute Strength
Bodybuilders are often concerned with how much weight they lift and for how many reps. Enter the ever famous: “How much ya bench?” This is all well and good but on selection, there are lots of activities that require a candidate to be strong relative to their body mass. Events that include: pushups, pullups, rope climbs, etc… will all be made easier by the candidate being stronger per pound rather than absolutely strong.
As mentioned before, bodybuilders can tend to be quite strong. Special operations candidates must be strong but more importantly must be able to repeat feats of strength over and over again. Strength endurance is not just bench pressing for three reps then resting for two minutes. Strength endurance is pressing a log overhead, dropping it, then doing that over and over. The intensity are high enough that it taps into the athlete’s strength but the volume is high enough that it becomes more of an endurance event. Strongman competitions are great examples of this where there is a set weight for the deadlift and athletes complete anywhere from 3 – 12 reps with the weight depending on their strength endurance.
Single Leg Strength
Running, rucking and taking a knee are all single leg movements. Bodybuilders tend to favour movements where they can lift the most weight: deadlift, back squat, front squat, etc… Although these are great movements for developing absolute strength and adding muscle mass, bilateral movements often lead to muscular imbalances. Single leg movements, asides from balancing out limbs, tend to lead to less injuries and less back pain.
Practice makes perfect is a saying that rings true when it comes to special operations selection. A bodybuilder will have to become proficient with running, rucking and swimming to pass selection. Even if they accumulate hours and hours of aerobic volume work on bikes, rowers, stairclimbers, ellipticals, etc… they will need to work on technique and pacing for running, rucking and swimming.
It is obvious that training like a bodybuilder will not get your through selection. However, it will lay a good base from which to launch a properly programmed and specific training plan.