in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: July 8, 2023

The Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #23: Navy SEAL Training with Stew Smith

Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Manliness podcast! In this week’s edition we talk to fitness trainer, Stew Smith. Stew is a former Navy SEAL who now devotes himself to helping men prepare for the rigors of Navy SEAL training. In addition to prepping SEALs, Stew works with other men who are preparing for work in the military, special operations, firefighting, and police work.

Stew has published several books on fitness training including The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, The Special Ops Workout, and The S.W.A.T Workout. Moreover, Stew has appeared on National Geographic’s Fight Science to showcase his expertise in Navy SEAL training. Stew is one tough dude.

We discuss the details of SEAL BUD/S training, why some men succeed and most fail at it, and four lessons in manliness that Average Joes can take from Navy SEALs. Additionally, we talk about how men can prepare physically for work as a Navy SEAL and the benefits an average guy can get from SEAL-type fitness training.

You can find out more about Stew’s work at

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Now, the US Navy SEALs have a reputation as being one of the world’s most elite fighting forces. They’re often first soldiers in performing special operations like small direct attacks and special reconnaissance. Because of the dangers that SEALs are placed in Navy SEALs have to be tough both physically and mentally. Candidates who wish to become Navy SEALs must go through BUD/S what military experts described as the toughest military training in the world. And how does a man prepare for something like that.

Well, our guest today helps them and prepared for the grueling training in the Navy SEALs, his name is Stew Smith. Stew is a retired Navy SEAL himself and he is now a certified strength and conditioning specialist devoting his time and energy to helping other people achieve their dreams of serving in law enforcement, emergency services in the military particularly in the field of Special Operations. Stew has written several books on the topic of fitness such as The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, The Special Ops Workout and The SWAT Workout. In addition to writing books Stew has also appeared on shows like National Geographic’s Fight Science where he provides his expertise on Navy SEAL training. Stew, welcome to the show.

Stew Smith: Hey, thank you for having me. It’s an honor.

Brett McKay: Alright. Well, Stew let’s just get ride off. The first question, let’s just start talking about your background, because I’m sure our listeners are interested in your experience as a Navy SEAL. Why did you become a Navy SEAL?

Stew Smith: Well, oh, good question there. I would have to say that my first objective was I knew I wanted to serve my country somehow and I really wasn’t sure in my early teens because I have family members who had farm and police officers, military retirees and veterans. I knew one of those things I was going to do and they wind up on to the naval academy and then really starting to learn more about Navy SEALs. Originally, I decided that one day I’d probably be a pilot when I went to the naval academy but then there were some SEALs on board and I’ll tell you they just kicked our butts and it was something that I guess I enjoyed and I knew I wasn’t going to play anymore football, so I decided to turn my body around from power lifting football player into more of a endurance type you know stamina–– stamina guy like Navy SEAL training required and it took me a couple of years to do it but I wound up doing it and just I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m in my 40s now and I really enjoyed that type of training.

Brett McKay: Wow! And so how long were you a Navy SEAL?

Stew Smith: Almost eight years.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Stew Smith: So, I didn’t retire…

Brett McKay: Okay.

Stew Smith: Retirees are you know 20 years and above, but I resigned after eight years.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Stew Smith: So, yeah…

Brett McKay: Okay. Well, so like I said in the intro and I’ve seen plenty of shows about this but the Navy SEALs BUD/S training, it has the reputation of being one of the grueling physical experiences in the world and what goes on at a typical BUD/S training?

Stew Smith: Well, I would that it is grueling, it’s you know pretty challenging. However, if you go there very prepared and when I say very prepared I mean being able to run and swim and do 100s of repetitions of calisthenics, you actually do pretty well. And you know after four yours of naval academy I actually thought naval academy or BUD/S training was a lot easier than four years at the naval academy. So, it is possible to make through that type of training but it requires a really a couple of years of preparation to do it. But in an average day, you’re probably going to spend a couple of hours each day doing some kind of workout and these are usually calisthenics based pull-ups, lots of variety of abs push-ups, dips, usually four, five miles of running. However, those are extra things that go on the day this kind of grind on you like just running to have meals, it’s a mile run to where you eat, from where you train and a mile back, so you do that three times a day. And then, you know, typically every week there was a two-mile ocean swim, there was a four-mile time run on the beach and boots and pants and there was an obstacle course, a pretty tough obstacle course. Typical obstacle course takes you about you know anywhere from seven to eight minutes but it’s so hard. I mean it’s in soft sand, lots of effort body work, rope climbs, you know things like that and of course, you know all the boats that you see on documentaries, you know carrying those boats around for several hours a day wears you out too. So after, you know, 12 to 14 hour day of that, you know you’re pretty done.

Brett McKay: Well, yeah, I can imagine. And one of the things that you often see in the documentaries and shows about BUD/S is that that infamous bell that you ringing if you’re ready to quit, what you think and what separates the men from boys in BUD/S training? Why do men fail the training program?

Stew Smith: You know that there was something that, I think, we all kind of fears but we didn’t want anywhere near it because we’re afraid that if we went anywhere near it we’re kind of sucked in, you know, so every time I came out I just won’t even look at it, you know. This is one of the things that you know I just try to avoid. But, you know, unfortunately there is majority of the people that go to SEAL training and don’t make it and the primary reason is they’re just not prepared and that can be variety of things–– prepared mentally or prepared physically. And when I say mentally maybe you’re just not prepared to handle you know people yelling at you and be then stressed out and be then tired and having to do the same thing over again. Maybe it’s you know mentally as well because you’re very uncomfortable because you always have sand on you, so you have sand in your pants, in your boots, you know pretty much all the day. I mean you’re just sweat and sandy most of the days. So, there is a discomfort level that’s not–– it’s a big killer. Physically, you know people failing the runs, the swims, not being very comfortable in the water and water is cold that’s another one. You know, typically the water is somewhat between 50 and 60 degrees year-round out there and it doesn’t take long to, you know, really get hypothermic, but those are usually the biggest things. I mean injuries occur as well, you know, some people not being properly physically conditioned to handle the mileage of running and there’s long ocean swims as well.

Brett McKay: I imagine there was–– I can see a lot of men who think they’re really physically fit and shape think they can just walk in and breeze by but they actually weren’t prepared for the trainings. Does that happen a lot?

Stew Smith: Oh, absolutely. I mean people think that you know 45 or 60 minute you know workout in the weight rooms is going to prepare you for you know a day at SEAL training. But when a day at SEAL training is you know 12 hours of some form of activity, you know no 45 or 60 minute weight room workout is going to do it. I mean you really need to spend you know several hours in a day running and swimming and doing calisthenics, few minutes of weight if you need to just to work on your upper body strength. But for the most part it’s lack of preparation and just thinking that you’re prepared just because you’re maybe a high school athlete and this is what you did for football training, you know it’s really a different thing and that’s why I say I had my wakeup call when I went naval academy and realized that I was not in shape and I thought I was and you know I could bench press a track but you know I couldn’t do sets of 50 push ups over and over and over again like the guys that are going for the SEAL training could and they just, they just … and you know I was like I got to get in better shape. So, as long as I just made a mental change and said I’m going to try to do this thing and do it right and luckily we have a lot of good examples that were years in front of us that made it through and you know and taught us how to do it, you know, helped out a lot.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So you talked a lot about preparation and if a man prepares BUD/S isn’t that bad. So.. I mean what can a person or man who is interested in becoming a Navy SEAL, I mean what kind they did prepare for the training?

Stew Smith: Well, you know, like I said earlier it requires you know just running to meals six miles a day, you know. So, I mean you need to be able to handle many miles in a week, you know, total mileage and a week of running and I would recommend trying to get up to do you know 25 to 35 miles of running per week you know comfortably without injury to be for you to really you know signed on the dotted line to go in the SEAL training. Swimming is the same thing, not that can kind of mileage obviously but you know being able to wear fins on your feet and to be able swim for couple of miles is really a big requirement and that one kills people, not so much the cold water the fact that they didn’t prepare their legs and ankles for wearing fins in the ocean and, you know, for a moment, you know, that’s the moment when the instructors aren’t yelling at you whenever you’re swimming, so I actually enjoyed it. But I did a lot of swimming prior to it and was able to actually have fun in the water. And after that, you know, instead of trying to bench press a track and trying to get a 400-pound bench press you’re going to want to be able to do 400 push-ups, you know not at one time but within workout, and sit-ups and pull-ups. You know some of your pull-up workouts probably need to be in about a time you added all up well over 100 repetitions of pull-ups. So that’s how your workouts are going to be there.

Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah, I imagine that’s a big change for how most men workout.

Stew Smith: Yeah.

Brett McKay: More so in the bench pressing a track as opposed to reps.

Stew Smith: Right.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, real quick, Stew based on your experience as a Navy SEAL, what do you think are four lessons in manliness that an average Joe can take from a Navy SEAL?

Stew Smith: I will say just one thing I learned about SEAL training is that those who make it through never quit and that’s a big lesson for me. And so whether I’m doing something around the house or doing something for my work, you know, that never quit attitude is a great lesson in life and I still really carry it along with me today whether it’s you know mowing my grass and it’s dark out or you know it’s working on project that I have a deadline and you know the next morning, you know working out, working through the night to get it done, you know, never quit is a great, great, lesson I guess that could take with you. And that’s just being stubborn really, that’s all it is. Learned to deal with discomfort and what that will do for you is it will help you appreciate comforts more because one thing that I loved to do is and that’s about the only time when I sit still is during football season, I sit down in my basement and watch football and I just loved it. You know every Sunday spend a couple hours, sometimes if there’s good games I will clock up 8 or 10 hours of watching football and I just loved it. I tried to earn that my butt that morning working out, but you know something I really enjoy and there is nothing quite like being comfortable, lying on my couch, you know flicking the remote, nice and warm basement, you know there was those moments of discomfort where I was cold and wet , sandy and miserable that you know I can look back honestly and say you know I sucked up that was pretty good, I can still do it again if I needed to do but you know right now I’m really quite content sitting right here and doing nothing. You know, you just like the little moments that much better if you can learn to deal with discomfort and not worrying about it.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: That’s a kind of long answer. So learn to deal with discomfort. The next one is prepare, preparation. I mean whether you’re preparing for an event, you know we can call that event a mission. You know you need some motivation to complete that mission and you know you got be willing to work to make it happen. What I come down to basically a real quick one is preparation, motivation, and perspiration. You know it’s a great little …

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: Yeah, it’s a great little three-part saying that I use often, you know no matter what I’m doing it requires those three things. And the last one is humility. And one thing that I’ll always see is that–– typically is you know you pretty much have to pull, pull it out of a guy when you need them, you know if he was a SEAL or former SEAL. I know when people you know say hey he was in the navy, I said yeah I was in the navy for a while and I guess they talked and doing for a good half hour for you now really, you know they start pulling things out of you. What did you do in the navy, huh? So where are you now? I’m stationed here. You know it’s just one of those things that you know you don’t have wear on your sleeves that you wear, but humility is a big one and it don’t have to be just because you’re former SEAL, but just over anything.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: You know.

Brett McKay: Have some humility.

Stew Smith: Yeah, do you ever say yeah, I’m wrong.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: When you’re wrong and that’s a wax and wane.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: All the arguments makes everybody happier, yeah, it’s just everything.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: You know…

Brett McKay: You resigned your commission as a SEAL I guess almost 10 years ago, it’s been?

Stew Smith: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: Yes, I know more than a decade now.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, and so now you devote your time to training individuals who want to do achieve it, people who are wanting to do special ops in the military, also the police and fire fighting and emergency rescue. What’s your approach to fitness in getting these men and women ready for the respective work?

Stew Smith: Well, you know the cool thing about it is there is no grey area in what these men and women has to do at their training programs. Typically, they all have a fitness test that they have to take and it’s fairly competitive no matter what branch or service it is, no matter what local law enforcement or fire fighting department is. It’s competitive to get in and you really need to have good scores and not just you know minimum standard scores. You know, I tell people, you know just because it says you can pass with 20 push-ups that mean that’s your goal of get 20 push-ups. You ask the minimum standard and that’s why I was getting a D on a test you know…

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: If you score these minimum standards. And, you know, statistically people who score better on those entrance exams do better in their training, no matter what the training is, whether it is SEAL training or it’s Maryland State Police Department, it doesn’t matter. Typically, the folks that score well on those entrance exams do well at the training and succeed. And then secondarily it’s you know preparing them for the training at hand. You know, a lot of times you know they’re not going to have certain events that are being tested but I figure range of score you’re going to have to put about 50, 60 pounds on your back in a backpack and be able to move around with that thing pretty much all day long for miles and hours. You know, that’s something that need to practice. If your first day showing up at ranger training is putting on a backpack for the first time, you’re going to be hurt. You know, so it’s just really preparing people for their actual you know grueling physical events they have to take.

Brett McKay: Yeah, this is very, very functional as opposed to, I guess, kind of typical things you often see going on at the gym.

Stew Smith: Oh, yeah, but I mean there is nothing wrong with gym workout, don’t give me wrong. I’m a big fan of it. You know like I said I was a power lifter and spent many, many hours you know in the gym, you know doing three sets of five bench press and three sets of five squats and you know I cut my teeth on that type of training but, you know, when it comes to a job where your life or your partner’s life or a person you’re trying to save’s life really rest in your hands and your fitness level can really be a good predictor whether or not you know you’re going to survive or not. It’s very important and that’s why I really try to stress to the young men and women that are about to get serve their country in any capacity is that you know fitness could mean life or death for you, it really could. You couldn’t show up there in good shape, you know you’ve a better chance of making up to the training, being less stress with the training, so you can actually learn your job a little better and you know being able to save some lives like this, if needed to be.

Brett McKay: Yeah, so what about nutrition, what’s your philosophy about nutrition? Are you one of those advocates of caveman eating, do you use supplements and what’s your approach to nutrition when you’re advising your clients?

Stew Smith: That’s a good one. You know I’ve never being a vegan in supplements, I just never have, always been kind of natural in my take on supplements is like this–– pretty much if you’re like… are you familiar with MRE in the military, meal ready-to-eat?

Brett: Yeah.

Stew Smith: That’s your meal in a bag, putting in your backpack and you know if you don’t have cafeteria, you know you eat it out in the fields well. That’s my kind to take on supplements. Basically, if I don’t have good foods whether it’s at my house or I can’t make it to a good restaurant and get big salad or something like that, what I’m going to do is you know our supplement in that day, if I need to. However, if I have a food, I don’t really, really need the supplements because I eat good meats, good proteins, you know good corn flakes, carbohydrates and salads, fruits and vegetables and things like that, that’s kind of where I’m and I really focus more on performance fitness. So, if you’re like I said working out hard, working our several times a day or couple times a day, you really need to eat often and eat a lot. However, not everybody is in that mentality, so I understand that. So, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and trying to find something that I think is cool, that I think will work, so lot of controversial, but you know it’s similar to the caveman diet that you asked me about and it’s called the warrior diet, you’ve ever heard of that one?

Brett McKay: I’ve not heard of that one.

Stew Smith: Yes, it is pretty cool. It’s a form of Israeli Defense Force Special Ops guy, the guy who wrote it and that makes a lot of sense. I’m testing it out right now and I’m testing it out in the meats of my workout program. Because typically the way out workout is throughout the year I create a big L curve of the 12 months and basically between April, May, June, July, and August that’s the longest days of the year, there are therefore those are my longest workouts and then towards the second half of, your know last quarter of the year and the first quarter of the next year kind of taper down and start building back up. So I go through this big sign curve through the year and mostly just a kind like, what I call my solstice training program. You know, if the days are longer, my workouts are longer.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: If my days are shorter, my workouts are shorter and what it has enabled me to at 41 years old is maintain some longevity and I still am able to do you know workouts with 20 year old kids that wanted to be SEALs. And so it’s a lot upon kind of doing it that way and like I said I’ll say just go through little cycles, just basic periodization and you know physiology and you know the cycle of focus. There is no way you can maintain a peak level of performance year-round, you know, there is an off-season, there is an on-season and…

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: That’s basically all of this for me.

Brett McKay: So, you mentioned this warrior diet, what are some of the kind of controversial aspects of it?

Stew Smith: Of which?

Brett McKay: You mentioned that the warrior diet has a kind of some controversial…

Stew Smith: Yeah, that’s just not your typical meal plan, you know, that’s not your typical meal plan of you eat breakfast, you eat lunch, you have a snack, you know this is all about you know not eating, you know when you don’t it a little bit of hunger phase during the day and kind of cleanse out your system and you know soldiers have to get used to be in hunger.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: So, and that’s the truth, I mean at Ranger School you don’t eat but one MRE a day.

Brett McKay: Wow.

Stew Smith: You know, yeah, I mean it’s basically the stimulate taste, what supply can get to you, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: When you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you just have to rely on you know what’s there and one meal a day. So it’s kind of rationing mentality that they go through their training. I lose a lot of weight out there at Ranger School.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: But, you know, it’s just ––like I said it has some controversial things to it. The one thing that usually I will shut any diet book down if it tells me I can’t drink beer and that’s just one of those things. But if it’s says, you know, you need to stop drinking beer or otherwise you know… yeah I don’t drink a lot of beer. I don’t drink a lot of beer but you know I enjoy beer with a lot of…

Brett McKay: With your football games.

Stew Smith: Yeah, with my football game, you know and even then you know it’s one or two, you know I’m not drinking six peg down in my basement you know watching a football game, but otherwise I be completely useless.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: But yes, I mean like I said you know moderation, everything in moderation that includes beer.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, Stew in most of your programs that you have on your site that you ––in the books you sell, are geared towards primarily to help people train to prepare for working in the military. Can a man who isn’t in the military, doesn’t plan on becoming a special ops guy still benefit from your programs?

Stew Smith: Oh yeah, sure. I have many guys who used to be in the navy or military, never been in the military or law enforcement and I have been using my routines for years at all ages, you know couple, it’s me to get emails from guys who’re in their 50s and early 60s that are you know still able to crank out pull-ups you know in their workout. And you know some of them have altered instead of running, they do more swimming and biking and a little less impact on their joints, but you know it’s whatever call you can get, you still need to get some kind of cardiovascular activity and you know nothing wrong with nonimpact cardio as well. Two things I’m probably going to do as I age will be swimming and yoga, you know and I’m not doing yoga right now but definitely when I become you know dirty old man I’ll be doing yoga.

Brett McKay: Just two final questions, what is the one thing that holds people back from getting in shape? I’m sure there is a lot of our listeners who are like I really need to get off my butt and start you know start working out. What’s holding them back and what can they do to overcome that?

Stew Smith: Phew, good one. My biggest thing I’ve seen people have problems with they start doubting themselves and typically it’s not immediately, right. Some people will doubt people, doubt themselves right from the start and you know not even try. But most folks are very motivated, they go and buy a gym membership for a year in that first week of being highly motivated and ready to go to do this thing. You know, you notice that the gyms are packed in January and every New Year resolution and by February it’s gone…

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: Well, that’s what happens to most of us. We’re very motivated that first few weeks and then baam phase two hits and I call this phase two because you just start doubting yourself. What I try to tell people is just go ahead and start doubting yourself from the start, right and get over it as quickly as possible. Because it’s a natural phase that happens and I called it the five phases of fitness, five psychological phases of fitness. You know, in that first phase is highly motivated, you’re ready to do anything, ready to go, ready to train for marathon and you know phase two pass, two weeks into it, you’re done, right you quit. You know, you see no results yet, you’re just having given up. But really it’s all about the long haul. You know, like don’t worry about two weeks, let’s worry about the whole year, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: And wait for results the whole year because I tell people all the time that you know give me a month and change the way you look, you know give me a year I can change your life.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stew Smith: And that’s really true. You spend the whole year adding fitness to your life you’ll be a whole different person later of the year. And I say phase three is you’ve conquered your doubt now you’re ready to roll and you’ve created a habit of fitness, that’s the bigger thing. Once you conquered your doubt you’ve kind of created that habits and once you created that habit, it’s really hard to get out of it. You know, you really kind of miss it. Whenever you’re not able to work out you know, you’ll find little way to squeeze and workout, whether it’s just doing crunches and push-ups at the end of the day, you’re going for a walk after dinner, you’ll find a way to do something. And then at phase four, it is all of a sudden now you’re fit and you’re associating yourself with people who are fit and when you’ve more confidence and you can do other things and you know you’re able to run up and down the steps without being winded, you know you just do little things that occur to you when you realized wow, there are some really big results here other than, you know, me trying to see my six packets, right. It’s better quality of life. And then my final and last phase five is you know you start planning, you start saying you know I’m going to run a 10K, you know I’m going to run a marathon or you start setting physical goals for yourself whether that’s you want bench press 400 pounds or you want to run a marathon, doesn’t matter. Cool thing about fitness is the journey, not a destination and you just keep bouncing from one journey to the next.

Brett McKay: Well, so Stew, thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Stew Smith: Alright, okay, thank you.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was Stew Smith. Stew is a personal trainer who focuses on helping men prepare for working in military special operations, fire departments, and police work. For more information about Stew’s work and programs checkout his website at

And that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at and until next week stay manly.

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