SURVIVING SEALFIT: 3 Ways SEAL-Style Workouts Change Your Life

STACK editor Brian Sabin on the surprising ways that training really, really hard will change your body and your life.

"Enjoy your weekend, because I'm kicking your butt starting Monday."

That was the last thing SEALFIT coach Will Talbott told me during my first phone call with him. He was being friendly. But he didn't sound like he was joking.

I was on the phone with Talbott after weeks of experimenting with SEAL-style workouts I'd found online. I was ready to commit to taking on a SEALFIT 20X Challenge and needed an actual training plan. Talbott had graciously volunteered to help me prepare for the event.  I was now following SEALFIT's training regimen.

RELATED: SURVIVING SEALFIT, Part 1: What Happened When a Regular Guy Tried to Train Like a Navy SEAL

Since Talbott (and the rest of SEALFIT) is based in California and I live outside of Cleveland, he would coach me online. I would get my daily workouts (WODs, short for Workout of the Day) from SEALFIT's website.

When Monday came, I logged on and quickly saw that Talbott was not joking. The WOD consisted of five segments—each of which could be a full workout on its own.

The first segment included a barbell complex with six reps each of Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, Hang Cleans, Front Squats, Push Presses and Back Squats—then added some Burpees for good measure. Do three rounds of that, and congratulations! You've finished the warm-up.

Well, part one of the warm-up.

The training plan was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Perhaps I should have expected that when I started the workouts, I'd feel differently than I'd ever felt during and after a training session. In fact, now that I've been following the plan for a few weeks, I can honestly say that it's changed my life (or at least it's changed how I'm living at the moment) in ways I never expected, and taught me new things. For example, I've learned:

1. You are capable of doing a lot more than you think you are.

As you probably gathered, SEALFIT's workouts are long. Loooong. How long?

"Typically, it should take you two hours to complete," Talbott wrote in an email.

Two hours? Who has two hours to work out? Well, it turns out that you do, if you're willing to wake up earlier and get it done.

My alarm goes off at 4:30 in the morning, and although the past few weeks may have included a few fights with the snooze alarm, some thrown shoes, and research into whether coffee could be safely administered through an intravenous drip (it can't), I'm now getting up right when the bell goes off. I'm even kind of enjoying it.

Of course, once you're finally awake, you have to actually do the workouts. And the workouts are tough. As I said in my first post, you blow up a lot—especially at first. But over time, you learn how to regain control of your body, even when it's telling you, "Dude, seriously, no more Burpees. If you keep going, I'm going to make you throw up or soil your pants in front of everybody." You learn that you can get past that (and keep your shorts clean).

When the training session is (finally, mercifully) done, you'll be proud that you've done so much. OK, who am I kidding, you'll relish it. You'll find you have to hold yourself back from telling everyone you know that you started your day with 1,000 Air Squats—and that was the easy part of the workout.

2. Your breath is the key to everything.

Perhaps the most profound thing I've learned from SEALFIT so far is the importance of breath control. The group places a strong emphasis on proper breathing—something that I'd previously only experienced in yoga classes. I never expected that a weightlifting program would place so much focus on it.

For example, every SEALFIT training session begins with a few minutes of a meditative technique called "Box Breathing." The technique is simple: Basically, you inhale, hold your breath, exhale, then hold the exhale for a certain number of counts (I go for a five-count on each.) The drill helps you get in tune with your body and calms your mind before a tough training session.

Box Breathing also helps you gain control over your breathing more quickly—a skill that comes in handy during intense workouts. When you are performing hard intervals and placing a big demand on your cardiovascular system, taking slow, deep breaths during rest periods can help you slow down your heart rate (and beat back the urge to panic). You'll regain your strength more quickly, and be able to put more effort into your next set.

3. When you've faced something intimidating, the rest of your day becomes easier.

I know, I know, it doesn't sound cool to say something intimidates you. But admit it: When I see SEALFIT's workouts spelled out on the screen—75 Kettlebell Swings here, 100 Sandbag Get-Ups there—I feel nervous. I question whether I'll be able to get it done. However, once I get to the gym and start working, I'm usually able to make it through. Then I look back and think, "See, I can do that."

That "I can do that" sensation carries with you throughout the day, making other seemingly daunting tasks—that critical email to your boss, the uncomfortable conversation you need to have with a colleague, that huge project you need to get done ASAP—feel less overwhelming. Personally, I've found that I'm able to write more quickly and accurately since starting with SEALFIT. After carrying a 45-pound plate over my head for a quarter-mile, how could I feel nervous about whether I'm properly using the words "fewer" and "less"?

(FYI: For my word nerd friends out there: You use "fewer" when describing something you can count, and "less" when you can't put a precise number on it. There were fewer people at the gym today than yesterday. Brian hoped that it would make it less likely  someone would notice he was panting on the floor next to the battle ropes.)

Anyway, I like that by doing these workouts, I get to choose what will likely be my toughest test for the day on most days. It helps put other, smaller tests—ones far less likely to cause me to throw up in public—in perspective. And hopefully, they're also preparing me to better handle the really serious tests that life inevitably throws at us all.

After a few weeks of following SEALFIT's workouts, I was noticing positive changes, both in my body and my mindset. I was making progress. Which of course meant it was the perfect time for me to screw things up. More on that next time.

Related Posts: 

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 1: What Happened When a Regular Guy Tried to Train Like a Navy SEAL

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 2: 3 Ways SEAL-Style Workouts Change Your Life

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 3: The World's Hardest Workout Has a Ridiculous Name

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 4: Inside the Devil's Backpack: The Only 5 Things You Need to Get A Hellishly Hard Workout Anywhere

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 5: How Not to Hurt Yourself (Like I Did)

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 6: Finding the Silver Lining

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 7: The Question That Tells You Whether You'll Succeed

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 8: Meet 3 Guys Who Might Kill Me

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 9: The Dress Rehearsal

SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 10: What a SEALFIT 20X Challenge is REALLY Like


This is the second installment of SURVIVING SEALFIT, STACK Executive Editor Brian Sabin's account of his quest to reach elite military grade fitness, take a SEALFIT 20X Challenge and (hopefully) live to tell about it. He'll publish weekly accounts of his ups and downs here at You can also find him posting daily updates on Twitter and Google Plus.

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