Navy SEAL Fitness: Block Periodized Training

Abt JP, Oliver JM, Nagai T, et al.  JSCR 2016;30(1):39-52.
A review of the latest Tactical Strength and Conditioning Program from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Neil Roberts Gym
Neil C. Roberts, Petty Officer First Class, died in the Battle of Takur Gahr (3/4/2002). This gym is dedicated to his memory.
If you’re willing to workout 6 days a week AND be in ultimate fighting shape for the zombie apocalypse, this is the program for you.  Full Program is laid out at the end of the document.
If you want similar results but only have 3 days per week to train – THIS IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST PROGRAM TO USE.
 The Navy SEAL Foundation has a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator.  Donations can be made on their home page.
     Special Operators of all services remain the most important weapon in current military conflicts.  They provide much more through the human element than any technology ever could.    High operational tempos in both training and deployment make it exceedingly tough, however, to stay in a rigid and consistent training/nutrition program.
Many of us in our daily lives feel the same burden of chaos in staying on a consistent program.
A recent paper looked at 85 Navy SEALs, 49 in the experimental group, 36 in a control group, who underwent a 4 week block periodized program with the control program being nonlinear & periodized.  A 4 week block periodized program utilizes a progression in resistance and workload over 3 weeks with a “deload” week during the 4th week.  We have written on such programs in the past and I currently use one at present.  What you are about to read is what program I’ll probably be using in the future 😉
Total study time 12 weeks (3 blocks) assessing physical, physiological, and performance outcome measures before and after the study period.
     Pre- testing/posttesting was performed to assess body composition, aerobic capacity/lactate threshold, muscular strength, flexibility, landing biomechanics, postural stability, and tactically relevant performance.
     Both groups displayed an increase in aerobic capacity and improved lower and upper body muscular power and upper body muscular endurance (stamina).
     However, the experimental group also lost significantly more body fat (7 times as much actually), improved balance and landing ability, had increases in posterior shoulder flexibility and ankle dorsiflexion (control group actually lost mobility in the shoulder, knee, and ankle), and gained more in agility and total body muscular strength.
So, what kind of program did this experimental group undergo?  Is this the future of SEAL Fitness?
 Military Gym
     We must first say that the variables were tightly controlled, lending credence to the validity of the study. Those enrolled agreed to perform only the prescribed training and not to consume any nutritional or ergogenic supplements excluding protein supplementation (20 g postworkout)  and a daily vitamin for the duration of the training period. However, there was a 40% attrition in the experimental group and a 51% attrition in the control group.  That’s not good.
Experimental Protocol
     Resistance training was performed before metabolic conditioning 4 days/week. Two other days for conditioning were performed for a total of 6 days of exercise per week.
     The 12 week program was divided into three training blocks lasting 4 weeks each.  Each block targeted a specific performance characteristic with an unload week scheduled the fourth week of each block to allow for recovery before initiation of the next block of training.   We have seen this style of programming in many strength programs we’ve covered before such as 5/3/1  and the Dynamorphic Training System.  The design of the block-periodization model training program was based on the biomechanical, musculoskeletal, and physiological characteristics of Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Operators previously tested to improve on activities deemed suboptimal. These activities were performed before exercise on those days in which resistance training was performed (4 days per week).

So….the breakdown on resistance training days were: Skills, then Resistance training, then Metabolic Conditioning (MC)

     This progression is important because you want to work on skills (Coordination, Accuracy, Balance, Agility) when the nervous system is fresh and you definitely want to put strength before cardio.

Block 1: Develop basic abilities (Strength, Endurance, Coordination)

M – Upper and Lower Body Pulling; MC with intervals

T – Upper and Lower Body Pressing; Tempo endurance (25 min)

W – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Th – Upper and Lower Body Pulling; MC with intervals

F – Upper and Lower Body Pressing; Temp endurance (25 min)

Sa – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

*Resistance training with 8-12 reps with 2-3 min rest between sets

Block 2: Develop Stamina and Power

M – Olympic Lifts (4-6 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); HIIT 15 min

T – Metabolic Circuit (10-15 reps every 60 sec)

W – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Th – Olympic Lifts (4-6 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); HIIT 15 min

F – Metabolic Circuit (10-15 reps every 60 sec)

Sa – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Block 3: Strength, Power, Tactical Drills at high intensity (and short rest)

M – Olympic lifts (3-5 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); Agility Drills

T – Maximal compound lifts (3-5 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); HIIT 25 min

W – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Th – Olympic lifts (3-5 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); Agility Drills

F – Maximal compound lifts (3-5 reps with 2-3 min rest interval); HIIT 25 min

Sa – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Thus, each of these blocks were conducted as described above with progression in weight and reps from week 1 to week 2 to week 3. Week 4 was a “deload week” where participants performed resistance training with a suspension sling (likely the TRx system)

Deload Week:

M – Upper body 4 sets of 10 with suspension trainer; Slow endurance (30-60 min)

T – Lower body 4 sets of 10 with suspension trainer; Slow endurance (30-60 min)

W – Off

Th – Physical Fitness Test

F – Slow endurance (30-60 min)

Sa – Off

Control Protocol
     This was a nonlinear periodized program that varied in 2 week increments and repeated over the course of the 12 week program.  Although the program was not clear in detail from the article it appeared to mirror some of the strength training and Olympic lifting involved in the experimental protocol.  Each day of the 12-week block focused on the development of trainable characteristics congruent with the blocks of the experimental group.
Block 1: (2 weeks)
M – Strength training and Olympic lifts (3-5 reps); HIIT 15 min
T – Whole body resistance training (4-8 reps with 2-3 min rest interval between sets)
W – Slow endurance (30-60 min)
Th – Strength training and Olympic lifts (3-5 reps); HIIT 15 min
F – HIIT for strength for 25 min
Sa – Slow endurance (30-60 min)
Block 2: (2 weeks)
M – Tactical conditioning (O course, Sand Dune runs, etc)
W – Slow endurance (30-60 min)
Th –  Tactical Conditioning
Sa – Slow endurance (30-60 min)
     To note, among NSW Operators, previous research has revealed a positive correlation between the percent body fat and injury count and determined 15% body fat as a thresh- old for injuries to begin becoming more common. When compared with this threshold, the current NSW Operators were just above the threshold. This implies that Operator training based on a block- periodization model may be more effective at reducing body fat below 15%. Maintaining a leaner body composition is important to optimize physical performance and decrease injury risk.
     The experimental group engaged in plyometric exercises which have an advantage in improving landing technique.  Agility training has been shown to improve neuromuscular control of the quadriceps and hamstrings musculature, whereas strength training alone does not improve muscular reaction time. Given that anterior tibial translation forces are a primary factor in potential ACL ruptures, enhanced neuromuscular control of the knee joint alone would make agility training a worthwhile investment for Operators not currently using this method.
     The original article did not go into detail on the specifics of the programming in terms of exercises, sets, reps, rest intervals, etc.  So I took the liberty of contacting one of the authors.  He went over the programming with me and sent me a presentation on the program which was similar to the Eagle Tactical Athlete Program designed for the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division.  We blended the programming of the NSW program with 5/3/1 for strength training and the CrossFit Benchmark workouts to give you a powerful program to build your mind and body.  This is what Dynamorphic Training (literally power-form) is all about.  Building a powerful YOU with a focus on compound movements with perfect form.  Always use perfect form even on warm-ups to solidify those neural pathways to the most powerful and efficient action your body is capable of.
Here’s the program
If you have any questions, email me at
Lanny Littlejohn, MD

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6 responses to “Navy SEAL Fitness: Block Periodized Training

    1. Nicolas,
      I think the link was broken when we recently migrated from http to https. I restored the link and it should now work correctly. Let me know if it doesn’t and Happy New Year to ya. Best,Lanny

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