Fitness for Survivalists

Physical fitness is of the utmost importance for wilderness adventures, warfare, and all survival scenarios. If you are already in excellent physical condition, you should be maintaining your current capabilities and challenging yourself with new goals. If you are out of shape, then it's time to get to work!

Matt spent most of his childhood running around and climbing trees in his backyard and local forests. He rode his bicycle virtually everywhere he wanted to go from the age of six onward, and he began deliberately exercising at the age of ten using a spring-type rowing device intended to develop the biceps and back muscles. It was around that time that Matt watched First Blood for the first time and knew he wanted to someday be in special operations. He soon thereafter moved his father's vintage sand-filled weight set upstairs to his bedroom and used it to perform bicep curls up to 40 lbs per arm for 200 reps each night. Matt's exercise routine consisted mostly of biceps exercises until he began attending high school and had access to a real gym. When Matt was in 9th grade, he decided his goal was to eventually become a Navy SEAL. To prepare, he competed in three years of Cross Country (3.1 mile races) and Track (1600m and 3200m races) and one year of Swim Team (up to 200m breaststroke and 500m freestyle races). During the summertime, Matt would get up at 0800 (M/W/F) and perform the BUD/S Warning Order PT routine, consisting of ten sets of 20 pushups, 25 situps, 15 dips, and 10 pullups. 

Matt's summertime fitness center. Pushups in the grass, situps with feet held under the door, dips on top of the tower, and pullups from the rings. This workout involved a lot of climbing between sets.


After this routine, Matt would run 4 to 6 miles around town. His runs would include hill sprints, stadium steps, running the perimeter of the town, running out to the countryside and back, and various track workouts. Matt always preferred running a loop rather than doubling back. After his run, Matt would take a break until the pool opened at noon, and then he would go swim a mile using the sidestroke and wearing fins. After the mile, Matt would catch his breath for ten minutes, and then practice the 50m underwater swim. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he would rest his upper body and only run and swim. The rest of the afternoons and weekends were devoted to recovery, relaxation, adventures and some part-time work. In the wintertime, Matt and his buddies (mostly fellow Boy Scouts) would lift weights from the end of the school day at 1500 until the gym closed around 1800. During Matt's senior year he had Swim Team practice in the afternoons and was not able to lift weights, but he did make a point of waking up around 0530 each morning to run before school. Matt would run outside as long as the temperature was above 20°, but sometimes he stayed inside and used a step-machine if it was colder or sleeting. Throughout his high school years, Matt consistently placed among the top runners in his races and won first place several times. Matt was not one of the faster swimmers on Swim Team, but his investment there paid off later.

Sprinting into the finish during a 1999 Cross Country race

XC Finish

Navy boot camp PT was pathetic, consisting mostly of stretches and jumping jacks, and an occasional formation jog. It was in boot camp that Matt first officially attempted the pre-BUD/S screening test:

Physical Evolution Required Score
500 yard swim 12:30
Pushups 42
Situps 50
Pullups 6 (Matt 21)
1.5 mile run in boots and pants 11:30 (Matt 8:16)

Matt easily passed the screening test, finishing the 1.5-mile run first out of nine candidates at 8:16 minutes while wearing the old utility uniform with steel-toed boots. After this, Matt was sometimes able to leave his division in the mornings to attend SEAL PT. Matt also engaged in his own PT at the rear of the barracks by doing pushups and situps with several "shipmates" during cleaning times, and occasionally he was able to get away with using the curtain rods in the head as pull-up bars. At Intelligence "A" School, there was lots of time available for PT, and there were ten or more guys who all had orders to go to BUD/S. IS1 Jordan, an intelligence instructor and a great mentor, held organized PT sessions for all of the BUD/S candidates early each morning, and Matt never missed a workout (besides the day of his second pre-BUD/S screening test). Morning PT consisted of sets of 50 of various types of pushups and abdominal exercises, and sets of ten to twelve pullups, followed by a 3 to 6 mile run. In the afternoons, Matt and his buddies Vince and Stewart would go to the gym to lift weights, and then spend the evenings swimming laps in the pool, practicing the 50m underwater swim, and talking with the two supermodel lifeguards – who let Matt climb DEV Group's water O-course ropes on his last night there.

Thanks CJ and Jamie!

DEV Group Ropes

BUD/S PT involved running, swimming, calisthenics, rope climbing, Log PT, Boat PT, ruck-humping, and Matt's favorite – the O-course. The following are official requirements as stated in the BUD/S Warning Order:

Physical Evolution Required Time
(First Phase)
50 meter underwater swim Pass/Fail (Matt - 1st attempt)
Drownproofing test Pass/Fail (Matt - 3rd attempt)
Basic lifesaving test Pass/Fail (Matt - 1st attempt)
1/2 mile pool swim w/o fins Completion
3/4 mile pool swim w/o fins Completion
1 mile pool swim w/o fins 60 min
1 mile bay swim w/o fins 70 min
1 mile bay swim with fins 50 min
1-1/2 mile ocean swim w/fins 75 min
2 mile ocean swim with fins 95 min
4 mile timed run 32 min
Obstacle Course 15 min
(Second Phase)  
2 mile ocean swim with fins 75 min
4 mile timed run 29:20
Obstacle Course 11 min
5-1/2 mile ocean swim with fins Completion (Matt 3:39)
(Third Phase)  
Obstacle Course 10:30 (Matt 6:01)
4 mile timed run 28 min (Matt 26:24)
14 mile run Completion
2 mile ocean swim with fins 70 min

This next chart details some previously unlisted BUD/S physical requirements:

Physical Evolution Required Time
(Second Phase)  
Treading Water w/ fins, twin-80 bottles and 15 lbs of sea pearls, no hands 5:00+
(Third Phase)  
Underwater knot tying at 12 feet in pool Pass/Fail
Underwater knot tying at 50 feet in dive tower Pass/Fail
8 mile rucksack run w/ fireman carries during last mile Completion
3 mile night shark swim Completion

The requirements listed above are for tests only. Each day in BUD/S normally consisted of early morning calisthenics and rope climbs, a 4 to 8 mile run on the sand, and running two miles to each meal and back (6 miles per day automatically). The 2 mile ocean swims with fins and the Obstacle Course were both performed about twice each week, and most days during 1st Phase involved Log PT, Boat PT, or ruck-humping. 2nd Phase involved lots of long-distance combat swimming on closed-circuit scuba, and 3rd Phase involved a significant amount of ruck-humping in mountainous terrain and running around in the desert while conducting tactical drills.

In the future, there will be a link here which will redirect to a detailed page about the Obstacle Course.

At the mall while home on leave

Pole Trick Stage

Matt took a bit of a break from PT during SEAL Qualification Training – occasionally working out at the base gym. Upon his arrival at Panama City for SDV School, Matt resumed intensive weightlifting and running on a daily basis. When he finally reached his permanent duty station at NAB Little Creek in Norfolk, VA, Matt would PT with the rest of the command by doing calisthenics, rope climbs, running, swimming, ruck-humping, and practicing two smaller obstacle courses. The command also frequently played water polo with minimal rules. Eventually, Matt decided to PT on his own. He would leave for 2 to 3 hours each morning and PT at the base gym using free weights, treadmills, floor mats (for abs), and the Versaclimber mountain-climbing machine, and he would return in the evenings for an additional 2 to 3 hours of PT on the Nautilus machines and jumping rope. Peaking at 170 lbs of bodyweight, Matt was able to bench press 250 lbs, leg press 720 lbs, and perform 26 pullups. He was the 2nd fastest runner at the SDV team (and the fastest guy actually somewhat resembled Forrest Gump in appearance).

When Matt departed the Navy and returned to his hometown, he purchased his own weights and lifted at home. He shortly thereafter moved to the countryside where he ran some hilly loops, and occasionally he would drive into town and run at the track or around the sports fields or the perimeter of town. Later, after moving to a larger house, Matt purchased a Yukon Power Tower (a pullup and dip apparatus), a Life Fitness treadmill, and additional weights and benches. He also rigged a 30-foot 2-inch manila rope from a branch outside to practice climbing. It was during this time that Matt attended and graduated college with a bachelor's degree in Health and Physical Education. Three years later, Matt took to the road driving a tractor-trailer, in which he rigged a pullup bar and fitness ladders. He ran, bicycled, skied, swam and hiked from truck stops whenever he had an opportunity. During the year of truck-driving, Matt and his wife made their big move to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now they have lots of space. Matt is currently in the process of arranging the interior of his barn as a real gym. He also recently led a series of PT sessions at a local college.


How to Get in Shape

The following are suggested workout schedules for BUD/S candidates as provided by Navy recruiters. These are excellent workouts to use for improving your own level of physical fitness as a survivalist.


You should perform a full-body stretch routine for at least 15 minutes before any workout. At the end of a workout, stretching the muscles you focused upon will make you more flexible and less likely to get injured. A good way to stretch is to start at the top of your body and work downwards. Stretch every muscle in your body from the neck to the calves, concentrating especially on your thighs, hamstrings, chest, back, arms and shoulders. Stretch to tightness, not to pain; hold for 10-15 seconds. Do not bounce!


Proper nutrition is extremely important. You must make sure you receive the necessary nutrients to obtain maximum performance output during exercise as well as to promote muscle/tissue growth and recovery. The proper diet provides all the nutrients for the body's needs and supplies energy for exercise. As well, it promotes growth and repair of tissue and regulates body processes.

The fastest, most readily used source of energy is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are divided into two categories; simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down into fuel, although they provide a fast source of energy to the body they are used very rapidly. For long-distance endurance activities simple carbohydrates alone cannot adequately supply the body with the fuel it requires. In comparison, complex carbohydrates require a slightly longer period of time to break down to fuel. However, that fuel will be utilized over a much longer period of time.
A combination of simple and complex carbohydrates is optimal for proper energy and recovery. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates would include potatoes, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are found abundantly in processed foods. Fig Newton cookies and dried fruit would be healthy sources. Readily available performance nutrition bars generally provide a good ratio of complex to simple carbohydrates, their drawback would be the high cost per bar.
Carbohydrates alone will not provide the body all that it requires. Your diet requires, in addition,
a combination of protein and fat. Protein is essential in the diet, especially for active individuals. It contains amino acids which are the building blocks of all muscle within the body. High quality protein will help aid in muscle growth, repair and recovery. Fat, on the other hand, provides the muscles with a long term source of energy. Even in the leanest athletes, the bodies fat storage can potentially provide more then twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates. The trick in utilizing this gold mine of energy is to provide the body with a regular supply. Contrary to popular thought, a diet void of fat will not enable you to lose weight and maintain energy.
The amount of food consumed each day
should coincide with the level of exercise you are doing. As a general rule, the average adult male requires approximately 2000 calories per day. As you increase your energy usage you need to increase the amount of fuel you consume. A good practice is to regularly refuel following each substantial workout. This means getting in a balanced amount of nutrients within fifteen to thirty minutes following a workout. This is a good time to utilize those nutrition bars, energy drinks or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Your basic diet should consist of a proper percentage of each of these nutrients:







Of all the things you put into your body, water is by far the most important. Depending on your level of exercise, you should be consuming as much as four quarts of water daily. It is very easy to become dehydrated while exercising. The single most important rule to remember is to drink before you get thirsty. Substances such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco increase your body's need for water. Too mush of these substances will definitely harm your body and hinder your performance. Supplemental intake of vitamins, as well, has not been proven to be beneficial. If you are eating a well balanced diet, you will be getting all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements your body requires to get you through the training.

Workout for Category I

This category is for individuals who have never or not recently been on a routine PT program.

Bodyweight Training Schedule I
PT to be performed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For best results, alternate exercises. Do a set of push-ups, then a set of sit-ups, then a set of pull-ups. Do the three sets of exercises with no rest in between, then take a thirty second rest, and repeat for the remainder of the session.

Week Push-ups Sit-ups Pull-ups
1 4 sets x 15 reps 4 sets x 20 reps 3 sets x 3 reps
2 5 sets x 20 reps 5 sets x 20 reps 3 sets x 3 reps
3 5 sets x 25 reps 5 sets x 25 reps 3 sets x 4 reps
4 5 sets x 25 reps 5 sets x 25 reps 3 sets x 4 reps
5 6 sets x 25 reps 6 sets x 25 reps 2 sets x 8 reps
6 6 sets x 25 reps 6 sets x 25 reps 2 sets x 8 reps
7 6 sets x 30 reps 6 sets x 30 reps 2 sets x 10 reps
8 6 sets x 30 reps 6 sets x 30 reps 2 sets x 10 reps
9 6 sets x 30 reps 6 sets x 30 reps 3 sets x 10 reps

Running Schedule I

A good deal of adventure and survival activities involve running. Only running can fully prepare your lower extremities for these activities. Your goal is to work up to 16 miles per week of running. You should run in boots and long pants to prepare your legs for real-life survival scenarios.

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Total
1 2 miles off 2 miles off 2 miles 6 miles
2 2 miles off 2 miles off 2 miles 6 miles
3 off off off off off 0 miles
4 3 miles off 3 miles off 3 miles 9 miles
5 2 miles 3 miles off 4 miles 2 miles 11 miles
6 2 miles 3 miles off 4 miles 2 miles 11 miles
7 3 miles 4 miles off 5 miles 2 miles 14 miles
8 3 miles 5 miles off 5 miles 3 miles 16 miles
9 3 miles 5 miles off 5 miles 3 miles 16 miles

Swimming Schedule I

If you have access to a pool, swim every day possible. Four to five days a week and 200 meters in one session is your initial workout goal. Alternate sidestroke and breaststroke without fins 4 to 5 days per week. Work to develop your sidestroke on both the left and right sides. If you have no access to a pool, ride a bicycle for twice as long as you would swim. 

Week Swim Continuously
15 Minutes
2 15 Minutes
3 20 Minutes
4 20 Minutes
5 25 Minutes
6 25 Minutes
7 30 Minutes
8 30 Minutes
9 35 Minutes

Workout for Category II

This is a more intense workout designed for those who have been involved with a regular routine physical training program or those who have completed the requirements of category I.

Bodyweight Training Schedule II
PT to be performed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. These workouts are designed for long-term muscle endurance. Muscle fatigue will gradually take a longer and longer time to develop by doing high repetition workouts. For best results, alternate exercises in each set, in order to rest each muscle group for a short time.

Week Push-ups Sit-ups Dips Pull-ups
1 6 sets x 30 reps 6 sets x 35 reps 3 sets x 20 reps 3 sets x 10 reps
2 6 sets x 30 reps 6 sets x 35 reps 3 sets x 10 reps 3 sets x 10 reps
3 10 sets x 20 reps 10 sets x 25 reps 10 sets x 15 reps 4 sets x 10 reps
4 10 sets x 20 reps 10 sets x 25 reps 10 sets x 5 reps 4 sets x 10 reps
5 15 sets x 20 reps 15 sets x 25 reps 15 sets x 15 reps 4 sets x 12 reps
6 20 sets x 20 reps 20 sets x 25 reps 20 sets x 15 reps 5 sets x 12 reps

Running Schedule II

Continue your progression through the category II running workout. For weeks 8-9 and beyond, it is not necessary to increase the distance of your runs; work on the speed of your 6-mile runs and try to get them down to 7:30 per mile or lower (this would allow you to complete your run in 45 minutes or better). If you wish to increase the distance of your runs, do it gradually: no more than three miles per week for every week beyond week 9.

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Total
1 3 miles 5 miles 4 miles 5 miles 2 miles 19 miles
2 3 miles 5 miles 4 miles 5 miles 2 miles 19 miles
3 4 miles 5 miles 6 miles 4 miles 3 miles 22 miles
4 4 miles 5 miles 6 miles 4 miles 3 miles 22 miles
5 5 miles 5 miles 6 miles 4 miles 4 miles 24 miles
6 5 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 4 miles 27 miles
7 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 30 miles

Swimming Schedule II

This workout involves the use of fins. Apollo Bio Fins are the best, but Deep See Aqua Glide split fins also work very well. At first, to reduce initial stress on your foot and lower leg muscles when starting with fins, alternate swimming 1000 meters with fins and 1000 meters withut them. Your goal should be to swim 50 meters in 45 seconds or less.

Week Swim Continuously
35 Minutes
2 35 Minutes
3 45 Minutes with fins
4 45 Minutes with fins
5 60 Minutes with fins
6 60 Minutes with fins

Matt's Pre-BUD/S Workout

This was Matt's standard summertime PT.

Bodyweight Training
PT performed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Week Push-ups Sit-ups Dips Pull-ups
All 10 sets x 20 reps 10 sets x 25 reps 10 sets x 15 reps 10 sets x 10 reps


Matt ran in windpants and sneakers regardless of the temperature. He frequently carried a 3 lb or 6 lb dumbbell in each hand, and he connected 6 lbs worth of ankle weights end-to-end and wore them as a belt.

Day Distance/Exercise
Mon 4 - 6 miles around town
Tue 3 - 5 miles including track workout
Wed 4 - 6 miles around town
Thu 3 - 5 miles including 10 sets of stadium steps (50 uphill sprints)
Fri 4 - 6 miles around town


Matt swam almost exclusively sidestroke using a pair of stiff Oceanic fins that turned out to be very good preparation for the "duck foot" fins issued at BUD/S. He would swim 100 yards on his left side, then switch to his right side and swim another 100 yards, and so on for 1 mile, with a 50 yard freestyle sprint at the end. Afterwards, he would rest and catch his breath for ten minutes, and then practice the 50m underwater swim. Matt considers meters and yards to be essentially the same distance in regards to PT. Miles and nautical miles, however, are much different. A statute mile measures approximately 1600 meters or 1750 yards. A nauticle mile measures approximately 2000 yards. So to swim a nautical mile, you'll need to swim about 80 laps. This did not occur to Matt prior to BUD/S, and he still graduated.

Day Swim Continuously Underwater Swim
MTWRF 1 mile (64 laps in 25 yard/meter pool) 50 meters (2 laps in 25 yard/meter pool)

Matt, Ben, Matt