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Navy SEALs are, in recent years, best known as the group that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. But in addition to being members of the Navy’s special operations force, many SEALs are also climbers, and enjoy training similar to what civilian climbers perform every day. When not practicing mountaineering and lead climbing skills outside at crags like Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, or Joshua Tree, California, SEAL “lead climbers”—the most experienced climber in each squad, and thus the point man for rigging during operations—spend time in the gym to become stronger and faster.
Don Mann, a former SEAL Team Six lead climber, and author of Inside SEAL Team SIX (usfrogmann.com), gave us a sample training regimen SEALs complete during training, in addition to calisthenics, swimming and diving, obstacle courses, and other grueling exercises, along with combat skills.
Do the following eight exercises as a circuit. Spend 45 seconds to one minute at each station listed below, resting 15 seconds between each. Mann recommends starting with the largest muscle groups and moving to the smallest groups, as the order below suggests. Reps: Perform as many reps as possible within the 45 seconds. Weight: Specific weights for each exercises will vary; they should be enough to challenge you, but not so much that they force bad technique.
1. Quads/Glutes: Squats with dumbbells
Stand with good posture and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower into a squat with the back straight and butt out, keeping your gaze straight ahead. Lower until thighs are parallel to the floor; knees should not come forward past the toes. Raise back up by pushing off your heels, maintaining a straight back, to starting position. Repeat. Can also be performed with a barbell across the back.
Climbing application: Strengthens hamstrings for overhangs; helps when standing up from a high-step
2. Hamstrings/Glutes: Stability ball hamstring curls
Lie on your back on the floor with lower calves and heels resting atop a stability ball, arms out to the side forming a “T.” With abdominals pulled in, lift hips off the floor, pushing heels down into ball for stability until body is in one straight line from heels to shoulders. Then bend your knees and pull the ball toward your hips with your heels. Slowly lower and repeat.
Climbing application: Better heel-hooking; helps maintain toe contact on overhangs
3. Calves: Calf raises
Stand on the edge of a step with feet hip-width apart, balls of the feet on the step, heels off the step, a dumbbell in each hand. Raise onto your tiptoes, and then lower your heels past the edge of the step until you feel the stretch. Repeat.
Climbing application: Helps maintain plantar flexion when standing on small holds. (Plantar flexion occurs when your foot bends at the ankle; i.e., standing on tiptoes.)
4. Forearms: Palms-down and palms-up wrist curls
Palms down: Kneel on one side of a bench, with forearms resting on bench. Hold barbell in a pronated grip (palms down), with wrists hanging over the edge. Curl wrists upward and slowly lower to starting position. Repeat.
Palms up: Start in same position as palms-down curls, only with wrists in a supinated grip (palms up). Wrists should still hang down over the bench. Curl wrists upward and slowly lower. Repeat. *Forearms should be stationary throughout both exercises.
Climbing application: Provides super-compensation (body’s rebound from training) for forearm flexors; prevents injury for extensors, which help flex the wrist and move the fingers
5. Biceps: Chin-ups
Grab a pull-up bar with palms facing your body and a grip slightly narrower than shoulderwidth apart. Pull torso up until head is level or above pull-up bar, squeezing the biceps and keeping elbows close to the body. Slowly lower until arms are fully extended. Repeat.
Climbing application: Helps with undercling moves and overhangs
6. Triceps/Deltoids/ Pectorals: Diamond push-ups
Start in plank position, with back slightly arched, like that of an angry cat. Form a diamond between your thumbs and pointer fingers, directly beneath your chest. Do a full push-up, lowering your chest until it hovers just above the floor; don’t allow your hips to sag. Push back up, and repeat.
Climbing application: Helps with manteling; prevents injury to the shoulders/elbows
7. Lats: Wide-grip pull-ups
Grab a pull-up bar with palms facing away from your body, using a grip wider than shoulderwidth distance apart. Tilt your torso back about 30 degrees, sticking your chest out. Pull up until the bar touches your upper chest, squeezing your lat muscles at the apex. Slowly lower until arms are fully extended. Repeat.
Climbing application: Provides strength to pull up from holds set far apart with poor feet; prevents injury to shoulders
8. Core: Forearm plank
Start in plank position with back slightly arched. Lower to rest your weight on your forearms, keeping them parallel to one another. Elbows should be directly beneath the shoulders. Hold until failure. To increase difficulty, pick one arm up and place hand on belly, keeping back and hips as flat as possible. Repeat on other side.
Climbing application: Strengthens core (which has myriad benefits) and helps with overhangs