This SAS workout is a bit different from the workout routines we normally post here. It's not as good for building muscle definition as the two-day push-pull workout (opens in new tab) or as rookie-friendly as the best bodyweight workout for beginners (opens in new tab). In terms of gruelling strength building and endurance testing, it has more in common with, naturally enough, the US Navy SEAL workout.
The reason being, in order to pass the 3-stage SAS selection process, you will need a lot of endurance, as opposed to 'just' muscle mass. This doesn't mean you shouldn't follow the basic rules of how to get stronger (opens in new tab) but if you want to build endurance, you will need to move on from only doing bicep curls to practicing more compound exercises, like squats (opens in new tab) and deadlifts (opens in new tab).
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In fact, if you are especially time-poor, in order to build overall strength, you can follow our best full body workout (opens in new tab) routine to build strength. If you would like to get your body ready for the SAS selection test, however, you'll need to introduce a few more additional days of training throughout the week to build endurance as well as strength.
Most importantly, as much as the SAS workout is good for burning fat and building strength, if you ever struggled with obesity or have not been doing much (or any) physical training, you might want to consider losing weight fast (opens in new tab) first and/or get fit (opens in new tab) before you opt in for doing hard core military-style training.
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What is the SAS selection test?
The SAS selection test (opens in new tab) is gruelling both for the body and the mind and consists of three parts:
- Selection Phase 1 (Endurance)
This stage lasts for three weeks (!) and takes place in the hilly area in South Wales. Candidates have to carry a backpack full of equipment – called bergen – over a series of long timed hikes, navigating between checkpoints.
The bergen gets heavier as the days pass and the endurance phase culminates with 'the long drag', a 40-mile trek carrying a 55lb (25kg) bergen, that must be completed in under 24 hours.
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- Selection Phase 2 (Jungle Training)
Training takes place in Belize in Central-America, deep in the jungles. Those few who have passed the first stage will have to learn the basics of surviving and patrolling in the humid and warm conditions, surrounded by dense vegetation and bothered by small insects as well as noises coming from the forest.
- Selection Phase 3 (Escape & Evasion / Tactical Questioning)
For the escape and evasion (E&E) portion of the course, the candidates are given brief instructions on appropriate techniques then let loose in the countryside. They have to make their way to a series of waypoints without being captured by the 'hunter force' of SAS soldiers. This portion lasts for three days after which all candidates report for TQ, a.k.a. interrogation 'practice'.
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Tips for getting ready for the SAS endurance workout
- You are training for strength, not muscle definition
It's not difficult to tell apart a bodybuilder (opens in new tab) for a strongmen (opens in new tab). The former might look more appealing to some, but the latter can move some serious weights at will. Of course, as you get stronger your muscles get more defined as well but if you want to be ready for a challenge like the SAS selection test, you will need strength and not well defined shoulder muscles and low body-fat percentage.
- Work on increasing your VO2 max and lactate threshold levels
if neither of the above rings a bell, don't worry. Runners and cyclists are more familiar with these terms and they refer to how well your muscles and cardiovascular system can withstand elongated periods of moderate-to-high intensity exercising.
VO2 max is "the maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise, used as a way of measuring a person's individual aerobic capacity." The more oxygen your muscles can digest, the later you'll feel fatigued.
Lactate threshold is "the maximal effort or intensity that an athlete can maintain for an extended period of time with little or no increase in lactate in the blood" (definition taken from lactate.com (opens in new tab)).
Both can be improved by doing cardio regularly and there are also specific HIIT workouts that can boost either or both in the same time.
- Consistency is paramount
Your body can only sustain its fitness levels if you do a certain amount of exercising. If it wasn't the case, pro athletes wouldn't have to put in extreme efforts to stay on the levels where they are.
This also means that you can't get fit (opens in new tab) by exercising more and then expect your body to maintain its fitness level without you doing any physical activity. Your body will revert back to its previous state when you abandon your workout routine, although it will be easier to get back into it later on once you were fit before.
Of course, being fit (as in healthy) has loads of health benefits so it worth spending a few hours a week looking after your fitness.
- Work on your mental strength too
The SAS selection is almost as hard to endure mentally as it is to overcome physically. If you get distracted easily, have temper issues and/or lack focus, you will singled out pretty soon, regardless of your physical readiness.
Meditation has been proven to be an effective tool to regain control over one's mind and to harness the thoughts that go through your mind at any point, which can come in handy when you are submerged in cold water for hours on end, a practice which may or may not be part of the selection process.
Get your body ready by eating right
If you want to build muscles and lose fat, you will need to eat right and keep a balanced diet which includes ample amount of protein and good fats as well as clean carbs. Being more mindful about what your body requires to perform better is crucial part of endurance tests and the SAS selection process is no different.
Either you are trying to lose fat or want to build muscle, eating more protein is beneficial for you. If you fall in the former category, try swapping some bad fats and carbs – most of the processed food falls into this category – to protein snacks, let them be protein bars (opens in new tab) or just a small portion of high-carb nuts.
If you are trying to gain muscle mass and are naturally skinny, try adding some high protein mass gainers (opens in new tab), like Bulk Powders' Informed Mass (opens in new tab) or The Protein Works' Total Mass Matrix (opens in new tab).
Drinking more water also helps, so fill up your gym water bottle (opens in new tab) and drink that water!
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Warm up and cool down
Apart from doing multiple exercise sessions a week, the SAS endurance workout also involves plenty of cardio elements as well as strengthening exercises, so stretching before and after the workouts is essential. Stretching can help you perform the exercises better and can also help reducing the risk of injury.
Use a foam roller (opens in new tab) and/or resistance bands (opens in new tab), both of which can relieve muscle tension and knots in all areas of the body. On our best massage tools (opens in new tab) guide, you'll find plenty of options, like the aforementioned foam rollers, but also massage balls – great for the calves – and percussion massagers like the Theragun G3 (opens in new tab).
IMPORTANT: if you have any medical condition or experiencing pain of any sort – especially back pain – please consult a medical professional before you start working out. Some of the below exercises put a lot of stress on your lower back and if you are ever unsure how to perform them, get a PT or a trained athlete to show you the correct form.
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SAS endurance workout
The weekly-breakdown of the SAS workout:
- Day 1: full body resistance workout
- Day 2: rest
- Day 3: running/trail running session
- Day 4: running HIIT workout
- Day 5: rest
- Day 6: cycling/swimming
- Day 7: rest
For getting ready for the mental part of the selection process, we recommend the new SAS workout app from the boys at Who Dares Wins. This app has a unique approach to training by incorporating mental exercises as well as training tips and even diet options.
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Day 1: full body resistance workout
On the first day of the week, you want to give your body a run for its money. Our full-body workout consists of five exercises: deadlift, squat, bench press, shoulder press and bent-over row.
These exercises are probably the best compound exercises to build overall strength with the least amount different movement involved and focuses on large muscle groups and using free weights as opposed to machines.
If you don't want to sign up for a gym membership (just yet), you can perform these exercises at home, using resistance bands (opens in new tab) or dumbbells (opens in new tab)/barbell (opens in new tab) or even kettlebells (opens in new tab).
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Day 2: rest
After bombing your body with weights the day before, you'll probably feel the effect of DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This occurs after your muscles – especially the glutes and legs area – are worked hard and please also note the 'delayed' nature of the phenomena: it can happen up to 2-3 days later than the workout.
Giving your muscles a break can help them repair more efficiently and recover better, meaning you can expect to see results quicker by resting your muscles after heavy workouts.
Even on rest days, you can do light cardio – e.g. brisk walking – and stretching would definitely help also.
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Day 3: running/trail running session
Depending on your cardio levels, on the third day you should go the distance. To be fit enough to be even considered to be selected as a member of the SAS (or SBS), you'll need to be able to comfortably run a 10K in under 50 minutes, ideally closer to 40 minutes.
Once you are comfortable with that speed, you can introduce more and more trail running sessions to your training plan. Trail running is somewhat different to road running – obviously – since you have to take the terrain into account as you run. You'll need different shoes as well for trail running: have a look at our best trail running shoes (opens in new tab) guide for inspiration.
Trail running is very popular worldwide and especially in the UK, where there are many groups you can join. Trail runners are a famously close-knit bunch who appreciate each other's company as much as the nature that surrounds them. By joining a trail running club, you get fit and be a bit more social, two birds with one stone.
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Day 4: Full body HIIT workout
In depth: Full body HIIT workout (opens in new tab) gets you fit with only running shoes required
On the fourth day, your DOMS should have completely subsided and you are ready for a more intense workout: a HIIT workout! There are many reasons why you should try HIIT (opens in new tab), it torches fat, boosts metabolism, can improve heart health and also super time efficient.
Ideally, you would like to do the entirety of the full body HIIT workout detailed in the linked article, for the same reason why you should perform all five exercises on the first day: by doing more exercises, you get stronger and also build endurance, which you will need for the selection process.
All the better, since we are talking about HIIT, the whole session can be done in under half an hour, 45 minutes tops. Make sure you go as hard as you can doing the circuits and don't let your heart rate drop too much in between them.
To monitor your heart rate, you should get a running watch (opens in new tab) or at least a heart rate chest-strap so you can track your heart rate on the accompanying apps. the new Polar H9 (opens in new tab) costs the fraction of a smart watch and will provide you with more accurate readings than wrist based optical sensors.
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Polar H9 heart rate monitor is the smaller and more accessible sibling of the Polar H10 heart rate sensor. Connects to your wearables and/or smartphone using Bluetooth or ANT+ and has a battery life of 400 hours. Tracks heart rate more precisely than wrist-based optical sensors so you'll get better more accurate calorie burn estimates.
Day 5: rest/EMS
Same as above, give your body a rest on the fifth day and let your muscles regenerate.
One thing you can try is to do some light training in the form of EMS. Electric Muscle Stimulation is not your golden ticket to six-pack abs heaven, but it can compliment training well by targeting high load-bearing muscles, such as the abs, on days when you would like to give the rest of your body a bit of a break.
Many EMS devices can also be used in other areas of the body too, like the arms or even the shoulders, making them a versatile tool for athletes.
You could also try using a percussion massager, like the Theragun (opens in new tab), to fully loosen the muscles and get them ready for more training. Percussion massagers are like electric toothbrushes for your muscles: although the manual toothbrush does the job just fine, you can clean way more effectively with an electric one.
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SIXPAD training gear won't replace hard work but it can make it more effective. These cordless pads can effectively enhance muscle stimulation and can "help users achieve an 8% improvement in abdominal muscle size after 4 weeks alongside a balanced diet and exercise" – or so does SIXPAD claim. The percentage goes up to 12% after 8 weeks and many SIXPAD products can be used in other areas than just your abs.
Day 6: cycling/swimming
For best results, do cycling one week and swimming on the other. Either way, we are not talking about leisurely pedalling/splashing around the water: after your rest day, you would like to go the distance again and cover long distances on the bike/in the water.
As for cycling, you don't need to do the full Ironman distance – 112 miles – but you would like to cover as many miles as possible within an hour. Depending on the terrain, you are looking at doing around 15-20 miles for a good session. Should the weather permit, ride for even longer, two, maybe even three hours at the time to train your heart for sustained medium-intensity efforts.
In the pool, an hour-long session is ideal and you are looking at doing around two kilometres within that timeframe. You'd better master that freestyle swimming technique!
Day 7: rest
Well done, you have been working hard all week, you deserve a rest on the last day. the same applies to this rest day as for the others, so a bit of low-intensity session is advisable, as well as stretching/foam rolling/EMS and percussion massager sessions.
Don't go crazy, though, since the day after this the cycle starts again and you will be doing heavy resistance training again. Go easy but don't taper off completely.