Brad McLeod on Surviving Hell Week... Twice

September 02, 2015

Below is an exclusive interview with founder and former Navy SEAL Brad McLeod.  Look forward to all comments and questions, and hope you discover a tip or two to aid and inspire through whatever ripples life may be tossing your way.

I met Brad while participating in the SEALFIT Kokoro Camp (Class 12), a 3-day training program designed to catapult your ability to negotiate the muddy waters of physical fatigue, failure and the unknown.

The Portable Kettlebell has been used and reviewed by some of the baddest athletes and military trainers

Often referred to as the “toughest non-military training program in the world,” SEALFIT was initially developed by former NavySEAL Commander Mark Divine as a prep-shool for SEAL team candidates.

Nowadays, anyone from elite athletes and boardroom moguls to moms and dads with an intense passion for physical and mental development have completed this program, alongside these same military candidates.

Brad coined the phrase for me, “can you make it one more minute?”  A question I now often ask myself during extremely difficult physical or mental challenges, when quitting feels like the only alternative.  I found that I could... and that has made all the difference.

I attended SEALFIT as a journalist to cover the experience for  Whenever anyone asks me what it was like, the first memory to pop into my head is carrying a 400lb+ log on my back with a team of four guys after 20 hours of non-stop, boot-in-the-ass physical training.  

Ever had those dreams where you’re trying to run as hard as you can but your legs won’t move!  You feel like you’re running through quicksand.

That’s exactly how my body felt at two in the morning (15 hours into the camp) and three quarters of the way through a workout that involved 30 minutes of the following, broken into 2 minute sets: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats, 200 meter run.

By the time the eighteenth-hour rolled around, I was carrying a 400 pound log in tandem with 5 teammates and could not keep the log still against my shoulder… long story short, a few harsh words were exchanged between myself and the leader of our group, a Naval Academy grad.

Not only was I feeling physically MAXED but now I was feeling like dead-weight. Letting these guys down was quickly becoming an even worse cross to bear than the physical suffering.

When we reached the beach, I took five minutes to meditate on my future participation in the camp.  Attending with a media badge, I knew I would still be able to remain and observe - so I wouldn’t totally miss out on the events that followed.

Reluctantly, I stepped aside as our class was ordered into the ocean and advised Mark I would be sitting out.  He nodded in understanding and continued behind the rest of the instructor cadre towards the shoreline.

One of these instructors noticed me standing alone on the beach and walked up to me.  This instructor was Brad McLeod.

The rest is history.  I completed the camp and count it as a pivotal experience in my life that I reflect on often and will never forget.

So, without further delay, here is Brad McLeod….

Brad is a veteran of the SEAL teams with a unique path taken towards earning his “Trident” (the golden insignia awarded only to Navy Special Warfare operators).  He had to successfully complete the notorious Hell-Week portion of Phase I TWICE.

What’s Hell-Week?  It’s 5 days with less than 4-5 hours of sleep and LOTS of NON-STOP physical training.  This five-day period is when most SEAL team candidates drop-out.  It’s insanely difficult.

Along with being a SEALFIT certified coach and instructor, Brad is also the founder and owner of SEALGrinderPT, an online resource for intense physical training modalities.

John: Thanks Brad for taking the time to answer a few questions.  Going back to your military career, when did you know that you wanted to become a Navy SEAL?

Brad: I had read the book “Men with Green Faces” and I was spell bound after that experience. I tried to read everything I could and knew that I wanted to be a frogman.  Back then there was not much info about the SEALs as we did not have the internet or YouTube.  But that was fine as my imagination swirled as I dreamed of being a frogman and that propelled me forward to sign and join the Navy.

John: When you found out you were being dismissed (kicked out) from training after failing a math test twice, what was the first thought to cross your mind?

Brad: I was heart broken as I had put everything I had on the line to become a frogman.  I knew that I was being sent to the regular Navy to swab the deck and chip paint.  After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I picked myself up and decided that I would go again and try BUD/S and finish the drill this time.

John: For those of you that aren’t familiar, BUD/S stands for Basic Underwater Demotion/SEAL and is a six-month training course that every prospective SEAL must complete.  Did it take you some time to decide you would do it all over again, or did you know right away that’s what you would do?

Brad: I was really lost for about a week.  I did not know what I wanted and knew that I was going to ride on the big Navy ship and not as a SEAL.  I tried to think of anything other than BUDS but eventually my mind kept coming back to that.  I knew deep down that I had to get back to the mountain and finish climbing it.  Just because you don't make it up the first time doesn't mean you cannot come back for a second shot.

John: Hell-week is the mother of all gut-checks in the military.  How did you feel just before launching into your SECOND Hell Week, and how did this compare to your first experience?

Brad: I knew that I could do Hell Week again but I had a certain dread about going through the second time.  Hard to explain but it felt like I had concrete in my stomach.  I truly dreaded the cold and the pain even though I knew I could do it one step at a time.  I knew that if I kept my head down and pushed one foot in front of the other that I could make it.

John: Did having gone through it once make the second time easier, the same or harder?  Why?

Brad: Going through the second time was harder as you know what is coming.  You know you will be cold and that the Instructors will punish you.  I don't think that any SEAL wants to go through Hell Week again.  It was very hard for me and I would not want to do it again for the third time.

One thing I did do my second time around is I trained in mostly bodyweight exercises and rode my bike long distance in the hills east of San Diego.  My first time in training I worked out in a bodybuilding gym and used machines and traditional bodybuilding workouts.

So the second time around I really changed up my workouts.  I would bike to the beach and do pull ups and then run in the soft sand and drop down and do pushups and flutter kicks at the edge of the surf.  This helped me do better overall my second time around as that more closely matched what I would be doing in BUDS.

John: What was your biggest take-away after successfully completing your second Hell Week?

Brad: I remember both the first and second Hell Week - standing in the parking lot after we were secured from Hell Week.  I then realized that I could keep going another day or more if needed.  Yes; I was tired and beaten but I saw that I was capable of far more.  It really makes you realize how special the human mind and body is.

If you have a strong enough "why", you can make it through most any suffering.

John: How did you approach the portion that you failed the first-time around?  What preparations did you take to make sure you would pass?

Brad: I was very nervous as I had to take the math test again before I entered BUD/S the second time.  Once I got to Dive Phase and had to take the diving math test again, I was also very anxious.

I tried to calm myself but it was like having a monkey on your back.  After I passed that test I felt a huge sense of relief and was able to relax.  Being put under pressure is something that you have to live with in the Teams - so you better get used to it.  Later I was asked to do things that had high risk so that is just part of the job.

John: How do you apply the lessons learned from this experience to other challenges in your life whether in business or personal?

Brad: Later in life I took that same lesson and decided that if I started something I would always finish the drill. This was the most valuable lesson I have learned in my life. I teach my kids that also. In reading the book “Lone Survivor” the same lesson is hammered home to never quit and have a reason why to keep yourself going.

John: You currently own and operate, any particular tales of failure to success you wish to share in its development to current form?

Brad: When I started the business I had a lot of self-doubt partly because it was a new business and I did not know where to turn to get answers for an online business.  Once it started going I gained more confidence and kept trying to increase my knowledge 1% daily.  It has been a very fun ride as I get to meet great people like yourself and help them push themselves forward.

John: What’s the next step for SEALGrinderPT and, or your other businesses?

Brad: To learn one thing daily that will help me get better in life and grow 1% daily.  If I ask myself that as a question every day then good things happen.  I like to spend time with my family and help people so I am in the right spot for now and look forward to the future.


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