Leading with Heart: How SealFit is Training Elite Athletes (and the Lessons You Can Learn from Them)

LEADING WITH HEART: HOW SEALFIT IS TRAINING ELITE ATHLETES (AND THE LESSONS YOU CAN LEARN FROM THEM)Are you ready for the toughest competition of your life? You won’t need your fancy lifters, belt, tape or knee sleeves. In fact, you won’t need anything at all.

Picture this: a 50-hour endurance event, with overnight mountain hikes, trail running, swimming while holding a rock, scrambling through bushes and performing physical training with an oversized log.

You’re doing more push-ups, pulls up air squats and burpees than you ever thought you could. You’re cold, wet and mostly miserable. Oh yeah, and you don’t get to sleep at all during the three-day excursion.

Welcome to SealFit, or more specifically the Kokoro event, which has been tabbed as the world’s premier civilian training event for forging mental toughness. (Think of it as a high-powered CrossFit). Kokoro, Japanese for “heart” (it can also be translated to be “the heart of things”) is modeled after the Navy Seals “Hell Week.”

And at a 30 percent pass rate, even with physical standards in place, conquering Kokoro is definitely not for the average CrossFit athlete. But the principles of SealFit, developed by retired Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine —who also runs the Unbeatable Mind podcast— are something every athlete can benefit from.

CrossFit Games athletes Tommy Hackenbruck, Kristan Clever and Lindsey Valenzuela are among those who have used SealFit training to supplement their own programs. Not a Games hopeful? For CrossFit Kent Island owner Ryan Wolf, it was a way to challenge his limits and fulfill a lifelong dream of a career in special operations. When Wolf was medically disqualified from the Seals due to a heart condition, he wanted to prove he could still achieve that level of fitness.

What he found was it wasn’t about the physical portion.


Wolf, the owner of CrossFit Kent Island, is hoping to help bring SealFit events to the East Coast.

“I started realizing that’s what all these guys have in common. They aren’t necessarily the most ripped, natural athletes in the world. But they all have developed this mental toughness where they can just get through anything,” Wolf said of SealFit, which has free online workouts as well as various events throughout the year.

“And that’s through the mental and emotional training that they go through. I found that specifically has been so helpful to me as a CrossFit athlete, as a person who goes through stressful situations or something goes wrong in your life. There’s a lot of training that goes into it.”

Divine, originally tasked with creating a fitness program to help prepare and combat the skyrocketing rate of Seal dropouts, incorporated some of the CrossFit principles into his training. (Hence, the name.) When he became inundated with requests from civilians, he relented and made the program public with the caveat that SealFit is really intense training designed for people who want to get into special ops.

The volume is not for everyone. But the mental toughness training definitely should be.

Here Wolf —who completed the Kokoro challenge a few years backs — shares some of his biggest takeaways under Divine’s Unbeatable Mind Methodology.


It’s easy to look at the workout on the whiteboard and get overwhelmed. Panic sets in. But it doesn’t have to.

Let’s say you have 100 burpees for time, which may may cause your heart to race and your breathing to get out of control.

“Instead, think about how many you can do in a row comfortably, do the math and break it up into those sets,” Wolf said.

“Maybe it’s 10×10 and after each set you say, ‘I’ll take a small break, make a chalk mark on the floor, and move on.’ It helps you stay focused on the little bits you can chew off instead of getting overwhelmed on the bigger picture.”

The same goes for lifting. If today calls for a one-rep max day and that makes your queasy, focus on hitting quality reps leading up. Don’t focus on the number on the barbell, just at the task at hand. It’s just a squat: up and down. It’s the same movement at 85 pounds that it is at 400 pounds.

A lot of people think you need to clear your head and turn off your mind when you’re training. But it’s actually just the opposite. Being able to witness what you’re actually thinking and re-working it to your advantage can have huge benefits no matter what the workout or lift is.

The next time you find yourself in a negative state of mind, you basically have to tell yourself to stop and re-direct it into something that’s more positive. And then try to keep that positive mindset going with a mantra or key cue that’s going to keep you on track with that positivity.

This isn’t easy- it takes a lot of practice. You have to really be able to concentrate and witness what you are thinking. But once you practice that and have some success with it, it’s really a game-changer that will leak over into every negative situation in your life.

So go ahead. Visualize yourself making a huge lift and high five-ing everyone. Practice that kind of stuff in your mind -as vividly as possibly- and you’ll have a much better chance when you actually attempt that weight.

How often in life are you going to have to pick up a barbell? There’s a lot better chance you may have to pick up a heavy item off the ground or grab a sandbag and move it. Plus, Strongman Training has all sorts of really great benefits.

“If we think about the functionality of everything we do in the gym that stuff is probably more functional,” said Wolf, who likes to incorporate the kind of longer, grueling SealFit workout that tests mental toughness once a week.

“It’s not going to be a three-minute Fran. It’s going to be more of a 25-30 minute workout with lots of sandbags and running where you have to tap into that toughness to get through the workout. I’ve seen the benefit of that when we do shorter workouts where people have to push the intensity. If you’ve forged that mental toughness [from longer workouts] something that’s not as daunting looking is going to give you a ton of confidence to just come in and crush.”



For more information or to find a SealFit event in your area click here. All images courtesy of Ryan Wolf.