Interview: The Special Forces Performance Mindset

We’ve put out quite a few articles on how to support your performance – with fitness, nutrition, recovery – but this month we wanted to provide a treat by giving you a glimpse into an aspect of performance not found in the everyday fitness routine – you know, the kind of performance only found when skydiving with a full scuba kit strapped to you. Well, we wanted to bring to you a “special” guest for this, so we went looking to find one to speak about the special forces performance mindset. CoreTek Performance Fitness had the opportunity to speak with Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa, a member of the Italian Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei COMSUBIN. In case you are wondering, those are the Italian Navy’s SEALs.

We asked Giuseppe ten questions about his time in special forces and how performance factored into his service and experience. What you will see is that his answers flesh out three key areas of performance: focus, training, and adaptability. While these came into play at different parts of his experiences, these are aspects that you too can bring into your approach towards performance training. They equally apply to your training, nutrition, and recovery. We will focus on these in future performance articles, but for now, enjoy the interview…

We must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything

Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa

The Interview

CPF: How did you get started in the special forces?

GLR: In 1982 I was in the non-commissioned officer school of Taranto, and participated in a conference conducted by Incursori instructors, in which they showed us videos explaining their lifestyle. So me and a dear friend of mine, intrigued by this, decided to submit applications. After the NCO course, I was immediately deployed to a large but very old ship for four months, after which they transferred me to another smaller one based in Sicily, where the task was to carry out patrols along the Libyan coast. On this ship, I suffered greatly from the sea and my desire was to take my leave.

One day the Commander calls me and informs me that they had accepted my application for the raider course, which I had done at the time, fascinated by those videos, even though I didn’t know what the word Incursor meant, or what this activity actually included. I was only sixteen years old and I had no awareness of the importance and the real tasks that were carried out by the operators belonging to this group. He also told me that if I managed to finish this course, I would avoid sea tours in the future, so I accepted. This was why I am part of the special forces today. However, I do not deny that the journey was hard and tiring.

CPF: What is the mindset that best allowed you to get through training?

GLR: I can answer this question briefly, I DID NOT WANT TO GO BACK ON BOARD TO SAIL. The suffering was enormous as was the willpower that never left me. The relationship of brotherhood that we have established between us adventure companions during this journey was fundamental to get to the end, we helped and comforted each other. The difficulty in passing this course can be understood from the fact that at the beginning we were about 70, on the day of the training after a year, there were only 6 left.

CPF: Did that mindset help with later service, or did it have to evolve to cope with new challenges?

GLR: I certainly had to change my mind after the course. The challenges I had to face were very different from what I had imagined, from watching those famous videos, I had to adapt to operational needs. When we arrived at the department we were divided into teams. I was assigned to an operator much older than me who had to follow me in training and in my professional training. It was really hard, especially the first three to four years.

CPF: What would you say is the key to special operations performance success?

GLR: What is the key to success? It is a bit difficult to answer this question. I’ll try. I think this, both in the operation and in the training and is nothing more than concentration, training, obedience and respect.

CPF: How would you recommend someone bring a special forces mentality into their regular life to improve performance?

GLR: Well, it is not easy, unfortunately, the military mentality is difficult to make it coincide with the civil one. The military are used to obedience, to respect rank and seniority, especially we in the special forces are used to respecting the latter. From my experience, I could give some advice, we must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything.

CPF: What types of training did you find most challenging? 

GLR: For me it was the underwater part. By breathing oxygen and being underwater for more than two hours, the body suffers from fatigue.

CPF: How did injuries affect your performance? How did you recover?

GLR: Let’s say that I was one of the luckiest, I have had very few accidents. The first accident that happened to me was the fracture and explosion of the index finger of my right hand, in this case I had some problems at work, being also a rock climbing instructor. For a long time I could not do my job, but with willpower and determination I was able to get in shape to start over. Later I had a broken shoulder, in this case, the problem was less serious, because I was outside the operations department and my main activity was intelligence. Also in this case, thanks to physical activity and willpower, I returned, let’s say almost operational.

CPF: How would you describe the mental training needed to perform at a special forces level?

GLR: I think mental training is essential. The operators who are part of the special forces must always be very focused, especially when you have to conduct operations.

CPF: How did special forces training transform your views on training and performance?

GLR: Physical training is modified according to operational needs, you have to be very flexible in this field. In my long career I have had to adapt to several changes.

CPF: What was a typical day of special forces physical training and what mentality did you find best suited for it?

GLR: The typical training day of the special forces is: start with about an hour of physical activity, which can be running or gym, then continue, with a more targeted training, which includes: diving, patrolling, rock climbing, parachuting, shooting range activities or navigation on high-speed boats.

– Train Hard

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