Developing Mental Toughness for Ranger School

Ranger School is, above all else, a test of your mental toughness -- your ability to lead your men and complete the mission despite your hunger, lack of sleep, frustration, and physical exhaustion.  A common misconception is that you have to be in the best physical shape of your life to pass Ranger School.  While that is true (and you need to be on a focused PT plan like one of these), physical fitness is only half the preparation.  In fact, I believe the majority of guys that fail RAP Week do so because they haven't built up their mental toughness.

So how do you do it?

First:  check out the Ranger Training Brigade brief called  "Developing Mental Toughness for Ranger School" -- it's a great overview of what they mean by mental toughness, but it's also heavy in confusing charts and graphs that won't mean much to you now.  What you need is some concrete advice.  Which leads me to . . .

Second:  start identifying your mental weaknesses and addressing them head on.  Here are some weaknesses and fixes.
  • PT'ing in your comfort zone.  Start finding ways to push yourself extra hard during PT.  The very best way is to get a training buddy who has been to Ranger.  My buddy used to add on extra "surprise" exercises at the end of a session.  I remember doing a full-on sprint workout to the point I thought I'd puke.  The second I finished the last sprint, he made me drop down and do Ranger push-ups to failure.  The point wasn't to test my push-ups -- it was to test my mental toughness and my ability to go beyond my comfort zone.  The feeling you get doing that will be quite familiar once you get to School, and you'll know how to handle it.
  • Fear of the water.  No matter how great of a swimmer you are, you need to spend some time in the water in ACU's and boots.  Try treading water for 15 minutes.  Try swimming 200 meters with a weapon.  Try jumping in the deep end, going to the bottom, and coming back up five times in a row.  And don't skip the awesome swim/push-up/sit-up workout on the 90-day PT prep page (day 25).  Unlike the normal Combat Water Survival Test, you will fail the Victory Pond day at Ranger School if you show fear or hesitation.  Pushing yourself past your comfort zone now will making you look and feel more confident when you have to do the Slide for Life, gear drop, etc.
  • Rucking like you're walking.  This is a big one -- Ranger School is not Air Assault, or the German Proficiency Badge, or your "hardcore" unit ruck.  Don't get lulled into thinking you can do what you've always done.  By the time you get to the ruck march in RAP Week, you'll be physically and mentally exhausted -- and it's the mental part that will make you fail.  When you are rucking in training, mix it up and push your limits.  Ruck with a weapon and force yourself to keep it at the low ready the entire time (I would switch from right to left-handed when I got tired).  Hit the woods and ruck some shorter distances on steep terrain.  Do a few rucks alternating rucking with jogging (but watch your body -- don't break yourself before you get to Ranger!).  If you find yourself zoning out and slowing down, you're doing it wrong.  If, like me, you genuinely feel like you might start crying on the 16th mile -- good stuff.  You're developing mental toughness.
  • Big ego.  Many people fail out of Ranger because of big ego -- ego with Ranger Instructors, ego with peers, and ego with self.  As you train up, now's a good time to start humbling yourself.  Take that hard-charger attitude that got you this far and shift it a bit -- keep the fire but lose the arrogance.  Stop checking out the mirror in the gym and focus on your true fitness.  Don't talk about Ranger all the time -- just silently prep for it and show your unit you're the best by acting that way.  Help out the guy at your unit who you find the most annoying -- it's good practice for the annoying guy in your squad who you'll be stuck with for months.  The more you genuinely convert yourself into a team player now, the easier that adjustment will be when you get to Ranger School.  You'll do better on peers, and you'll actually be a better peer -- which is what a Ranger should be.
I'll post more on this topic in the future, but I hope you'll  post some thoughts and ask some questions in the comments section.


  1. Awesome advice. I roll out for Class 8-12 in a few weeks.

    1. Good luck! Please spread the word about the site, and be sure to check back with updated advice when you get your tab.

  2. What kind of Terrain ought I to be rucking in?

  3. For most rucks, sticking with roads or cleared trails is fine, but I recommend adding in some realistic Ranger School rucks as well. Find local hiking trails or areas in the woods that will force you to go up steep hills, travel over uneven terrain, step over rocks, duck under obstacles, move across shallow streams, etc.

    This works your body in a different way, and familiarizes you with the actual challenges you'll encounter in Darby and beyond.

  4. First of all, you want to be a Ranger, not just a Tab Ranger, a Ranger is a state of mind, a proud American, a strong will, a LEADER and a loyal TEAM MEMBER!!!

    Read the Ranger Creed and live it, not just memorize it!!

    1. If you can Run 5 miles in 35 minutes, your ready!
    2. If you can ruck 75 pounds for 25 miles in 6 hours, your ready!
    3. If you can ruck 75 pounds for 5 miles on a constant uphill in a cross country environment, your ready!
    4. If you can climb any obstacle over 100 feet hight, your ready!
    5. If you can follow instructions, your ready!
    6. If you can perform with only 2 hours of sleep a day, for a full month, your ready!
    7. If you can help a fellow ranger on their weakness even if it means waisting your strenght, your ready!
    8. If you are able to keep your mouth shut when needed, your ready!
    9. If you have the guts to accept your mistakes, your ready!
    10. If your state of mind is I GRADUATE OR I DIE THERE!!! Your ready!!!



    Ranger Instructor (retired)


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