Cardio Workouts of the Week: Run, Swim, Run (or Ruck)

Runners compete in South Carolina triathlon.
Participants of the 15th annual Go Tri Sports South Carolina Triathlon Series run the 5k run portion aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., March 16, 2012. (Cpl. Rodion Zabolotniy/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

When it comes to cardio workouts, you either love them, hate them or tolerate them. Adding variety can help workouts that many see as either boring or motivating.

If you are considering military jobs that include swimming and diving, having a diverse set of go-to cardio workouts is a necessity.

Here are some options for you starting off with the classic Run, Ruck, Swim workout, also known as the Spec Ops Triathlon.

Run, Ruck, Swim

As you progress with your running and rucking programs, your mileage also should increase. Here are three classic-level events that we do as an introduction for intermediate and advanced athletes.

First Spec Ops Tri (SOT): 2-mile run, 2-mile ruck, half-mile swim with fins

For more of a challenge, do this on the beach and swim parallel to the shore for 400 meters in one direction and back to the starting point to complete the 800-meter or half-mile swim. We do this on a one-mile beach section, running down and back for a total of two miles. We repeat the same course with a 40-pound ruck or weight vest, then end it with a fin swim on 25% of the same course. You can swim in a pool if you prefer.

Standard Distance SOT

Four-mile run, four-mile ruck and two-mile swim with fins. Create a course on a known path, trail or beach, but build up to this distance before trying it on a whim.

The Triple 5K SOT

The five-kilometer run and five-kilometer ruck are an easy day if you are used to the above distance, but the five-kilometer swim is more than three miles. If you swim that distance in a pool, it will be mind-numbing so access your mental happy place so you can finish that 90- to  100-minute swim.

Be prepared for cramping, so hydrate and electrolyte up before and during the swim. If you are swimming in open water, stay in the shallow water (parallel to the beach) with a swim buddy and use a wet suit or other floatation device.

Run, Swim, Run

Long before I designed the Spec Ops Tri workouts, I was introduced to the Run, Swim, Run program when preparing for Navy SEAL training. They are basically the same workouts as above but instead of a ruck, you just run again.

Run, Swim, Run: Three-mile run, one-mile swim with fins, three-mile run. If you prefer, use the distances from the above workouts if you prefer not to ruck.

Run, Swim, Run, Swim, Run, Swim, Run

I learned another favorite workout from a group of SEAL instructors when I was a student at the Naval Academy. The Run, Swim, Run, Swim, Run, Swim, Run is basically the same distances as the above workouts, but broken up in a way that makes for a fun beach workout:

Run, Swim #1: Run a half-mile down the beach while carrying fins. Jump into the ocean, get through the breakers and turn around and swim back to shore. Depending on where you are, this varies from 100-200 meters of pretty tough swimming if there are big waves.

Run, Swim #2: Run back to where you started a half-mile down the beach. Swim out the same distance just past the breakers and back.

Run, Swim #3: Run a half-mile down the beach again, swim out past the breakers again and back.

Run: Go back to the starting point a half-mile away, and you are done. One option is to set a buoy for both swims as your turnaround spot before starting the course. Obviously, this is best if done as a group and much safer with a swim buddy. You can make the running distance longer or shorter, depending on the abilities of the group and set the speed as either a paced event or sprint.

You can choose biking, an elliptical machine or rowing as non-impact cardio options if you need to pull back from the impact of running or rucking. If you use those events in place of running, just replace the time it would take you to run or ruck a certain distance and make that the time you spend on a different cardio device or machine. Also, if you do not swim, you also can replace swimming with any of the above exercises.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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