Here's a Great Mix to Train for Swim and Calisthenics Tests

A future sailor and special warfare candidate swims during the Navy’s physical screening test.
Future sailor and special warfare candidate Zachary Purcell completes the swim portion of the Navy’s physical screening test while his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, enjoys Navy Week, April 29, 2015. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey/U.S. Navy photo)

If you have ever prepared for a special program in the military such as Rescue Swimmer, Combat Diver, RECON Marines, SEAL or SWCC training, you've probably done calisthenics on a pool deck between challenging swimming sets. If you are training for the Navy PST, Air Force IFT or the RECON swim and pool skills fitness test, you may want to mix calisthenics into your running and especially your swimming workouts.

Here is a tough workout that we regularly use to gauge swimming conditioning and calisthenics muscle stamina.

The Swim/PT Workout

Warmup: Swim 500 meters

Most military swimming tests are in either the 500-meter or 500-yard range. If you want to perform this swim fast but efficiently, you need to master both proper technique and getting into swimming shape.

Regardless of your athletic history, if you did not swim, you are not in swimming shape.

You will perhaps have to build up to swimming 500 meters nonstop when you first start. Fixing your technique to swim efficiently will help with this ability, but if you want to do it quickly, you cannot ignore the conditioning side of a two-sided coin.

Using the actual test distance as the warmup for your full swim workout will be a mental and psychological boost for you as you try to get to the training by crushing a challenging fitness test and through the training in a high-attrition rate selection program.

Here is the bulk of the workout:

Repeat five times.

  • Swim: 250 meters at goal pace
  • Push-ups: 20
  • Abs of choice: 25
  • Pull-outs: 10

Realize that 250 meters is not a leisurely swim. You're looking to swim at the pace you would like to maintain for the fitness test. At first, you may only maintain your goal speed for the first 50 or 100 meters.

Eventually, you will string several of these distances together as your conditioning improves. Use the stroke that will be required on your test (freestyle; combat swimmer stroke, or CSS; sidestroke; breaststroke).

For Marine RECON candidates, you will swim this workout in utilities (top and bottom with no boots).

See 50-50 workout to build up to the above workout.

The goal of the swim portion is to build up to a point where you can maintain your goal pace for the full 250 meters, but the workout will also assess where your swim pace falls off your goal pace.

In my workouts, we aim to set a goal pace of a yard or meter per second, which means 50 meters in 50 seconds, 100 meters in 100 seconds and so on. If you find your goal falls off on the third lap, then change your swim workouts so you do more 150- to 200-meter swim sets during the week.

If you are coming from a non-swimming athletic background, you may want to invest in near daily time in the pool, swimming a minimum of 1,500-2,000 meters a day if taking any of the fitness tests that require swimming.

Rest with PT

The PT sections are truly meant to be an active rest from swimming. The push-ups and abs of choice (sit-ups, flutter kicks, leg levers, etc.) can be done on any pool deck. If you have access to a pull-up bar on the pool deck, add pull-ups. If not, replace the pull-ups with what we call the pull-out. It is basically a muscle-up on the pool edge in the deep end.

For a pull-out, grab the edge of the pool with arms extended over your head (you are underwater at this point), then pull yourself up and out of the pool so your waist is even with the pool's edge. Think of this exercise like a muscle-up, with a portion of it underwater done on the pool edge of the deep end.

Cool Down with Pool Skills and/or Treading Water

After this 1,750-meter swim workout is completed, take some time to work on pool skills like treading water with no hands, bottom-bouncing and floating.

If there are other events on your future selection tests, add them but do not tie yourself as you will in the drownproofing tests. Just simulate these events. Also, do not swim or do any underwater or breath-hold training alone.

Other favorite swim workouts -- Stew's Favorites in the Pool

-- 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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