Workout of the Week: Adding Drills During Rest Periods

A student tests to be qualified as a second-class swimmer.
A student testing to be qualified as a second-class swimmer utilizes her breaststroke at the Naval Station Great Lakes Moral, Welfare and Recreation swim pool on June 20, 2017. (Brian Walsh/U.S. Navy photo)

When you are focusing on learning skills and techniques, some of the best places to put them into programming is during a similar activity's rest periods.

This is especially true for swimming, treading, drownproofing and life-saving drills. All involve a level of technique and coordination to perform properly, but conditioning and comfortability in the water are equally important.

These are some of my favorite methods to mix in skills and drills that not only will help you with building competence in the water but also not rest between sets. Rest with coordinated and easy movements.

Once you learn the technique of swimming any stroke (freestyle, sidestroke, breaststroke, combat swimmer stroke) for the military, law enforcement, firefighter or diving training, now the skills of the test, selection and job need to be added in order to become competent in what covers 75% of Earth.

Here are some classic activities that will enhance the learning curve of many skills that often get overlooked in training but quickly become a weakness during selection.

Swim workout -- warmup with a testing event

Warm up with a 500-meter swim. If you have a swim test in your future, you should make that event your warmup. Getting good at the distance of a fitness test event eventually will turn an anxiety-creating test into "just another workout."

This will be helpful psychologically and physiologically by building a base of conditioning that considers a test distance a "warmup."

Swim workout -- practice treading (rest with tread)

If you are training to learn the combat swimmer stroke (CSS) -- and you finally get the technique down but are only able to achieve your goal pace for 50 meters -- here is a way to get in shape for the 500-meter test as well as practice your technique for swimming and treading. (This also is an event that challenges many candidates.)

Swim 500-meter warmup

Repeat 10 times

Swim freestyle 50 meters -- fast/skip (breathe 6-8 strokes per breath)

Swim CSS at goal pace

Rest with one-minute treading with no hands

Swim workout -- practice drownproofing and other skills

Depending upon the selection program for which you are preparing, you will be faced with many water confidence challenges. Here is a list of one-minute exercise sets you can fit into the above workout and work on other elements of drownproofing, etc.:

Do the following with hands simulated tied behind your back and feet together:

Bottom bounce, float, underwater front flip, backflip, mask pickup with teeth on the bottom of the pool, simulated or partner buddy breathe (one snorkel while treading).

A good quick practice of these events can be done in the one- to two-minute rest periods between sets of any swim workout.

Another fantastic idea is to add PT/calisthenics exercises on the pool deck between sets of swimming as well. You will find swimming will make calisthenics tougher and calisthenics will make swimming tougher, so it is not really considered a rest. But if PT tests are in your future, this is a great way to build muscle stamina and cardio endurance together.

For instance:

Swim 500-meter warmup

Repeat 10 times

Swim freestyle 50 meters -- fast/skip, breathe 6-8 strokes per breath

Swim CSS at goal pace

Push-ups 10-20

Sit-ups or ab exercises 20-30 (flutter kicks, leg levers, etc.)

If a pull-up bar is on the pool deck, add pull-ups or, if not, do muscle-ups on the pool deck (deep end) where you pull yourself out of the pool and then back into the water as if you were hanging on a pull-up bar.

Cooldown section of swim workout

If you can give yourself 10-15 minutes to cool down from a tough swim workout, practice a long period of treading with no hands, treading with fins (great on leg days) and treading with a 10-pound weight. This is also great for loosening the hips after running and leg PT workouts. See treading video.

Adding skills, drills and techniques that are future testing events to your rest cycles is a time saver. It also will help you learn how to master these events, which challenge even the most capable swimmers.

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

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues