Workouts of the Week: Swimming and Water Confidence Training Ideas

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The requirement of in-water programming is usually what sets one military training path apart from others. Challenging water survival, water confidence and swimming tests can often be a deal breaker for many as they are selecting a military job during recruitment.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have an obvious need for training their personnel in water safety and survival, but many of the Special Ops diving communities also have intensive training in and under the water. This includes Navy SEAL, SWCC, EOD, Rescue Swimmers, Air Force Special Warfare, Marine RECON and MarSOC and Army Special Forces Dive Training.

There are many workouts that will help you get comfortable in the water and into swimming shape, including daily swimming workouts (with and without fins), treading water and swimming in uniform. These range from 4-5 days a week of swim workouts that are at least 30-60 minutes long to ones that develop the specific skills you need to be comfortable in cold, dark and murky water.

When you enter a program with water time you will first be tested in a pool or the Combat Training Tank (CCT). Here are a few of my favorite workouts that will not only help get you into swimming shape but also actually allow you to practice getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

The Classic 50/50 Workout

Get in swimming shape quickly with this freestyle and Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) combination:

Warm-up with a 500-meter swim.

You’ll find it extremely helpful to take any test distance and make it a “warmup.” This will not only build up your physical conditioning for the test, but it will help you frame a very important swim test as a “warm-up” one day when it counts.

50-50 Workout

Swim 50 meters free followed by 50 meters CSS for 10 sets. This will equal 1000 meters. Rest after every 100-meter set if needed but ultimately learn to “catch your breath” during the CSS 50-meter swim. When you first start, you may need 30-45 seconds rest, but build your endurance and reduce your rest to under 15 seconds or less over time. Do these workouts 4-5 times a week for a total of 1,500 meters in the workout as you get into swimming shape for a 500-meter swim test.

Air Force 50-50 Workout

The Air Force Special Warfare swimming and water confidence requirement is one of the toughest in the military. Here is a workout you should at least practice even if you cannot finish the entire workout at first. Any underwater swims should never be done alone. Focus on technique not maximizing breath holds.

Warm up with a 10 minutes tread. Mix in some snorkel treading too.

Repeat 10 times

Swim: 25 meters underwater (breathe when needed. NEVER do this alone.)

Swim 25: meters free (6-8 strokes per breath)

Recovery Swim: 50 meters freestyle easy (breathe on every stroke with minimum kicking)

Rest: Rest for the remaining time on a 2:30 interval. Make the interval shorter if this is easy. Typically, this is 30-40 seconds rest for most non-swimming athletes.

RECON Swim with Clothes: You need to practice 500 meters of a fully-clothed swim if you are thinking about going to USMC RECON. This will be a heartbreaking event the first time you try it. Make sure you are a good swimmer in a swimsuit before trying this test.

Swim PT

One of my all time favorites. You will see this in Rescue Swimmer training and others with upper body calisthenics on the pool deck in between fast swim sets.

For example:

Repeat 10 times

Swim: 100 meters fast

Push-ups: 10

Flutter kicks: 20. Expect a variety of this type of exercise in each set.

(If you are fortunate to have a pull-up bar on the pool deck, add pull-ups.)

Putting in Time

Swimming with fins is like rucking. These events are time-eaters, and you will have to be able to swim for an hour or more with a pair of fins in many programs. At SEAL Training, a 2-mile swim every week in the ocean is on the schedule. That builds up to a 5.5 nautical mile swim (10.5k yards is approximately 6 miles). Make this part of your leg days during the training week and build up to 1-2 hours of finning over time.

You will see these events (and more) in your journey through these tough selection programs.

Cool down with tread or drownproofing drills for 10 minutes. A great cooldown for any swim workout is either treading water or simulated drownproofing drills. Build up to 10 minutes with no hands over time as you will definitely need this ability one day.

Related Swimming Articles:

Popular Swimming Pool Workouts - Summer Swimming Workouts - Swimming With Fins - Swimming Without Water - Video: The Combat Swim - The Combat Swim - Spec Ops Level Swim Tests

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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