A Swimmer Prepares for the Military

Navy Diver Swims With Sharks

Swimming is not only an outstanding way to get in excellent cardio conditioning, but knowing how to swim is a survival skill.  It is a skill that renders a person ineffective on 75% of the Earth if that ability is not fully developed. When you cannot save yourself, you cannot help others, so joining the military or other first responder programs with the swimming skill strongly developed is a winning combination. However, swimming athletes tend to also have some weaknesses that should be decreased and better developed into strengths prior to Day 1 of any military training.

Strengths of the Swimming Athlete

Cardiovascular Conditioning – Typically swimmers bring an incredible cardio vascular ability to the training table and this will transfer over into other forms of cardio activity like running and rucking (see weakness below). Building muscle endurance in the upper body is also rather easy for the swimming athlete so PT tests tend to improve easily if on a progressive PT program (pushups, situps, pullups, other). Endurance and muscle stamina is strong in the swimmer.

Mental Toughness – Waking up first thing in the morning several days a week when it is cold and dark is tough to do.  Jumping into a pool that is not warm and swimming for the next 90 minutes before school is even harder. This daily habit of getting comfortable being uncomfortable goes a long way to build resilience and mental toughness for future military programs and life in general. Being able to go to the “happy place” when times get tough is a good skill that is developed every day just staring at a black line for hours each day while working hard at practice.

Swim Teams – Though swimming is largely an individual sport, there is a big sense of suffering together as a team doing early morning practices, weight training workouts, and after school practices during the season. Having people rely on your abilities and effort is a great way to build the foundation of being a good team player, because in the military, you will be part of a team your entire career.

Weaknesses of the Swimmer

There are weaknesses that the swimming athlete must deal with prior to attending any type of military basic training and especially a military special ops program. Here is a list of the elements of fitness elements that the swimming athlete needs to focus on once the swim season is over:

Strength – Overall strength will not only help the swimming athlete learn what gravity is, but enable him/her to build the necessary stronger bones and muscles to handle the impact forces of running and / or rucking. Lifting weights mixed with calisthenics is a fine method to start to build strength. Reduce your high mileage of swimming each week and focus on lifting more and eat like you always have. You will find you can pick up muscle mass that will help you make your lower extremities stronger. 

Hyper-Mobile – Swimmers tend to also be very flexible and many have joints that are considered “hyper-mobile.” It is good to have mobility and flexibility but too much can lead to quick injuries when under vertical force stresses such as load bearing events and even upper body weight lifting. The good news is the calisthenics, dumbbell work, TRX, and weight training will help with creating more joint stability for the hyper-mobile.  

All of this may take some time.  A twelve week cycle of lifting is a smart start. See ideas in Tactical Strength.

Some weight training and calisthenics workouts
Classic Military PT Training Week

Running and Impact Activities – Running, rucking, and other load bearing exercises can cause pain and injury quickly in the swimming athlete. Following a strength training program, the next step is to start applying more impact cardio events – progressively. Remember this first event a candidate / recruit will have to take is a timed run of 1.5, 2 or 3 mile distances depending upon the branch of service. Though these are not ultra-long distance runs, preparing for them can yield many running injuries as the week progresses with running each day. See ideas – Classic Timed Run Prep Plan
One of the recommended methods to helping a swimming endurance athlete make this transition is to have a calisthenics base training program mixed but you have to SLOWLY introduce running as too much, too soon, can lead to overuse injuries (feet, shins, knees tendons) and cause disruption in the ability to train for what the military does a lot of (running and even rucking – Army / USMC). But he / she must reduce the running significantly compared to previous running training cycles. Instead of running every day, perhaps start off running every OTHER day with swimming or other non-impact cardio options in between to give you a break from initial impact pains of running.  See sample progressive running plans that can help build the foundation so you go into running smartly and without pain / injury.  

Progressive Running Plan And Rules for the Beginner
Some More Advanced Running Workouts
Typical Running Injuries and Tips to Avoid Them

Speed and Agility – The swimmer may be fast in the pool, but speed, agility, cone drills, shuttle runs are another element of running the swimmer is rather weak at typically. Practice your speed and agility especially if you know there are shuttle runs, beep tests, and other agility tests in your future.

Conclusion
If a swimming athlete can do some cross-training during the off season and mix in some running through the years, the transition to starting a strength training / running program will be easier to follow. Adding running with leg calisthenics will help build stronger bones and muscles and get the tendons and other soft tissue more used to gravity and the forces of impact that you will see in future military training. Do not be one of those great swimming athletes who can do everything well, but when running or carrying a back pack or other gear falls apart within the first mile. A tactical athlete in the military needs to be good at all the elements of fitness (endurance - run, swim, ruck - strength, muscle stamina, speed / agility, flexibility, mobility).

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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