Ask Stew: Where Should I Place Swimming in My Workout Schedule?

Marine Corps swim test
U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Aysha M. Romeis with Golf Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, practices a survival stroke during swim week at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Oct. 4, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Julian Elliott-Drouin)

A common question from candidates preparing for military rescue swimming or diving training programs is where to add swimming workouts into their training schedule. Those workouts can also be a useful tool for cooling down and working through any joint stiffness either before, after or as a stand-alone workout, no matter what your goals might be.

Here is a question from a sailor getting ready for dive school:

Hey Stew, If swimming is a weakness, is it better to do it before your workout to get better at it? Thanks, Mack

Mack, there are a few things that can determine where you place swimming into your workout. Regardless of the logistics of getting to the pool, the pool facility's schedule and your schedule, swimming and treading skills will determine whether you perform well on the fitness test that screens applicants as well as getting through the course itself.

PT Test Order of Events

Depending on your PT test, the order of swimming may best be determined by where it is in the order of events of that test. For instance, the Navy Dive Physical Screening Test (PST) places the 500-yard swim first, followed by push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5-mile run.

The Air Force Special Warfare test places the swim (2 x 25-meter underwater swims and a 500-meter swim) at the end of the Initial Fitness Test (IFT), preceded by pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run.

A logical answer would be to place the swim first if you are going to be taking the Navy PST or last if you're taking the Air Force Special Warfare IFT.

Pool availability and your work and training schedule may not allow for this type of setup, so you may have to get the swimming done at the end of a workout or as a separate workout altogether. Our training group often swims after our run, ruck, lift or calisthenics due to our pool availability and our training schedule.

This order makes for a nice cooldown and technique-focused training session. The cooling effect of the water often gives us a second wind and allows us to add in conditioning and swimming drills that help with the two challenges of swimming weakness (technique and conditioning).

There are advantages to swimming last, but if you are tired from the workout prior to it, give yourself some time to cool down by treading or swimming easy for 5-10 minutes. Then hydrate and eat a piece of fruit for energy to get the needed swimming work done.

Workout #2

There is nothing wrong with giving yourself a separate swim session from your normal training routine of the day. Lunchtime or early morning are great times to squeeze in a swim session during the workweek and can make for an efficient use of time when training fresh, because you're not tired from previous training from the same hour.

The short answer is to find what works best for you, but make sure you schedule a few days per week to match the order of the PT test you need to master. Some days should be swimming and mobility training only.

You will find that having more flexible shoulders will help you with your streamline body position and help develop more flexible ankles, hips and knees to assist with better treading and swimming with fins. Doing calisthenics and running either before or after your swim will be challenging, no matter what fitness test you are taking. Make sure you know how to take the test in that way and are conditioned, hydrated and well-fed so that you can handle the energy output required by these events.

If swimming is a weakness, you should try to get in the pool five times a week to master the techniques, get into swimming shape and build the much-needed water confidence that comes with dive training. It may not be a bad idea also to take a civilian scuba course during your training time to allow yourself more time in the water and learn some of the nuances of breathing underwater.

-- 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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