Here's How to Be a Better Military Swimmer

Soldiers undergo water training.
U.S. soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade are submerged in a shallow water egress trainer chair, pushed by civilian and military instructors. (Lt. Col. Michael Girvin/U.S. Army photo)

If you are preparing for future military swimming tests, you will find that you need to pass a certain distance in a respectable time without fins, but sometimes with fins or wearing full gear.

You also likely will be challenged with additional events during training, like treading (no hands/with weight), drown-proofing, life-saving (buddy tow), SCUBA diving, underwater knot tying, buddy breathing and many other water confidence events.

Regardless of what you are preparing for, when to fit it into your training preparation can be tough. Here are some ideas for adding in workouts for swimming and water confidence practice:

1. Get in the pool several times a week. If you are fairly new to swimming, you need to practice swimming to get comfortable in the water and build the technique and conditioning required for these tests. There is no replacement for practicing techniques and getting comfortable with swimming and other tasks in the water. You have to get wet.

2. Warm up. Take 10 minutes and pick treading water, a drown-proofing event or the actual swim test you have to do and call that a warmup. The one thing about doing this as a warmup is that one day during a test, you will be able to tell yourself, "This is just my warmup." That is a big psychological and confidence boost.

3. Cool down. You also can end any workout by working on your weakness. Anything that gave you trouble or is rather new to you, give it an extra 10 minutes on the back end of the workout in the pool. Practice not until you get it right -- but until you cannot get it wrong.

4. Sample pool workout options.

Warmup 10 minutes treading: No hands or swim 500 meters (whatever your test distance is eventually should be considered a warmup).

Workout option 1: Swim with scuba fins for 30 minutes. Try to maintain a yard or meter per second as a goal pace (or faster). An acceptable minimum standard is 30 laps in 30 minutes. 30 x 50 meters = 1,500 -- so this would be in a 25-meter pool.

Workout option 2: The classic "get in shape for 500 meters" test workout -- the 50-50. You will swim a total of 1,000 meters but split into 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter combat swimmer stroke, or CSS. The goal is to rest only if needed. If you can catch your breath with the CSS 50 meters each set -- just keep on moving. If not, move into an active rest of treading water or another water confidence event for one minute.

Repeat 10 times:

Swim 50 meters free fast

Swim 50 meters CSS at goal pace

Rest with one minute treading or another drownproofing event like bobbing, floating, a series of front flips or backflips underwater, etc.

Cool down with a weakness. Pick one of the events above and practice it for another 5-10 minutes. If swimming 500 meters nonstop is a weakness, do it again. If treading or floating is a weakness, practice it for 5-10 minutes before getting out of the pool.

This is how you get better at military grade swimming, which is not competitive swimming-level programming. The goal is to get comfortable with the water, the various techniques and build some conditioning for fitness test distances and other events that will be part of your selection program within the military.

Related swimming articles/videos

Treading Video

Military Swimming -- How Good Do You Have to Be?

Technique -- Biggest Mistakes Made When Swimming the CSS

Hard Swim Pyramid Workout

Technique, Skills and Drills Workout

Swimming with Fins

Dangers of Underwater Swimming

Popular Pool Workouts

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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