How to Prepare for Special Operations Drownproofing Tests

Special Tactics Training Squadron students swim the length of the pool underwater without breaching during a pre-scuba class at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 29, 2016. The training familiarizes trainees with the basics of water operations. The trainees perform tasks such as tying knots underwater, learning how to stay afloat without their arms and hands, and how to use snorkeling gear. Special Tactics students later apply this knowledge to combat dive training. This training also reproduces physiological effects similar those experienced on the battlefield, and thus builds the necessary mental resiliency for ground special operations force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)

I recently developed a workout for anyone who wants to improve their water confidence skills before attending dive school, rescue swimmer school or other spec ops selection programs like Navy SEAL/SWCC, Air Force PJ and USMC RECON. You can interchange different exercises into this system of swimming conditioning mixed with pool skills based on the requirements for your future training.

The Navy SEAL drownproofing test is a shock for any special operations candidate who did not practice these events in a simulated fashion. At SEAL training, you will have your ankles tied together and your arms tied behind your back for the drownproofing test.

Obviously our workout is a simulation. Pretend you have your hands and feet tied, but do not actually tie them for this workout. You will find it impossible to do this workout if you tie yourself because the conditioning sets in between drownproofing events will require you to swim.

Here is how you do it:

Warm up with a 5-10 minute tread drill, practicing as much as possible with NO HANDS. Keep your hands out of the water for as much of that 5-10 minute warmup as possible.

Swim and Drownproofing Events Workout

It's best if this is done in a 9-ft. deep pool with simulated tied hands for DP events in bold italics.

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Bottom bounce 2 minutes

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Float 2 minutes

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Travel 100 meters (only using dolphin kick)

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Front flip. Start flip off bottom of the pool and repeat 2-3 times in 2 minutes.

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Back flip. Start flip off bottom of the pool and repeat 2-3 times in 2 minutes.

Swim 100m freestyle of side stroke

Mask Retrieval (pick up mask with teeth from bottom of the pool)

These are all of the events of the Navy SEAL Drownproofing test, but let's add in a few more events.

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Tread holding 5-10 lbs. weight (mix of no hands snd one hand) for 2 minutes

Swim 100m freestyle of side stroke

Simulate buddy breathe with snorkel while treading on the surface (AF PJ test) for 2 minutes.

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Follow-up with a cooldown swim or tread for 5-10 minutes. Work on your weakness. If you can swim well but need to work on treading, do more treading in the cooldown section with and without hands. Watch swim videos as well on drownproofing events, egg beater treading and more.

You have to become proficient at both swimming and treading for any of these schools. Depending on your future school, you also need to take seriously the specific challenges of each training program.

A lot of candidates don't think enough about treading or these other tasks to the detriment of their potential success in the training. They require significant practice, so make sure you're giving them the attention they require.

NOTE: If your pool allows it, try doing some of these in cammies because these tests are done wearing clothing in the USMC RECON and Air Force PJ training.

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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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