How to Prepare Your Body for All Phases of Army Dive Training

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A Combat Diver assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), conducts a dive off of the coast of Washington. Special Forces soldiers who are Combat Diver qualified perform annual maritime training in order to maintain proficiency in conducting waterborne operations.(U.S. Army/Sgt. Connor Mendez)

The Army Diver Program has a long history of excellence and a number of challenging programs from Army Hard Hat/Salvage Divers to Army Special Forces Diver training. It also has a Phase 1 portion that eliminates most candidates before they ever head to Panama City, Florida, for Dive School or Key West, Florida, for Combat Diver School.

Here is a question from an Army engineer preparing for the standards for acceptance into the program and through Phases 1 and 2:

Hey Stew, I am preparing for Army Diver School, coming to you from Fort Leonard Wood. Do you have any recommendations for Engineer Diver tryouts? I am working on the fitness test but know the pool skills also need work. Any suggestions? Earl

Earl, that is a great opportunity to become a military diver. However, much of the attrition of the school happens long before you ever put a scuba tank on your back. Here is my step-by-step advice to prepare yourself for this type of multi-stage challenge:

1. Crush the Physical Screening Test

This course has the same fitness test the Navy SEAL/Diver program has: 500-yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5-mile timed run. Get on a PST training plan and learn how to take the test.

Your workouts should look like the PST, and activities other than upper-body calisthenics, running and swimming should complement those testing events. Added exercises such as squats, lunges and hard bike-riding workouts can prepare the legs and the lungs for the test without the impact of running, if you need a day off or two from running each week.

See the Navy PST Workout, and complete with your PST prep, plus the drownproofing/treading drills needed for Phase 1.

2. Daily Pool Training

Swimming every day of the week is recommended, but swim at least five days a week in order to go from "OK" in the water to competent. Warm up each swim workout with 10 minutes of treading water. Then practice swim workouts that will help you crush the 500-yard swim (test like the 50-50 workout).

To cool down from the swim workout, add in drownproofing drills and complete with bobbing, floating, underwater swimming (which you should never do alone) and weighted treading (with 5-10 pounds in hand).

Swimming and treading with fins also require some ankle mobility and durability, which can be obtained by only practicing swimming with fins, so consider fin swims on leg days.

3. Add Mobility

Many people have a difficult time swimming and treading largely due to lack of shoulder, hip, knee and ankle mobility. For a more streamlined body position, you need good shoulder mobility so both hands can go over your head and you can squeeze your ears with your biceps.

This will help you look and feel like a torpedo and add speed. Treading also requires hip, knee and ankle mobility, especially if you are trying to use the egg-beater kick or scissor kick. So, mix in mobility and stretching on the pool deck if you feel it is difficult on your joints to get into a proper treading or gliding position.

4. Land Training, Too

Though the most challenging events will occur in the pool and on the pool deck (swim PT), you can practice many of the events on land, such as endless flutter kicks with masks filled with water. You can also practice running, upper-body training and even log training.

The goal of Phase 1 training is to make sure you can handle the rigors and discomfort of being underwater in dark and murky non-pool environments. There is a level of water confidence that will be tested along the way, and you will be glad you experienced the challenges of both Phases 1 and 2 of diver training -- in any branch of service.

Many will often comment that the toughest physical part of training is in Phase 1, but the toughest tactical and professional part of the training will be in Phase Two. Both are equally challenging and well worth the effort of preparation. Good luck and get after it.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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