Workout of the Week: Swimming Challenge Pyramid

Aspiring Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors conduct aquatic workouts.
Aspiring Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors conduct aquatic workouts Aug. 21, 2019, on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. (Lance Cpl. Brennan J. Beauton/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

If you need to catch up on your swimming because you have been away from pool access or you have progressed to a level where you want to challenge yourself with a 5,000-meter swim workout, here is a way to do it.

Our training group recently learned that the pool was closing for a week for its annual maintenance period, so we figured we would get enough swimming done in one day so we would not miss the pool the following week.

Here are some options to get that distance completed:

1. Just do it. Swim 100 laps (25-meter pool) and rest as needed throughout the swim. It is a good idea to mix in a variety of swim strokes, times and pace, and with and without fins in order to break up the monotony.

2. Try the swim pyramid. Just as a 1-10-1 pyramid equals 100 pull-ups, you can do the same with laps like this:

1 lap -- rest as needed

2 laps -- rest as needed

3 laps -- rest as needed ... continue up to 10 laps, then return in reverse order 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

This one is actually pretty fun and at least engages the mind, as you have to keep up with laps done for each level of the pyramid, but you won't get lost halfway through and say, "is this 40 laps or 50 laps?"

3. The swim pyramid with times. Another option that is tougher and requires a bit more endurance and swimming ability is to set a goal pace per lap. For instance, our group set the goal up as a meter per second. And here is the kicker: Your rest is the interval between a meter a second and your lap time. It went like this:

1 lap -- 50 meters in 50 seconds

2 laps -- 100 meters in 100 seconds (1:40)

3 laps -- 150 meters in 150 seconds (2:30)

4 laps -- 200 meters in 200 seconds (3:20)

5 laps -- 250 meters in 250 seconds (4:10)

... continue up to 10 laps, 500m in 500 seconds (8:20), then repeat in reverse order 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Practicing this method will help you remember split times for each lap when swimming a 500-meter or 500-yard swim for many of the military swimming fitness tests. Having the ability to swim 500 meters fast, as well as build up to 2-3 miles, will help you get to and through the training in your future, as your 500-meter swims quickly will turn into weekly two-mile swims at SEAL training (if that is your goal one day).

However, if you swim the 50 meters in 45 seconds, you get five seconds of rest. The 50 meters in 50 seconds is your interval time. If you can maintain that pace for the above three laps, you will earn 15 seconds of rest before your meter per second time clock catches up to you. If you do this method, you can organize your schedule to be in and out of the pool in less than 90 minutes. Otherwise, the other options above can increase the overall swim to rest time to two hours or more depending on your rest periods.

4. Need another distance? If you need a shorter swim idea, try this: Instead of 100 laps, shoot for 100 lengths and turn the 5,000-meter swim into a 2,500-meter swim. This can turn your time in the pool to less than 45 minutes, especially if you strive for a meter per second as your goal pace.

Give this workout a shot. If you need something to keep your mind busy while staring at a black line for a long period of time, this will keep you occupied and reduce hangout time in the pool.

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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