Cold Water Training

Navy Seal Cold Water Training

There is an argument as to whether some people are genetically wired to handle colder temperatures, or whether one must build stamina for lower temperatures by training in colder environments (water or land). I believe it is a little bit of both.

When I was attending SEAL Training, the water off San Diego was brutal to new recruits. Typically, water temperatures were (at best) 69 degrees during the warmest part of the summer and dropped to in the low 50's during the winter. Then in dive phase, at about 15 feet underwater, you would hit a thermo-cline and water temperature was in the low 40's. That was when BUD/S got cold, especially during a winter dive phase.

Even if the water is 90 degrees your core temperature will very slowly start to drop from its normal level of 98.6 degrees. This would take hours at that temperature, but as the water temperature drops so does the amount of time you can safely train in that water.

People often ask me, "What is the best way to train for the cold water at BUD/S? Do I take ice baths, cold showers, or sit in a pool for hours?" For me, what I think helped me was hours of surfing/body surfing a few years prior to BUD/S. Physical training such as swimming/surfing /playing in water temperature near those of San Diego is what I would recommend for short periods of time. Do not let yourself get to a point where you are shaking uncontrollably or (especially) not shaking at all, as you can die if you play around too much with your core temperature. Therefore, I do not recommend placing ice in a bath tub and dropping the water temperature to arctic levels. Colder showers are OK if you like mild torture, but training for cold water-endurance by yourself can be dangerous. 

As part of National Geographic Channel's Fight Science series - which will be shown in January 2008 - I ran a combat obstacle course after my body temperature had dropped to near hypothermic levels following immersion in 45 degree water. Needless to say, it was - for this 38 year old fitness writer - painful. But I did abnormally well and surprised myself. In fact, the physiologists monitoring my temperature and other vitals actually called me a "freak." However, this test was done with doctors, EMTs, physiologists, and thermal imagery professionals and is not meant to be duplicated by viewers on their own. The physiologists even scientifically re-warmed me using a new device that gently re-warms the core through the hands and feet. The ensuing combat obstacle course went well too, reinforcing the theme of the show - Special Ops are special, with intangible skills that are difficult to verbalize. 

See "Special Ops" Preview of Stew in Action 

So, along with underwater swimming, swimming by yourself, and other potentially dangerous SEAL training events, getting used to cold water is not recommended for pre-SEAL candidates. Train smart or you can kill yourself when not properly trained or have trained supervisors protecting you. Besides, you will have a harder time keeping up with the runs, swims, obstacles courses, and PT on a daily basis than being cold. So focus on preparing hard physically, and then rehab yourself by using ice on your joints.

Navy Special Operations Fitness Articles:

- Navy SEAL Fitness Test - Navy SEAL Fitness Preparation - Getting Fit for SEAL Training - The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness - How to Prepare for BUD/S - Navy SWCC Fitness Training - All Navy Special Operations Fitness

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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your questions, e-mail him at

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