Many people have read the article Military Swimming – How Good Should You Be which addresses the level of swimming required for basic military training and advanced training programs like Rescue Swimmer, Air Force PJ, and Navy SEAL. But it fails to discuss what workouts will help you master proper techniques and get you comfortable using the Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS).
The good news is that learning any stroke will help you get more comfortable in the water. Check out these videos of people learning how to swim freestyle or crawl stroke, breast stroke, and even elementary back stroke. Each one will help you master proper body position in the water. As you get better, you can add distance and actually call it a workout. Once you are doing swim workouts, you are well on your way to building a high level of comfort in the water.
Work Set, Rest Set, Active Rest Set
Many first-time swimmers have the endurance to swim across a 25m pool and back with a rest stop afterward. This is a fine pace on 50m sets for beginners. Build up to five sets, then push yourself to perform 10 in a workout.
Your next goal is to keep moving and learn a rest stroke that works for you. For example, you might start a workout with freestyle then rest with breast stroke, CSS, or even back stroke. Your goal is to get comfortable being winded in the water while still moving regardless of the stroke you need to swim.
As you progress and 10 sets of 50m becomes easy, double down and do 10 sets of 100m. You may need to rest again just as before, but eventually you will be able to push through again.
Remember: your goal is to just keep moving.
Swim and Adding New Skills
Once you get comfortable with longer sets of swimming, it's time to up your game and add other water skills that can save your life. Exercises like treading water with hands and feet, bottom bouncing, and the dead man float are great skills to know. You will see these again in any military swimming class you take. Some of their favorite workouts include swimming 100-200m while timed. Afterward, you'll have to tread water for however long it took you to swim that distance. Treat treading like vertical swimming – it is not easy.
If you go into a swim test thinking treading is easy, you'll be quickly disappointed if you have not practiced long bouts of it. During your next set of the workouts, time yourself on different skills like the bottom bounce (which is best performed in an 8-10 ft. pool), an underwater swim, or the float. If you are lean, you may find that it is easy to bounce but hard to float. If you have a few extra pounds, it will be difficult to bounce but easy to float.
As you progress, try treading water with no hands. Only use your legs to keep you up. Here are some workouts to help build your comfort in the water:
- Workout #1 – Time yourself in a 50m swim. Repeat 5-10 times, rest as needed. Build up to 500m of total swimming distance.
- Workout #2 – Swim 50m for 5-10 sets, but limit rest to an easy breath catching stroke and see if you can swim the entire distance non-stop. Build up to 30+ minutes of swimming.
- Workout #3 – Once workout #1 and #2 are easy to finish, add more sets or more distance: swim 100m and repeat five to ten times. Practice life-saving drills between sets of swimming for as much time as it takes you to swim your workout distance. If it takes you two minutes to swim 100m, then do a set of two minutes of treading. The next set can be the bottom bounce and the next set can be the float.
Enjoy building up your confidence. You have to start somewhere with your WATER CON, but over time you can turn these workouts into one to two hour swims.
Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.