Spec Ops Leg Day – Help With Treading With Fins


If you are considering joining a military diving or any waterborne special ops program, you will have to swim with fins. BIG fins. Swimming with SCUBA fins is more difficult than the snorkeling flippers or swim team finning workouts. These fins require time (several weeks) just to get your feet and ankles used to the stress of kicking with a rigid fin. The bigger fins are needed when swimming against currents and carrying extra gear during your swim or dive as well. Here is a great question not only about the actual act of passing treading/swimming tests with fins, but also extra ways to prepare the legs for the strength, endurance, and mobility required to perform well without pain.


The pipeline I am pursuing (Navy EOD) had a lot of weighted tread evolutions. I have simulated some of these by holding a 25 pound weight to my chest and treading with rocket fins, but have yet to be able to get past 1:15 minutes. Obviously, the principle of specificity applies here and I will continue to do these treads, but I was wondering if you had any ideas for exercises to supplement these. Should I be aiming for leg strength, i.e., Weighted squats, lunges etc. or more strength endurance as in larger numbers of body weight lower body exercise?

Great question. We call the workouts that prepare you for such events -- Spec Ops Leg Days. But yes, you have to build a base of strength but also muscle stamina as well as ankle / foot mobility. Try this on your leg days: (Sample Workout)

Warmup with an air squat pyramid: Run 25m – 1 squat, Run 25m – 2 squats, Run 25m – 3 squats… keep going up to 10 squats. We usually do this on a basketball court or field and mix in a series of dynamic stretches for the 25m sections like butt kickers, Frankenstein walks, leg swings, side steps, high knees, etc.

Then you do the same squat pyramid but up and down a flight of stairs with a weight vest of about 30 pounds or carrying dumbbells. Go up-and-down – one squat. Up and down – 2 squats... Until 10. Stretch when needed.

Now the real workout begins:

Repeat 3-5 times 5 min tabata interval bike at high resistance levels (20 sec sprint / 10 sec easy) Squats 10-15 (weighted) Overhead Plate Carry Lunges 10/leg *You can also run or ruck for 5 minutes if you prefer for the above interval/leg circuit.

Then you hit the pool and swim with fins for 1000 to 1500m.

Now for the tread workout! Tread water with fins as well as without fins to help loosen your legs. Build up over time. Start with a few minutes and build up for 10-15 minutes of treading with NO hands with and without fins. Finally, before you get out of the pool, do dynamic stretches that you did before the workout and chest deep water.

On another day of the week, a great option for leg PT / swim drill is the Life Saving / Lunges Workout (video).

Important Tips:

Hydrate and electrolytes. During the tread, if you are dehydrated, been sweating frequently during the day, did not properly re-hydrate and get your salts back in your body, you can cramp within a minute of these type of tests. Gatorade, Pedialyte, bananas, and other foods with sodium, potassium, calcium, will help you with pre-mature cramping. Mentally Prepared: Treading with fins is basically swimming vertically, so be prepared for the gut check mentally. The same type of mental preparation and cardiovascular effort will go into your tread as your swim. Be ready for that.

Floating Tips: If you are having a difficult time floating or treading, try to breathe differently when you tread. Keep air fully in your lungs -- hold for 4-5 seconds. Exhale quickly and then quickly inhale again. This will help you float if you are lean by simply keeping the flotation devices in your chest (lungs) full.

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