Ask Stew: Can You Recommend Some Summer Swimming Workouts?

A Marine conducts the 1,400-meter swim event during a squad competition in Okinawa, Japan.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Alec Burris, a light armored vehicle crewman with 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, conducts the 1,400-meter swim event during the 3d Marine Division Squad Competition on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 3, 2022. (Lance Cpl. Jonathan Willcox/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Is it hazy, hot and humid in your area this summer? During the hottest months of the year, it is difficult to find the time to run or walk outside unless you exercise as the sun rises or sets. Even then, the humidity still soaks you like you were in a sauna, and in most urban areas, the air quality can be harmful to your lungs.

Here is the cardio fitness question:

"It is so hot here in Texas -- when I try to run outside, it about kills me. Do you have other options besides the standard run on a treadmill in the AC?"

You took away my number one answer, but not my number one choice for getting cardiovascular exercise during the dog days of summer. Summer is a great time for water, not only to drink it but to get in it and swim. Here are several workouts that I love to do to stay cool and work out during the day, either in an indoor/outdoor pool or beach:

Hypoxic swim pyramid

My number one favorite cardio exercise that I do year-round is the hypoxic swim pyramid. Hypoxic means "low oxygen." The goal of this workout is that you decrease your breaths per stroke as you increase the distance, causing the heart to race into the anaerobic zone. This gives you a great cardio workout that will drop your resting heart rate close to that of Lance Armstrong (32 beats per minute). Now that is in shape.

Here is how the hypoxic pyramid works:

Warmup: Swim 50-100 meters freestyle, breathing every two strokes. A stroke is each arm pull, so two strokes is a left and a right arm pull and you take a breath after every two strokes. Stretch your arms and legs for a few seconds and begin the workout.

Swim: Swim 50-100 meters freestyle, breathing every four strokes, and build up to 10-12 strokes per breath for 50-100 meters each and work your way back down the pyramid. This workout, if you go from 2-12-2 using the even numbers as your step, only will take about 20-30 minutes but will challenge your lungs to the maximum.

It is not recommended to try this workout alone or without a lifeguard for obvious reasons, though I never have heard of anyone holding their breath while surface swimming and passing out. One workout I never would recommend is underwater swimming due to what is known as shallow water blackout. Many great swimmers have drowned due to "pushing the envelope" of how far they can swim underwater.

Stay safe. Never swim alone.

Swim/PT workout

Another great swim and PT mix is what I call the swim/PT workout:

Swim any stroke you wish for 100 meters, get out of the pool and do 10-20 push-ups and 20 abs of choice. Get back in the water and repeat the above 10 times. This totals 1,000 meters of swimming 100-200 push-ups and 200 abs of choice. This is one great workout for the arms and lungs. For more fun, make the swim a hypoxic pyramid, adding the PT at every 100m. Whew!!


The final favorite water sport I love to do at the beach is the run-swim-run. Usually at the beach, you have a nice breeze, cooler air and, of course, cool water. Mix it all in and create your own mini-adventure race of sorts:

Run down the beach about a half-mile -- stop -- and turn toward the water and start swimming just past the breakers, which is usually about 100 meters, then turn back to where you entered the water and swim back to shore. Once you have reached the shore, continue the run for another half-mile and repeat the swim.

You can do this as many times as you can, making a great 30- to 40-minute workout that will smoke you if you're trying to run and swim fast for these short distances. In the SEAL teams, we did these and called the workout a run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run and made it a race around buoys in the water and mile markers on the beach.

I hope that helps you with some ideas of how to stay cool and really keep working out hard this summer. Looks like August is going to be another hot month so enjoy the water.

More swimming articles:

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

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues