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Swimming Without Water??

This week, a young Navy airman requested information on working on swimming while not having access to a pool.  I get this one often as many people like to do the running and PT sections of my workouts, but lack swimming abilities or facilities.  Here is what he writes:

I am deploying in June to Afghanistan. I want to go to BUD/S when I get back. What should I do about swimming? 6-8 months in the desert. I don’t think I will be getting in a pool during that. How do I train without losing a significant amount of time on my swim? Any guidance would be appreciated. Thanks.

Swimming on deployment is always a tough one for active duty Navy preparing for BUDS…I would focus on the muscle endurance needed for swimming:

Back muscles, biceps, shoulders, triceps for upper body workouts that will build endurance with strength is what is needed for swimming primarily.  However, do not forget the legs especially at BUDS where 99% of your swims will be done with fins.  So, hips and legs for flutter kick endurance.  You do not need power or strength so lay off the heavy weights.  High rep endurance is needed for long ocean swims.

A good workout that mixes in both is the following:  I would focus on pullups and resting with 4 count flutter kicks workouts for endurance:

Repeat 5 times
Max reps pullups
rest with 50 flutterkicks
rest with 40-50 pushups
(shoot for a goal of 100 pullups in 5 sets eventually)
Do a few lightweight shoulder routines as well within the five supersets.

If you have access to a weight room:

Bent over rows are a great exercise for working on swimming muscles of the back and biceps.  It again should be done with moderate weight and high reps (15-20+ reps per set) and will also help you with your pull-ups.

Multiple rep (15+) circuits of bicep curls, pulldowns, triceps pushdowns, abdominals, lowerback and other isolation exercises needed too. But, the best way to get better at swimming without a pool is to perform the swimming movements as much as you can perhaps using rubber bands secured to a tree or door knob.

Other forms of cardio:

Of course cardio-vascular endurance is the number one issue when swimming besides
technique and knowing how to swim.  So if possible run, bike on stationary bikes, row on rowing machines, even use elliptical glide machines if you need a break from the impact of running in order to get more cardio endurance conditioning.

Most importantly – hunt for a pool.  If you get any time of R & R find a beach, lake, pool, or any type of safe water to swim in as swimming and being comfortable in the water is critical for any type of Special Ops training like Navy SEALs, Air Force PJ, Dive school, USMC RECON, etc..

Passing Military Swimming Tests

There are several military swimming related tests most military members must be able to pass.  Usually, these tests are either performed at the various military indoctrination training programs throughout the branches or in advanced training such as special forces.

However, in the Navy and Coast Guard the swim test is part of the physical testing members receive bi-annually usually 500m or 12:00 swim test.

First of all – when swimming – no matter who you are – you should never swim without a lifeguard or swim partner when training in the pool.

If you are having a tough time being comfortable in the water, the only way to get over this feeling is to practice being in the water.  Start off treading water, holding your breathe for a few seconds underwater, and moving slowly with as little effort as possible.  This will help you find your balance in the water.  Most people do not balance themselves properly in the water and will struggle to swim one length.  To learn balance watch swimmers swim past you for a while and if you need instruction, you can get it from most pools or even online at Total Immersion Swim training.  ( These folks have swimming stroke drills for free and to purchase and can really help with long distance swims like the 500m.

One of the toughest swims I receive emails on a weekly basis is the underwater swim – especially from Navy SEAL and Air Force PJ candidates. When swimming underwater – once again – NEVER DO IT ALONE.  There have been many people who were great swimmers die from shallow water blackout – defined at the Navy Safety Center as decreased oxygen levels leading to unconsciousness.

See related article –

Before swimming underwater for the various underwater tests in the military, do not hyperventilate – take one big inhalation, one big exhalation, followed on last big inhalation. Doing this practice several times will be hyperventilating – DO NOT Hyperventilate! Limit inhales to ONLY two – then kick off the wall and glide as much as you can.  The following pictures illustrate the process of efficiency when swimming underwater.

The key is efficiency when swimming underwater.  Glide as much as you can so you conserve oxygen and not waste it with 10-12 stroke and kicks in a 25m pool.  When the glide in effectively used, you should be able to get across the pool in as little of 4-5 strokes.


Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and Navy SAR Swimmers

If you were glued to your television during the days after the worst hurricane disaster in US history and concerned for our fellow citizens in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast states, you would have seen some of the fittest, highly trained, and motivated people in our military.  The Helicopter Rescue Swimmers of the Coast Guard, Navy, and Air Force have been saving thousands of people stuck in the flooded areas of New Orleans.  If it were not for these brave pilots and Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers several thousand people would have died.

This week is a tribute to the sailors and airmen of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force who risked their lives everyday to save others by hanging from a helicopter and plucking hurricane victims from certain death.  If you have ever thought about becoming a Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue or SAR swimmer or you may have been motivated by the heroics played live on your television set. Regardless, if you choose this job for your profession – be prepared because it is tough – the training is some of the most grueling in our military.

When you arrive at Navy SAR (Search and Rescue Swimmer or USCG Rescue Swimmer School, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in military education, close quarter living, teamwork, and physical fitness tests (PFT).

According to the SAR Swimmer course syllabus, rescue swimmers must have flexibility, strength, endurance, and be able to function for 30 minutes in heavy seas.

However, the operations manual includes lessons in eight different water deployment procedures; 11 ways to approach, carry and release a survivor; seven ways to release equipment for Navy and Air Force flyers; and ways to detangle the services’ different parachutes and backpacks.   So, being comfortable in the water is an understatement.  You have to be able to think and perform challenging tasks while submerged, holding your breath, and getting tossed around my 10-20 ft. waves.

Rescue swimmers also must have the skills to provide basic pre-hospital life support for rescued individuals. And as part of their training, candidates must complete an emergency medical training course.  This is not an ordinary EMT – if you are exposed to high seas, rough terrain and other dangers and ordinary EMT will not survive.  The training you are seeking is hardcore physical and mental training that will challenge you to your core.  In fact, SAR Swimmer School boasts more than a 50% attrition rate – so it is crucial you go to the training scoring high in your PFT, but more importantly – be confident in the water.  Not cocky!  You must have a deep respect for the power of the sea, but know that your training will help save your life and the lives of the ocean’s victims.

The required monthly physical training test includes push-ups, situps, pull-ups, chin-ups, 12-minute crawl swim (500-yard minimum), 25-yard underwater swim and a 200-yard buddy tow.  I recommend the following scores to better succeed with the training course:

Pushups – 100+ in 2:00
Situps – 100+ in 2:00
Pullups – 15-20+
12:00 Swim – swim 500-750yd
1.5 mile run – sub 9:00
25 yd underwater swim – complete
200 yd Buddy tow – complete

If you are considering this profession, take an Ocean Life Guard course with the Red Cross to see if have what it takes.  You will learn how to perform the crawl stroke, underwater swim, and buddy tow properly with this preparatory Life Guard Course.

Check out the article archive at to find articles related to physical fitness tests, running faster, pullups, pushups, abdominal exercises.

Recently, I trained some sailors who graduated SAR school and I created the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer School for them prior to their training.  They used the program that can be found at the Fitness eBook store and had outstanding results.


Combat Swimmer Stroke

Navy SEAL Stew Smith and Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion have teamed up to create a new Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD complete with action shots of the stroke with and without fins by Stew and technique drills done by Terry.

Let Stew and Terry coach you through the Combat Swimmer Stroke Technique.  The NEW price will be $24.95 for the DVD.  Also, a CSS technique and drill sheet will be attached to every order form or easily obtained by emailing Stew Smith.

Whether you are a beginning swimmer or an aspiring Navy SEAL, this stroke can really help you efficiently move through the water.

Actually, the CSS is a mix of sidestroke, breaststroke, and a little freestyle.   The Combat Swimmer stroke is similar to the sidestroke since it is done on your side, however the top arm pulls just like a freestyle stroke but recovers underwater like the breaststroke.    If that confused you, maybe it is just best to observe, because a picture is worth 1000 words.

When you find yourself in deep water with a lot of distance to cover, the CSS will serve you well especially when you are wearing fins. You will tire less quickly if you learn to perform this stroke properly.

The object to the CSS and side stroke is efficiency – you should try to get across a 25m pool in as few strokes as possible. If you are doing more than 10 strokes per length you are working too hard. In fact, the fastest and best swimmers get across a 25m pool in 3-5 strokes.

THE START: In a big squat position against the wall – push off and stay as streamlined as possible as you glide at least 5-10 yards off the wall. Place your hands on top of each other, place your bicep on your ears, and lock out your arms – streamlined positioning like a rocket.

THE GLIDE: With a big double arm pull, add the other 3-5 yards to your glide by pulling with your back, biceps and pushing water with your arms using your triceps.

Kick using a breast stroke kick or scissor kick and recover your arms together.

THE ARM MOVEMENT: After the arm pull, it is time to breathe – twist and breath then start using the top arm pull as shown. Notice both arms recover together forward, but the top arm pulls from overhead all the way to your hips (similar to freestyle stroke). Then the bottom arm pulls a half stroke (similar to breast stroke) and both arms recover together. Breathe as the top arm completes its pull and the bottom arm begins its pull.

THE KICK: Use the scissor kick and time your kicks so your top leg always goes forward (no matter what side you are on). You should kick just after both arms have pulled and are recovering – adding more glide to each stroke.

If this did not help you:
A picture is worth 1,000 words.
A moving picture is worth 10,000 words!!

For the cost of $24.95 you will receive the following:

1) Stew’s review of your videos for running, workout, and swimming techniques. 2) A homemade video of Stew teaching several clients how to swim with over 500yds of Stew Smith swimming the Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) in a sub 8:00 pace. 3) Price of $31.95 covers video (shipping & handling) and phone call critique of your swimming.

This is a DVD which I will mail to you and it features underwater footage of the CSS using both the scissor kick and breast stroke kick.  IT IS NOT A DOWNLOAD – DO NOT TRY TO USE THE DOWNLOAD FUNCTION AS A SHIPPING CHOICE..

Too Hot to Run? Or need a Non-impact Aerobic Alternative

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 actually harmful to your lungs. Here is my answer to this week’s 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 time 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 workout during the day either in an indoor/outdoor pool or beach:

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 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:

Warm up: Swim 50-100m freestyle breathing every 2 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 2 strokes. Stretch your arms and legs for a few seconds and begin the workout.

Swim 50-100m freestyle breathing every 4 strokes and build up to 10-12 strokes per breath for 50-100m 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 will only 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 life guard for obvious reasons, though I have never heard of anyone holding their breath while surface swimming and passing out. One workout I would never recommend to try is underwater swimming due to “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!

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

Swim any stroke you wish for 100m, get out of the pool and do 10-20 pushups and 20 abs of choice. Get back in the water and repeat above ten times. This totals 1000m of swimming 100-200 pushups 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 if 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 ½ mile — stop — and turn towards the water and start swimming just past the breakers which is usually about 100m, 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 ½ mile and repeat the swim. You can do this as many times as you can making a great 30-40 minute workout that will smoke you if 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..

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