How to Prepare for Special Operations Drownproofing Tests

Best Warrior combat warrior survival
Georgia Army National Guardsman Sgt. Grace E. Middleton, transportation specialist, representing the Ellenwood-based 78th Troop Command, inflates her pants to act as a life vest during the combat water survival event during the 2019 Georgia Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Fort Stewart, Georgia, on March 4, 2019. (Sgt. 1st Class R.J. Lannom Jr./U.S. Army National Guard photo)

I recently developed a workout for anyone who wants to improve their water confidence skills before attending dive school, rescue swimmer school or other spec ops selection programs like Navy SEAL/SWCC, Air Force PJ and USMC RECON. You can interchange different exercises into this system of swimming conditioning mixed with pool skills, based on the requirements for your future training.

The Navy SEAL drownproofing test is a shock for any special operations candidate who did not practice these events in a simulated fashion. At SEAL training, you will have your ankles tied together and your arms tied behind your back for the drownproofing test.

Our workout is a simulation. Pretend you have your hands and feet tied, but do not tie them for this workout. You will find it impossible to do this workout if you tie yourself because the conditioning sets between drownproofing events will require you to swim.

Here is how you do it:

Warm up with a five- to 10-minute tread drill, practicing as much as possible with no hands. Keep your hands out of the water for as much of that warmup as possible.

Swim and Drownproofing Events Workout

It's best if this is done in a nine-foot deep pool with simulated tied hands for drownproofing events in bold italics.

Swim 100 meters freestyle of side stroke

Bottom bounce 2 minutes

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Float 2 minutes

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Travel 100 meters (only using dolphin kick)

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Front flip. Start flip off bottom of the pool and repeat 2-3 times in 2 minutes.

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Back flip. Start flip off bottom of the pool and repeat 2-3 times in 2 minutes.

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Mask retrieval (pick up mask with teeth from bottom of the pool)

These are the events of the Navy SEAL drownproofing test, but let's add in a few more.

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Tread holding 5-10 lbs. of weight (mix of no hands and one hand) for 2 minutes

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Simulate buddy breathe with snorkel while treading on the surface (AF PJ test) for 2 minutes.

Swim 100m freestyle of sidestroke

Follow-up with a cooldown swim or tread for 5-10 minutes. Work on your weakness. If you can swim well but struggle with treading, do more treading in the cooldown section with and without hands. Watch swim videos as well on drownproofing events, egg beater treading and more.

You have to become proficient at swimming and treading for any of these schools. Depending on your future school, you also need to take seriously the specific challenges of each training program.

A lot of candidates don't think enough about treading or these other tasks to the detriment of their potential success in the training. They require significant practice, so make sure you're giving them the attention they require.

NOTE: If your pool allows it, try doing some of these in cammies because these tests are done wearing clothing in the USMC RECON and Air Force PJ training.

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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

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