Try This Swimming Progression Workout for Military Swim and Dive Training

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Christine Davila-Lucier swimming
U.S. Air Force Ret. Staff Sgt. Christine Davila-Lucier, an Air Force Wounded Warrior athlete, competes in a swimming competition at the Blossom Aquatic Center, San Antonio, Texas, on March 24, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant James R. Crow)

As you prepare for military swimming or diving tests, your abilities should experience a steady progression as both technique and conditioning improve. A rescue swimmer or combat diver needs to master technique and conditioning, surface and subsurface water confidence, treading and tactical applications, including lifesaving, rescue, explosives and navigation. 

Here is a natural progression that focuses primarily on conditioning, but also requires an intense adherence to technique. These workout training phases allow a non-swimming athlete to practice swimming techniques as they get into better swimming shape. 

First Phase Workout

If you are just learning the stroke and have difficulty swimming across a 25-meter pool without getting winded, start with this program. 

Warm up with a five-minute swim (nonstop) or tread. You may have to build up to this "warmup," but soon this will become easy.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim: 25 meters freestyle
  • Swim: 25 meters combat side stroke (CSS), breaststroke or sidestroke 

Do this workout three times a week. On leg days, do the same workout with fins for a total of 4-5 days per week. 

Second Phase Workout

This is a classic called the 50-50 Workout. As your swimming abilities start to improve, the 50-50 will be the next challenge. 

Warm up with a 500-meter swim or 10-minute tread. The goal is to finish a 500-yard or 500-meter swim without stopping. The next step is to drop the time by improving efficiency and conditioning.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim: 50 meters freestyle hard and fast
  • Swim: 50 meters CSS, breaststroke or sidestroke at goal pace 

Third Phase Workout

Once you find that the 50-50 is getting easier, try to double the set distances to the 100-100 Workout.

Warm up with a 500-meter swim or 10-minute tread. The goal is to finish a 500-yard or 500-meter swim without stopping. The next step is to drop the time by improving efficiency and conditioning. 

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim: 100 meters freestyle hard and fast
  • Swim: 100 meters CSS, breaststroke or sidestroke at goal pace

As you improve your conditioning, set a goal time for each 50- or 100-meter set. A good standard is to swim close to a yard or meter per second. Therefore, a 50-meter swim has a goal of 50 seconds; the 100-meter distance has a 100-second (1:40) goal. 

Fourth Phase Workout

You may want to mix it up a bit after swimming 4-5 days a week for the past 1-2 months. This workout is the next push. Work to maintain your goal pace (one yard per second) for the 300-yard or 300-meter distance. This means 300 seconds, which equals five minutes. 

These five-minute sets are tough and will push your technique and endurance to the level you need to become an exceptional swimmer, even if you were a non-swimming athlete prior to joining the military. 

Warm up with a 500-meter swim or 10-minute tread. The goal is to finish a 500-yard or 500-meter swim without stopping. The next step is to drop the time by improving efficiency and conditioning. 

Repeat five times.

  • Swim: 300 meters (choose any stroke that's being tested)
  • Rest: as needed

You can choose how you rest. Many tread water for 1-2 minutes. Some stretch and hydrate for a minute before hitting the next set. 

This progression of swim workouts can be the exact preparation you need to achieve the necessary scores on swimming fitness tests, increase water confidence and learn new tactical skills. 

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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