More Swimming Options

More Swimming Options

People often email me asking about swimming skills and techniques to get better in the water.  Here are many tips that you can use to improve your swim times and confidence in the water.

Buy some swim trunks:  Some of the simplest ways to get better in the water is by wearing proper swim gear. Recently, I was coaching some college students in the combat swimmer stroke and kept advising them to buy a pair of swim trunks and stop wearing the long baggy board shorts to try to learn how to swim. I tested them one day in baggy shorts and they swam in the 10:30-11 minute zone for the 500 yd swim. With no extra instruction, two days later, I tested them again in the 500 yd swim and they both had biker style swim shorts on. The difference in one was a 9:45 ᅡヨ formerly a 10:30 and the other dropped from 10:50 to 9:30. So just by wearing a real pair of swim trunks they dropped 45-80 seconds off their 500 yd CSS swims. I know to swimmers, this information is elementary but you would be surprised at how many people do not realize this:

Prepare with fins - 99% of your swims in any spec ops related course will be with fins. At BUD/S, you will swim all your timed ocean swims in fins even though to get INTO BUD/S you have to swim without fins. Learn how to do both on your pre-BUD/S fitness journey.  I recommend SCUBA fins with dive booties. They will issue you UDT Duck Feet or US Diver Rocket Fins at BUD/S so if you are looking for a pair of fins, buy those. If you have a sturdy pair of SCUBA fins, those are fine. Wearing a thin pair of slip on flippers will not cut it though. You need something you prepare your ankles for the long ocean swims and dives done in sturdy SCUBA fins. Here is a common email:

Recently I bought a pair of Rocket fins and booties. Up until now I have been using soft fins for your workouts and I have been able to fin 1 mile under 30 minutes with soft fins. With rocket fins, however, it feels much more awkward and painful. It seems as if my arm-pulls get me more propulsion than the flutter kicks with rocket fins.

1. Is there a specific technique to swimming with rocket fins?  Does the kick have to be a certain width?  It seems that bigger kicks give me a stop/start movement and interrupt my momentum but while smaller kicks give me constant movement they still don't seem to propel me that fast.

There is a technique to swimming with fins, but no one best way as we all have different kick strengths. I have found that athletes in sports like football and soccer may not be the best swimmers without fins, but when they place a pair of SCUBA fins on their legs, they are faster than most people in the class. This is because they have well developed leg and hip strength and can use bigger kicks to build speed. Some athletes with less strong legs / hips tend to still swim fast, but are required to kick using smaller strides at a faster pace. You have to find out what works best for you personally. You will want to learn how to swim on both sides as well because you can alter your kick as long as your top leg always extends forward on both the left and right side. Learning to swim on both sides offers a form of ᅡモrestᅡヤ by changing the pull ᅡヨ push stride of your left / right leg.

As far as arm pulls and breathing as pictured in the video, the arm pull can be used as another method of propulsion, especially if you need to rest your legs by skipping a few kicks throughout a long distance swim. Many people like to do a slight pause of kicking when breathing and recovering the arms forward again to remain streamlined. As with any swimming, recovering your arms should remain stream-lined and not an obstacle to forward motion.

2. The fins seem to cause pain in my feet after a couple hundred yards and stiffness up the front and side muscles of my shins. Is this just a matter of conditioning and getting my feet used to wearing these fins?

It is a matter of conditioning. When first wearing fins while swimming, you should only swim a few hundreds yards and push slightly past discomfort in the ankle and shin area. Do not push too hard and for too long at first as over use injuries like tendonitis in the feet and knees can flare up causing you to only be able to swim or run with severe discomfort or injury. This process usually takes about 10-15 swims or two to three weeks of swimming with fins. It is recommended to swim 500m with fins and if they start to bother you, take off the fins and swim 500m without, then try fins one more time until discomfort returns. Do this for a few weeks and you will be able to add greater distances each time you swim.

Mask or Goggles?  - In any Spec Ops training program you will wear a mask, so it is smart to start training with a mask versus a pair of goggles. However, prior to BUD/S, you are not allowed to swim the 500 yd swim (at boot camp) wearing goggles so get used to it without goggles as well. I like any soft nose mask made by Dacor or US Divers.

Quick Workouts: 300m timed swim plus 5 x 100m sprint

200m warmup 10 x 50m sprints (rest 30-45 sec) 500m cooldown Repeat 5 times

Sprint 100m-200m tread water 1 min (no hands)

Medium Workouts:

20 x 25m sprints rest 10-15 seconds 10 x 50msprints rest 20-30 seconds

FAST Workout - may need to alter times...

100m Pyramid Swim 100m keep pace between 1:20-1:40 for all Rest 30 secs Swim 100m Rest 30 secs Swim 100m Rest  30 secs Swim 100m Rest 30 secs Swim 100m Rest 40 secs Sprint 100m - ______?

repeat in reverse order but rest with 50m slow swim / breastroke / back stroke etc...

500m warmup 5 x 100m sprints 5 x 50m kickboard 5 x 50m arm pull only Swim 500-2000m with fins or without fins non-stop


Prep for BUDS 1 mile swim with fins or 2 mile swim with fins

Getting Harder hypoxic Swim 100m 4 strokes / breath Swim 200m  - 6 stroke / breath Swim 300m - 8 stroke / breath Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs) Swim 4 x 100m at 8-10 strokes/breath rest 30 seconds each 100m Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs)

Standard Hypoxic pyramid 100m at 4 strokes per breath 100m at 6 strokes per breath 100m at 8 strokes per breath 100m at 10 strokes per breath

keep going if you wish then repeat in reverse order (rest optional - 20-30 secs in between) you should strive for around 1000mv(all hypoxics are done using freestyle stroke)

(all hypoxics are done using freestyle stroke)

Hypoxic workout Swim 300-500m- 4 stroke per breath - 6 stroke per breath - 8 strokes per breath  total distance 900-1500m

Other questions / ideas on swimming: The Combat Swimmer Stroke See Glide video to learn how to do it efficiently

Swimming Without Water? Work the same muscle group as you do with swimming but for best results - SWIM to get better at swimming!

Swim PT / Hypoxic Swimming Great workouts to do in the heat of the summer and cold of the winter  (indoor pool).

Triathlon Training Want to mix it up and try a triathlon?  Here is a fun starter plan.

Underwater Swimming Training - Underwater Swim Without Water  - Learn to hold breath and move efficiently to maximize swim distance without maxing out breath and passing out.

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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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