Friday Workout: Preparing for Military Treading Challenges

If you are considering entering a military diving or rescue swimming program, you will spend significant time treading water with weight as part of your training and selection process. “Pool time” takes on a whole new meaning if you are attending military training such as Navy Diver/EOD, Navy SEAL/SWCC, Navy or Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer, Air Force Special Warfare or Marine Corps RECON/MarSOC.

No matter which one you choose, you will be required to complete some kind of survival swimming program in all the branches of service. None of it is just fun in the sun. Pool time includes high stress training events that can help you prepare for extremely dangerous moments when you find yourself in the ocean at Mother Nature’s mercy.

If you seek one of the challenging swimming or diving professions in our military, neglect treading water at your own peril. The only candidates who do not need to practice these events are the water polo players as they have spent most of their athletic career treading water and swimming.

Lean, non-swimming athletes need to practice as part of every swim day during their warm-up before or cooldown after a swim workout. In fact, if you have access to a friend or coach who is involved with water polo, you’d be smart to ask them for some pointers, techniques and drills to practice while you prepare for your water confidence challenges.

Here is a typical workout that many of our Navy EOD and SEAL candidates will do as part of their pre-military training.

Warm-up 10 minutes (Swim or Tread): You can use the warmup as a way to make the timed swim you have to take “nothing more than a warm up” by making it your actual warmup. Once you have mastered your timed swim test, use that warmup time as valuable time to practice treading.

Doing your treading work as warmups can have a useful psychological effect on you as well. When you take a PT test and swimming is the start of that test (as with the Navy PST: swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, run), going into it with the mindset that this is “just my warm-up” is powerful and helps with some of the anxiety of getting tested by instructors who share very little positive feedback.

Swim or tread water with no hands for 10 minutes (or do a mix of both). It is smart to learn how to tread using both the egg-beater kick and the scissor kick, as you will be using this for fin treading. The egg-beater kick is nothing more than an alternating breaststroke kick, so get some breast stroke technique instruction and you can apply it to the egg beater (see video).

After the warmup, do your normal swim workout. We like to mix in some drownproofing skills as rest periods in between 100-200 meter sets of swim training to break up the monotony of just swimming laps for an hour. Here are some options for you:

Drownproofing / Swim Combo Workout

The CSS / Freestyle 50-50 Workout

Swim PT Workouts and More

For the cooldown, try this water polo treading drill. It takes maybe 5 minutes if you do it a few times and really works your treading and water confidence at the same time. In fact, it is almost like you have an instructor splashing water in your face while you struggle to tread water with a weight over your head.

Get a five gallon water bottle like you would use at a drinking fountain. When full, this will hold about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of water. The small hole at the bottom makes it difficult for water to escape and it will only escape if you hold the bottle upside down out of the water. When treading water, holding it directly over your head splashes water in your face.

You can use both hands to hold or just one and use that free hand to help you tread when needed. Eventually, getting good enough to hold the bottle out of the water with both hands for a minute will drain the water and things will start to get easier. You can rest with the water bottle next to you floating when you first try it, but you will need to progress to a point where you do not need to rest the bottle in the water at all. If you can do this, you will have developed a strong treading kick that keeps you afloat for the treading challenges you will see in the military special ops programs.

If you make this part of your daily swim workout warmup or cooldown, you will be a solid candidate when it comes to water confidence and pool time.

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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