Ask Stew: This Classic Swim Week Will Help You Prepare for Navy Spec Ops

Preparation for swimming tests in the SEAL, SWCC, EOD/Diver and Rescue Swimmer special ops communities will require significant time in the water to become competent at the different skills you must master to succeed. From treading water, underwater swims, swimming with fins and SCUBA diving, the skills list is long and can make candidates wonder whether they’re doing enough to prepare.

Here is a question from a future BUD/S student seeking some advice on incorporating a variety of swimming workouts into the week to make sure he masters the standards required to graduate.

Hey Stew, I am preparing for BUD/S. What do you recommend for swimming each week if I want to exceed the standards for longer swims, handle pool skills and still crush the PST distance (500 yards). How can I improve in all areas at the same time? Thanks for your articles and videos you post on the topic. I am just looking for a Classic Swim Week that compares to your Classic PFT Week. Thanks, Finn

Finn, great question. Let’s make a Classic Swimming Week filled with all the skills you need to add and can develop during your time in the pool throughout the week.

Consider the following rules:

On leg days, add swimming with fins for long distances (build up to 1-2 miles). You also can get creative and change things up with a few of the options listed below on leg days. It is recommended only to do these kinds of spec ops leg days two times a week, because you’ll need a few days to recover from lifting, running hills, rucking and swimming with fins that you’ll have to include if you want a real spec ops leg day.

On upper-body days, do more conditioning training without fins by using both freestyle and the combat swimmer stroke (CSS). Mix in a few underwater swims to test your stroke efficiency. See if you can swim 25 meters in 4-5 strokes underwater with a kickoff and breaststroke pullouts. Make sure you read about the dangers of pushing too hard underwater with longer breath holds as these can be deadly to candidates swimming alone or even if you have lifeguards on the pool deck.

On mobility day or rest days, get in the pool and practice the techniques of treading, simulating drown-proofing, mask clearing, knot tying and other skills required on future tests. Water can help you loosen up from previous tough workout days so the more you get in the water, the better.

Here are some specific workouts I would add to the Classic Military PT Week

Day 1: Upper Body Day (Pyramid Option) and/or Upper Body Lift

Swim 500 meters to warm up or tread water for 10 minutes if your swim time is already well under nine minutes. Once you get into the eight-minute zone on the swim, you should practice treading water for 5-10 minutes with no hands.

Repeat 10 times
Swim 50 meters freestyle fast
Swim 50 meters CSS at goal pace

Day 2: Leg Day

Mix in a variety of runs (fast, goal pace, up hills or in sand) with your leg calisthenics or weighted exercises. Add in swimming with fins. Try building up to a fast 1,000-meter swim in 16-17 minutes with fins. Getting to the point where you can warm up with a 1,000-meter swim is a good start, because you will be tested prior to BUD/S at this distance. After the workout, swim another 1,000-2,000 meters as you progress with swimming and distance. If you want to mix in some skills with leg PT, try the Lifesaving and Lunges workout.

Day 3: Upper Body Day or Mobility Day (if needed)

Steady pace running mixed with sub-max effort calisthenics reps are part of the Super Set workout. If you feel like you need an easy day, move the Mobility Day up one day and bump the upper-body day to Day 4. The swim workout today should be the same type of conditioning workout as Day 1, mixing in fast freestyle sets with easy catch-your-breath pace CSS as you try to maintain your goal pace and still be under nine minutes on your 500-meter tests.

Day 4: Mobility Day or Upper Body Day

You cannot beat a mobility day for recovery, but it also makes for a perfect technique day for training in the pool for such skills as treading water, underwater swims, underwater knot tying, lifesaving and drown-proofing.

Day 5: Leg Day #2

What you do today should be based on your personal goals. You can work on muscle stamina with calisthenics and cardio leg PT or you can lift weights and focus on strength and power if that’s where you need the work. After your run or ruck event, mix in another swimming with fins workout. Here is a fun way to break up the monotony of just long swims with fins using the CSS:

Work your speed and ankle mobility with this workout:

Warm up with a 1000m swim with fins

Repeat 10 times
Swim 75 meters fast freestyle or CSS (with fins)
Swim 25 meters turtlebacking (The rest period is the 25-meter swim.)

Day 6 – Choice of Longer Cardio or Upper Body and Cardio mix

Max Rep Set Workouts will take your PT test scores to new levels, but you may want to mix in some distance running at goal pace, depending on your running progress. Long, slow distance running just gets you good at running slowly. You will want to work to maintain nothing slower than a seven-minute mile pace on any longer-distance run. After your run, get in the water and mix in some treading, underwater swims and maybe a shorter but more intense swim workout. Add in some skip breathing sets, such as the ones from Favorite Swim Workouts.

The final day of the week can be used as a rest day. If you feel like getting wet again, do the mobility day swim option for an easy technique and treading day as you work on pool skills.

That completes the classic swim week that requires 5-7 days of swimming. Do this if your weakness is swimming, treading and other water comfortability issues. Water confidence is the last thing you want to be without when arriving at SEAL, SWCC training or other swimming and diving programs.

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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