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Swimming Without Water??

This week, a young Navy airman requested information on working on swimming while not having access to a pool.  I get this one often as many people like to do the running and PT sections of my workouts, but lack swimming abilities or facilities.  Here is what he writes: 

I am deploying in June to Afghanistan. I want to go to BUD/S when I get back. What should I do about swimming? 6-8 months in the desert. I don't think I will be getting in a pool during that. How do I train without losing a significant amount of time on my swim? Any guidance would be appreciated. Thanks.

Swimming on deployment is always a tough one for active duty Navy preparing for BUDS...I would focus on the muscle endurance needed for swimming:

Back muscles, biceps, shoulders, triceps for upper body workouts that will build endurance with strength is what is needed for swimming primarily.  However, do not forget the legs especially at BUDS where 99% of your swims will be done with fins.  So, hips and legs for flutter kick endurance.  You do not need power or strength so lay off the heavy weights.  High rep endurance is needed for long ocean swims.

A good workout that mixes in both is the following:  I would focus on pullups and resting with 4 count flutter kicks workouts for endurance:

Repeat 5 times
Max reps pullups
rest with 50 flutterkicks
rest with 40-50 pushups
(shoot for a goal of 100 pullups in 5 sets eventually)
Do a few lightweight shoulder routines as well within the five supersets.

If you have access to a weight room:

Bent over rows are a great exercise for working on swimming muscles of the back and biceps.  It again should be done with moderate weight and high reps (15-20+ reps per set) and will also help you with your pull-ups.

Multiple rep (15+) circuits of bicep curls, pulldowns, triceps pushdowns, abdominals, lowerback and other isolation exercises needed too. But, the best way to get better at swimming without a pool is to perform the swimming movements as much as you can perhaps using rubber bands secured to a tree or door knob.

Other forms of cardio:

Of course cardio-vascular endurance is the number one issue when swimming besides
technique and knowing how to swim.  So if possible run, bike on stationary bikes, row on rowing machines, even use elliptical glide machines if you need a break from the impact of running in order to get more cardio endurance conditioning.

Most importantly - hunt for a pool.  If you get any time of R & R find a beach, lake, pool, or any type of safe water to swim in as swimming and being comfortable in the water is critical for any type of Special Ops training like Navy SEALs, Air Force PJ, Dive school, USMC RECON, etc.

Thanks for the e-mails. Keep them coming at

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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