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 Training to Hold Breath for Underwater Swims in the Military

I get this email often from young recruits training for such programs as Navy SEAL, SWCC, Rescue Swimmer, Air Force PJ, and others.  My answer is real simple STOP PRACTICING UNDERWATER SWIMS ON YOUR OWN!  Here is a sample email as well as an answer that I hope will save some lives of those who read it:

Stew - Right now I'm having a difficult time holding my breath underwater for more than 30 seconds. Is there anything you can recommend? Also, my desire is to go Navy SWCC.

I do not recommend practicing holding your breath for many reasons:

1 - If done underwater you could pass out and die no matter WHO you are!

2 - Every second you hold your breath longer than a normal breathing cycle is keeping oxygenated blood from your brain.  Not healthy to do for extended periods.

3 - You really just need to pass underwater swim test - learn the stroke so you swim fast with the least amount of effort.  I do 25m pool length in 3-4 strokes.  50m is easier when you KNOW how to swim.  see video link.

Never swim underwater without a life guard or buddy at the pool.  People die every year practicing this alone - AND even with guards nearby see related articles:

Yes, there are tough tests in the military that require an underwater swim.  Even at SEAL training where the test is 50m without a kick off the first wall plus a forward flip before you start, NO ONE in my BUDS class failed that test.  At that time we had 120 people in the class who took and passed that underwater test.  We only graduated 28 of them.  There are bigger issues to train for like running, swimming, pull-ups, and many more that will get you versus underwater swimming.

One last thing, NEVER hyperventilate prior to underwater swimming.  In fact, the Navy will not allow it for the test - so do not practice it.  One big inhale / exhale and one last inhale are all you get prior to swimming underwater.  The Navy will teach you this. No need to practice it prior to training.

In the big picture of your training, underwater swimming should be something you focus on minimally by learning superior underwater swimming techniques. BUT do not push your personal envelope to pre-pass this test on your own without trained medical professionals on the pool deck with you.

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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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Published Books / DVDs
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
Maximum Fitness

The Special Operations Workout

The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT Team Member
The Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD

The Pre-Habit Workout DVD
Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
The FBI Special Agent Test Clinic DVD

The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks:

Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
The Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program

Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Advanced Weights / PT Workout (Fall / Winter Weight Gain Cycle)
The Perfect Pushup Workout

The TRX Workout
- Circuit Training 101 ebook

NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
 Combat Conditioning Workout

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout 

The Army Air Assault School Workout

The Army Airborne Workout

Air Force PJ / CCT Workout

The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Workout

The OCS, ROTC, Service Academy, & Bootcamp Workouts

New - Army PRT and CRT
Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard OCS Workout

The USMC IST and PFT Workout
USMC OCS / TBS Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts

The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout

The DEA Prep Workout

The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

The State / Local Police Academy Workout

The Fire Fighter Workout

Seal Multi Men's Multi-Vitamin Multi-Mineral

TRX Train Like the Pros


Some Titles Above available in Print Softcover Format