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CSS Help Series: Quick Fix to Crushing the Swim

Stew smith

Spec Ops Swimming Tests: Learning the CSS to get TO and THROUGH Spec Ops Selection

The RULES: First, the 500yd Navy Physical Screening Test (PST) allows for the elementary side stroke, the breaststroke, or the modified side stroke nick-named the Combat Swimmer Stroke. The general theme is that these strokes must be "underwater recovery strokes." 

However, beyond the PST (getting accepted into training) will require the addition of swimming and SCUBA diving with fins mostly in open water. 99% of your swimming will be done in fins once you are accepted into the training. So, if you choose to use breaststroke as your PST stroke, you will also need to learn the side stroke with fins to succeed beyond Day 1 of training/selection and get THROUGH the training. 

The Combat Side Stroke is about conserving energy and maintaining a low profile in the water. Avoid too many kicks, popping up to breathe, and not gliding long enough to maximize your efficiency. Pay attention to your body position and ensure your movements are streamlined and efficient. Count how many strokes it takes to get across the pool (note distance). Typically, we try to get our folks down to 4-5 strokes per 25-yard pool at a yard-per-second pace. See if you need help with any of the following steps of the CSS in the CSS HELP article series:

The CSS HELP Series: Breakdown of the Stroke

CSS Help: Fix Your Kick

CSS Help: Fix Your Arm Pulls (top & bottom)

CSS Help: Fix Your Glide

CSS Help: Fix Your CSS Sequence of the Stroke - Pull - Breathe - Kick - Glide

CSS Debate: To Pullout or Not Pullout (Breaststroke Pullout Issues)

Master the Stroke (at 50yd in 50 secs or faster) THEN Get Into Swimming Shape: Spend time in the water, swimming, jumping in, and treading. The more comfortable you are in the water, the more confident you'll feel when executing the Combat Side Stroke during the military swim test. Remember, swimming proficiency takes time, watching videos, practicing, and getting feedback to correct incorrect techniques. THEN you have to get in swimming shape. This will add to your training time, but you can do it quickly if you put in the time 4-5 times a week.

The 50-50 Workout is a workout you need to master in order to get into swimming shape quickly.  Here is a set of the 50-50 workout.


Dude - You are not in Swimming Shape and practice with the 50-50 Swim workout below 4-6 times a week:

Keep pushing forward; before you know it, you'll be gliding through the water easily and confidently. 

Are you ready to take your swimming skills to the next level, conquer the military swim test, and more? Head to CSS help: One Stop Shop for All Things Military Swimming for the ultimate guide to mastering the Combat Side Stroke. Strengthen your water confidence and prepare for success in special ops swimming and diving training!

Where You Can Find More About the CSS (FREE)

YOUTUBE: You can find over 150 CSS videos on my Youtube Channel (@stew50smith) along with 200+ Tactical Fitness Report podcasts, Live Q and A sessions, and more. 

INSTAGRAM: You can find hundreds on my Instagram page (@stewsmith50) as well but you just need to scroll through to see the videos or check out the hashtag #crushthepst. 

TIKTOK - Now you can see my TikTok Channel (@stewsmith50) where there is nothing but CSS Critique videos. 

Learn More with Video Critiques at for free coaching (or Instagram Reels @stewsmith50

Besides, Swimming with fins will be 90% of all swim training in spec ops diving/rescue swimming selection. You will use the side stroke, CSS, Lead Arm / Trail Arm or Turtlebacking with fins for all open water swimming events. The CSS without fins is nearly identical to swimming CSS with fins

During Spec Ops Training and Beyond - LATA or CSS with Fins- Another option is the Lead Arm Trail Arm Method used primarily by the Air Force Special Warfare program. While the CSS will be used in the Navy Spec Ops programs. Both will be used when swimming in open water and / or selection testing swims, depending on the branch of service.  Here is a side by side video showing the differences:

Many swimmers become members of Special Ops units. These candidates do well in the water with their swimming and treading skills, but gravity is not the swimmer's friend. Load bearing, running, rucking, general strength, speed, and agility on land can break a candidate who never got out of the pool for additional athletic training. Though the skills learned from competitive swimming are great, the need to grow beyond the competitive strokes, learn the tactical strokes,  and become a tactical athlete will be needed if you choose this path. 

Are You Considering a Life in Special Operations? Start HERE: 

Crushing the PST (Swim, PT, Run)

PST:  Putting it ALL Together:  Learn HOW to take this test or you will never even make it TO the Training. 

The PST CLINIC – Step-by-Step Breakdown of the Navy BUDS / SWCC / EOD / Diver / Air Rescue PST

Once you get the contract - congrats!  You made it TO the training. Now you must focus on being in the top 25% of your class on Day 1 of the First Phase in as many events as possible because the bottom 75% typically will not make it.  That means you now have to train to get THROUGH the training. There is a difference between the two phases of tactical fitness. You can do both at the same time AFTER you have reached optimal numbers on the PST. 

After You Pass the PST - Assess Yourself for 
Any Other Weaknesses
 (Assessment Tool)

Your Weaknesses Will Be Exposed IF YOU Ignore Them - During the Recruiting Process and certainly through Prep and BUD/S itself. 

Not being prepared for your "dream job" is on you. It takes time to get to the level of being able to crush the PST, and then the follow-on logs, boats, weekly 4-mile runs, and 2 ocean mile swims with fins. Just because you can crush a PST, does not mean anything for the follow on events at BUDS. 

Show up on Day 1 of your job interview (PST Test Day) well prepared and be in the passing group at least. Showing up and failing is the wrong attitude and a horrible first impression to your future employer. YES - take it that seriously IF you really want this. After all, it only takes Four Steps to Get Prepared for Special Ops Selection. 

If you want help, that’s what I do…. Check out these resources that have helped spec ops candidates succeed where others have failed for the last 20+ years!

There is More To than You May Know

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more) 

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

Consider the seasonal tactical fitness model. It offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks) 

Increase Strength & Crush the PST / PAST
3 Weeks Strength - 1 Week PT / Cardio Focus 
(16 weeks)

These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops 

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


Online Coaching Options

Online PT CLUB - Weekly Workouts created personally for you.

New Member's Only Content / Services Program!

If you want access to years worth of workouts, many of the top eBOOKs, favorite workouts of the week, free fitness APP, closed Facebook Group, video / picture library of exercises, and more access to LIVE Q/A sessions check out the Stew Smith Fitness Members Section

The dashboard below has the links to all the information, archives, videos, and links to workouts, podcasts, live Q and A lessons. 

Consider this! - A Membership Program and Gain Access to Exclusive Content
(click for Fitness Club Dashboard - members only)

Best of all, if you have questions, email Stew Smith himself (  Join the tactical fitness group discussions, latest articles, videos, podcasts at the Stew Smith Tactical Fitness Training Closed Group on Facebook.


Questions?  Just email -

At - List of Products and Services

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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. Visit his Fitness store if you're looking to start a workout program to get you TO and THROUGH any tactical fitness training program OR create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to


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