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SEAL Wanna-Be But Cannot Swim - Is It Possible to Do This?

Stew smith

Believe It or Not - There Have Been Many People New to Swimming Graduate SEAL Training
Want to Know How They Did It?

Check Out This Story

A first time student trains with our local training group and is crushing the running, rucking, and calisthenics workout we do prior to swimming. Then we head to the pool and he lets me know he is not very good at swimming. I say - well - let's see what you got and we will show you how to do the combat swimmer stroke (CSS). He replies, "I mean I do not think I can get across the pool." 

A few minutes later he actually does get across the 25 yd pool but it took over 50 seconds of him wrestling the water to do it. He jumped out of the pool near exhausted but was smiling ear to ear. I asked, "What are you doing?" I did not understand his excitement and I realized we have a long road to go to get this former D1 athlete in swimming shape. With his hands behind his head standing up straight trying to catch his breath, he said, "That was the first time I have ever made it across the pool - any pool." When I realized this was a huge accomplishment for him, we high fived and got to work.

Long Story short, a year later he was crushing the PST, learned how to tread, and drown-proof, and was a natural when he put his SCUBA fins on for 1-2 mile swims. Fast forward another 16 months after that, he was getting his Trident and on his way to his SEAL Team. He has been a SEAL now for over 6 years. 

                                             Pic from @onlyeasyday

Are you willing to put in this much work to get to your goal? Do you want to know how he did it? Keep reading because this is a story of learning, practicing 6-7 days a week consistently, and never giving up. If you have a career goal that seems way out of reach at this moment, get started on the journey of improving your weaknesses and building your strengths.

 My Advice to Anyone Who Really Sucks at Swimming or Any Water Confidence Event for That Matter
(Treading, Floating, Drownproofing, UW swims, Fins, etc)

Are you looking to become a Navy SEAL or member of a special ops team that involves diving, or rescue swimming, but feel intimidated by the prospect of having to learn how to swim? You may be surprised to learn that the swimming portion of Navy SEAL / Spec Ops / Diving training is totally achievable, even if you have never swum before. With the right attitude and preparation, you can gain the confidence and skills you need to take on the challenge and become a Navy SEAL.

However, preparing for SEAL training and other spec ops programs is SO MUCH more than just swimming. In fact, collegiate swimmers have not graduated these schools as swimming is just one component of training that includes even more land activities you will also have to master too. See how to build yourself into a well rounded tactical athlete - spec ops ready.

You know you suck at swimming, but do you have other weaknesses too? Assess them or you are simply guessing -

See Assessment Tool for what to focus on. 

If you’re not sure how to swim, don’t worry! Learning how to swim is a lot easier than you think. However, be patient, learning how to swim and learning how to swim well enough to be competitive on military swim tests takes time. It may take you 6-12 months just to get in the type of swimming shape you need to be qualified to join. Here is the process you need to take to help you become a confident and effective swimmer for military service:

1. Take Lessons - Learn from someone who is skilled at teaching non-swimmers how to swim the basics. They may not know the combat swimmer stroke (CSS) but they will teach you the fundamentals of swimming. It’s important to understand the basics before you start to learn the CSS as you need to learn how to pull, kick, breathe, and glide using any stroke. 

2. Baby Steps - Practice in shallow water. Start out in shallow water so you can get used to the feeling of being in the water and under the water. This will help you build up your confidence and get you comfortable with the basics of swimming.

Also see my CSS Critique Articles and Videos

3. Watch CSS Videos - There are many videos of people teaching and doing the CSS. Personally, I have hundreds of voice over critique videos on YouTube, Instagram Reels, and TikTok. You can even have someone film you swimming 50m (walk along side you on the pool deck) and send it to me via DM on Instagram or by email - Getting the technique down is the first goal.

4. Practice treading water. Treading water is an important skill for naval personnel and is a requirement for Navy SEALs with and without fins. These are two tests at SEAL Training (and other Spec Ops Diving programs) that many people do not adequately prepare for. One thing I have learned recently as a coach is that most people simply lack the mobility / flexibility of hips, knees, and ankles to properly tread. Do not skip mobility training. 

5 - Master the Technique and Focus on Efficiency - Practice your form. Start by getting into the pool and working on the basic movements of CSS swimming and treading water. I good goal is being able to swim 50m in 50-55 seconds with minimum effort (not a sprint). Make sure to stay focused on your technique and resist the urge to just pull and kick your arms and legs with no purpose. 

You got the technique down but now you need to get into swimming shape. 

6. Now Time to Get into Swimming Shape - You maybe in running shape, but swimming is completely different. Once you have the basics down and can do a 50-55 second 50m swim with efficiency, it’s time to test your endurance. Start by swimming laps and timing yourself. This will help you measure your progress and give you an idea of where you need to work on your endurance. The 50-50 Swim Workout is a great workout to start with - though many have started with a 25-25 version of the workout above swim workout.

Learning how to swim and tread water is an essential part of becoming a Navy SEAL, but there is SO MUCH MORE. Being comfortable in the water is even more important than how fast you can swim as there will be many times you are underwater at night and have to be able to follow procedures to get your job done. However, with the right attitude and preparation, you can gain the confidence and skills you need to take on the challenge and become a Navy SEAL. So don’t let your lack of swimming skills hold you back – get in the water and start practicing today! 

You can do this IF you want it bad enough and willing to put in the work. 

There is More To than a You May Know

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, eBooks, local 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

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

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But 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.  

Where Optimal Performance Will Be Tested Each Day

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


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


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

  1. FREE Articles
  2. Podcasts and Swimming Videos (Youtube, TikTok, Instagram)
  3. eBooks
  4. Books and eBooks in PRINT
  5. Stew Smith Fitness Club membership site
  6. Online Coaching  

Stew Smith Fitness 

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