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From Land to Sea: How to Conquer Military Water Tests as a Non-Swimming Athlete

Stew smith

 Three Steps to Crushing ANY Military Swim Test

Tap the pictures above for a brief video explanation of the different strokes


Technique First

If you are a non-swimming athlete preparing for special operations training, excelling in the water may seem impossible. No worries. With the right approach, you can confidently conquer the swim tests (with and without fins). To help you prepare, we've broken it down into three key phases: learning the technique, practicing the pace/efficiency, and getting into swimming shape.

The first phase is learning the technique. This is crucial, as the proper technique can make all the difference in the water. You should film yourself swimming to compare it to some of the better swimmers that use the common military stroke called the Combat Side Stroke (CSS). If you are not aware of my social media channels, there are countless swimming, treading, and drownproofing skills being critiqued each week. See YouTube, Instagram Reels, and TikTok.

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)

*If you want or need to learn another stroke, the good news is that breaststroke and freestyle are universally known. It is easy to find coaches to help you and any competitive swimmer can assist in helping you get better. If your swim allows using other strokes and you prefer them...go ahead and use them. But, in my experience, if you want to learn a fast, efficient stroke that can be used tactically, go with the CSS. 

Take the time to learn the basics of proper swimming arm pulls/strokes, breathing timing, powerful kicking, and gliding. Remember, mastering the technique will lay the foundation for success in the water and save you weeks or months of wasted time at the pool.

Learn the Pace - Pacing is King 

The second phase is pacing and efficiency. In military swim tests, speed and efficiency are key. Once you have a grasp on the proper technique, focus on practicing at a pace that is both efficient and sustainable for the distances of your testing event (and more). This means finding the right balance between power and endurance—work on refining your strokes, breathing rhythm, and overall efficiency in the water. Be mindful of your form and focus on making every movement count. We work to build up to a yard or meter per second pace. This is easy math and is completely sustainable both with and without fins. For instance:

- a 50yd swim in 50 seconds = 8:20 500yd time (very competitive score)

- a 50m swim in 50 seconds = a 16:40 1000m, a sub 35 min 2000m, a sub 70 minute 4000m swim with fins.  

These are all above average paces with and without fins regardless of the distance you are swimming. And, easy math. Every 5 minutes should equal 300yds. 

But - This Requires Getting in Swimming Shape!

The third phase is conditioning. Even if you're a great runner, rower, or cyclist and have a solid aerobic base, you are still a non-swimming athlete. You need this training just like everyone else, but all athletes / non-athletes can still get into swimming shape with targeted training. Incorporate swimming workouts into your fitness regimen 4-6 days a week, focusing on building endurance, testing strategies, and confidence in the water. Consider interval training, treading, kicking drills, and distance swims to push your limits and improve your overall swimming ability. 

Mastering the Stroke (at 50 yards in 50 secs or faster) and THEN getting into Swimming Shape takes only weeks, not months; if you do this workout, 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. 

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


Read this: 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 much faster and easier. 

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!


By breaking down your preparation into these three phases, you can approach the swim tests and selection/dive training with a clear plan with the confidence to succeed. Don't waste weeks or months thrashing in the water—take a strategic approach and make the most of your training time. With dedication, focus, and guidance, you can become a spec ops swimmer and ace the military special ops selection program swim/dive tests. Good luck!

Spec Ops Prep Training is What We Do: 

Need Programming for Fitness Tests and Beyond?  We are all about getting you TO and THROUGH your future training program.  See how that works.  

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

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.  

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


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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