Swimming for Fitness, Combat and Lifesaving Applications - ITS Tactical

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Swimming for Fitness, Combat and Lifesaving Applications

By Bryan Black

As we continue to build our article library on diving, I’d like to branch off with a few articles on the basic principles of swimming, how our military uses it and why you should work it into your exercise regimen.

Today we’ll be addressing some core information on swimming as a skill-set and looking at combat, lifesaving and fitness applications.

Why Swimming?

Swimming is more than what some think of as monotonous laps; it’s first and foremost an excellent source of cardiovascular exercise. Secondly, you could potentially be in the situation where you have to rescue someone from the water or swim to safety; It’s also a definite pre-requisite for diving.

If that doesn’t convince you, try this. Around 70% of the Earth is water, so what are the odds that you’ll be in a situation where you’ll be near some? Probably pretty good, so becoming comfortable in the water just makes sense.

Military Applications

While I don’t have much experience with other branches of the service, I know first hand that the Navy requires all potential Sailors to be able to pass a third-class swim test, which consists of a deep water jump from a platform, 50-yard swim (using any stroke) and a 5-minute prone float. This basically assures the Navy that a Sailor can jump from a ship and float if necessary.

Going to BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) I had to pass more comprehensive swimming tests both before BUD/s and during. During the PST (Physical Screening Test) you’re required to swim 500 yards using Sidestroke and/or Breaststroke under 12:30 along with other physical requirements. Here are a few of the other water evolutions I encountered while at BUD/s: 50 Meter Underwater Swim Test, Underwater Knot Tying Test, Lifesaving test, Drown Proofing Test, 2 Nautical-Mile Timed Ocean Swims, 5.5 Nautical-Mile Ocean Swim, Pool Comp (pool competency) Test.

The reason I mention all of these BUD/s evolutions is to show just how much SEAL candidates go through and what they’re capable of after becoming SEALs. While most everyone will never need to build their skill-sets to incorporate many of these challenges, the underlying goal is total comfort in the water under any circumstance.

While many of these principles are integrated by SEALs during MAROPS (Maritime Operations), the true utilization of swimming is through the Combat Side Stroke or CSS taught during BUD/s. During MAROPS a Zodiac F-470, SDV (SEAL Delivery Vehicle) or other delivery vessel may only be able to get so close to shore to drop off combat swimmers; that distance must either be covered underwater using a Closed-Circut Rebreather like the Draeger LAR-V, or by surface swimming utilizing CSS and possibly towing your ruck behind you.

Lifesaving Applications

I’m a certified Lifeguard through the Boy Scouts of America for my son’s Scout Troop and while the BSA’s instruction is nowhere near as involved as the lifesaving I learned during BUD/s, the basics are still there and just as applicable in a lifesaving situation.

Becoming a Lifeguard and staying certified is a tremendous skill-set to have and will keep you sharp if you ever find yourself in a rescue situation. What’s important to remember about lifesaving is that while it’s important to know how to swim quickly to a victim to rescue them, you want to avoid contact with them at all costs. The fastest way to render your aid useless is to get dragged down by a drowning victim.

Fitness Applications

While it’s sometimes mind-numbing to choose to swim circles in a pool, you can’t beat the cardio benefit that swimming provides. It doesn’t have to all be pool swims either, something we’ll be talking about in detail soon is swimming with fins (not flippers!). If you have a lake near you, a buddy and a kayak it can make for a great afternoon of swimming distance and working on a tan while you take turns kayaking and swimming.

The point being, get out in the water wherever you can and get comfortable in it. If you’ve never been around the water and have no experience swimming it’s nothing to be ashamed of at all. Check with your local YMCA or college and find some swim lessons to get involved in.

There’s also Masters Swimming programs throughout most cities in the US. Don’t let the name fool you either, Masters Swimming is simply an adult swimming program that promotes health and fitness. In no way does it mean that you need to be a pro to participate. It can be a great to find a group of people that enjoy swimming for fitness and get in on their workouts. The US Masters Swimming Website also has a list of programs available to you by state, so check them out.

A disclaimer I need to add in here is that the water is a dangerous place, even for someone like me who’s grown up around it and been well trained in all aspects of it. Truth be told as comfortable as I am in the water, I know what it’s capable of, particularly the ocean. Always swim with a buddy or under the supervision of a certified Lifeguard.

Future Articles

Over the next few articles we’ll be going in-depth with what strokes are most effective for short distance and long distance swimming, hypoxic swimming to increase your breath holds, how to become more comfortable in the water and some lifesaving techniques.

I hope you enjoyed the introduction and be sure to throw up any questions you might have.

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  • I’m always amazed when someone says they don’t know how to swim.

    • Chris j.

      To Eric s. I didnt know how to swim till I was 15. When I was 5 I almost drowned; therefore, I was scared of the wate for most of my childhood. So there might be a story to why someone doesn’t know how to swim.

  • d3adstr0ke

    You would be amazed about how many people go to get their open water diver cert and can barely swim. Nice article. I look forward to your future articles.

  • Glen

    i live in holland, and over here it is something you learn in school.

  • I spent years as a lifeguard and aquatic supervisor, so its great to see you putting up an article like this Bryan! As for writing an article on hypoxic swimming, please please please put tonnes of disclaimers on it. There have been two deaths in my area in recent years with people practicing hypoxic swimming at public pools, without knowing what to properly do and without having informed the staff there of what they were doing.

    • Connor, totally agree on the dangers of hypoxic swimming and will definitely talk about that when I bring up the technique. I’d never heard any stories of anyone dying from it until now. I’m a big advocate of the advantages of it. Thanks for the support and kind words!

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  • LionHart

    Great article, looking forward to the follow ups. I have a couple local lakes near me and am looking to use them for improving my overall fitness and swimming ability. I am comfortable with the breaststroke for covering distance, but am wondering what you would recommend for additional strokes to use. Also, you mentioned fins and a mask. Any suggestions? Thanks

  • Joerg Becker

    Good article but as a German I have some questions though:
    Do all americans learn how to swim in public schools?
    Here in Germany most students get a basic swimming training during schooltime. But thats only enough for the pool.
    To improve my swimming abilities I have just startet with lifesaving swimming. Thats really hard stuff but as you mentioned in your article its really a good training for the whole body. As a man in the forties i am the oldest one in my training class so in addition to the sporting challenge its also a good mental training.
    Because we have to learn different types of strokes I’m very interested in what you called “CSS”.
    Is that some sort of freestyle swimming, breaststroke or what ?
    In german television there are lots of discovery channel programs concerning specops training in the US military and most of the soldiers there seem to swim a special kind of freestyle swimming. Is that CSS? and what are the advantages of that technique?
    Greetings from Germany

    • Kyle Bird

      I just saw your post and I wanted to clarify. Swimming is not taught at any level as a mandatory requirement. I went to school in Japan in the public school system (I’m born American) and they had a mandatory swimming curriculum during the summer (back in the 80’s) and when I got back to the US, there were no additional swimming requirements. I grew up on the West Coast after that and got into swimming, waterpolo, and surfing. This love of the water, lead me to become a rescue swimmer with harbor patrol and a lifeguard on the ocean (I was on the central coast of California, it was cold and overcast a lot and no where near as glamorous as Baywatch.) That lead me further into rescue diving and joining the local Search and Rescue Team and as an available Rescue Swimmer for the Coast Guard, since we shared the same dock/building as the Harbor Patrol.

  • Kenny Looney

    i would love to hear more about hypoxic swimming… i live on the lake and love learning new swimming techniques..

  • Allwet

    The foremost lifesaving tool in the water , is your mind. Having said that, it can only work in the water if you are a competent swimmer. If you are going to take the plunge in any water related sport, you need to be able to swim above all else.I cannot stress this enough. Lecture over.
    Now perhaps a little explanation of the CSS would be of some benefit to those that want to get a little distance added to the swims-swimming efficiently, means you can do it longer. If you find yourself in a” swim it, or else” situation, you need to have an efficient stroke, that conserves your energy and keeps your breathing rate to a minimum. CSS is just the ticket.

    • Kyle Bird

      Join a Master’s WaterPolo team. That will teach you endurance and to familiar with the water. Being intentionally drowned by a competitor will do wonders for learning how to overcome that obstacle in the future.

  • AndrewSellers

    Some of our public and private schools have pools, some do not.
    I grew up on Lake Erie, and learned how to swim informally – until high school, I did what we call the “dog paddle.”
    I learned, briefly, the breast stroke in high school and learned modern freestyle swimming when I started training for triathlons.
    But some Americans who didn’t grow up near water nor a pool might not know how to swim.

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