How To MASTER Swimming + Water Confidence (Navy SEAL, Air Force Pararescue)

In 2020, an Air Force special tactics trainee passed away from drowning and a green beret passed away during a treading event at dive school. In 2006, a seal candidate died in the pool doing water competence drills, and the public was shocked to learn that countless candidates pass out in the pool every class. Sadly, some never come back. And while safety protocols are reviewed after these incidents, the fact still stands that selection, including the swimming and water confidence components, are as difficult as ever. Whether you’re going to buds ans or elsewhere, underwater swims, drown proofing, treading with weight, and multimile fin swims are all contributing factors to the 80% plus attrition rates.

As a coach, I’ve trained nearly 100 candidates for careers in special operations, and here’s exactly how I recommend that you build up your water confidence and swimming from scratch to get selected. First, let’s talk about what’s required of you. The good news is that the level of swimming and water confidence required for these courses are very achievable. Any swimmer will tell you a nine minute 500 yard swim is doable for a middle schooler, and any free diver will tell you that if you can hold your breath while walking 50 yards, you can do the same while swimming underwater. The problem is that 90% of people apply brute force methods of increasing effort to their swimming and water confidence.

But that does not and will never work because their technique is terrible. That’s why step one is to master your swimming technique. You need to find a buddy, swim coach or club to help you in person. Don’t waste months learning from scratch what an expert can show you in two minutes. If you don’t know anyone, find somebody or check out the total immersion swim channel to learn what excellent swimming technique looks like.

And make sure that when you’re in the pool, you’re really working on your technique. In 90% of cases, your endurance is not why you’re a poor swimmer, it’s your technique. So make sure you’re focusing on the fundamentals. Staying long in the water, having a tight streamline, high elbow pool, and your head staying in the water as you turn to breathe. These basics are often overlooked, and maxing them out can easily drop minutes off your 500 yard time and get you to a sub nine minute swim.

Once you have the basics down, a good progression to start with is zero to 1650. I’ll put links to zero to 1650 and everything else in a master guide in the description. Step two is to start bilateral breathing. To this point, you may have just been breathing on one side. That’s actually what most great swimmers do in competition.

But the difference is that you need to get comfortable in the water and that involves being able to breathe to your right and your left side. Most beginners avoid this because they’re uncomfortable breathing to their weak side or they’re too oxygen starved to hold their breath for an extra stroke. You need to overcome this fear and start breathing every third stroke over time. I want you to start breathing every fifth stroke for your warmups and or cooldowns. Doing this will improve your comfort in the water and your overall technique.

Step three is to learn to tread water. The egg beater kick is the most efficient way to tread. Don’t waste your time with scissor kicks or anything else. The technique is actually really simple to learn with some practice. Once you have the foot, ankle, knee and hip positions down, you’ll be able to tread water indefinitely.

Just remember that if you’re not picking up these skills quickly, that’s normal. It requires deliberate practice and effort. To learn treading and swimming. You’re learning a new skill here. This is not like running, which everybody grew up doing as kids and which you improve by just doing it more.

So don’t get frustrated if you’re not picking this up on your first day. Here’s a pro tip for treading for once you have the basic technique down. Make sure that you’re holding a belly full of air as much as possible. This will help buoy you up in the water and it makes treading so much easier. Now, to practice your egg beater kick, you just have to work on it.

Tread length of the pool start with your hands in the water, take them out and raise them over your head. Eventually, once you’ve mastered the technique, it will become a breeze. Step four is to start finning. To swim multiple miles at a time with fins, you need to build up your feet, ankles and shins. Since at this point you’ll be a proficient swimmer, you can start with a simple progression.

Just set a timer for 30 minutes and fin until the alarm goes off every week. Add ten or 15 minutes, and before you know it, you’ll be able to fin for a few hours at a time. Now, even with very slow increases in your finning volume, it’s possible that you get some ankle aggravation. This is why I recommend starting with small rubber fins. If you’ve never finned before, jumping right into the big jet fins you’ll use at Ans or buds is a recipe for injury.

Start with your simple short length fins and then slowly work into the jet fins. Now, step five is my favorite trick to improve underwater confidence, and you get to do it with fins every other lap. While you’re finning. I want you to get a hard kick off the wall, get into a good streamlined position and floater kick as far as you can underwater. To start off, just work on making it halfway across the pool the next session.

Try two thirds, and before you know it, you can work up to finning 25 yards underwater every other lap of your 90 minutes fin session. And that might sound crazy to do underwaters every other lap for an hour and a half, but it’s a lot simpler than you think since you can cover that distance in 15 seconds or less and you expend a lot less energy with fins. There’s several reasons why I love this strategy to build underwater confidence. One is that you have fin zone, so you can move a lot faster underwater and you’re not going to feel as oxygen starved. Second is that with fins, you’re just flutter kicking, so there’s no complex techniques that you have to think about.

You just get in a good streamlined position and kick. And third is that there’s no pressure to make it the full 25 yards. You can always pop up, so it’s a lot more relaxed and low pressure environment to get comfortable underwater. The practice that you get in with these fin sessions will help you immensely when it comes to real underwaters. Step six is to learn underwater technique.

Now, I won’t tell you to practice this alone because many people, including elite operators, have died with this type of training. So make sure that you have a buddy, lifeguard and permission from the pool facilities before proceeding. From this point on, there’s four steps to the perfect underwater. You should be proficient in the first two already. One is a powerful kick off the wall and two is a tight, streamlined position.

If you do these two right, you could make it nearly halfway across a 25 yard pool. Third is a powerful double arm pool with high elbows. You’ll hold this position for as long as you can, and then fourth, you’ll perform a breaststroke kick as you bring your arms back to the streamlined position. The most efficient underwater swimmers can clear a 25 yard pool with one kick off the wall and two hard double arm pools. The least efficient will take five, six, or even seven double arm pools to clear the same distance.

Your goal is to cover as much ground as possible while expending as little energy as possible. You do this by learning the technique. Practice calmly with perfect technique for perfect execution. Where people mess up is that they become panicked underwater and they speed up. When they speed up, they lose efficiency.

They use more energy and this becomes a negative spiral. This is how you end up with somebody hitting six double arm pulls in their underwaters and then gasping for air once they hit the wall. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Step seven is to progressively add distance and practice on an interval. Build up your underwaters very slowly.

Start by mastering your kick off the wall, an armpool to cover as much distance as possible. Then freestyle the rest of the 25 yards down and then freestyle back to the starting position. Repeat this on a three minute interval for several rounds. I know you want to jump into full underwaters, everybody does. But trust me, breaking them up into component pieces and mastering each of them individually is how you’re going to get better.

Once you’ve mastered the kick and arm pull, add a single breaststroke kick. See how far you can get. You can even practice these in isolation while holding a kickboard. Next, add your double arm pull. Over time, I want you to work up to several full 25 yard underwaters on a three minute interval.

This is a great start. From there, try adding another round every week. After you’ve worked up to ten rounds, reduce the rest by 10 seconds. Again, always be safe and have professionals around you in case of an emergency. Here’s another pro tip in practice, never attempt an underwater you are not confident you’ll hit.

This is practice. It’s the time to get better. If you’re training right, there’s no rush to master underwaters. If you learn the fundamentals, the games will come. Step eight is to get comfortable swimming with the mask.

Up to this point, you may have just been training with goggles and have acclimated to exhaling through your nose underwater and also acclimated to breathing through your mouth and nose above water after finishing your water confidence or swimming intervals. Once you put on a mask, it will take a few weeks to adjust. The mask adds additional drag to your underwaters and also requires extra attention to your head positioning during your push up the wall to ensure it doesn’t fall off entirely. Also, those underwaters on a three minute interval may feel more difficult when you can only mouth breathe during your recovery. In the grand scheme of preparing for selection, these are all relatively minor things, but it is something that you have to adjust to, and it’s worth calling out that you won’t be using normal swim goggles at ans or buds, so you should practice with a mask before you ship out.

This is step eight for a reason though, so it doesn’t mean you have to buy one now, but make sure you pick one up eventually. Again, the master guide will compile all of this, including where you can buy them and be in the description. The second component to training with a mask is that you need to get comfortable taking it on and off, including clearing it in the water. The technique for this involves leaning your head back with the mask on. As you peel open the bottom of your mask, you’ll exhale through your nose to blow bubbles and replace the water in your mask with air.

If all the water hasn’t been pushed out of your mask, simply repeat this process until it’s all gone. It shouldn’t take more than two tries to fully clear your mask. Step nine is to add mask and snorkel recovery practice to your drills. You’ll want to take your mask and snorkel and throw them ten to 15 yards away. You’ll then swim underwater using the techniques that we’ve already discussed.

Once you locate your mask and snorkel, you’ll place the snorkel between your legs, put on the mask, clear it, and then return to position. As you get better, you can start by adding more distance or removing your kick off the wall altogether. And as your training gets more advanced, you can even begin doing these underwaters in other drills with a t shirt or booties to add more drag. When it comes to scheduling your watercon training, you should be practicing at least twice per week. If you’re already starting and finishing your session with drills, add five to ten minutes of water confidence and treading.

It won’t add more than 15 to 20 minutes per session. Additionally, I recommend having a low intensity day, which includes 30 minutes to an hour of water confidence, some fitting, and then finishes with more water confidence or dedicated technique work. Here’s what an advanced session could look like. You’d start with some underwater arm pullouts for technique practice, along with breaststroke kicks, then go into a main set of underwaters ten rounds at a 1 minute and 32nd interval, and then finish up the water confidence with a 50 yard tread. From there, you’d go into 60 minutes of lead arm trail arm fin swimming, and then go into a mask and snorkel recovery pyramid, going from five yards all the way up to 25 yards and then back down to five yards again.

And then you’d finish with 15 minutes of dedicated swimming technique work. Now, before I close this video, I want to share with you some little known research that the Air Force commissioned to the Rand Corporation, which was published about five years ago. The Rand Corporation audited the entire special warfare pipeline to identify how they can create more qualified operators. Rand actually recommended the Air Force to add a prep course to boost candidates’fitness and specifically train them in water confidence, which they found was a significant driver of attrition. That prep course actually exists now, but despite the addition of the new prep course to the pipeline, and even hiring elite coaches in strength and conditioning and swimming and water polo to work on water confidence, the attrition rate is still 80 plus percent.

This explains the importance of showing up prepared and exceeding the standards before you get there. At the end of the day, you can’t rely on anyone but yourself to get prepared. If you want to learn four myths about Air Force an s, check out this video here and you can find the full water confidence guide in the description. Thanks for watching it.

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