Swimming Fitness Program

Water is the most powerful element on this planet and must be treated with respect. Every soldier must be confident in the water and the Regiment spends a lot of time ensuring that everyone is up to the required standard. Each squadron has an Amphibious Troop, trained in diving, canoeing and the use of small boats, and troop members must undergo additional training. The annual military swimming test is 40 lengths of the baths, wearing trousers and shirt, with a full water bottle attached to a belt. This test must be completed in 50 minutes.

Swimming is also an excellent way of maintaining fitness while recovering from an injury since the water supports the body’s weight. Swimming should be included in all fitness schedules as a rest/fun period. Although we can work hard at swimming, it must be enjoyable if it is to break the monotony of a vigorous training programme.

Swimming exercises all of the body with much less exertion on the heart and lungs (swimming is recommended for asthmatics since it is one of the few exercises that does not provoke exercise-induced asthma). So, to get a good work-out from swimming, we need to do some fast laps and relatively long distances.


If you are a non-swimmer, get down to the baths and take some lessons. There is no quicker way to learn than taking lessons from a qualified instructor. If you intend to spend a lot of time in water, invest in a pair of swimmer’s goggles. These will protect your eyes from the chlorine in the water, which can cause quite severe eye irritation. The two basic swimming strokes are breast stroke and front crawl.

Breast Stroke

This is the most economical method of moving through the water. Try to make each stroke as long as possible and glide through each movement. Lay prone in the water, arms and fingers outstretched, palms clown with the index fingers touching. The head should be slightly raised with the eyes looking across the surface.

Push off with the legs, keeping their action synchronised. The arms should be about 23 cm (9 in) under the water and held straight. This makes it easier to lift the chest out of the water to breathe. Slide forward and, as your body loses forward momentum, sweep your arms in a wide, powerful arc to regain speed.

As the legs follow through their stroke and relax, inhale, cup the hands and sweep the arms backwards through the water. Ensure that this is a full, powerful stroke that travels all the way back to the thighs. As the arms bend for their recovery stroke, the knees should be bent outwards in readiness for the next kick. Breathe out as the explosive kick straightens the legs and brings them together.

The actions on the breast stroke should be graceful and smooth. If it feels jerky, then the motions of the arms and legs are not co-ordinated. The body should continue to glide through the water, in-between the leg and arm actions. As you become more confident, try to breathe only on every second stroke since this is more energy efficient.

Front Crawl

You must decide to which side you prefer to turn your head in order to breathe. Keep your head down and lift your arm clear of the water. Kick using a strong, paddling motion with legs straight. Reach your arm forward then pull it back, holding as much water as possible. Turn your head and take a breath. Lift the other arm clear of the water. As it begins its backward stroke, the first arm is brought forward again. After turning your head to take a breath, you should turn it to the front and exhale under water. Some expert swimmers breathe on every second or third cycle of the arms only.

Technique is vital with this stroke if the swimmer is to turn all the available energy into speed. There should be a slight hollow in the back and the forehead should cut through the water, with the eyes just below the surface.

The leg movement is from the hips (not from the knees) in a powerful up and down motion. The legs should be relaxed and slightly bent at the knees. The more flexible and relaxed the movement, the more effective the stroke.

The arms sweep back alternatively, with one pulling as the other recovers. The hand should enter the water on its own side of the centre line approximately between the eye and the shoulder. The arm slightly bent at the elbow presses down on the water and bears downward and backward until the thumb just brushes the thigh. This is the signal for the other arm to begin its stroke. The shoulders should remain square during the arm movement.

The most common mistake made with this technique is excessive rolling. This is caused by over-reaching with the arms. This, in turn, is partly due to weak leg actions, such that the arms are trying to work too quickly to propel the body through the water. Good poise, balance and co-ordination are therefore very important. All of the effective leg and arm strokes are underwater. If the feet come out of the water, the knees are probably bent too much, resulting in shallow leg movements.

Other Strokes

The back stroke is a useful stroke when tired. If you need a rest, or feel cramp developing, roll on to your back and take a breather. In the military, we spent a lot of time swimming on our backs wearing diver’s fins. This is an excellent exercise for the legs.

Other strokes, such as the Butterfly and the Dolphin, are very fast, very tiring and require a high standard of training. They cannot be maintained for long periods but are excellent for short, fast bursts of swimming. An ideal way to finish a swim!

Fun Swim

A 30-minute swim, with alternate lengths doing breast stroke and front crawl, would be a welcome addition to our training programme. Try to do as many lengths in the time as possible.

Breast Stroke

Aim for a good swimming rhythm, correct breathing; relaxation of the legs after the kick-back and good synchronisation between the left and right movements.

Front Crawl

Inexperienced swimmers will find this stroke very tiring; it takes time to perfect. As in breast stroke, the arms and legs must work together in a definite rhythm and remain fluid in movement.

Back Stroke

The arm stroke begins with the little finger entering the water first. The arm is then pulled back until the fingers brush the thigh. The legs beat up and . down in a similar action to the front crawl.

Staying Afloat


The Heat Escape Lessening Posture (with buoyancy aid):

Curl up your body as much as possible.

Try and hug your knees as close to your body as you can.

Keep your body movements to an absolute minimum to prevent the expenditure of energy.

Float upright and take a deep breath.

Lower your face into the water and bring your arms forward to rest at water level. Relax until you need more air.

Raise your head above the surface, tread water, exhale then take another breath.

Timed Swim

Note the time it takes to swim one length of the pool as fast as you can. Most pools are 25 m (82 ft) long and should take between 40-45 seconds. Now try the following routine: 1Swim four lengths in three minutes. 2Take three minutes rest. 3Swim eight lengths in six minutes. 4Take six minutes rest. 5Swim sixteen lengths in twelve minutes. 6Take six minutes rest. 7Swim eight lengths in six minutes. 8Take three minutes rest. 9Finally, swim four lengths in three minutes.

Endurance Swim

Swim for one hour at an easy pace, changing strokes as required. Record how far you swam. Next time, try to increase your distance by three laps.


Drown-proofing is about staying afloat and alive in the water. Lie face down in the water with arms and legs fully extended like a star. Push down with the arms to raise the head and take a breath of air. Hold your breath and relax again. You will float just below the surface even when wearing heavy clothing and boots. Blow the air out gently until you need a breath again and once again push down with arms and raise the head.

Just how long you can survive using this technique depends on water temperature. The colder the water, the sooner the onset of hypothermia. Salt water is more buoyant than fresh water and helps us keep afloat, but we must not swallow it. Ingesting salt water will not only lead to nausea and vomiting but also to dangerous dehydration.


The Heat Escape Lessening Posture (H.E.L.P.) is a position where you curl up in the water to conserve as much body heat as possible. Hypothermia or the critical loss of body heat undoubtedly plays a role in many of the drownings in British waters. To achieve the H.E.L.P. position, a life jacket or some other buoyancy aid is required.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest