The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Amphibious Fitness with a Former Recon Marine


Photos by Straight 8

Warning! The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan. RECOIL and its contributors are not responsible for any harm or injuries sustained while attempting these techniques

To a Force Recon Marine, the term “cross-training” means more than just adding a day of Zumba to his weight-training regimen. For the Marine Corps' “jack-of-all-trades,” it means being prepared for the various ways he might show up to work. Whether arriving on a beach after a 1-mile surface swim off a sub, a free-fall jump out of a C130, or conducting deep reconnaissance patrols, his training must prepare him for the mission &mash; by air, land, or sea.

Life doesn't require the average civilian to train to those kinds of extremes, but the idea of being a well-rounded athlete with strong muscular and cardiovascular capacity is something we can all benefit from and aspire to. When I think back to my training in the corps, the times I was most fit were during our amphib packages &mash; a two- to three-week training block when most of our days (and many nights) were spent swimming and working in and around the water.

The fact is, swimming is one, if not the only, exercise that gives you cardiovascular, strength, and fat loss benefits &mash; all at the same time. And all without the impact and wear on muscles, joints, and bones you'd get with running or many team sports. To top it off, you're training a practical survival skill that may one day save your (or someone else's) life.

Fish Aren't Fat: Weight Loss and other Benefits of Swimming

There's a reason they call it a “swimmer's body.” Burning 750 calories (or more) per hour, swimming is one of the most efficient ways to get that lean, ripped look (think Michael Phelps, without the weed). And if looking good in your swimsuit isn't enough motivation for you, there are plenty of other benefits to be gained by adding swim workouts to your overall fitness routine.

With swimming, there's no “leg day” &mash; every day is leg day, and arm day, and back day … you get the picture. Only this leg day comes without the grueling after effects, where taking stairs or getting up from your chair seems too much to ask. A stronger core, improved endurance, greater flexibility, and increased cardiovascular capacity are all on the list of swimming's fringe benefits.

Swim Your Way to Recovery

If you walk into most athletic clubs or community pools, you might think that swimming is an old-guy's sport. At my local pool, I'm more likely to see grandma doing water aerobics than run into an aspiring Olympian. It's true that swimming's no-impact properties are great for people with physical limitations, joint problems, or other injuries. During my recovery time from combat injuries, I relied almost entirely on swim workouts to stay in shape, since running and weight lifting were against doctors' orders for several months.

A recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that swimming is also an effective way for athletes of other sports to speed their post-workout recovery time and increase their cardiovascular endurance with less risk of injury or overuse. In fact, according to the study, swimming on your “recovery” day is more beneficial to your muscles than a day of rest &mash; athletes who swam instead of rested on their days off were better rested and outperformed those who took the day off entirely.

Time to “HIIT” the Pool: High Intensity Interval Training Gets Wet

In my previous fitness articles, we discussed High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. In short, HIIT workouts are comprised of short periods of maximum exertion, combined with recovery periods of less effort. The result is a workout that gives you more cardio and strength gains &mash; in less time. This workout requires swimmers to have basic swim/stroke technique. If you want to brush up on your stroke form, there are some great videos here.

Keep in mind: During swim intervals, focus on correct stroke technique and speed. Other than warm-up and cool-down, the swim intervals should be performed at maximum capacity, while maintaining proper form. Poolside exercises should be done for time, also paying attention to correct form &mash; if form or technique suffers, increase rest time and/or decrease swim interval distance.

The Workout:

1. Safety:

  • Never swim alone: Make sure there is another person/lifeguard present who is qualified in swim and lifesaving techniques, including CPR.
  • Understand and recognize the signs of, and ways to prevent, Shallow Water Blackout.
  • Rest times should allow the swimmer to recover normal breathing pattern. Increase rest time; don't begin the next swim interval until you're no longer out of breath.

2. Warm Up:

It's important to warm up, especially before high-intensity intervals. I'll often do 10 minutes on the stationary bike or jog a mile before I even get in the pool, just to get all my muscles warm and put my body into fat-burning mode, so I'm getting the most out of my interval training. Either way, once I'm in the pool I'll do an easy 200-meter freestyle &mash; this is when you'll want to make any adjustments to your goggles or your suit, before you shift into max capacity sprints.

3. Amphib Intervals:


Freestyle Sprints: 50 meters



Tricep Dips: 30 seconds; rest 30 to 45 seconds (or until you're no longer out of breath). With your back to the edge, hold onto to the pool edge with both hands. Lift your body out of the water and then lower it.
Tip: Keep elbows in tight to the body to isolate the triceps muscle.


Breaststroke: 50m



Push-ups: 30 seconds; rest 30 to 45 seconds. Getting completely out of the water, these are standard push-ups, only poolside. Works chest, arms, back and abs.


Freestyle Sprints: 50 meters



Flutter Kicks: 30 seconds; rest 30 to 45 seconds. Lie on your back, with your hands under your butt cheeks for support. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground, look down toward your feet. Lift your legs 5 to 7 inches off the ground, point your toes, and flutter kick (just like a freestyle kick in the pool). Great for abs and hip flexors.

Repeat interval, one to three times as fitness level increases. More technically experienced swimmers can substitute freestyle sprints with butterfly sprints, and breaststroke with backstroke.

4. Cool Down/Active Recovery:

Do a 200-meter swim (at least), slowing down to a leisurely pace; finish with some in-pool stretching. After finishing a tough workout, sometimes the last thing you'll want to do is stay in the pool. Cool down, or active recovery, is an essential part of HIIT training. During high-intensity intervals of any exercise, lactates and other toxins accumulate in the body; performing a cool-down swim has been shown to help flush these out and speed-up the recovery process. Just do it.

Wet ≠ Hydrated: Fuel for Swim Workouts

Just because you're surrounded by water, doesn't mean you're hydrated &mash; it's easy to think you're not sweating, when you can't feel or see it, but you're losing water just like any other type of exercise, and you need to be sure you're properly hydrated before and after you swim.
The flip side of burning all those calories (especially during high intensity intervals) is your body's need to be properly nourished. While I don't usually eat one to two hours beforehand, it's important to eat something within 30 minutes of finishing your workout &mash; whether it's a protein drink or other high-nutrition snack like a yogurt, granola, or fruit.

Swim Smart: What You Need to Know About Shallow Water Blackout

This topic hits home with me personally &mash; I have lost more than one friend to shallow water blackout (SWB), each one being a young man who was an excellent swimmer and in top physical condition. Here are some things every individual who gets in the water should know:

    • SWB is an underwater “faint” due to lack of oxygen to the brain brought on by holding your breath for prolonged periods of time. Without immediate rescue, the swimmer quickly drowns.
    • The most dangerous risks for SWB are repetitive, competitive, prolonged breath-holding laps with little rest in between, especially if intentional or unintentional hyperventilation has occurred.
    • SWB can affect anyone who is breath-holding, even the physically fit swimmer. It's especially seen in competitive swimmers, Navy SEALs, snorkelers, spear fishermen, or anyone who free-dives. Blackouts cut across the spectrum of free diver training, affecting all levels. No one is protected from succumbing to an underwater blackout.

Tips to Prevent SWB:

      • Never hyperventilate
      • Never ignore the urge to breathe
      • Never Swim Alone
      • Never play breath-holding games

Learn more at

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