One Mile Ocean Swims in Military Training

One Mile Ocean Swims in Military Training

There are many military training programs that you would assume you have to pass a mile swim as one of the regular fitness tests.  For instance, Navy SEALs, Air Force PJ, Navy Divers /​ EOD, Navy SWCC, Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer, Navy SAR Swimmer, Marine RECON, Army Combat Divers, and I am sure there are others who have to endure the one or more mile swim test.  But a doctor recently asked about a one mile swim test he is training for when he goes to Navy Flight Surgeon school.  Guess what?  They have to pass a one mile swim test wearing their flight suit!  I guess you learn something everyday.

Here is his email:  Stew, I’m a family physician in the navy. I’m applying for the flight surgeon course and one of the requirements is a one mile swim test in flight suit.  I’m a decent swimmer but I don’t have a good plan to prep for this. Would you have any suggestions?

This is true.  You have to pass a one mile swim test in a flight suit (without boots) but you do have 80 minutes to pass.  The standards are not that tough to pass but getting used to swimming with clothes is a new challenge for most people.

At the Naval Academy our Junior year swim test was the 40 Year Swim wearing our khaki uniform (top /​ pants — no shoes).  It was actually only 40 minutes but to many Midshipmen who did not train, I am sure it felt like 40 years.  We all had to swim 40 minutes without stopping to touch the sides of the pool and you were graded by your distance in 40 minutes.  If you could get a mile in those 40 minutes you got an A for the test.  Here is how we trained for our one mile swim with clothes and I am sure this method will help any flight surgeon student.

By the way, you do know that you also have to take the same test as future Navy SEALs have to take in order to get INTO Flight Surgeon School right?  So part of your workout needs to also be in preparation for the 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, and 1.5 mile timed run just to get INTO training.  See the Navy SEAL articles on the PST on the military​.com article archive for more PST test taking tips.

First — build up to 2000–2500 yards per swim workout with just your swim suit on.  You have to build up a base of swimming of at least a mile obviously.  If you just focus on pacing your swimming so you can maintain a nice, steady pace of a yard per second you will be well ahead of the curve.  So a 500 yd swim should take you 8–9 minutes before you start adding clothing to you swims.

Second — swim with a shirt on (long sleeve).  To start to simulate the drag of the flight suit start swimming with clothing. You will find a long sleeve shirt will slow you down up to 15–20 seconds per 50yd lap.   Build up your endurance by doing 500-​​1000yds of the 2000-​​2500yd swimming workout wearing a shirt.  Once that gets easy, do the entire workout wearing a shirt and practice all your strokes such as breast stroke, side stroke, free style, even back stroke to catch your breath.  The key is to just keep moving even if it is slow and on your back.

Third — add a pair of pants.  It is up to you but you can swim shirtless with a pair of pants or go for the whole deal and put on your flight suit for the first time in water.   Check the rules but if you can roll the sleeves up and roll your pants legs up close to your elbow and knees, you will see a big difference in how you swim.  You do not glide much with clothes on so you do have to put out more and swimming a fast pace becomes a real workout.  Once again find your pace and do a few hundred yard sets and determine your pace that you need to get well under the 80 minute time mark.

In a 50m pool a mile is roughly 15–16 laps so you have 3–4 minutes per lap to take this test and succeed.  So my best advice is to practice long before you go to school both the Navy PST as well as the one mile flight suit swim for the least stressful time.

For more information see:  Official Navy Link

From the Navy Flight Surgeon Site:

Swimming. There are additional physical fitness challenges during API. During the swimming phase, you will be required to swim a mile wearing a flight suit (but no boots) in less than 80 minutes, jump from a fifteen-​​foot tower and then swim approximately 25 yards underwater, demonstrate proficiency in the side, back, breast and crawl strokes, and experience the Helo Dunker multi-​​place underwater escape trainer. You may not progress to the flying phase and graduate until these requirements are met. I advise that you begin a swimming regimen before you arrive, particularly if you are a weak swimmer. We administer a swim check after your arrival to identify any students who might benefit from remedial training. Remember that aerobic fitness does not guarantee swimming expertise! Basic aerobic conditioning and honing your swimming skills will be of great benefit in preparing yourself for the physical requirements of the program. Problem with swimming is the number one reason for training delays for our aeromedical officers. Start practicing now!

Good luck — start swimming with clothes now and this test will be a fun event for you.


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Stew Smith

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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