Ask Stew: Board Shorts or Jammers for Swimming?

Swimming was one of the events at the 21st Ordnance Company Challenge, a three-day team competition at Kirtland testing physical and mental fitness. (Photo by Dennis Carlson)

Competitive swimmers not only work hard to have perfect technique; they also reduce drag by wearing tight Speedo trunks and even shaving their body hair prior to game day.

Here is a question from a young man who is new to swimming and is planning to join the Navy once he masters the swim portion of the Navy physical screening test (PST):

Hey Stew, does it really matter what shorts I wear when I take my 500-yard swim test for the Navy? I see guys wearing biker type shorts (jammers) and I have typical board shorts. I can feel a slight drag with my shorts, but does it really matter? I swim at 9:30 now. Do you think it is worth getting better shorts with less drag?

There are a few answers I can give you here. First, if you change your shorts, you absolutely will be able to swim more efficiently (fewer strokes and longer glides) and will be faster in the water.

We have experimented with this several times. Typical time drops are in the 30- to 40-second range for 500-yard swims done with the combat swimmer stroke. Strokes per length also dropped as well by 1-2 strokes per 25 yards.

Does it really matter? Not really. If you can swim at 9:30 with normal shorts on, that is well within the swim standards, and you pass with your current time.

However, the swim is the first event of five challenging events. After the 500-yard swim, you still must do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups with a two-minute rest between each exercise, followed by a 1.5-mile timed run.

If swimming in board shorts is making you more tired, you might not perform well on the subsequent events. You may want to investigate tighter and more streamlined swimming shorts so you’re able to do the swim with less effort.

Another reason why your choice of shorts doesn't really matter is that the Navy will issue UDT (underwater demolition team) dive shorts when you get into training. These shorts are short and tight when sized correctly. However, there is no need to use them before you join the Navy.

When I get these kinds of questions, my go-to answer is to give yourself a test. See how you do with each type of shorts and see whether changing shorts changes your swim time and effort level.

See whether you can break nine minutes with the jammers, using the same effort required when wearing board shorts. Practice this test several times to develop your best strategies for effort and pacing, as well as for nutrition, fuel and hydration before and during the PST event.

Too many people fail to use these techniques to prepare and fail to get accepted into the training program of their choice. The PST test is a prerequisite for the Navy SEAL, SWCC, EOD, diver and rescue swimmer training program. If you want these jobs, this is the entrance exam.

See more related articles for assistance:

Ace the Navy PST

Official Navy SEAL/SWCC Website

How Tough is the Navy SEAL PST?

PST Self-Assessment Chart

Once you crush the PST, you now need to spend a significant amount of time preparing for the next phase of tactical fitness and getting through the training. This may mean running longer distances, swimming much longer distances than 500 yards with fins, more calisthenics, lifting weights to prepare for load-bearing activities (logs, boats, rucks, dive tanks), treading water and other pool-related skills.

Many people get accepted to training programs by acing the 500-yard swim, PT and run, but more than half do not make it through the next level of training due to lack of preparation for the specific events that are part of the training.

The majority of the people who get accepted into these tough military training programs don’t think about what happens after they get accepted. Spend some time actually preparing your mind and body for the rigors of the selection piece of the training pipeline, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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