Fort Bliss, Texas – Soldiers from Fort Bliss received a week of instruction on how to swim from a professional at the installation’s Aquatics Training Center Sept. 19-23.
The Fort Bliss Holistic Health and Fitness team hosted this training to expand Soldiers’ knowledge on proper swimming techniques and demonstrate the benefits pool physical training can have on physical readiness when done properly.
While there are jobs that give Soldiers the opportunity to be out on oceans, lakes and rivers, the Army is primarily a ground force, not known for its capability to conduct waterborne operations, so why would Soldiers need to learn how to swim?
“Being in the water can help us be better on our dry land missions so we can recover quicker,” said Jeff Utsch, a tactical swim instructor. “[Swimming] can be a career enhancer, extend careers, extend operating time, extend abilities and other things.”
Utsch says that with proper technique, a person can get in a pool and work as hard as they ever have to max their heart rate but recover more quickly from the exertion.
“As we get older, it gets harder to do those rucks and runs because our bodies start to get tired,” he said. “We get people coming in that maybe have a hip injury or aren’t running as fast or have aches and pains, but swimming, with proper technique can keep them fit without causing additional harm.”
Utsch emphasized the first rule when swimming is to do no harm and to do so people must apply the proper techniques.
“Too many people come to the pool and don’t know what they are doing or don’t know how to plan a swim, so they just stay away from the water,” he said. “When they do get in the water, they just think of it as boring. The laps are too much of a struggle so why even do it?”
Utsch’s goal is to teach the skills for proper technique to prevent injury and then expand Soldiers’ minds on what being in the water can do for them.
“There is a lot of research out of Indiana University Bloomington’s Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming about all the benefits of swimming, like just getting in the water and what it does to our blood pressure,” he said. “They did a 40 or 50-year study between runners, walkers and swimmers. The benefits of getting in the water and what it does for quality of life, longevity and just over all health.”
Health is just one of the benefits of water activities he says.
“We have recovery, rehabilitation, off-season conditioning, in-season conditioning, alternative weight loss training, training for all of the energy systems that you can do in the water if you are too tired to do it on dry land,” Utsch said. “It is really extra arrows in the quiver, extra tools in the tool box that not enough people are using.”
He added that many older athletes like Tom Brady use water workouts to prolong their ability to compete.
“Instead of tightening things, we need to work more on elongating our muscles to keep them younger especially as we age,” Utsch said. “Swimming can kind of be the antidote for tightening up, aging and feeling a lot less flexible.”
This training is not just for athletes or military anyone can benefit from learning these skills he said.
“I have taught people who can’t come off the bottom of the pool and scared to get in all the way to Olympic swimmers,” he said. “They are both going to get something out of this.”
One Soldier learned a lot about his own abilities during the training.
“I think I’ve learned quite a bit,” said Sgt. Christopher Higgins, a healthcare specialist with 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. “I thought I was an okay swimmer, but this class taught me that I really wasn’t as good as I thought I was.”
Higgins hopes to see more of this type of training and wants to see it added for recovery or reconditioning physical training for Soldiers that need it.
“Units are always looking for things that are not running and rucking or push-ups and sit-ups, and this is one of those things that when done right is just as effective if not more,” Higgins said. “Even if you have injured Soldiers, you can still incorporate them in a swim.”
Utsch, who mainly works with the Navy, said this was his first time working with Army Soldiers. He does this training to give back and be affiliated with great men and women of patriotic spirit.
“If the Army instituted a swimming program, it would extend careers. There would be less injuries, faster recovery from injuries, fitter Soldiers and just overall it would raise the abilities of those in our armed forces,” he said. “We have shown how this can extend careers of large athletes, especially if they augment their training with swimming.”
He stated that by creating good swimmers, we end up with fitter Soldiers because the evidence demonstrates that people who get in the water are healthier and have greater physical endurance.
Soldiers should contact their Holistic Health and Fitness instructors for more information on what swimming can do for their units.