Swimming for Distance and Enjoying It
Butterfly, American crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, these are the strokes Olympic swimmers practice and race with. These strokes are all engineered for speed and power. Each will likely get the swimmer where he wants to go quickly.
There is nothing wrong with any of these strokes, but if you want to master a stroke that will take you on a more leisurely pace to your destination, then learning the side stroke might be something to consider.
Take the position
Unlike any other stroke, you may learn that the sidestroke is performed neither on your stomach nor back. As the name indicates, you need to establish a position on your side to swim this stroke. Getting onto your side in the water and maintaining that position may be one of the more difficult parts of the stroke.
However, holding this position is crucial because it allows your body to move smoothly through the water. Rolling onto your stomach or back means creating friction with the water and slowing your progress.
You can learn the best side position by trying it first on your floor at home or in the sand at the beach. Either experience will get you ready to try the side position later on in the water.
You may practice on either side, but it seems that right-handed people like to lie on their right side, while lefties choose the left. ( eventually, you will learn to do the same stroke on both sides.) Wherever you try the side position first, you will want to lay down on your hip and stretch your legs out straight below your hips.
Place the arm that is closest to the ground out flat directly up from your shoulder so that your shoulder creates a pillow for your head. You should fully extend your arm along the floor.
Your body should be arranged in a straight line from the tip of this hand to your toes. Your upper arm, for the moment, should lie along the top of your body. You will need to take this side position into the water to begin learning the sidestroke.
The Side Glide
Once you have mastered the side position on dry land, it’s time to take it into the water. Learning the sidestroke in the water begins by walking into waist-deep water, facing shore, and then turning sideways so that you are no longer facing in towards shore or out towards deep water but are halfway in between. Now kneel so that your shoulders are beneath the water.
This will help you to move into your side glide. When you are ready, extend your arm towards the shore and let your body follow, taking the position you practiced on land. This time, however, you are gliding in the water and getting the feeling for the first time of what it means to be on your side in the water.
You will not be able to maintain the side glide position for young. The side glide by itself will not take you far. You will need to learn the leg and arm stroke to use in this position to propel you and keep you afloat as you move through the water.
The Scissor Kick
The main propulsion for the sidestroke comes from your legs, so in learning the sidestroke, the scissor kick is learned first, after the side glide. You can learn and practice the scissors kick on dry land, or you can attempt it in shallow water.
In either case, begin by taking a side position and bracing yourself with your bottom arm extended as in the side glide and your top arm braced on the bottom (or floor ) to help you maintain your side position. It is important to try to keep yourself stretched out and on your side while practicing your kick.
The leg movement is similar to the split action of scissors, thus the name. The swimmer first draws the two legs up by bending them at the knees to execute the kick. When they have fully bent, the two legs part company with the leg closest to the surface reaching forward and underneath leg reaching backward.
Both legs reach as far in opposite directions, with legs eventually straightening out completely. The legs are now in a position to use their strength to propel the body forward. This is done by squeezing the legs hardback together into their original position.
To practice the scissors kick, you can count to yourself. “Bend, spread, squeeze, and glide. These are the four motions the legs experience. It is important not to forget the glide when the body shoots forward in the water while it is in a straight but relaxed position.
You should now coordinate this kick with the side glide. You should be able to do several kicks while in the side glide position. Be careful not to roll onto your stomach, or you will find yourself swimming in circles. Without an accompanying stroke, it isn’t easy to hold your position in the water.
The Arm stroke
The arms perform different but related motions at the same time. The bottom arm ( the one under your head as you take the side) first pulls down straight through the water until in the glide position. It is directly under the shoulder with fingers pointing towards the bottom. Reaching that position, the arm is bent, and the hand rests directly in front of the swimmer’s chest.
At the same time, the upper hand ( the one lying on top of your body ) is the first bent and drawn along the top side of the body and then reaches to meet the other hand in front of the swimmer’s chest. The two hands are thrust back to their original positions in a coordinated move, creating balance and additional propulsion.
The arm stroke often requires practicing each arm separately and then practicing the two arms together. But you may also find that if you practice the arms on dry land first, the stroke will seem much easier to do in the water.
With the arm and leg stroke mastered, the final step in learning the sidestroke is coordinating the two body parts, arms, and legs together.
The arms move through the water ( bottom arm reaching down through the water and top arm passing along the body ). As the legs reach out, the hands meet together in front of the body and turn to prepare to push outwards.
When the legs snap together, the arms simultaneously push through the water, arms, and legs, creating propulsion. Remember the importance of gliding after each completed stroke. This will help your body move smoothly, and it also allows you to regroup for the next stroke.
The sidestroke is one of the most relaxing strokes you can attempt. It does take some coordination as well as adaptation to be on your side. But the effort will, in the end, give you the kind of silky smooth stroke that will carry you wherever you want to go and deposit you there without exhausting you in the process.