Does anybody swim sidestroke these days? Yes, actually. One of my fellow regulars at the Bluffton Pool uses sidestroke to rest from his crawl stroke while he swims continuously for an hour.
That’s exactly what sidestroke is – a long, relaxing stroke that takes minimal effort and is easy to learn.
Its glide is also a help for re-learning more efficient front and back crawl strokes. And any swimmer who wants to become a lifeguard will need a strong sidestroke kick.
From a good push-off on the side, with overlapping hands, and ears pressed between the biceps, it is easy to establish the glide position for sidestroke. As momentum slows, the swimmer takes a long stroke with the top arm, elbow up and hand “catching” the water below the surface, as if over a barrel.
This “anchored” arm keeps a steady pressure on the water to lever the body past it. The stroke finishes with the hand extended, thumb on thigh, which establishes the glide position.
It takes only a slight modification of this position, angling just a little to the front or back, to be in the glide positions for the front and back crawl, so sidestroke is an excellent and relaxing preliminary stroke to learn before one attempts to develop re-learned crawl strokes.
Upper body coordination for sidestroke starts with a minor pull by the lower, or leading, arm. Following that comes the major propulsive force, an elbow-up push with the top arm simultaneous with the kick.
Sidestroke problems occur with its “scissor” kick. The key here is to separate the legs horizontally, not vertically, after the heels are brought up to the hips in line with the spine.
If the knees and thighs then separate one to the front and the other behind the swimmer, a scissoring action is possible. The legs are extended and brought together, adding more propulsion to the action of the top arm.
Lifeguards depend on this powerful kick when their arms are being used to support a victim. A lifeguard might also need a strong scissor kick to tow a victim to shore while continually monitoring the victim’s condition.
For relaxation, for establishing an efficient glide position, for effective swim rescues, and just for enjoyment, the sidestroke should certainly be included in a swimmer’s repertory of strokes.
Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. firstname.lastname@example.org