Sidestroke Swimming Technique – Part 1

The sidestroke is a swim stroke swum on the sides. It is not used in competitions and therefore less known nowadays. Because it is swum on the side and uses asymmetrical movements of the limbs, it can look peculiar the first time you see it. Nevertheless it can add some variety to your swim sessions.

Here’s an animation of the sidestroke:

Body Position

For the initial body position you are floating on your side. Your legs are extended. Your bottom arm is extended forward in the water, your top arm rests flat on the side of your body. You maintain this sideways position during the whole stroke cycle.

Sidestroke initial position as seen from above water

Initial Position, Above Water

Head Position

Your head should be in line with your spine and turned sideways and slightly upwards. In fact one cheek and ear should be in the water, the rest of the face being above water. It’s a little bit like resting your head sideways on a pillow. This allows you to breathe easily and to have good visibility to the side.

Sidestroke initial position as seen from under water

Initial Position, Under Water

Arm Stroke Movements

In the sidestroke, both arms move simultaneously but execute different movements. We will call the bottom arm the leading arm and the top arm the trailing arm.

At the start of the stroke cycle we have the following:

  • Your leading arm is extended forward with the palm facing downwards.
  • Your trailing arm rests on your side.
The Sidestroke - Arms Movements - Starting Position

Arm Movements – Starting Position

The arms flex during the first phase of the stroke cycle:

  • Your leading arm sweeps backwards with a half-circular movement. Your palm pushes water backwards, first sweeping downwards and backwards and then upwards and inwards. At the end of this movement your hand is in front of your chest, with the palm rotated upwards. This is the propulsive phase of your leading arm.
  • Your trailing arm moves forward, bending mostly at the elbow. Your hand slides forward along your body until both hands meet in front of your chest. Ideally at this moment your palms are facing each other with the palm of your trailing arm rotated downwards. This phase isn’t propulsive for your trailing arm.
The Sidestroke - Arm Flexion - Intermediary Position

Arm Flexion – Intermediary Position

The Sidestroke - Arm Flexion - Intermediary Position

Arm Flexion – Intermediary Position

The Sidestroke - Arm Movements - Hands in front of chest

Arms Movements – Hands in Front of Chest

Thereafter, your arms extend and move back to their initial positions:

  • Your leading hand moves forward in a straight line. The palm rotates from an upward to a downward facing position. This phase isn’t propulsive for your leading arm.
  • Your trailing hand executes a half-circular backward sweep. Your palm moves first backwards and downwards, then backwards and upwards, until your arm is fully extended again and resting on your side. This is the propulsive phase of your trailing arm.
The Sidestroke - Arm Extension - Intermediary Position

Arm Extension – Intermediary Position

The Sidestroke - Arm Extension - Intermediary Position

Arm Extension – Intermediary Position

The Sidestroke - Arm Extension - End Position

Arm Extension – End Position

A short glide phase is observed before a new stroke cycle begins.

Apple Picking Analogy

An apple picking analogy is often used to explain the arm movements in a simple way:

  • Your leading arm picks the apple, your trailing arm rests on your side.
  • Your leading arm sweeps backwards, your trailing arm sweeps forward.
  • Your hands meet at your chest and the apple is transferred from your leading hand to your trailing hand.
  • Your hands move apart and back to their initial positions, your trailing hand throwing the apple away behind you at the end of the movement.
  • A new stroke cycle begins.

Conclusion

This first article about the sidestroke has discussed the body position and the arm movements. Part 2 explains the leg movements and the coordination between arms and legs.

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