Sidestroke Simply – How to Swim Sidestroke

Welcome back gang, our discussion this week will be on how to swim sidestroke.


How to Swim Sidestroke:

Many people don’t even know what sidestroke is, so to begin, I’d like to talk about what it is and why people use it.

Sidestroke is a rest and or rescue stroke that may also be utilized for recreational swimming.

When people begin to get really tired or they are maybe just paddling around in the lake with a few buddies, sidestroke can be an excellent choice for a swimming stroke because of its relative ease and because you can keep your head out of the water while you do it!

The other side of the coin for sidestroke is it’s niche as a lifesaving stroke. Lifeguards are typically taught to do carries and other rescues using sidestroke while they carry their victim. This is because, again, having your face out of the water can be very helpful towards a rescue operation because you’ll be able to talk to the victim, as well as other by-standards that could help you with your rescue.


How to…?

With that said, how does one go about learning HOW TO SWIM sidestroke?

Once again, we are going to utilize the Swimming Fearless Progression for how to swim, if you’d like a copy of the method, check it out here:

How to Swim in Five Easy Steps

So to start, let’s break the stroke into it’s basic components, and then we will practice them individually. The stroke needs to be learned in the order that will be most effective for your learning. So in order to do that, we will practice our body position first.


Side Glides:

Get comfortable doing side glides in the water. If you aren’t comfortable on your side, then this stroke will be impossible for you to get the hang of.

Hold one arm above your head and press your ear onto your shoulder. Make sure that you are maintaining a good, tall posture and that you are bringing your arm to your ear, not your ear to your arm.

The opposite arm should be pressed to your side and your entire body should remain relaxed.

Swim sidestroke

Stretch the arm over head out in front of you and push off the wall on your side, gliding as far as you can. You don’t want to panic or get really stiff. Just allow yourself to glide and gradually lose momentum until you begin to feel your feet drop. Don’t panic if your face drops below the water surface. Just hold your breath or turn closer to your backside so that you can catch your breath.

Practice this until you are comfortable and then try doing it with a kick.

When you feel comfortable gliding and kicking at least one length, let’s move onto…


Scissor Kicking:

The scissor kick is one of the key pieces to side stroke that you need to get the hang of. A proper scissor kick can truly make or break your swimming.

To learn to scissor kick, first study the movement. There should be one leg that extends out in front of you at a ninety degree angle. The knee drives the movement. And then the reverse leg is brought back behind you to a ninety degree angle. That legs movement is driven by the foot. Almost bringing itself towards your bum.

This position will almost make it seem like you look like a cartoon character, with your legs both at ninety degrees.

Below is a photo showing the movement progression that the kick takes! Picture 2 describes the ninety degree position I’m talking about!

swim sidestroke

After your legs are in this position, you straighten them out and whip them together into your streamlined position.

Before you initiate the next kick, you’re going to want to pause and glide for a few seconds, the same way you would with breaststroke.

Getting the hang of scissor kick can be tricky, so it’s best to practice first with a flutterboard or while holding onto the edge of the pool.


The Arms:

The arm movement for sidestroke is very simple and you should be able to get the hang of it really quickly. If you want to swim sidestroke well, remember this saying “grab the peach, put it in the basket”.

That’s it.

While you are in a side glide (one arm above your head, one arm below) bring your arm above your head to your chest while simultaneously bringing the arm below your hips to your chest. Both hands should come to the relatively same position.

Then sweep both hands away from each other back into a side glide position.

This motion is basically just modified sculling, so if you are struggling with this part of the stroke, practice sculling additionally. I have another good article that goes over how to learn to do sculling properly if you’d like some additional guidance.

How to Tread Water



Now let’s add it all together so that we can swim sidestroke!

Push off the wall in a side glide position.

Bring your hands to your chest while spreading your legs apart to that 90 degree position we’ve been practicing.

Then, at the same time, sweep your hands apart and kick your legs together. And then allow yourself to glide for a second or two before doing another stroke.

You may have troubles getting momentum with this stroke. So I’ll try to mention a few things that typically go wrong at the beginning.

Typically, people will hold their head up a bit so that they can breathe easier. They won’t tuck their head on the shoulder of the arm that is suspended, instead they will hold the head above the surface of the water level. This is a problem because it will cause your legs to sink. Your spine is connected to your neck and hips, and if one goes up, the other must go down. Lifting your head will make your legs work harder in order to not sink.

Simply get more comfortable with your head and mouth, closer to the surface of the water to fix this.

Another problem you may have is that you aren’t getting much propulsion from your arms or legs.

You may find yourself panicking to bring your arms or legs back around for another rep because you don’t have much momentum.



The simple solution to this is to STRETCH out your limbs. Really emphasize the lengthening phase of the kick so that you get a lot of propulsion from it. Same thing with your arms. Stretch your arms out so that they end up back in a proper side glide position (above your head and beside your hips) so that you get maximum amounts of propulsion!



As usual, I love to hear any questions about sidestroke that you might have. Side stroke is wonderful and I think it’s a valuable investment in anybody’s time to learn it or pick it up.

If you have any requests for next weeks article, give me a shout at [email protected]!

Cheers gang!


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