Chapter Fifteen
The Home Pool


The Sidestroke

If any water-shy person who happened to be taking one of my classes had already learned one swim stroke, it was the Sidestroke. There are many factors in the Sidestroke that make it attractive to those who are apprehensive about being in any body of water other than a bath tub.

The Sidestroke allows the head to be above water at all times (although to properly swim this stroke one side of the face should be partially underwater.) This stroke also makes it a favorite for women who have coifed hair and prefer not to get it wet. Because the Sidestroke may be swum on either side of the body it's not as intimidating as lying on one's back or swimming face down in a big pool. As far as breathing goes, there's no contest between swimming the Sidestroke and any other swim stroke. Swimmers may take a breath any time they please--no pesky coordination with the arms, legs or other body parts to think about.

Like all good things, however, there are a few "catches." The Sidestroke kick is quite different, as well as the arm stroke, and of course, both must be coordinated in order to maintain continuous forward momentum. Aside from the leg and arm dynamics you are probably wondering why the Sidestroke isn't taught first. For one thing, it's a matter of safety. An easy swim stroke encourages beginners to take chances such as swimming for too long a time or going into deep water. Those who are taught gradually and become used to having their faces and bodies moving in and under water, would be less likely to become panicked if an unforeseen emergency should occur. A swimmer who has never had any previous swimming skills except for the Sidestroke, may not know what to do under such circumstances and could become traumatized. .

The Sidestroke does have it's place in a swimmer's repertoire, however. For the average swimmer, it's a good leg stretching exercise, and as noted, it may even keep your hair dry. You can also see where you're going, and it gets you there without a lot of spent energy. For lifeguards, a modified sidestroke is an essential stroke in rescuing near-drowning victims. By applying a special hold around victims' chests, it's relatively easy to keep their heads above water while bringing them to safety. With one arm for the stroke, two strong legs performing an inverted sidestroke kick, and the buoyancy of water, lifeguards can swim a considerable distance with someone in that manner.


(Please refer to illustration as you read each step.)


1--For the side push off the pool wall, lie on one side with knees bent--one foot above the other pressed against side of pool. Top arm holds onto side, lower arm is straight out beneath head. Let loose with top arm/ Side of head lies flat on water. Straighten legs by pushing against pool side and glide. See Fig.1 in above illustration. Practice until mastered.


2--With arms in glide position perform side glide but before slowing down, move top leg upward and lower leg back. (Fig.2.)

3--Continue side kick with toes pointing upward until both legs are fully extended outward. (Figs. 3, 4, 5, and 6.)

4--Point toes downward and bring legs together hard and fast--glide. Practice sidestroke glide and kick continuously until mastered. (Figs. 7 and 8.)

THE ARM STROKE (Practice first while standing in pool.)

5--Stand with both arms straight out from shoulders but in opposite directions.

6--Bring in hands with one arm in front of the other but not touching. Think of folding your arms in front of chest without arms touching the chest or each other. Hands should be elbow to elbow. (See Figs. 2, 3, 4 and 5.) Move arms back from wide extension to hands elbow to elbow at least 5 X.

7--With hands elbow to elbow, turn wrists downward and pull hands in opposite directions until arms are fully extended once more. Practice # 5 through # 7 continuously at least five rounds.

8--Push off pool wall into a side glide. As you slow down (keeping legs straight,) perform the arm stroke from glide position to elbow to elbow, then full arm extension again and glide. Practice at least 5 X or until mastered.


Although coordination between the sidestroke arms and legs is relatively easy it appears complicated. My best advice is to not think about it and "do what comes naturally." The glide helps because it's a break between each move. If one stroke or kick is out of synch there's a good chance that the next one will be good because you have time to think about it. For the arm-stroke some instructors tell pupils to imagine that they are "picking pears and putting them in a basket." Essentially, when arms come together, the legs move apart; and when the arms pull apart, the legs come together.

9--Hold the push-off and glide position.

10--Glide. Bring top leg up and out as lower leg moves back. At the same time, arms begin coming together. (Figs. 1 and 2.)

11--While top knee is bent and turned up at highest level, hands are in elbow to elbow position. (Fig. 5.)

12--Extend legs out straight in opposite positions as far as possible while arms pull apart. (Fig. 6.)

13--Close legs fast and hard as arms continue the stroke. (Figs. 7 and 8.)

14-Glide, and then repeat # 10 through # 14 until mastered. See animation below.


1--Unable to move forward. [a] This is usually due to a poor kick. Those whose legs move up and down instead of UP, OUT and BACK will have little forward momentum. Be certain the upper leg moves UP with knee bent and OUT with knee straight when the lower leg moves BACK. [b] Make sure that the two legs come together hard and fast. The bringing together of both legs gives most of the forward thrust. Merely floating legs together, even if performing the correct move, results in power loss. The kick must be definite. A good practice for this problem is to use a kickboard. Lie on your side with lower arm reaching across the board holding onto it. Head down, ear touching lower arm. The upper arm should be lying on side of body. Push off from pool side and practice the kick alone until mastered.

2--Unable to complete strokes and kicks. This occurs when the body is out of alignment. That is, either bending forward at the waist or leaning too far back. Either position tends to bring the body into a front float or back float which weakens both kicks and strokes. Practice pushing off the side in side position with body straight and lower arm straight beyond head, upper arm rests atop upper side of body. Practice pushing off and holding this position at least 5 X. Next, push off in same way but this time perform only the kick, keeping arms in the same position. Try to maintain a straight body. Conciously keep from bending forward or leaning backward. Practice until mastered. Next, practice pushing off into a glide (without the kickboard,) and perform only the stroke without a kick, keeping legs straight. Maintain correct alignment without leaning forward or backward. Practice until mastered. Finally, push off side, glide as above, then begin kicks and strokes. These exercises should keep you aware of the problem and enable you to correct it.

3--Having to take more than one stroke with each kick. When the stroke is too short this occurs. Simply elongating the stroke will help. Be certain that the upper arm moves completely back toward the legs and straightens. Both arms must be straight at end of stroke. A longer glide may also be necessary.

4--Mixed up timing This may occur due to any of the problems above but is usually because the glide is too short. It helps to mentally count to three while holding the glide each time, then continue with stroke and kick.


You have reached the final page of The Water-Shy Swimmer. To those who are still unable to perform at least one reasonable swim stroke after reading and taking instruction from this e-text, I urge you: DO NOT GIVE UP! If you continue to repeat all the tasks you will eventually succeed. Merely getting into the water and trying will have broken down many of your fears.

To those who have learned the difference between when to enjoy the water and when to be cautious, I extend my sincere congratulations because you have solved a problem. You found a solution by facing your fear and overcoming it.

I hope all those who have followed the directions in The Water-Shy Swimmer text have in some way improved mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. If they have, then this e-text was well worth the time it took to put it online.

Ginger Babin

For information about obtaining a printed copy of The Water-Shy Swimmer please click on the mailbox.

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