How to do the Combat Swimmer Stroke - The Navy Seal Side Stroke

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Learn how to do the combat swimmer stroke. It is also called the navy seal combat side stroke (CSS).

The combat swimmers stroke is a stealth and efficient way of swimming long-distance. It is a mix of swimming sidestroke, freestyle, and breaststroke.

The Navy Seal Side Stroke Introduction

There are four basic stages to the combat side stroke technique. The streamline position, two catch and pull movements, and the recovery.

The recovery involves a scissor kick paired with a breaststroke-like arm movement. Don't confuse it with the guide stroke, which is sometimes called the combat recovery stroke.

Streamline Position

Get some initial propulsion and adopt the streamline position. The best streamline position is as horizontal a position as you can. Keep your head down and your neck relaxed. When you push off your body must be as streamlined as possible. Place the palm of one hand on the back of the other and put them in front of you so you are straight and long.

Streamline Position

First Catch and Pull

Do your first catch by pressing the palm of your top hand down. If you are rolling to your right then your right hand is/will be on top. Bend your arm at the elbow.

Ensure to keep your arm aligned at a downward angle. Your shoulder is at the top, your elbow below that, then your wrist, and finally your fingers at the bottom. Doing this will maximize your first pull.

Bend your arm at the elbow

Continue the catch as you rotate onto your side. Your forearm is vertical, elbow above your wrist.

Stay on your side until your recovery stage.

Stay on your side until your recovery stage

Flow into the pull by continuing the movement of your top arm until your hand is in line with your upper thigh. Your hand follows your midline. Be careful not to raise your elbow too high.

At this stage, your arm is almost at full extension. Do not let your hand come out of the water.

Now is a good time to take a breath. When you exhale, do so in a slow and steady manner.

Exhale slow and steady

Second Catch and Pull

Start your second catch and pull with your other arm by sweeping it down. Your palm faces down and stays fixed in that position. As you sweep down it creates resistance against the water, propelling you forward.

Sweep your other arm down

When your arm is vertical, your palm will be facing to your rear.

Continue the arc of your bottom arm until your hand is on your thigh.

Your palm faces the rear and your arm finishes on your thigh

The catch, pull, and recovery of your lower arm is almost identical to a breaststroke motion.

Note: As you do the second pull you can either leave your head up breathing or look back down. If you have a tendency to sink you are better off looking back down.


This is the side stroke swimming part of this military side stroke. Start the recovery with a simultaneous scissor kick and arm movement.

Bring both your arms up through the center-line of your body. They then travel back into the streamline position, like breaststroke. Keep your arms and hands underwater and as close to your body as possible.

Continue your arms forward past your face as you do the scissor kick. Finish in the streamlined position.

Bring both your arms up through the center-line of your body

Scissor Kick

Do the scissor kick as you bring your arms forward. This helps with propulsion and corkscrew’s your body back into the streamline position.

Move your top leg forward and your bottom leg backward at the same time. Bring them back together in the streamlined position. Keep your toes flexed towards your shin until you adopt the streamlined position.

Draw your top knee up so there is a 90º angle at your hip and knee. At the same time, bend your bottom leg back at the knee.

Extend the lower part of your top leg in front of your torso as you kick your bottom leg back.

Bend your knees to 90º then extend your legs and kick

Point your toes once you have extended your legs, then draw them into the streamline position.

End in the streamline position

Slowly exhale as you glide in the streamline position. Be sure to get the most out of the glide before starting the next arm cycle.

If speed is more important you can flutter kick before initiating your first pull again. You could also use the sprinter’s CSS.

Sprinter’s Navy Side Stroke

Use the sprinter’s CSS when you need to go faster. The tradeoff is that you will use more energy since will use a greater stroke count over the same distance.

To do the sprinter’s Combat Swimmer Stroke do a half stroke on your second pull. Everything else stays the same.

From the start of the second pull, bring your arm down as normal until it is almost at a right angle to your body.

Instead of pulling it all the way to your thigh, scoop it up into your armpit.

Bring your arm down 90º then scoop it up to your armpit

From here, push it forward into a full extension as normal.

Guide Stroke - Combat Recovery Stroke

Use the guide stroke to check your direction when using the Combat Side Stroke to swim a long distance.

It uses a breaststroke-type movement for your arms and the dolphin kick for your legs.

Start in the streamline position. Push your palms out against the water to a position a little wider than your shoulders.

Push your palms out a little wider than your shoulders

Press your palms against the water as you rotate your hands and lower arms into a vertical position. Your finger-tips point down and your palms angle toward your chest.

Pull your palms towards your chest. This creates forward propulsion and allows you to raise your head above the surface. Now you can breathe and look around.

Try not to lift your head too far out of the water. This will cause your hips and legs to sink, which will decrease your momentum.

Lifting your head too far out will decrease your momentum

Recover your arms back to the streamline position as you would with breast-stroke. Keep them close to your body, along your centerline.

As you recover your arms, use the downward motion of the dolphin kick. This helps with propulsion back into the streamline position. From here you can continue into CSS or another guide stroke.

If you get disorientated, tread water until you figure out which direction you need to swim in.

Combat Swimmer Stroke Video

In this video, the swimmer uses a double stroke pull as his first stroke when pushing off the wall. That is not part of the CSS. It is actually an underwater swimming technique which you can learn here. It works well for him. You can experiment with it yourself to see if you like it.

Combat Swim Stroke Conclusion

Learning how to do combat side stroke can be challenging to begin with. My advice is to practice each of these combat side stroke drills in sections.

First, learn the streamline position. Next, get the arm technique down. Once you can do that, add in the recovery with the scissor kick.

Most people can get the basic stroke within 1 or 2 swimming sessions. Not perfect, but workable. If you get bored of it, try the sprinters css and the combat recovery stroke (the guide stroke).

Well, that's is for my combat side stroke tips. It is all about practice.

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