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Drills to Learn Swimming Sidestroke

The sidestroke is an old swimming stroke that can be fun to swim. This article proposes a sequence of dry land exercises and swimming drills that should allow you to learn this stroke with relative ease. By practicing these drills you should be able to learn the sidestroke over the course of a few swim sessions.

A sidestroke swimmer floating in the water

Sidestroke is an old swim stroke worth rediscovering

Drill #1: Dry-land scissor kick

  • Lie down on the floor on the left side.
  • Extend the left arm above your head, palm turned towards the floor. The head rests against the extended arm.
  • Maintain balance by pushing against the floor with your right hand.
  • Bend your knees and bring your legs towards your chest until your thighs make a 90° angle with your torso.
  • Now spread your legs, with the upper leg kicking to the front and the lower leg to the back.
  • Extend your legs, then bring them back to the initial position.
  • Restart the cycle.
  • Change sides after a few repetitions.

Drill #2: Dry-land side stroke arm motions

  • Stand upright.
  • Extend your left arm straight above your head, palm turned to the right.
  • The right arm and hand rest at the side of the body, palm turned towards the body.
  • The head slightly rotates to the right.

Now this position is the initial position that you would use if you did swim the side stroke on the left side.


  • Now bend your left elbow and bring the arm down until the hand reaches the chest as if you were stroking down in the water.
  • At the same time, bend your right elbow and bring the forearm up until both palms meet in front of the chest and were exchanging something.
  • Now extend the left arm again above your head to the initial position as if it were piercing the water.
  • At the same time, the palm of the right arm turns downward, the arm straightens back to its initial position and the hands executes a sweeping motion as if it were stroking the water.
  • Restart the cycle.
  • Change sides after a few repetitions.

Drill #3: Dry-land side stroke swimming

Lie down on the floor in a side position as in drill #1 and now execute the motions of drill #1 and drill #2 simultaneously. To synchronize arms and legs, bring the upper leg towards the chest at the same time as the upper arm moves towards the chest to meet the lower arm. Don’t forget to change sides after a few repetitions.

Note: In the above video, the arm motions may seem different in drill #2. This is because when lying on the floor, the shoulder range of the lower arm is limited. This doesn’t change the fact that drill #3 is very useful to learn the proper coordination of hand and leg motions before trying them in the water.

Drill #4: Scissor kick in the water with a swim noodle

At the swimming pool, grab a water noodle and place it under the arm pit of the side you want to swim on. Push off the wall and take on the initial position of the sidestroke:

  • Lying on the side.
  • Head aligned with the spine and slightly rotated upwards so that the face clears the water.
  • Legs extended.
  • Lower arm extended to the front to the end of the pool.
  • Upper arm lying on the side of the body.

Now practice the scissor kick in this position. Change the side at each pool length. When this becomes easy, try the drill without the swim noodle.

Drill #5: Side stroke arm motions with a pull buoy

At the swimming pool, grab a pull buoy and place it between your legs. Push off the wall and take on the initial position of the sidestroke. Now practice the arm motions alone, changing again the side at each pool length.

Drill #6: Swimming sidestroke with a swim noodle

Now let go of the pull buoy and grab the swim noodle again and place it under the arm pit of the side on which you will be swimming. Then push off the wall and try to swim the sidestroke with both the arm and leg motions.


Swimming side stroke

Finally, once you have practiced all the swimming drills above, you can try to swim the stroke without any floatation aids.

Drill #7 Alternating Sidestroke and Breaststroke

An additional drill I like to do when swimming side stroke at the pool is to alternate sidestroke and breaststroke. Do it like this:

  • Start doing three cycles of sidestroke on the left side.
  • Switch and do three cycles of breaststroke.
  • Switch and do three cycles of sidestroke on the right side.
  • Switch back to breaststroke and so on.

This has the following advantages:

  1. As you regularly switch to breaststroke it is easier to orient yourself. This is especially use full in crowed pools.
  2. It is possible that you have a strong and a weak side while swimming sidestroke. This is my case. Switching often from one side to the other allows me to analyze how it feels to swim on the strong side and then I try to reproduce the same sensation on the weak side.

Some tips

It might be that you have trouble maintaining balance in the side position. In that case, the following sequence of drills is useful to improve balance and get used to swimming on the side:

  • Head-lead back balance.
  • Head-lead front balance.
  • Balance while rolling.
  • Slide on your side.
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