Learn to Swim Freestyle on Your Side

Better Freestyle Swimming By Swimming On Your Side

Side Swimming 1
Side Swimming 1. Kevin Koskella

When we learned to swim freestyle as children, most of us swim flat in the water, with little or no hip rotation as our arms are doing the majority of the work. Many triathletes and open water swimmers have found it necessary to change their stroke and swim more on their sides in order to conserve energy, swim faster, and get through potential rough water conditions with greater ease.

Rotating from side to side as you swim is a method that has been around for over 30 years.

When Mark Spitz was gaining national recognition in the early 70's, many critics said his only problem is that he does this side-to-side action as he swims! Little did they realize just how revolutionary that stroke was. Science has now backed up this style of swimming, and great swim coaches like Howard Furby and Ernie Maglischo have popularized swimming on your side with many successful swimmers over the years.

Good swimming is about using the core of your body- hips, stomach, lower back, and chest. Top swimmers rotate the core of the body from one side to the other, while keeping the head fixed. When you rotate in this way, you move through the water more like a fish, or a boat, reaching further forward on each stroke, and maximizing your efficiency.

Swimming freestyle on your side may seem like a foreign concept at first. But with consistent practice, you will be able to swim more efficiently, resulting in faster swim times and greater energy conservation.

Here is a drill to begin practicing (you may use Zoomers or fins if you have them):

  1. Kick on your side with your left hand extended out and your right hand by your side. Keep your head down and locked to your shoulder.
  2. On the second length, switch sides and extend your right hand, with your left hand by your side. When looking down, you should be at about a 90-degree angle in the water.
  1. When you need air, roll your hips into more of a 45-degree angle with your eyes looking straight up and water surrounding your face, take a few breaths, and repeat. Continue to practice this kicking drill and notice your balance in the water improving.

If you are new to being on your side in the water, practice these drills with fins on! Zoomers or Hydrofinz work best. The reason for this is that it allows you to take your mind off your kick and focus strictly on doing the drill properly. Once you start to feel more balanced in the water, do this without your fins. Just make sure you are not spending your energy kicking just to keep from sinking!

Here is a set to practice kicking on your side with:

  • 12 x 25's Kicking on Your Side with fins Odd 25's: Left side kicking
    Even 25's: Right side kicking
  • Belly button pointed towards the side wall
  • Take as much rest as you need between lengths.
  • Practice this every time you get in the pool for the next month.
  • By the end of that month, you should feel much more balanced in the water!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on December 2nd, 2015.