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Go Swim Combat Sidestroke with Don Walsh

Important Note to the Viewer

LESSONS: 16 VIDEOS

Introduction

Introduction

Introduction

How to Get the Most from This Video

How to Get the Most from This Video

If you want to become a Navy SEAL, you have to be effortless in the water. If you want to become a Navy SEAL, you have to qualify for BUD/S training and to do that, you have to pass the Physical Screening Test – the PST. Approximately fifty percent of those who take this test will fail… because they cannot meet the requirement of swimming 500 yards of sidestroke in less than twelve and a half minutes. This swimmer is on pace to swim 500 yards in under 8 minutes. On deck is his teacher, Don Walsh. Since 2003, Don has worked with hundreds of Navy-SEAL hopefuls – helping them prepare for the all-important Physical Screening Test. Don’s success rate is the best in the country. Since 2003, 100% of his students have passed the swim requirement of the PST and have been accepted into the BUD/S training program. Once they make it to BUD/S, nearly 70% of Don’s students have survived the training, and have gone on to become members of the most elite fighting force in the world – the Navy SEALs. In this video, Don will share with you his 7-step learning sequence for mastering Combat Side Stroke and for passing the PST. Everything you see on this video – every drill and every move – is designed to help you gain valuable seconds – even minutes – on your 500-yard swim test. You’ll begin with drills that focus on the basics – things like body alignment, balance, and streamline. You’ll then learn how to keep a low profile as you breathe… … as you kick… … and as you glide effortlessly between strokes. You’ll also learn how to do a proper turn – a skill that can make the difference between PASS… and FAIL… on your swim test. In the final section, you’ll focus on putting all the parts together to create effortless speed, and to start training for the all-important screening test. To get the most from this video, we recommend that you watch it all the way through…then go back and focus on one section at a time. When you go to the pool, try only one or two steps at a time. By taking time to master each step, you’ll gain the skills you need to remain calm and confident under pressure. Swimming a fast and efficient Combat Side Stroke is not about muscle. It’s about technique, body position, and learning how to glide. OK. You know what you need to do. Let’s figure out how to get it done.

Step #1: Low-Profile Back Balance

Step #1: Low-Profile Back Balance

Low-Profile Back Balance teaches correct body alignment for swimming on your back. Push off on your back with hands at your sides. Round your shoulders slightly so your body is not at attention. Keep your chin tucked in and look directly at the ceiling as you start a quiet, easy flutter kick. Press your head and shoulders into the water until the water touches your goggles and your face is almost submerged. The water should circle your face. The more you press into the water, the higher your hips will rise. This gives you a better body position in the water, and actually makes it easier to kick. When you kick, don’t overdo it. Rather than creating a volcano… …Think about boiling water with your toes. The kick should be quiet and should remain within the cylinder of your body. If you do a lot of running or biking, your kick is probably from the knees down and the feet are outside the cylinder. Try to keep the legs straight but supple. If you’re not making forward progress, it’s usually because your feet are hooked rather than pointed. Again, this is from years of running or biking. If your kick looks like this… … try kicking violent to silent. Kick as hard as you can for several yards. When you are moving forward, simply relax your kick without changing the range of motion. Try several lengths of this – kicking as hard as you can for several yards… Then easing off without changing the size of your kick. When your body is balanced and horizontal and relaxed, it’s easy to move through the water. Passing the PST is not about muscle, it’s about creating a better body position, reducing drag, and being efficient. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make The biggest mistake that candidates make on Step 1 is not rolling their shoulders. They tend to throw their shoulders back – as if they are standing at attention on land. Once you get over this tendency… and learn to round the shoulders… you can press your upper body into the water and have more buoyancy and balance.

Step #2:  Low-Profile Side Balance

Step #2: Low-Profile Side Balance

Step 2 is to take that balanced body position and put it on your side. Start by pushing off on your back with hands at your sides, just as you did in the previous drill. When you feel balanced on your back with your head low in the water, simply tilt or roll to one side so that your arm is dry from shoulder to knuckles. You should be not quite on your back and not quite on your side. Tilt your body somewhere in between those two positions. This swimmer is too far on his side, causing him to arch his back and use his hands for balance. If you think you look like this… Roll more toward your back so you look like this. This swimmer is tilted but his arm is not dry, which means he’s not balanced. He’s swimming uphill. To correct this, try leaning in on your lower arm and rolling a little more toward your back. As you tilt to one side, keep your head rock steady. Look directly at the ceiling and keep the water circling your face. Tilt only your torso, hips, and legs. If you have any tension at all – if your neck is not in line with your spine, if you’re lifting your head or arching your back or searching for support by sculling with your arm… Return to your back and start again. Stay relaxed, lean into the water, and try to stay horizontal, with your hips close to the surface. Practice Step 2 on both sides. The dry arm is key here because it shows if you’re in balance or not. Keep experimenting with your body position until a strip of your arm is dry from shoulder to knuckles. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make When they are learning side balance, the biggest mistake candidates make is trying to get on their side, with shoulders stacked on top of each other. If you’re really lean and muscular – and what candidate isn’t -- this doesn’t work. If you can learn to tilt just slightly – to the point where you’re almost on your back – it’s a lot easier to find your balance. Swimming will get a whole lot easier once your find this balance point.

Step #4:  Low-Profile Extended Balance

Step #4: Low-Profile Extended Balance

Low-Profile Extended Balance helps you learn the best alignment and balance for swimming Combat Side Stroke. Start by kicking on your back. When you feel balanced… … tilt slightly and get balanced on your side. A slice of dry arm is your visual cue. When you feel balanced and relaxed on your side, sneak your bottom hand up to full extension. Keep your chin tucked, and keep looking directly at the ceiling through this entire move. Take your time in moving the hand up to the extended position, and make sure that the head and body stay low and horizontal. Your extended hand should be about 6 inches below the surface, and your palm should be DOWN. If there’s a big gap between your shoulder and your head, this can slow you down because it creates a lot of resistance. Try to close that gap as much as possible, but do it by bringing your arm toward your head and not by moving your head toward your arm. You can practice this in the pool… This is not the way to do it. This is better. Or you can practice it by lying on your side. Again, this is what not to do. This is better. Practice Extended Balance on both sides. If you have a lot of muscle in your shoulders and upper body, it will take practice until you are flexible enough to do this really well. Keep working on it, because Extended Balance is the key position for swimming a fast Combat Side Stroke. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make The big mistake is that candidates try to be exactly on their side when they extend one arm. It’s easier to close the gap and find balance when you are just slightly on your side.

Step #5:  Low-Profile Breathing

Step #5: Low-Profile Breathing

Low-Profile Breathing is nothing more than going from Extended Balance with your face and nose pointed UP… To Extended Balance with your nose pointed down. Practicing Nose Up/Nose Down teaches you to stay long and balanced, even as you rotate your body. It also introduces rhythmic breathing, which is a key skill in Combat Side Stroke. Start by getting balanced on your back… …then balanced on your side… …then balanced with one arm extended. Remember that you must feel balanced and relaxed in each position before moving to the next. Now simply swivel your nose and look at the bottom of the pool. Your body should rotate right along with your head, so that when you are nose down, you are exactly on your side, with one shoulder pointed down and the other shoulder pointed directly at the ceiling. The shoulders are stacked, one on top of the other. Exhale slowly, then rotate back to air. Return all the way to extended balance – so that you’re almost on your back. Take a couple of easy breaths, then rotate nose down on your side. If you are on your stomach, as this swimmer is, you’ve rolled too far. Roll to your back again, take a few breaths, and try again. Here’s what you’re aiming for. Notice how this swimmer stays as long as possible as he rotates from nose up… to nose down. As he rotates from one position to the other, there’s no gap between his head and shoulder. Notice that he’s right on his side when he goes nose down, and that when he goes nose down, he also goes palm down. On this clip, watch the swimmer’s eyes. Notice that he goes from looking straight up when he’s getting air… to looking straight down at the tiles when he’s nose down. Notice his low profile -- how little of his body is above the water. Also notice how relaxed his breathing is. He takes two or three relaxed breaths in nose up… and does a steady, relaxed exhale when he’s nose down. Practice on both sides until you feel like you could do this all day long. It’s a key move in Combat Side Stroke. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make When candidates are learning to go Nose Up/Nose Down, they tend to make three mistakes. First, many candidates roll their head, but not the rest of the body. This throws you out of alignment. You need to roll everything together – head, shoulders, torso, hips, and legs. Second, many candidates roll too far and end up on their stomach. This makes you slower. You’re much faster if you can be right on your side when you go nose down. Think of the difference between a flat rowboat and a needle-thin kayak and you’ll get the idea. Third, many candidates lift their head to breathe instead of rolling to air. This is a mistake that could cost you your life in a combat situation. The trick is to rotate to air rather than use the arm to push UP to air. Rotation gives you a cleaner, lower profile. Don’t turn your head into a target!

Step #6:  Low-Profile Scissor Kick

Step #6: Low-Profile Scissor Kick

Now that you’ve learned how to get balanced on your back and on your side using the flutter kick, it’s time to learn the scissor kick, which is the type of kick currently taught at BUD/S training camp. You’re going to start and stay in Extended Balance – Nose Down. With one arm extended and eyes focused on the tiles, draw both knees up and then send the top leg forward and the bottom leg back. Keep looking at the tiles as you snap the legs back together – like the blades of a pair of scissors. Take one or two kicks in nose-down position, then roll to your back for air. Let’s watch it once more at speed. Then slow it down to look at the fine points. Start in Extended Balance – Nose Down. As you bring up the knees, try to hide your legs within the cylinder of your body. If we freeze-frame it right here, you can see how this swimmer’s knees and thighs are hidden behind his torso. Bend your knees in front of your body and bring your heels up behind your body. Don’t draw your knees up too far, as this swimmer is doing. Bringing the knees up high might feel productive – like you’re setting up for a really powerful kick – but it can actually slow you down or bring you to a stop. If you feel a lot of acceleration after each kick, it probably means you slowed down too much – or even came to a complete stop – before the kick. If you are watching the tiles and they become crystal clear, this is a sign that you are coming to a complete stop before each kick. The idea in Combat Side Stroke is to keep moving forward. If you let your ankles get higher than the knees, you’ll trap water behind your legs and this will slow you down. You’ll be faster if you set up for a smaller, low-profile kick. Keep the ankles below your knees… don’t extend the legs too far back or too far forward… and take a smaller kick. It may feel like you’re going slower, but you’re actually going faster because you’re not slowing down between kicks. Practice scissor-kicking on both sides. You can practice in the Nose-Up position until you get the hang of it, but then try it nose down so that you can check yourself by watching the tiles. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make The biggest mistake candidates make is to try to do the whole stroke before they’ve mastered all the parts. Try not to use your arms until you’ve learned how to scissor-kick without your arms. Start by focusing just on the kick – and keeping it small and compact rather than big and splashy.

Step #7:  Combat Side Stroke

Step #7: Combat Side Stroke

Now it’s time to add the arms to the legs for the full Combat Side Stroke. Here’s Combat Side Stroke at normal speed. Notice how this swimmer stays horizontal, with head, shoulder, arm, hip, and legs all in line and right near the surface. Notice that every stroke starts and stops in Extended Balance – Nose Down. This is when you travel the fastest through the water – and with the least amount of effort. So it makes sense that you want to spend as much time as possible in this position: Extended Balance – Nose DOWN. Now let’s slow it down to figure out how to do it. Start by pushing off the wall in Extended Balance – Nose Down. Remember: This is where you start and stop each stroke. Roll your body and head to air and, as you roll… pull back with your lead hand and bring your trailing hand up to meet the lead hand. The hands should meet or touch right in front of your sternum or chin – right here. As the hands come together, draw up the knees and get ready to take a small scissor kick. If we freeze-frame it right here you can see the power that will soon be released. The swimmer’s hands are right in front of his face…he can actually see his hands. At the same time, the legs are drawn up and are ready to deliver the kick. Everything is poised and ready to drive the swimmer forward. In the next instant, the legs snap together, the top hand pushes back and the bottom hand shoots forward. And… the swimmer goes nose down. He returns to his most streamlined position to take full advantage of the kick and the pull. Let’s watch it again from a different angle. Start in Extended Balance – Nose Down. As the body rolls to air, the hands come together and the legs get ready for the kick. As the kick is delivered, the body goes nose down and the swimmer glides forward. As you practice this movement, try saying to yourself: Pull and breathe… kick and glide. Pull and breathe… kick and glide. Notice that as your speed bleeds off in the Nose-Down position, you simply roll back to Extended Balance – Nose UP. Take a breath and return to your starting position in Nose Down. Start with a small pull with the lead hand. The arms meet in front of the chin and you kick into Extended Balance – Nose Down. Try to adjust your kick so that you don’t feel a lot of acceleration with each kick. The goal is to take smaller kicks that keep your momentum going. You can also keep your momentum steady and constant by working on the timing of your kick and pull. The idea is to keep moving forward. As the glide slows down, the lead arm takes over, then the kick comes in, followed immediately by the push of the top arm. Use the nose-down glide to take advantage of all the power you’ve created with your arms and legs. When you’re nose down and gliding, you’re in your most streamline position in the water. If you can get into this position – if you can ride the glide – you can achieve effortless speed in your 500-yard swim. If you want to ace the PST, this position is your secret weapon. Practice on both sides until you lock in the timing. Keep repeating: Pull and breathe…kick and glide. Biggest Mistake Candidates Make PST candidates like to feel that they’re working hard all the time, and this can work against them in the water. They try to take too big of a kick and this brings them to a complete stop on every stroke. Once they learn that smaller is better, they often start to get really fast. Candidates also tend to lift their heads to breathe instead of rolling to air. The key is to keep a low, balanced profile and to rotate to air rather than lift to air. Notice how this swimmer keeps the lead arm close to his head at all times.

BONUS - Vertical Kick

BONUS - Vertical Kick

If you’re like most SEAL candidates, you do a lot of running as part of your training. This can make your ankles inflexible, and this is not a good thing when you’re trying to swim. Candidates tend to kick from the knee down instead of from the hip. Vertical kicking – which is simply kicking in an upright position in the deep end of the pool – is a great way to focus on your kick without worrying about air or armstrokes or any of the dozens of things you have to think about when you’re swimming. If you have a really bad kick, you can use fins for this – or even a flotation device such as a pull buoy under each arm. But the goal is to do this without fins. Jump into the deep end and use only your arms to hold you up. Make a big figure-8 motion with your hands and just let your legs hang underneath you. When you feel like you’re straight up and down, start to flutter kick with your legs. Keep the kick narrow and quick, and try not to bend your knees too much. Don’t bicycle! You don’t want to lock your knees, but you don’t want to bend them, either. Just keep the legs straight but supple, and keep the kick within the cylinder of your body. Point your toes toward the bottom of the pool and try to feel the water on the tops of your feet as you kick forward with each leg. Once you get the hang of it, try crossing your arms and putting your hands on your shoulders. This will make you work harder, but will help make your kick quick and compact. Once you’re kicking well, lean back and level out on your back. Keep kicking, and then go into whatever drill you’re working on.

BONUS - Turns

BONUS - Turns

Most candidates spend forever on the walls. They grab the lip of the pool with one hand, then grab it with the other hand, then pull themselves up and nearly halfway out of the water. Then they drag their legs to the wall, get turned around and grab the wall AGAIN and then finally push off. This wastes so much time! Compare the last turn to this turn, where the swimmer glides into the wall on his side… touches with one hand… gets the legs into a tight tuck, gets the hands in position to streamline, and gets both feet on the wall for a solid push off. The difference in time is huge. If you do your 500-yard screening test in a 25-yard pool, that’s 24 turns. If you can learn to turn in 3 seconds rather than 6 seconds, you’ve just saved yourself more than a minute – and that can mean the difference between passing your test…and failing. Practice your turn in stages, and start with the last part first. Start by hanging on to the wall with one hand. Place your feet on the wall with the toes pointed toward 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock rather than straight up. Memorize how this foot position feels, then sink down and do what’s called a “drop push.” Push off not on your back, but just slightly on your side. If you’re more comfortable on the other side, your toes would be pointed at 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock rather than 10 o’clock. This is the position you want to get to on every wall, just before you push off. Once you know your foot position, go out to the backstroke flags and start kicking into the wall in Extended Balance – Nose Up. Keep one arm fully extended as you approach the wall. Look up with your eyes, lean in at the top part of your back, and keep kicking so your legs don’t sink. If you can come into the wall with your body in a horizontal position, like this swimmer is doing, you’ll shave seconds and even minutes off your PST swim time. When your hand touches the wall, make sure your palm is DOWN so that you can quickly grab the ledge and pull yourself in. Tuck up into a tight ball and get your feet on the wall, pointed at either 10 or 2. Now you’re ready for the push off.