Ask Stew: CSS Breathing and Turning Around Questions
The specialized Combat Swimmer Stroke, also known as the Combat Side Stroke, is just a modified version of the elementary side stroke. The modified version actually mixes in a few changes that resemble other known strokes.
Learning how to swim the freestyle, breaststroke and sidestroke will help you adapt to the newer CSS version of the stroke.
Here are the added changes: the freestyle arm pull (top arm), bottom arm scull and underwater recovery of the arms back to overhead of the breast stroke, the breathing of freestyle stroke, and of course the side position and long glide of the elementary side stroke.
See the videos below for the movement of the discussed strokes as a moving picture is worth 10,000 words.
Here are specific questions concerning the CSS and some common issues:
1. Should you constantly be inhaling/exhaling like a crawl stroke (similar to regular breathing) OR pause and hold your breath for a bit after inhaling, before exhaling again underwater?
It is best to get in a breathing rhythm and not have to hold your breath during the CSS. However, it may feel like you have to hold for a few seconds after the kick off the wall and double arm pull out (breaststroke pullout) as that process of being underwater is about five seconds.
2. Do you exhale through the mouth, nose or both underwater?
This depends on how you will be tested. Typically, you will swim with no goggles or mask during the boot camp PST and with a mask during training (BUD/S, dive school, etc). Obviously, with a mask, you have to be a mouth breather. Without a mask, it is up to you.
3. Any extra tips or is there a different breathing method used for CSS that I didn’t identify?
Turn your head as your top arm pulls past your face and inhale during the bottom arm pull (scull). Overall timing of the stroke is this sequence: top arm pull, bottom arm pull and inhale, kick and underwater arm recovery, glide. You will typically start the exhale at the kick and finish during the 2-3 second glide.
4. I cannot do a flip turn. Does that matter with this stroke?
No, you do not need to do a flip turn. In fact, they are not allowed during the Navy PST for BUD/S, SWCC, EOD and diver. You should learn how to do the open turn, though, as getting good at that can help save up to a minute off your time.
Here are some video explanations of the strokes that will help you become better at the CSS. You will see many similarities to the following strokes and techniques. The creators of the Combat Swimmer Stroke utilized those strokes to make a more efficient underwater recovery stroke that can be a more stealthy option when you need to surface swim.
You can actually use the sidestroke if you prefer. You can also use the breaststroke as well during the Navy Physical Screening Test for Naval Special Warfare/Special Ops programs.
Freestyle Turn to Breathe/Top Arm Pull
The top arm pull and breath are the same in the CSS as the freestyle stroke. The recovery of the arm back overhead is different. The CSS requires that the arm be underwater during recovery.
Breast Stroke Bottom Arm Pulls and Recovery (scull)
All of these skills can be used with the CSS. The bottom arm pull is a short scull version, although many will make this a full stroke. Sometimes, the full stroke can be cumbersome to recover from and mess up the timing of the breathe/arm recovery phase.
The Turn Around is an open turn, although you do not have to touch both hands on the wall with the CSS as you would with the breaststroke in competition. The kickoff and pullout off the wall will be the fastest 10 yards every turnaround you have, so make them good, strong and streamlined.
— Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to email@example.com.
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