How to swim like a Navy SEAL, Mastering the Combat Swimmer Side Stroke


Four years ago, I started reading about Navy SEAL's. 

Sure, I had been in the Navy, and had worked closely with Navy SEAL's several times. I even worked out with them once or twice.

There was always something about them. They have a command presence. I believe it comes from something called confidence. They have an aura of it. It bursts through them.

How do they become so confident. Well, that comes from pushing themselves to a breaking point, and not breaking. They are men that know no limits. They are winners.

It also comes from doing some of the most strenuous and dangerous things in the world. Most of them were not born special, no natural gifts or talents, just an uncommon desire to succeed.

They learn how to remain calm in the most extreme circumstances. That is what makes them elite.

One of the things that I love about them is that they are a triple threat combat warrior. Sea, Air, Land.

They are the most well rounded men.

As I was reading about them, I learned that they swim...a lot. One of the requirements for a SEAL candidate to even get into BUD's is a 500 meter swim using a technique called the Combat Swimmer Side Stroke in under 12 minutes 30 seconds. This is the basic requirement, but to be competitive a candidate should swim in  9:30 or less.

I wanted to try it. I didn't really even know how to swim. In fact, I knew how to do a basic freestyle stroke, without any technique. I would pull my head completely out of the water and my body would sink. I could only do this for about 200 meters before almost passing out.

Keep in mind though, that seal Candidates have to complete the 500 meter swim, before doing the other exercises in the SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST).

SEAL PST Requirements:


Calculate your PST Times

As you can see, this is no small feat of endurance.

It is not easy, and you have to have enough energy to be able to do everything else. It's all about training, timing, and setting yourself up to succeed.

A never quit mindset is needed to do this, and you have to have commitment or you won't push yourself.

What equipment Will I need?

The good thing is, you don't need much. However, the things that you do need, you can't substitute or get bey without.

  • You need a place to swim with at least a 25 meter pool. If you can swim outside, go for it. Just don't swim alone.
  • You will need some goggles. 
  • You will also need to have some sleek skin tight swim shorts. Don't use regular swim trunks, because they will inhibit your time by parachuting and weighing you down.
  • Also,a good watch helps so that you can keep time.

Learning the Combat Swimmer side stroke

The first time that I tried doing just a regular side stroke was rather comical. I looked like an injured dolphin. I think the lifeguards were watching me extra close.

After a while I started getting more proficient at it, I would practice every single weekday at the pool.

Then I started working on the Combat Swimmer Side Stroke.

I wasn't sure where to begin though, so I looked searched around for someone who could really break it down.

I found a man named Stew Smith.

Stew is a veteran Navy SEAL and teaches Military & Law Enforcement how to be successful on PST's and Physical Fitness Tests.

He has also written many books, including "The Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness"

Stew's Instagram is updated daily with videos of candidates performing the (CSS), and he typically gives critiques of each one.

Below is a video demonstration of the (CSS), and Stew breaks it down in 3 parts so that you can better undeerstand how to perform the technique.

The Combat Swimmer Side Stroke Break Down:

Learning the Stroke

This stroke is all about efficiency. Done correctly you can go for miles without getting tired.

The first thing you need to know is that you need to be as flat and as long as you can be in the water. You don't want to be flopping and squirming around. It's not about muscling through it either. You will need to become very comfortable in the water.

The best way to get comfortable in the water, is to get in the water.

The push off

First, you will get in the water and adjust your goggles and anything else. 

Then you will push off the wall with your feet.

Immediately point your hands in front of your head in a V shape, and look directly at the bottom of the pool (This is called the streamline position). Your body should be flat at this point and you are just coasting. You want to ride this position for as long as you can before doing a double arm pull.

The Double Arm Pull

The double arm pull is the same thing that you would do if you were doing a breast stroke, however you don't come to the surface.

From the streamline position, bring both arms down at the elbows to make a 90 degree position (This is called the catch), with your hands flat in the water and tightly together.

Then pull your arms back and to your sides. This will create more speed and propel you forward even more. Hold this out , and cost for a while until you hit the recovery stroke.

The Recovery Stroke

At this point, your arms are by your sides and you are coasting. Eventually you are going to run out of steam, so you need to be ready to get to the surface.

As you start to slow a little, do a scissor kick and bring your arms back out to the front in a V shape, as you do this you can begin the catch on one side and twist bringing your head to the surface to get a breath of air.

The repeat, scissor kick while hands going into V across chest, and move into the streamline position rolling your body over so your eyes are looking at the bottom of the pool. Then catch position, pull arm back to side, roll and breathe. Repeat.

Get the Full Official Navy Seal Combat Swimmer Stroke Guide Here.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This technique takes practice.

I trained for 2 months on it, and then I timed myself using a watch. It took me 11 minutes and 30 seconds to complete.

My goal was 9 minutes 30 seconds.

It was pretty humbling.

I kept practicing and practicing, and refining my stroke.

The longer and flatter that you get in the water, the faster you will go.  It took me a while to learn that.

Now I am able to complete this in 9:30, and you can too, if you practice it, and keep watching these videos on how to improve.

Navy SEAL BUD's Swim Training

I watched this video every day for one week, and then anytime that I needed a tune up. It is the best video on swimming I have ever watched.

That's all there is to it.

I know that if you have the desire and the capacity to learn this efficient swim stroke that you will find your love for swimming, and a new found confidence in yourself and your abilities.

I believe that it is imperative for every man to know how to swim, and be good at it. You never know when it might save your life or someone else.

Let me know in the comments about your successes, and how you are doing on learning the CSS.