Introducing The Little Known Combat Side Stroke

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By Samantha Dammann, Swimming World College Intern. 

If someone told you there was a seventh stroke, would you be able to name it? Most swimmers could count off the first six: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, corkscrew and sidestroke. The seventh stroke is only known by a small group of people called combat swimmers, and the stroke is called, you guessed it, the combat side stroke.


Navy SEALs and other specialized military personnel use the Combat Side Stroke (CSS) during water-based missions when swimming below the surface isn’t an option, and when combat swimmers must swim through surf. According to the Official Naval Special Warfare Website:

“The Combat Side Stroke allows the swimmer to swim more efficiently and reduces the body’s profile in the water in order to be less visible during combat operations when surface swimming is required.”

CSS is a combination of breaststroke, freestyle, and sidestroke. The top arm pull and breathing pattern after the top arm pull are the same as a freestyle stroke; the bottom arm pull is the same as the breaststroke arm pull; the kick is the traditional sidestroke kick. When done correctly with a five to ten-yard glide off the wall, a swimmer should be able to reach the other side of the pool in about three strokes.


While seasoned swimmers might assume that learning a new stroke is easy, the dozens of instructional videos online would beg to differ. The U.S. Navy SEAL and SWCC Scout Team put together a deeply thorough article for swimmers interested in learning this specialized stroke.

Check out this instructional video for a visual depiction of CSS:

Anyone can learn to swim the CSS, but only a select few are talented and brave enough to pursue combat swimming as a profession. To learn more about the life of a combat swimmer, check out “Combat Swimmer: Memoirs of a Navy SEAL” by Robert A. Gormly. Gormly served as a SEAL for 29 years, during which he acted as platoon leader, and later commanding officer, of SEAL Team Two in Vietnam, as the executive officer of UDT-22, and as commanding officer of SEAL Team six. In this autobiography Gormly gives detailed accounts of some of his most intense missions and takes the reader deep into the world of combat swimming.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Jaroslaw Stachowicz

    Yes IT is. IT is also a lifeguard ‘s kick, tought in New York

  2. Robbie Miller

    When I first took WSI we had to name all!

  3. Paavo Voltti

    Actyally an old stroke. Sometimes seen – and the kick felt – on the fast lane.

  4. Lorrie Morgan

    We had to learn it to he a lifeguard in the 80s.

  5. Patt Chase

    Been doing the side stroke for years!