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Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) Technique Issues (part 2)

Stew smith

The CSS - Combat Swimmer Stroke 
Typical Issues and Easy Fixes

There are many ways to do the 500yd Swim part of the Navy Physical Screening Test (PST) - some work well - some methods requires too much effort. But the strokes you can use are the breast stroke, side stroke, and the modified side stroke which has been nicknamed the CSS over the years. You have to remember the swim is the first step of the Navy BUDS, SWCC, EOD, Diver PST. There will be pushups, situps, and pullups followed by a 1.5 mile run after the 500yd swim.  If you do not have a background in swimming, here is a way to be more efficient with a stroke that is designed to be an underwater recovery stroke meaning that your arms have to recover to the overhead glide position staying underwater (not out of the water like freestyle). 

Why the CSS?

There are two main reasons for using this stroke. Mainly when getting through training (at BUDS) swimming with SCUBA fins the stroke allows the user to swim longer distances with less effort as well as maintaining of lower profile in the water while swimming with gear if needed. You also need to be fast in order to pass the standard each week at BUDS. Learning to swim this stroke before BUD/S (getting TO the training) without fins is just the first step to the types of swims that will get you through training - two mile ocean swims with SCUBA fins (typically Rocket Fins or Jet Fins). You need to practice both, in fact, if you are struggling with the CSS without fins, you may find that the scissor kick / flutterkicks with fins will help make your kick stronger without fins. 

Here are many errors (see part 1 for more) that people need to fix in order to be more efficient and smoother in the water: 

Timing of the stroke - Your timing is the first goal when learning the CSS and the sequence is the following steps: (top arm pull, bottom arm pull and breathe (same time), kick / arm recovery, glide (2-3 secs).  See three part breakdown of stroke.  Timing is easily confused with the timing of elementary side stroke or not holding the glide and can cause you to pop your head up over an arm pull vs turning at the right moment. 

- Top arm pull (like the freestyle catch - see video link) - You should turn your head and be fully exhaled by now with this part of the stroke and be in the ready to inhale position as you complete the pull. Then start your inhale with the bottom arm...Many people will pull from the shoulder joint and miss out on the directional power that the freestyle catch enables you to create (and go faster). 

- Bottom arm/inhale - As you finish the top arm pull, your head should be turned and ready to inhale as you pull the bottom arm like a breast stroke scull.  This is not a full bottom arm pull taking your hand to your hips, this is a short easy SCULL (see video).  Many people will over-pull on this and it can cause you to pop up to breathe vs turn to breathe as well as throw the timing of the breathing off as the longer recovery can mess up the glide position by being out of streamline getting to the glide position. Many will also pop their head completely out of the water to breathe - do not do this - breathe like you are swimming the freestyle / crawlstroke. 

NOTE: Basically your top arm and turn to breathe is freestyle method (keeping head down - turning to breathe). Do not pop your head up to breathe like you would in the breast stroke kick.  Half of your head should still be under water as you inhale. The bottom arm is more breast stroke pull and the recovery of the arms is similar to the recovery you would do with the breast stroke putting yourself into the GLIDE position after the kick. 

- Kick and Glide - After the kick, you should be gliding for almost 3 seconds each stroke with your hands locked over your head.  I do a count of "1 mississippi, 2 mississippi, PULL" (on 3).  Top leg always goes forward no matter what side you are swimming on. You can do a scissor kick or breast stroke kick if you prefer, but try to avoid too many little flutterkicks WITHOUT fins. But, as you prepare for swimming with fins, you need to learn the scissor kick and many prefer swimming with smaller flutterkicks with big pair of fins on your feet. 
PS - it takes time to prepare the ankles, feet, and leg for swimming with fins, make sure your leg days start introducing some swimming with big fins working to maintain that same pace of 50 yards in 50 seconds. 

and glide position - 

- Streamline of the glide - Your arms should be extended over your head with your head tucked down and arms are locked into a tight glide position with your biceps touching your ears with one hand on top of the other.  Many do not place their hands / wrists on top of  each other, nor keep their head down and those two things make a huge difference in your glide off the walls and after every kick. 

Search “streamline position swimming”

NOTE: It is up to you if you want to roll over during the glide or not.  You can stay on your side. With a pair of fins (if using scissor or flutterkicks) it is difficult to keep your feet in the water if you roll over - so stay on your side when wearing fins the entire swim. 

See video to put it all together - This video is worth 1,000 and 10,000 pics. 
Now get in shape to do 10 laps fast because if you can master one lap (50yds) in 50 seconds (easily = not a sprint), your stroke is capable of swimming an 8:20 or 500 yds in 500 seconds). However, if you cannot maintain that pace for 500yds - You Are NOT in Swimming Shape.  Keep working on your conditioning. 

Here is how to develop your test taking strategy by learning your pace for the swim so you have plenty left in the tank to crush the rest of the PST.  It does not good to crush the swim and have the swim crush you too and do horrible in the remaining events because you did not learn how to pace yourself and train properly for that pace. 

Same Pacing Workout with Swimming:  (do this 5-6 times a week)
Warmup 500yds CSS or free style (mix is fine too) but non-stop. When you “warmup” with a 500yd or 500m swim, you are now training to make the 500m swim “nothing more than a warmup”.  This is more of a psychological benefit, but it will also get you more prepared for swimming 500m at a fast pace.

After the warmup, do the following 50/50 split workout:

Repeat 10 times
50m Swim freestyle FAST (6-8 strokes per breath)
50m NO REST go into Swim CSS – at your goal pace*.
- rest 10 seconds before starting again

*Goal pace swimming will depend on your abilities, but a good standard is a yard or meter per second. Most military swim tests are 500yds or 500m. Shoot for a yard per second and score 500 seconds which is an above average score of an 8:20.  This is good enough (actually above average) for most military programs – even special ops level swimming.

Do this swim workout 5-6 days a week - minimum standard daily is 1000-1500m PERIOD if you want to get in shape to swim 500m fast.

For running, the same type of program works but you can add in a sprint workout 1-2 times a week if you prefer, but if your conditioning is solid, focus on goal pace for a few weeks as your only running workout every day (4-5 times a week).

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