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To Pullout or Not: CSS Debate

Stew smith

To Add the Breaststroke Pullout to the CSS or Take It Out? It Depends... 

For many years, I have been learning how to best coach the Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) to non-swimming athletes, primarily those preparing for a career in any military special ops programs involving diving or combat swimming. I have always taught the breaststroke pullout as a way to kick off the wall; however, many candidates have difficulty adding it to the 500-yard swim test of the Navy PST (SEAL, SWCC, EOD/Diver, SARC). I am now teaching to do the Navy PST WITHOUT the pullout as an option if you are in one of the following categories:

1 - Land athlete new to swimming - Like adding flutter kicks, dolphin kicks, and now the double arm pull of the breaststroke pullout off the walls, many athletes new to swimming are not in the swimming shape to handle the extra effort in the swim test. If you competed in swimming at some point, any of the "additions" should not be an issue. You can typically handle the extra flutter or dolphin kicking (because you are an efficient kicker) and handle the extra pull / missing breath of adding in the pullout. The issue with non-swimming athletes is they tend to have to learn how to swim, then add technique and efficiency to a degree, and get in swimming shape. However, a non-swimming athlete can become an excellent MILITARY SWIMMER and learn this skill well enough to make it TO and THROUGH Spec Ops selection programs. 

2 - Losing momentum off the wall (due to the pullout) - If you come to a complete stop after doing the pullout and transitioning into the first stroke (or lose the momentum you created off the wall), consider skipping the pullout. Or learning how to do the pullout better. It is a poor technique. This technique issue is part learning it properly and part being tighter on your streamlined body position.

3 - Have to Drop the Pullout halfway through the 500yd test - If you start off the 500yd swim with a typical 50 second 50yd swim with the goal of an 8:20 (500 seconds), but you have to drop the pullout about halfway through due to the need to inhale quicker off the wall, you are not in shape to be adding it. If you have time, you can continue to get into better swimming shape (50/50 workout), but this type of preparation is often an issue for many candidates. Consider taking it out altogether; you may be able to maintain your yard / second pace longer. 

4 - The Pullout comes with a cost -. The pullout may be faster for more of the 500yd swim, but it has a price. Each time you kick off the wall and glide for 4-5 seconds, then double arm pull, kick, and recover, you hold your breath for about 8-10 seconds each turnaround. In a 25yd pool, this is 20 times, and most non-swimming athletes get hypoxic / very winded.  While this may not sound like much, during a 500-yard swim (8 min to 9:30 - average time), it could be why your later laps of the 500-yard swim test are slower than the first 4-5 laps. 

Advantages of Skipping the Pullout - If you are a non-swimming athlete, you get an extra breath per stroke and likely will not lose any momentum off the wall if you skip the pullout. You can maintain your goal pace longer and get the competitive time you need to earn your Spec Ops contract. See the swim below of a land athlete who took it out and hit his goal pace because of it:

Advantages of Keeping the Pullout - You will spend more time underwater, which is always faster than being on the surface (as long as you are streamlined). But you have to get into excellent swimming shape to handle this level of kick-offs, which can be up to 40-50% of the total distance of the swim when in a 25-yard pool. If swimming a long (50m pool) course, you have fewer kicks, and the pullout will matter less. See the difference pool size makes. 

Join Stew Smith's LIVE QA on YouTube, where he dissects and critiques submitted CSS videos and takes your questions LIVE! 930am Mondays / Tuesdays at Stew Smith Fitness YouTube Channel.

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Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

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