THE SIDE STROKE SWIMMING There is much sound sense in the ancient admonition not to go into the water until you know how to swim. Certain of the finer points of swimming are, naturally, best acquired afloat ; but the foundation of the art, the fundamen tal principles of the stroke, are far better learned in the air. The water is confus ing: it gets in one's nose ; often it is so cold that unless one can swim hard to keep warm, the bath is too short for much progress. By all means let us begin our swimming in the house.
One can practice on the floor, or on a bed wide enough to be used crosswise. For the side-stroke : Lie straight as a ramrod,, on either side, the under arm stretched out at full reach above the head, the head lying on its thick part. The upper arm extends along the flank just as it hangs in the standing position. The legs are straight, and in line with the trunk. The feet are turned down in line with the shins. This is the position for the "slide," when after the kick the body runs for a yard or two by its own momentum.
For the leg-stroke: Bend the under leg at the knee until it takes the kneeling position, with the shin at right angles with the thigh; at the same time flex the so that the toe approaches the shin. Now extend the foot to its toe-down position, and snap the lower leg back into its place, the instep coming against the other heel. Repeat until familiar.
Swing the upper leg forward from the hip, keeping the knee straight, but flexing the ankle as before. Carry to a foot or so from its first position ; straighten the ankle, and snap back the leg until it touches the other. Repeat until familiar.
These two motions combined make the famous "scissor-kick," the invention which, more than anything else, has made the modern era in swimming. As the under leg goes back, the upper leg goes forward. They snap together, heel against instep, toes turned down ; and remain motionless until it is time for them to open again. The opening should be slow ; the closing with a quick snap. The common faults are, opening the legs too rapidly, and bending the upper knee.
When it comes actually to swimming the stroke, it is not essential that the knee of the upper leg should be kept abso lutely straight. The tendency, however, is always to bend it too much, while there is no real advantage in bending it at all.
In practice, therefore, the best plan is to keep it straight; all too easily, the bend ing will take care of itself.
The advantage of the straight leg is this : in the breast-stroke, as everybody knows, the onward motion of the body stops as the legs are drawn up; for the thighs, sticking out at right angles with the body, act as a brake. In fact, not a few unskillful swimmers actually move back wards during this portion of the stroke. It was indeed to avoid just this braking that the scissor-kick was invented. But if, in the scissor-kick, one bends the upper leg to a right angle with the body, he is practically, so far as the braking ef fect is concerned, swimming the breast stroke with that leg. The moral is, Don't. A too rapid opening of the legs also checks the momentum.
This is the modern form of the scissor kick. Originally it was made much wider; the under leg was kicked out freely behind, and the upper leg drawn up until the knee almost touched the chest. This doubtedly gives a powerful stroke ,it it drags fearfully on the recovery. The modern theory is, at all costs, to cut down the resistance. Still, a slender and long limbed swimmer can often with advantage make the scissor-kick somewhat wider than is best for the average man.
Since the scissor-kick is fundamental to an important group of strokes, -one cannot practice it too thoroughly, nor understand it too well. The fact that it is so much like walking makes one forget the little but quite essential differences.
The arm-motion of the side-stroke is simple. The upper arm, extended at the side as the swimmer slides, is bent sharply at the elbow, carried to full reach beyond the head, and then, with stiff elbow and slightly hollowed palm, swept back again until it touches the thigh. The motion has two slightly different forms. In one the elbow is kept straight and the arm carried down parallel with the surface of the water. In the other, the elbow is some what bent, and the forearm comes down in front of the face and the trunk, with the hand lower in the water than the el bow. The first method is thought to be slightly the better; it certainly is prettier. But there is no single best way of swim ming any part of any stroke. There are certain general principles; the details vary with the swimmer's build.