The sidestroke is the best swimming stroke for wrist pain. It is a hybrid of the breaststroke and the traditional freestyle. The sidestroke conserves energy and allows the swimmer more time to take breaths above the water. The wrist remains beneath the water's surface, therefore providing less tension and strain on this sensitive array of small bones and ligaments.
Motion of the Leading Arm
During the sidestroke, the leading arm stays beneath the water at all times. This puts less strain on the wrist because it never breaks the surface tension. During the power phase of the sidestroke, the lead arm pulls water like a lever. It is extended directly in front of the body, palm facing downward. The elbow is bent and the arm sweeps downward and then back toward the upper chest. During the recovery phase of the sidestroke, the lead hand comes up near the face and thrusts forward to full extension once again.
Motion of the Trailing Arm
The arm that is positioned closest to the surface of the water is called the trailing arm. It is extended along the length of the body with your palm pointing toward the feet. During the sidestroke, the trailing arm recovers while the lead arm strokes and vice versa. During the recovery phase, the trailing arm retracts up to the shoulder level. If you are experiencing wrist pain, the trailing arm does not have to leave the surface of the water. During the power phase, the wrist presses downward and back toward the feet, creating the main lift force of the stroke.
Kicking and Gliding
The sidestroke puts less strain on the wrist because most of your propulsion comes from kicking and gliding. Your body is positioned parallel to the water's surface and the legs scissor kick in a gliding fashion. The knees stay close together and the toes are pointed. The bottom leg comes up near the buttocks and the top leg bends toward the abdomen. Then, the legs flex together to create the gliding propulsion of the sidestroke.
Physics of the Sidestroke
Swimming propels your body through the water by a combination of movements, involving both the arms and legs. The legs kick forward and the arms pull the body in a coordinated movement. During the sidestroke, the hands are primarily used for lift rather than propulsion. This is contrary to most of the other swimming strokes, where the action of the arms and hands create the lion's share of propulsion force. The sidestroke eases the work load of the wrist and hands through the hydrodynamic principle of form drag. The sidestroke reduces the amount of water resistance because only a small portion of the body leaves the water's surface. This allows the motion of the legs to do most of the propulsion while the arms and hands focus on creating lift.
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