My most recent training session was all about the kick. Our coach said that she wanted us to leave feeling like we couldn’t walk! With so much focus on arms, why is the kick important? What does it do, and how can we improve it?
I’ve got an awesome kick. I often say I’m a rear-wheel drive, or power from behind when on kicking drills I overtake people who are normally faster than me. The problem is, in freestyle, 90% of the propulsion comes from the arms, so that’s what I’ve been focussing on lately.
Until I trained to teach swimming, I assumed that my powerful kick came from having big quad muscles. But actually, when you kick from the hip anyway, it’s the fact that my ankles hyper-extend and my feet naturally in-toe that gives me the advantage: as one of my co swimmers says, my feet are actually flippers.
Swimming in fins helps you extend your ankles so they’re in line with your shins. Try it now. Point your toes so that the line of your shins continues across the front of your feet. If you have poor ankle flexibility, your toes will hang down when you swim and create drag. Mine are as flexible as Olympic medallist Cassandra Patten’s!
The other important benefit of a good kick is body position. Athletic people, especially men, often suffer from sinking legs. Why? Because while fat and less dense bones help you float, muscle and dense bones are not buoyant. A strong kick can help you keep a nice, high position in the water.
Varying the speed of your kick in session is good practice for mastering the 6-kick per stroke flutter kick, or the slower 2-kick per stroke. Your kick should always come from the hip, not the knees so that you don’t add drag and do use your stronger glute muscles.
Your kick also needs to stay relaxed. Ideally, your feet should almost flick up and down at the end of your legs, as your legs stay relaxed and your bottom does the hard work. This is exactly the action your legs will have when your wear fins.
A session on legs, wearing fins, will also give you a cardio-vascular boost because you have much more resistance. I also found that speeding up my kick while simultaneously slowing down my arms was a great hypoxic work out because you go longer between each breath. You could try breathing more frequently if you needed to.
Ultimately, if you’re racing, you’re going to want to make every part of your stroke count, and that includes your kick. Whether you race or you’re an endurance swimmer, you’re also going to want to make your body streamline and as drag-free as possible. So mastering a decent, effective kick is a must.
You can add simple kicking drills and fins to your normal set. In fact, it’s best not to become over-reliant on fins. You can also practice stretches to increase your ankle flexibility.
Legs set (You will need swim fins* and a kick board)
5 x 15om swim, 150m kick without fins
4 x 50m kick with fins on 1 minute (swim 50m, rest for however much of the minute you have left) +30 secs rest then repeat x 4
6 x 25m hard kick with fins – push your legs down so you don’t splash and feel the burn!
4 x 100m hard kick with slow arms
200m swim, no fins.