How to Spice Up Your Swim Practices with More Dolphin Kicking

How to Spice Up Your Swim Practices with More Dolphin Kicking

There is no getting around it: if you want to become a more prolific dolphin kicker, you need to be doing more dolphin kicking in practice. Here’s how.

When it comes to improvement in the water, whether it’s a faster pull, a better breakout, or in today’s case, leveling up our dolphin kicking, we tend to gravitate towards the more complicated and difficult answers.

Almost daily I get emails and questions from swimmers who want to improve their underwater dolphin kick, and say they are willing to do what it takes to get better at it, but who aren’t putting in the reps in the water.

They want to know what the best dryland exercise is for developing a strong fly kick. Or hear about the best stretches to improve ankle flexibility.

I get the appeal—for most swimmers who struggley struggle with their underwaters working on it doesn’t sound fun.

See Also: 40 Ultimate Swim Workouts for Competitive Swimmers

After all, no one enjoys doing something they aren’t naturally good at. But again, the main avenue for improvement isn’t a magic dryland exercise, it’s the ugly business of showing up each day at practice and doing more fly kick.

It’s really that simple.

Showing up…and putting in the reps.

Here are two easy ways that you can add more of it to your swim workouts without having to spend an extra minute in the pool.

1. Add high tempo vertical kicking to your warm-up.

There is one big problem with the way that most swimmers train their dolphin kicks: the tempo with which they kick is way…too…slow.

You’ll see it off the walls, the big, lazy kicks that don’t reflect the way we kick when we are racing.

An easy way to get more race pace tempo kicking into your workouts without completely gassing you is to add some vertical kicking to your warm-up.

So, for instance, if you perform a standard 5-4-3-2-1 warm-up in practice, you could do something like this:

  • 500 swim – 3x [:15 sec on, :15 off vert fly kick build to race tempo]
  • 400 kick – 3x [:15 sec on, :15 off vert fly kick build to race tempo]
  • 300 pull – 3x [:15 sec on, :15 off vert fly kick @ race tempo]
  • 200 drill – 3x [:15 sec on, :15 off vert fly kick @ race tempo]
  • 100 scull — 3x [:15 sec on, :15 off vert fly kick @ race tempo]

I love doing this even with my own swimming because by the time my warm-up is over my walls and underwaters are ready to rock and roll.

(For more info on what “race pace kick tempo” is read this post.)

The main benefit of doing this:

You kick at race tempo much more often. Think about it—how many of your underwaters are performed at 100% race speed or tempo over the course of your swim practice?

Very few, and they might come later in the main set, when you are out of breath and more likely to only do a couple dolphin kicks off the wall instead of your usual 4-7.

Vertical kicking gives you the breathing freedom to pound out fast kicking, while also helping you balance out your kick (vertical kicking forces you to work the downkick as well as the upkick).

2. Dolphin kick off the wall when doing your kick sets.

I love my big ugly Tombstone kickboard. I understand that this makes me a bit of an anomaly nowadays in the competitive swimming landscape, with the transition to kicking with a swimmer’s snorkel and with alignment boards and all the rest.

But I’m not giving it up.

Every day when I go to the pool I try to do at least 1,500m of freestyle kicking while strapped to the board, and recently I stumbled upon a decent way to improve not only my dolphin kicking, but also improve breath control off the wall.

It’s simple. Too simple, almost.

Here goes: Each time you push off the wall, hold your breath, and perform a target number of dolphin kicks before breaking into your normal freestyle kick.

Let’s say that your goal is to be able to do 7 dolphin kicks off the wall during your regular swimming.

This means that while strapped to a kickboard you would kick into the wall, take a breath, push off, do 7 dolphin kicks, break into your freestyle kicking and then take a breath.

Do this off each wall over the course of kicking a few thousand meters or yards per day (assuming you are doing doubles), and your fly kick and breath control get a nice 1-2 pummeling.

The Takeaway

We all want to swim faster, better, and 9% more efficiently. But very few people are willing to put in the daily work necessary to make it happen.

If you want a better dolphin kick start by doing more of it.

The more you do it, the better your foot’s feel for the water will be, the better kicking shape your legs will be, and believe it or not, the looser and more flexible your ankles will become.

With these two simple tips for increasing your overall dolphin kick yardage and dramatically increasing your race tempo fly kick work, you will be will on your way.

Kick on!

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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