I have been on a kicking tangent over the past few weeks or so, all thanks to YourSwimBook newsletter reader Matty R. who asked a simple question that sent me down the rabbit hole of kick—“how do I improve my flutter kick?”
Outside of posting some of my own favorite kick sets, and posting a series of submitted kick sets from Canadian 2012 National Coach of the Year, Sean Baker, and writing up a hilariously thorough guide to improving your underwater dolphin kick, I have also been playing around with new kick sets on my way to working towards a :30 sec 50m kick.
Whether it is doing vertical kick, incorporating swim fins, doing single leg kicking, or using my kickboard like a snowplow, there are a heap of different ways incorporate freestyle kick drills to strengthen up your legs and hips.
A Strong Kick = Faster Swimming
The point of doing all the leg-specific work isn’t solely to develop a strong kick for the benefit of having a strong kick; but to improve your overall swimming speed.
Improving your kick should fit in the overall plan to becoming a faster swimmer.
For many swimmers the legs are just two pieces of driftwood that trail their over-worked upper body and arms, and whether it is because they feel they are forever destined to have a mediocre kick, or whether they avoid it because they don’t like not being good at something, these swimmers are missing out on a powerful range of benefits that a good kick provides.
1. A strong kick gives you better body positioning (a.k.a. less drag).
When your kick slows, all too often our hips drop, leaving our shoulders to take the full brunt of the workload with the added drag of your legs and feet angling towards the bottom of the pool.
Fast swimmers recognize that a consistent, powerful kick keeps their body flat along the surface of the water, while also minimizing the additional drag that can be crushing to a swimmer’s propulsion.
This is especially in the case of sprint freestylers, who aim to skip and hydroplane across the top of the water. Having a devastating kick is necessary to keep the shoulders up out of the water and attacking and rolling forward.
2. A strong kick provides propulsion.
One reason swimmers avoid doing kick-centric work is that the propulsion that comes from kicking isn’t as intuitive as the results you get from pulling.
When you try to pull harder you can see and feel the effects quite literally in front of your face. With kicking on the other hand the increase in velocity isn’t quite as noticeable as all the action is happening behind you.
But the reality is plain as day:
You look at any elite swimmer, they have absolute powerhouse legs.
Michael Phelps could box squat 300 pounds for 20 reps. Ryan Lochte can underwater dolphin kick a long 50m in 23.49 seconds. Alexander Popov, probably the greatest sprint freestyler in history, could kick 50m with a kickboard in 27 seconds. Long course.
3. A strong kick keeps your stroke together.
You know the feeling well, whether it happened in a race, or more frequently in practice:
You’ll be blasting along, and inevitably you feel the effects of the effort, with your legs slowing from a 6-beat motor to a 2 beat stutter kick.
Perhaps what is most noticeable is how quickly your stroke falls apart at this stage.
Your entry gets sloppy, your hands start to slip during the catch and pull, and your legs feel like they are suddenly kicking through air. As your stroke falls apart, forward propulsion plummets.
Having very fit and strong legs can help delay this inevitable collapse, and help you keep your stroke together long enough to power you to the wall with speed.
What will you do to incorporate focused kick work at practice today?