Tom Shields and his underwater dolphin kick were dominant over the course of his NCAA career. The yards format heavily favoured the explosive dolphin kicker from Cal-Berkeley, powering him to multiple individual titles in the 100 fly, 100 back, 200 fly, and several relay first place finishes.
He has extended his prowess to the short course metres pool as well, being the fastest American ever in the 50 and 100-metres butterfly. More recently, however, Shields has made the jump to the long course pool, winning the 200m butterfly at the 2014 US Nationals in a time of 1:55.09. The time so far has made him the 3rd fastest man in the world for the event this year, half a second behind 2012 London Olympic gold medalist Chad Le Clos of South Africa.
During an interview with the MSS Shields’ shared some of the “secrets” for what had led him to developing such a standout dolphin kick. Shields’ admitted that it was largely as a result of making the underwater work habitual. It wasn’t necessarily a secret technical tip, or some secret dryland exercise, it was that he had made his underwater work part of his daily swimming.
The secret to Shields’ massive underwater dolphin kick was simply this: Time spent.
From an early age Shields had been dolphin kicks while he was out body-boarding on the shores of Florida and Southern California. More recently, he had watched video of himself underwater so that he could adjust the technical aspects, while also seeking out to improve core flexibility.
Shields’ advice for those who want to improve their own dolphin kick is to make underwaters part of the practice, starting with the warm-up:
I’ve been doing the same warm-up…every day of my life. For warm-up we’ll do 400, 4×100, and 4×50…I’ll do open turns and do 15 [underwater] easy and slow…That’s the secret right there, just doing it in warm up.
He recognizes that there isn’t a secret bullet, a secret exercise or tip that will instantly give you a powerful kick. It’s boring, routine, and exactly why most people will never do it.
How to Make Your Dolphin Kicks Part of Your Daily Swimming
Start small. Depending on where you currently are at, doing 15 yards or metres of underwater kicks off of every single wall isn’t feasible. Start with 5, 7, or even 10 yards or metres.
Alternate 25’s. Another way to ease into the hypoxic demand that extended underwaters require is to do 15y/m underwater off every second, or even third or fourth wall. As you acclimatize, increase the frequency.
Incorporate it into your speed work. As you progress, start incorporating the underwaters into your main sets. This is where the dividends will really start to pay off, as you perform the kicks at as close to race-pace velocity as possible.
Shields’ Underwaters At Work
Here is video of Shields’ 200 butterfly win at the 2013 NCAA Div 1 Championships, where he takes the lead off the start with his underwater dolphin kicks and never relinquishes the lead. In this race, Shields would tie Michael Phelps’ American record of 1:39.65.
The Next Step
Want to take your dolphin kick to the next level?
I put together a comprehensive 3,000+ word guide on improving your underwater dolphin kick. From flexibility, to strength training, to technique (and even some bonus sets), you will learn everything you need to know about how to dolphin kick like a boss.
Click on the image below and enter your email address to get instant access to the guide, sets, and a faster underwater dolphin kick!