It is no surprise that most triathletes and amateur swimmers get next to no propulsion from their kick. Elite freestyle swimmers who have world class kicks only get a small propulsion from kicking. (10-15%) So why work on your kick at all? The reason is there is more to kicking than propulsion. You still need an effective kick. To achieve that you must work on your technique. Here are the reasons.
- Your kick should lift your legs up to give you a good body position.
- Kicking reduces drag, which burns up your energy.
- Your kick timing will drive your rotation, not hinder it.
- Your kick should be a low effort, so you do not burn energy.
Here are 4 techniques to improve your kick, it won’t be easy, and you will have to practice.
KICK FROM THE HIP
Many swimmers I see bend their knees too much while kicking. “Kicking the dog as I call it”. This creates a lot of drag and contributes to the swimmer’s legs sinking in the water. Instead try kicking from the hip, with a slight knee drop. Triathletes have a problem here. Most of the time they try to cycle or run to kick. They are used to using power from the knee and carry this habit over to the pool. From the moment you bend your knee too much while swimming, your thigh becomes a blunt object to the water, and you push the water against the flow. A good kicking technique has you bending your knee a little on the down stroke, but is not a driven movement, instead a slight movement from a relaxed knee.
Here’s a tip: It is best not to think of bending your knee at all, instead think about kicking from the hip with a slightly bent leg, and the knee bend will happen naturally.
PLANTER FLEXED FEET (POINTING YOUR TOES)
Planter flexion is a fancy way to say, “point your toes”. We are so used to having our feet flat on the ground, when we get into the pool our toes point to the bottom. When swimming you should always have your toes pointed, this presents a lower profile to the water. Toes pointed to the bottom will push the water forwards while you kick, thus slowing you down.
It is not new news that many triathletes have poor ankle flexibility. In a perfect world you want to be an able to flex your feet beyond straight. Since triathletes spend most of their time running and cycling, stiff ankles are not uncommon. This hurts their kicking technique, slows them down, and in turn they get frustrated, and don’t practice. Improving your ankle flexibility, a little, so you can point your foot straight is possible. It will reduce drag and you will slip through the water faster.
Timing while kicking is not something you normally think about. There is a variety of kicking speeds for swimmers, 2, 4, or 6 beats. A few key things to timing while kicking. When the hand enters the water at the apex of the stroke the opposite leg should kick. In a 2-beat kick this is the only kick, in 4 and 6 beats there are other kicks in between but the kick on opposite hand entry is the important one for timing. Your body rotation is directly affected if your timing is wrong, sometimes even counteracting it. Most swimmers kick with the correct timing, unless there is a problem, try not to focus on it, instead focus on pointing your toes and kicking from the hip, which is more likely to be what is holding you back.
Once you get your kick down you can decide what kick to use. The 2-beat kick is 2 kicks for every cycle (a cycle is 2 arm strokes counting both arms) A slow kick used by distance swimmers and advanced triathletes. 6 – beat kick is 6 kicks per cycle. This is what we call a “flutter” kick. Power in this kick varies. A light kick for distance swimming and an increased kick for sprinting. The 4-beat kick is the “hybrid”. It tends to happen naturally for some swimmers. So which kick should you use? For novice and intermediate swimmers, I suggest doing what ever comes naturally as long as you are kicking. Focus on kicking from your hip and pointing your toes. Don’t think about beats. For strong intermediate and advanced swimmers, you can experiment with different timing to see what suits you best.
Lastly avoid the DEADLY SCISSOR KICK! This kick is a very large opening of the legs, normally happening when the swimmer goes to breath. It is deadly because of the enormous amount of drag it causes. It is like having a parachute dragging behind you! Scissor kicking is usually due to your stroke technique, not being balanced in the water. Remember we are land mammals, it is not natural for us to move our feet and legs for balance. When in the water scissor kicking is a natural unconscious reaction, and most of the time swimmers do not even know they are doing it. When a swimmer has an overly long and slow stroke rate there is a long time between each stroke, consequently making it hard to balance. This imbalance causes the scissor kick. If this is happening to you, try picking up your stroke rate and you might see improvement. Spend some time thinking about your kick the next time you are in the pool!
Enjoy your “perfect prapractice”