Learning to improve your swimming kick is so very important for triathletes. Triathletes need to focus on conserving energy in swimming even more than pure swimmers. After our swim, we still have 2 more gruelling legs to complete before we can stop (and two rather stressful transitions!).
Efficiency rules the day in the swim leg. Many beginner and intermediate swimmers have a kick that slows them down instead of contributing to forward propulsion.
Swimming is extremely technical. Many triathletes do not spend much time learning how to swim and hope to just “get round” then make up time on the bike and run. The problem is most burn up a lot of their energy completing the swim as they have not learned to streamline, glide or kick. The aim is to glide through the water effortlessly and a big part of this is learning to improve your swimming kick!
Many triathletes ignore swim kicking altogether in the misguided hope that they are “saving their legs” for the bike and the run. Yes it is true that the arms produce most of the forward momentum and it is important to get this right. Here are the best swimming tools I use at the moment to help my stroke technique and my position in the water.
But a poor swim kick will almost put the brakes on your forward momentum and give you a poor body position in the water.
This will make you fatigue quicker, and drain your energy for the bike and run.
What is the quickest, easiest way to improve your swimming kick without wasting energy?
Train smarter not harder.
Here are my top 4 ways to easily develop an effective kick:
1) Reduce drag
If you want to be a good swimmer and improve your swimming kick, you must first reduce drag. Many triathletes have stiff ankles through years of running and no stretching. If your ankles are flexed, tight and do not bend much, you are putting the brakes on your forward momentum and dragging an anchor behind you. You must be able to point your toes as you swim(plantar flexion).
There are two exercises to do to improve your plantar flexion:
A) Sit on the floor with your knees bent under you on your ankles for 1 minute a day and stretch them out. This may take a few weeks to a few months- keep doing it!
If you have poor ankle mobility, you wont need a block- just sit on your ankles on the floor. Gary Hall Snr ( 3 time Olympic medallist) also talks about improve plantar flexion as a critical component to getting a more effective kick.
B) Train with swimming fins once or twice a week to also stretch out your ankles. This acts a weight on the ankle and will also help them to gradually move better.
2) Kick from the hip
Triathletes generally have strong quadriceps from cycling, so they instinctively tend to kick from the knee. This is really poor economy and will send your heart rate through the roof! This will fatigue your legs before you even jump on the bike!
Kicking from the knee also creates drag.
Instead keep your knees reasonably straight, relaxed and kick from the hip. Think about keeping your butt tight as you kick. The knee will have a natural slight bend in it- this is fine. Use the gluteals ( butt muscles) for your power-not the knee!
Check out this video of Olympic 1500m swimmers
Notice how relaxed the legs are, there is a natural bend at the knee, but they are not kicking from the knee. Their toes are pointed and relaxed. Effortless!
3) Keep your legs together
Be careful not to allow your legs to come apart as you rotate to breathe. This scissor kick action will slow you down. Remember – to reduce drag, you need to reduce surface area. Keep your legs streamlined and together. Keeping your legs together when you kick will help maintain a good body position and making breathing easier.
4) 2 beat or 6 beat kick?
Keep this very simple. Most swimmers naturally use the 6 beat kick. If you are a beginner, just do what comes naturally and focus on the other steps above. If you are an advanced swimmer you can play around with the different type of kicks.
A 6 beat kick is 6 kicks for each cycle (a cycle is one set of left and right arm entries).
A 2 beat kick is 2 kicks with each cycle.
Most beginners will find it impossible to do a 2 beat kick as they will feel like they are sinking. A 6 beat kick works well- so stick with this and just focus on the points above and working on your “feel” of the water, body position and your glide.
If you are an advanced swimmer, the 2 beat kick can be useful to conserve energy for long stretches of swimming. Many long distance swimmers use this.
But they have the 6 beat kick in reserve to help them drive forward quickly when necessary.
For example at the beginning of a race to get away from the pack, in the middle of a race to catch up to a competitor and sit on their heels to conserve energy or to sprint to the finish line in a race.
This does NOT mean ignore the kick. It also does not mean that if you improve your swimming kick, you will improve your times by 10%. No! You will improve your times even more because in many cases, your kick is actually working against you! You may improve your times 10-15% just by stopping the “anchor” dragging behind you. Then with a bit more practice, you may get to your swim kick actually contributing to 10-15% forward propulsion! In other words, you may improve your times 20-30%.
This is hugely significant. Plus you gain the added bonus of energy conservation. This is worth paying attention to.
Many triathletes not only get NO forward propulsion from their kick, they get negative propulsion as their kick is actually slowing them down!
If you practice the kick and get good at it can be a powerful weapon for you. Imagine going faster than everyone else but using less energy than all of them!
Developing an effective swim kick is a powerful weapon in triathlon. Do not ignore it.
2 Important Swim Drills To Get An Insane Swimming Kick
1) Kicking off the wall
Push off the wall and kick as far as you can under water without taking a breath. Focus on kicking powerfully from the hips, pointing your toes and not too large a kick. Try this 7 times and try to improve your distance travelled each time.
2) Vertical kicking
This is a tough one but a great one. Olympic swimmers do this as part of their weekly training. Go to the deep end of the pool, clasp your hands above your head and start kicking to keep you afloat.
Wow- this is a tough one- a great workout in itself! Plus it will really improve your swim kick
Keep good technique to keep your head above water and keep going. Try 5 x 30 seconds.
If it is too difficult, start with your arms by your side and do 15 second intervals.
If it is too easy, lengthen the intervals to 1 minute and hold a weight above your head like a medicine ball or kettle bell.
Master Your Swimming Kick
You will get far more out of these drills than mindlessly kicking laps on a kick board (or ignoring your swimming kick completely!)
Really think about your technique and you will improve very quickly. The better your technique, the less effort will be required to get round the swim and the better you will cope with open water swimming.
Most people do not improve much because they do not think about how they are doing the activity; they just keep practicing the same poor technique.
So to improve your swimming kick- think about how you are kicking, do the drills and implement.
Once you have an effective and powerful kick, your swimming times, and the energy you conserve will improve dramatically!
Who knows- you may even start to enjoy swimming :)
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