Why It’s Important To Conquer The Swim Kick

Gary Hall Sr. explains why he believes focusing on the legs is one of the best ways to improve as a swimmer.

If there is one skill that most differentiates the fast swimmers from the not-so-fast swimmers, it would be the strength of the kick. As a triathlete, one of the biggest dilemmas, given the limited amount of swim training time you have, is how much time and effort you should spend trying to improve your kick. I believe focusing on the legs is one of the best ways to improve as a swimmer.

The kick plays a huge role in overall speed because it provides four important functions:

1. Depending on the strength and fitness level of the legs and the ankle flexibility, it creates propulsion.

2. Because the kick is not symmetrical, it creates lift—the downward phase of the kick is more powerful than the upward.

3. Since the most powerful of the down kicks coincides with the end of the underwater pull, it helps stabilize the counter-rotation of the body.

4. In a six-beat kick, there is virtually no recovery time, generating a steadier propulsive force. (Only use a two-beat kick if you do not choose to focus on your legs to improve your swim time.)

Note: Even though a wetsuit handles one of the primary functions (creating lift) during a triathlon, a good kicker can still benefit from the other three functions.

RELATED: Refine Your Swim Kick

Throughout the season, we will dedicate two full workouts a week entirely to the legs. Some consider them very challenging (or borderline torture), but we have created some unique ways to work the kick in both directions and sustain the motion. The best kickers utilize both the down and the up kicks to sustain propulsion at all times—never “letting go” of the water.

The good news about kicking is that if you don’t have good flexibility in your ankles, you can develop it very quickly (within weeks) and increase your propulsion without swimming harder. Start with simple exercises like kneeling on the tops of your feet for two minutes at a time. The anterior ligaments and tendons of the ankle are some of the most stretchable in the human body.

The best way to kick is with the Finis alignment board and the Finis Snorkel. When used together, you are not only working your legs in the correct body position (straight), but you are also simultaneously working on streamlining and proper head position (down). I also recommend that you limit your fin kicking in freestyle to no more than 35 percent of your total kick volume.

By doing dry-land stretches and focusing more on your legs in training, your swim will get faster. Having your legs in better kicking shape will not only help your swim time, but will give you more confidence to finish the bike and run faster.

Click the links below for video demonstrations of dry-land sets to improve your kick:

This is the fourth article in Gary Hall Sr.’s “Swim Speed Series.” See the first three articles linked below:
Swim Speed Series: Keep Your Head Down
Swim Speed Series: Body Rotation
Swim Speed Series: High-Elbow Pull

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