week on the blog, new Swim Smooth team member and coach Annie
Oberlin-Harris gives you her tips on improving your kicking technique
for beginner and intermediate swimmers. Go Annie! :
been coaching all levels of swimmer from beginner to advanced swimmers
for many years and have seen all sorts of kicking technique along the
way: bendy knees, sinky legs, feet pointing downward, half
breaststroke kick (with freestyle arms!), the classic
overglider-kickstart and even a full whip kick! As you probably
appreciate, none of these are good!
For example the
swimmer below is bending a lot from the knee as he kicks. Notice how the
whole of the front of his thigh will be causing drag by pushing water
the wrong way (forwards):
you're learning to swim freestyle it's quite likely that you are
kicking ineffectively and this is making things much harder than they
need to be. By this I mean either bending your knees too much when you
kicking too hard or even dragging your legs low behind you making
staying streamlined virtually impossible.
There's no magic
to kickING efficiently, it is actually really easy when you know how!
Studies into Ian Thorpe’s leg kick showed that even he could only
generate about 10-15% propulsion from it (with super flexible size 17
feet!), the vast majority of his propulsion was from his upper body.
Pool sprint swimmers may wish to develop a strong leg kick but for the
majority of people doing triathlon or long distance and open water
swimming, you should be looking to minimise your energy expenditure from
your leg kick. You are just using it to keep your legs high to reduce
Here's three of my favourite exercises to try to improve your kick:
Lie on your front on the floor or poolside with your forehead down,
body straight with legs together. Now lift one of your legs up straight.
Look behind at what that leg is really doing - are you bending at the
knee? If you are then you need to learn to lift your leg up WITHOUT
bending your knee, so you can actually kick from
your hip. Use your lower back, glutes and hamstrings to pick that leg
up about 15cm / 6 inches off the ground, keeping your knee straight and
your toe pointed. Repeat a few times on each side, then have a go
alternating with a faster rhythm as you would in the water.
In the pool, hold the wall or steps with both hands and keep your arms
straight. Put your head in the water looking at the pool floor beneath
you and gently exhale. Lift your legs up so your body is fully
horizontal kicking lightly with your new straighter leg
technique. Think about trying to keep your legs within what I call
'the shadow of your body' - no deeper or wider than your torso behind
Turn your feet in like pigeon toes and brush your big
toes together lightly as they pass. Close your eyes and tune into what
you can feel - can you feel the surface of the water or bubbles with
your toes? It should feel very soft as you lightly break the surface
with your ankles (don't lift your whole foot clear of the water).
like this will remove the need to use lots of energy but keep your legs
high up to reduce drag. If you keep your core engaged and you are
kicking correctly from the hip you'll notice your body starts to roll
slightly with every kick, right up to your shoulders!
Perform a normal torpedo push off with your hands streamlined one on
top of the other, head underneath your arms and push off the wall, legs
straight and together, and toes pointed. Just at the point that your
momentum slows, start to lightly flutter kick. Tap your big toes
together as they pass, let your
ankles stay floppy and let the kick bring your legs up high. Perform
this drill without lifting your head to breathe if you can, if you lift
your head you will immediately feel more downward pressure on your legs.
moving down the pool, make your kick gentler and gentler until
eventually you feel a threshold and they start to sink. When you're
kicking with good technique you will be amazed at how gently you can
kick without sinking. This low level of kicking effort is what you
should be aiming for in your full freestyle stroke - if you are kicking
any harder you are burning a lot of energy and oxygen doing so which
will leave you really short of breath.
Push off again but
this time go into your full freestyle stroke, reproducing that gentle
kicking technique you just learnt. Remember nice straight legs, floppy
ankles, feet pointed inwards. Let your arms do the work instead and feel
down to the pool and use these new techniques to start kicking
effectively. You’ll be amazed how much easier swimming freestyle will
feel - let your arms do the work!
Post on the comments of this post and let me know how you got on!