Two Things a Fast Kicker Does

How to Increase the Speed of Your Freestyle and Dolphin Kick

Part III: Two Important Nuances of a Great Kicker

I want to bring your attention to two common, but not widely recognized, problems of the kicking motion that adversely affect kicking speed. Neither is related to propulsion, but both are related to frontal drag.  

  • Slow transition time from down kick to up kick
  • Drawing the legs forward on the up kick too aggressively

 

In freestyle, after the down kick, a swimmer will often relax the foot before initiating the next up kick. By relaxing the foot, it will hang down toward the bottom and cause as much as a 40% increase in frontal drag. In swimming, within hundredths of a second, a swimmer can change from quick acceleration to dramatic deceleration because of an adverse body position, like the hanging foot. A fast kicker transitions from their down kick to up kick quickly, avoiding the hanging foot. 

Most of the propulsion that occurs from the foot in either the down or up kick occurs very early in the motion. After the initial snap of the foot backward on the down kick, most of the propulsion is over. The motion of the foot from that point is downward and then forward, providing lift, but little or no propulsion. Similarly, the propulsion that occurs during the up kick occurs at the beginning of the motion, as the foot first enters the stream of the vortex.

During the up kick, a fast kicker should bend the knee to around 60 degrees or less to limit frontal drag. If the swimmer draws the foot up and forward too aggressively during this motion, he causes more frontal drag resulting in more deceleration. Therefore, the motion of the foot needs to be very fast at the beginning of the up kick, with short transition time between down and up kick, but not too fast on the up kick once the propulsive phase is over.

Think of your kick in the same way that I operate my boat in the Florida Keys when trying to get it up on a plane. I pop the throttle all the way down, then back off the throttle as the boat comes up. While kicking, pop the throttle at the beginning of the down and up kick, but then back off the throttle after the initial snap down or up. If you keep the throttle down too long, in either direction, you actually decelerate faster.

Sound complicated? Well, it is and that is why we don’t see that many really fast kickers. To do so requires great plantar flexibility, great strength of core and legs, fitness and the knowledge and experience of when and how to move the feet and legs.

A fast kick is the way to a fast swim…so that is why at The Race Club, we focus on developing a lot on kicking speed and propulsion, like in this video. 

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read Part I: Getting the Motion Right

Read Part II: The Importance of the Up Kick

Read Part IV: Five Ways to Kick Faster in the Pool

14 Responses to Two Things a Fast Kicker Does

  1. Pingback: Kick Faster in Freestyle and Dolphin Kick - The Race Club | The Race Club

  2. Pingback: Increase the Speed of Your Freestyle and Dolphin Kick - The Race Club | The Race Club

  3. Joan Craffey

    Thanks Gary, I am still working on this and understanding how much force and when. from the Fl clinic that I took with you, I have strengthened my kicks by dropping a few seconds. I still need to know : Is it better to have a short light kick( 8 beats) or 6 beat for distances 200 and over. I am still experimenting with this because of my extreme buoyancy where my feet pop out of the water too much. What do you suggest. Thanks. USMS swimmer Joan Craffey

     
    • garyhallsr

      KIcks are either two beat or six beat..with some variations of them. I would try to use the six beat for all distances, keeping in mind that the longer the swim, the softer the kicks need to be. No one can sustain an all-out 6 beat kick for more than about 200 meters.

       
  4. garyhallsr

    Hi Joan,

    KIcks are either two beat or six beat..with some variations of them. I would try to use the six beat for all distances, keeping in mind that the longer the swim, the softer the kicks need to be. No one can sustain an all-out 6 beat kick for more than about 200 meters.

     
  5. David Madison

    Hi Gary, Can you clarify 60 degree angle on kick…I am confused about whether this is 60 degrees of bend and if so where that is measured, or 60 degrees from a horizontal position, etc.

    Hoping to get to another camp this coming spring!

     
    • garyhallsr

      If the leg is straight, we would consider that zero degree knee bend. The knee can flex (bend) up to around 60 degrees without incurring a great penalty from frontal drag forces. Beyond that, the increase in drag force outweighs any additional propulsion that might be attained from the additional bend. If one were measuring from the upper leg, the 60 degrees would be 120 degrees, and any angle at the knee of less than 120 would be disadvantageous. Hope this helps.

       
  6. garyhallsr

    If the leg is straight, we would consider that zero degree knee bend. The knee can flex (bend) up to around 60 degrees without incurring a great penalty from frontal drag forces. Beyond that, the increase in drag force outweighs any additional propulsion that might be attained from the additional bend. If one were measuring from the upper leg, the 60 degrees would be 120 degrees, and any angle at the knee of less than 120 would be disadvantageous. Hope this helps.

     
  7. Oliver K

    Dear Gary,

    is it correct to say, that at the beginning of the down-kick as well as at the beginning of the up-kick the movement should be explosive, and tail off then? And at he beginning of the up-kick, we keep holding the foot pointed, while at the beginning of the up-kick, we just relax?

     
    • garyhallsr

      The beginning of both the up and down kick should be a snap like motion. One cannot relax the foot at the end of the down kick (nor at the end of the breaststroke kick) because it will hang downward and cause a lot of frontal drag. We relax the ankle at the beginning of the snap down kick because the force of the water will cause maximum plantar flexion. The more the ankle can plantar flex, the more surface area we have pushing backward. In breaststroke, the more the hip can externally rotate on the kick, the greater the surface area of the instep pushing backward.

       
  8. Jim Kwan

    Gary,

    Thanks so much for the articles.

    In my freestyle, my kick seems to have a pause when my right hand enters and my left foot hits a down kick. I maintain a six beat kick, always emphasizing the opposite leg down kick to arm entry, yet there is a lag in my kick every time I hit my left down kick, causing my kick to virtually stop for a split second every cycle.

    Have you ever seen or hear if a case like this before and if so how did you/ would you fix the issue?

     
    • Sam Carroll

      Would single-leg kicking help identify gaps/stopping in the kick?

      I put a zoomer on one foot and let that foot float, while I kick with the other leg/foot. You’ll notice any pauses because you’ll slow down or start to sink as much as you can with zoomers. Single-leg kicking forces you to move your foot faster otherwise you slow down. I suppose you could try to single-leg kick without a zoomer on the other foot. Then you would have to force the working leg/foot to work a lot harder to keep balance. The goal of the drill would be to eliminate stopping or pausing during the kick. For some reason, the single-leg kicking helps to identify those gaps more easily than some other drills. Hope this helps. Perhaps Mr. Hall can better articulate what’s going on.

       
    • garyhallsr

      JIm,

      Nearly everyone (on events longer than 200 meters) will soften the two down kicks after the harder surge kick. Some do so to the point where the other two kicks are almost non-existent, at which time it really becomes a two beat kick.
      I like Sam’s idea to try to rectify this. I also would suggest doing 50’s, kicking the first 25 fast with a steady kick, arms in front with a streamline, then swimming the second 25 while trying to maintain the same intensity of kick as the first 25. Hopefully, you will learn to sustain the kick for all six down kicks per stroke cycle.
      Hope this helps.

       
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