How many dolphin kicks to take on starts and turns?


How many dolphin kicks to take on starts and turns?

We are often asked this question at The Race Club. The correct answer depends on your dolphin kick speed compared to your swimming speed for each stroke, the distance of the event and your aerobic capacity.

Too many coaches are demanding swimmers stay underwater and dolphin kick more than they likely should, based on their kicking speed. Below is a good guideline for coaches to use to determine the ideal numbers of dolphin kicks to take for each stroke on starts and turns. Remember that the swimming speed and the kicking speed are works in progress and need to be tested at least once each season.

Nomogram for determining numbers of dolphin kicks on freestyle start and turn

  • Kick 25 dolphin kick underwater all out in hyperstreamline position with accurate time
  • Swim 25 freestyle with no dolphin kicks off wall all out no breath with accurate time
  • Subtract the difference in times between these two events
Time difference kick/swim
# kicks on freestyle start
# kicks on freestyle turn
>5 seconds
        0 (use a few free kicks)
      0 (use a few free kicks)
2.0 – 5.0 seconds
3-4 dolphin kicks to breakout
     2 dolphin kicks to breakout
1.5 – 1.9 seconds
4 -5 dolphin kicks to breakout
     3– 4 dolphin kicks to breakout
1.0 – 1.4 seconds
5 – 6 dolphin kicks to breakout
      4 – 5 dolphin kicks to breakout
< 1.0 seconds
Kick to 15 meters
Stay down as long as aerobically capable up to 15 meters


For Freestyle events longer than 200 meters, 2 dolphin kicks are usually recommended off each turn.

For Butterfly, we recommend adding 1 more dolphin kick to the recommendations above.

For Backstroke, we recommend adding 2 more dolphin kicks to the recommendations above.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

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  1. I watched the podcast last night that compliments this aqua note. The VM studies were convincing. It seemed that 0.1 second improvement after each start or turn was about an average expectation if one were to change from long glide to immediate kicking. When I think of how hard I would have to work to gain 0.2 seconds in my 50 some other way, it seems obvious that adopting this technique change would be like nearly free speed!
    Tim D