How much should you kick in front crawl?

Tri coach John Wood explains how much triathletes should kick in the swim so they maximise their performance, without tiring their legs for the next two disciplines


Now many of you don’t kick on the swim to save your legs for the bike and run? But, we say, as your legs provide power, balance and control to your stroke, a leg kick shouldn’t be neglected. 


Do leg-kick swim drills matter to triathletes?

Another benefit of a strong leg kick is that it can help with stroke rhythm. Some will find moving the arms quicker is more comfortable; others will prefer a slower cadence. Your leg kick can help you achieve this rhythm, yet everyone is different and might even change for how fast or hard you want to swim.

Generally the different rhythms are a two-beat kick, four-beat kick, six-beat kick or, occasional in sprints, an eight-beat kick. This refers to the number of kicks for each stroke cycle.

It’s worth playing around with different rhythms to find out what works best for you. Some people will find that kicking their legs just a little quicker (not necessarily harder) actually feels easier for them. Equally, others will find that slowing down their kick, focussing on keeping their legs straight, toes pointed and dropping to a two-beat kick suits them more, and uses less oxygen.

Remember that what works for you won’t necessarily work for your friends and teammates. My preference has always been to kick quickly unless I’m swimming very easy. Even as a 1,500m racer I used to six-beat kick; it just played to my strengths. Now as a triathlete I’ll eight-beat kick, (very fast) to get away at the start or to go
around buoys, before settling into my stroke.

The session below is a great off-season set, working aerobically at a low-medium intensity but giving you the opportunity to mix up your rhythm and see what works for you.

400m as: 25m front crawl (FC), 25m backstroke, 25m kick, 25m FC
6 x 50m with fins, streamlined or side kicks with 15secs rest between reps (RI)

Main session
8 x 50m FC with two-beat kick to each stroke cycle, 15secs RI
2 x 100m easy FC, 10secs RI
8 x 50m FC with four-beat kick to each stroke cycle, 15secs RI
2 x 100m easy FC, 10secs RI
8 x 50m FC with six-beat kick to each stroke cycle, 15secs RI
2 x 100m easy FC, 10secs RI


200m choice swim down, mixed strokes (at least 50m non-FC)

Adapt for beginners

Reduce the number of 50m sets, and shorten the 100m sets to 50m or 75m. You could also use fins

Adapt for advanced


If you’re an experienced or a more long-distance based athlete, you could lengthen the 100m sets to 200m or do more of them between the sets of 50m.

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