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The simple trick that will transform your swim kick

Developing an efficient kick will help improve body position and increase speed, but many swimmers approach it wrong. Andrew Sheaff has the solution…

While it seems like it should be one of the simpler skills to learn in swimming, improving the kick can prove to be quite the challenge for many triathletes. 

While most of the speed and propulsion comes from the upper body in freestyle swimming, the legs can be important in assisting body position and well as creating some extra propulsion. 

For these reasons, developing an efficient and effective kick is well worth the effort.

One of the main reasons that many triathletes struggle with improving their kick is that they’re trying to accomplish the wrong goal with their kick. They believe that ‘kicking’ implies just that, trying to ‘kick’ the water as if they were to kick a ball. 

While there is some resemblance between the two movements, there are some major differences. This can lead triathletes to focus on moving the leg back and forth from the knee, rather than moving from both the hip and the knee. 

To kick effectively, it’s important to learn to move the whole leg in a coordinated manner. And if you’ve been committed to using your kickboard without success, you may benefit from a different approach to learn this important skill.

Start kicking vertically

A powerful and effective way to help improve your kick is to start kicking vertically rather than horizontally. Instead of kicking down the pool, find some deeper water and start kicking to stay afloat. 

This simple shift can be a powerful strategy for improving your kicking because it allows you to gain a fresh perspective on how to kick. 

Now, you’re going to be focused on kicking effectively to keep your head out of the water, which is quite different than trying to create speed.

Rather than getting frustrated by a lack of forward progress while kicking, vertical kicking allows you to focus on how you’re getting, while still getting a great workout for the legs. 

If you just kick from the knees during vertical kicking, it tends to feel very awkward, and this awkwardness encourages triathletes to use a straighter kick where there is more movement from the hip.

Kicking with more hip motion is the skill that you want to try to develop. It will feel like your legs are very straight, which means that there is more movement from the hip and less movement is coming from the knees. 

While it feels weird, it’s exactly what you want if your goal is to improve you kick. 

And because you’re not focused on moving forward, but simple staying afloat, you can continue to work on this skill without the frustration of a lack of forward progress. 

Your kick is going to feel different, and that usually means learning is taking place, which means a strong and faster kick in the near future.

Top image credit: Remy Whiting

Profile image of Andrew Sheaff Andrew Sheaff Swim coach


Andrew Sheaff has been helping people improve their swimming for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from children learning to swim to Olympic medalists to masters triathletes and swimmers. He specialises in helping triathletes improve their swimming skills through online coaching. He is also the author of 'A Constraints-Led Approach to Swim Coaching'. For more information about improving your swimming and to work with Andrew, please visit www.masteringflow.info or www.youtube.com/@masteringflow.