How to reduce excessive kicking when swimming

Feel like you're kicking too much and suffering because of it? Here's how to reduce the amount of kicking in your swim

Credit: Erik Isakson/Getty Images

A strong kick can be a powerful tool for a faster freestyle over short distances, especially when you can use this weapon at your disposal. However, while you want to be able to use a strong kick, you don’t need to use a strong kick.

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Unfortunately, many triathletes fall into the latter category as they feel like they need to constantly kick throughout their freestyle. This is problematic as your legs use a lot of energy relative to the speed they produce. Furthermore, as you definitely need your legs for the bike and the run, you want to keep the legs as fresh as possible during the swim.

What causes excessive kicking in the swim?

Excessive and constant kicking is a symptom of poor balance and stability in the water. You feel like you’re hips and feet are sinking, and as a result, you kick to keep the hips and feet up in the water.

Sinking legs are a threat to your survival. Your brain knows that if the hips start to sink, the head could start to sink, and if the head sinks, you’re going to be in a whole lot of trouble.

As a result, you’ll do whatever you need to do to keep the hips up. Unless you’re skilled at managing your position in the water, kicking is the default strategy for doing so.

How can you reduce excessive kicking in the swim?

To put an end to your excessive kicking, you need to learn to use your lungs. As long as they have air in them, your lungs will cause your body to remain at the surface of the water. If you can learn to leverage them, you can use their support to keep the hips up. Try these two exercises to learn how to do exactly that.

Ball Float

In shallow water, get into a tight ball, as if you were trying to perform a cannonball (see an example here). Then just hang out and feel the water support you. You’ll feel your lungs hold you up at the surface.

If you have a partner, they can bounce you like a basketball, and you’ll really feel the lungs supporting you. With that sensation in mind, all you have to do is ‘lean’ into that support when you swim, and you’ll find you will feel a lot lighter.

Elevator Swim

Once you’ve learned to feel the support your lungs can provide you, it’s time to learn how to leverage that support to improve your position in the water.

To perform the exercise (watch it here), you’ll start swimming freestyle with your head and chest really high, then gradually lower them by pressing into the water, ultimately to the point where they’re completely submerged. Over the course of the progression, you’ll find that the hips pop right up to the surface. That’s the body position you want to use.

Everyone has different limb length, bone densities, body fat distribution, muscle sizes, lung size, etc. As a result, we all have slightly different natural positions in the water, and we’ll have to use different strategies to maintain position in the water. The key is to find the solution that works best for you. Use these two tools to figure it out!

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Image credit: Erik Isakson/Getty Images