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Kick should be an essential part of swim training whether or not you are training for Ironman. An efficient kick is central to your leverage system in swimming therefore if you neglect this important swimming fundamental it will leave a glaring gap in your swimming skills and most certainly affect your overall performance in the water.

Every time you take a stroke in the water logic dictates that you are attempting to produce as much forward movement as possible. To effectively achieve this aim of maximising the propulsion from each stroke we need to understand how our leverage system between the arms and legs works in the water.

When you look at a very accomplished swimmer the big thing that stands out is the GLIDE that that swimmer seems to effortlessly achieve with each and every stroke that he or she takes. This is that critical element allowing the swimmer to take full advantage of each stroke – they seem to glide on the lead-arm until their recovery-arm has almost caught completely up. That is, they are almost doing catchup drill (please check out – you can easily see this in frames 6 & 7). The aspect that baffles most of us is how to achieve this long glide and the answer lies partly with your kick and it's timing.

Every time we slide our hands in to the water to catch and then pull, your kicking action will produce one of two results, one being beneficial to your leverage system (therefore speed) and the other being detrimental to your speed and energy output -

RESULT 1 (beneficial to speed) - When your kick is TIMED properly with your stroking and is both fluent & relaxed, you will experience an increased amount of forward momentum. The method to achieve this is by doing some extremely slow swimming first as you experiment with this new concept. By swimming at a pace that feels incredibly slow, your awareness of what you are actually doing in the water shoots up and you will learn faster. Only when you feel you have a better grip on this timing should you speed it up.

What you need to feel is this - a strong burst of kick that begins at exactly the same point as each lead-arm begins to catch and pull. With this correct stroke-kick timing, each arm that pulls back through the water will be effectively stabilised & anchored by your kick - this will allow you to feel stronger with each armstroke. You should also start to feel much more water on the pulling hand when you have identified the correct stroke-kick timing. Another beneficial factor you will begin to notice when you get on top of this concept is your recovery-arm shooting forward as your lead-arm pivots you around "as" you pull. This fires that recovery-arm (which has now become the lead-arm) into extension, setting you up to glide out long again as you take full advantage of the previous pull and kick's propulsion.

RESULT 2 (detrimental to speed) - If you are the owner of a weak, inflexible and uncoordinated kick, you will know that your kick provides little beneficial impact on your stroke and speed. Probably the only thing you will have noticed yourself or have had other people tell you is you have a large scissoring action happening every time you rotate to breathe.

As you may know this can be worse than merely experiencing zero benefit from your kick, because this scissoring action will actually produce drag and that will slow you down - not really desirable! This scissoring action is your body's natural attempt at correcting a fault in your balance, ie to stop you falling over backwards as you breathe (another story).


Most triathletes (especially from running backgrounds) will discover they have limited ankle mobility that will instantly reduce the effectiveness of their kicking actions.

2 quick tests to find out how flexible your ankles are –

(1) Sit down on the floor with your knees, shins & the top of your feet flat on the ground (ie, point your toes). It is also important to feel your heels right under your butt, NOT out to the sides.

Your aim is to be able to push the top of your ankles into the ground easily.

(2) A basic squatting stretch for your Achilles – try to sit down (bend your knees) and balance by squatting on the balls of your feet while keeping your hands off the ground.

Your aim is to get your butt onto your heels while still sitting comfortably and balanced.

If you find that you lack comfortable movement in either or both of these stretches then this is great – it means you have the potential to increase the effectiveness of your kicking action by a means other than working hard in the pool. As you improve your mobility levels with these 2 stretches you will experience noticeable improvements in both your relaxation and leverage systems in the water that should result in more speed.

NOTE - please be careful of your knees doing these stretches


As it has been made clear, your kick IS an important part of your swimming stroke. Most of us still however, do not take the time to think about how we do and more importantly how we should kick.

There are 4 quick questions you should periodically ask yourself to assess whether your kicking action is helping to drive your propulsion system or weaken it –

    1. Big or small?

    2. Slow or fast?

    3. Relaxed or tense?

    4. Bubbles or no bubbles?

The answer to these questions is briefly – small, fast & relaxed kicks that only just break the surface and result in small bubbles.

Those small bubbles are important because they give you a 'cue' for locating how deep your feet are in relation to the surface. If your feet are slapping the water, then you know your feet are too high and you'll need to bend your knees down a little more each time you kick to correct this.

An excellent metaphor to use is to kick with "jelly-legs". This is guaranteed to remind you to relax your legs and especially your ankles. The muscles used in kicking are confined to your thigh and hamstrings, which should flick on and off extremely fast. Your thigh is responsible for the down-sweep of the leg and the hamstrings "recover" each leg back to kick down again with the thigh. If at any time you have both these muscle groups tensed you'll fail to produce any kicking propulsion and therefore affect your arm-stroking effectiveness to the same degree.

As you kick along easily ask yourself if you can feel your calves or shin muscles tensing. If you feel either of these working then relax them immediately, you should not be using them to kick with but this is a very common mistake found in triathletes. Your feet need to feel as if they are flapping around in the water like little fish tails. Try the difference of kicking with tense feet (pointed or hooked) and feel the lack of propulsion then relax again and feel yourself speed up. An easy way of feeling exactly what you are doing is to stand on one leg by the wall at the shallow end and kick slowly forwards with the other leg. You will learn more if you do this slowly and start the kicking leg right underneath and behind you. All you have to do is feel whether or not your ankle actually stays relaxed. Many of you will find that there is a large degree of tension in there you were not aware of which will display itself as cramp in a long kick set. Get it right and that will disappear.

The lesson as always is - RELAX!


Kicking is definitely important because it affects your leverage system and therefore you will get more benefit from your arms if your kick is strong, relaxed and fluent. The answers to your kicking problems lie simply with increasing your flexibility by stretching and then programming some structured kick into your workouts designed to improve your "timing" and coordination. Even vertical kicking at the end of the pool can achieve good results by highlighting what you actually are doing.

The good news is that kicking problems are relatively easy to fix  but you DO need to invest some committed time to stretching and also to some structured kicking work within your sessions. The easiest method there is to increase your ankle mobility levels is by stretching in front of  TV while you eat dinner. This takes your mind off this corrective stretching and the subsequent benefits will be seen as positive results in the pool within 4 short weeks. Just spend 2 x 3 minutes sitting in each stretch in front of the TV each night for 4 weeks and then feel the differences in the pool with your kick. Just make sure it does not hurt when you start and never push your stretches too far.

Good luck with all your training programs and remember…



HAYDN WOOLLEY – FutureDreams Swimming

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