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Five Ways to Kick Faster in the Pool

By Gary Hall Sr. | Sept. 11, 2017, 7:40 a.m. (ET)

swim school

Go back to school! Erase the smelly, crowded hallways of your high school from your mind and imagine yourself under the Islamorada sun in a clear pool ready to absorb knowledge that will enable you to swim faster. Swim School from Gary Hall Sr. of The Race Club is about lifelong enjoyment of the sport. It’s always more fun to swim to your potential.

Practice makes perfect. You cannot develop a fast freestyle or dolphin kick without a lot of hard work. But the rewards are great. Here are five of my best tips for developing a stronger, faster kicking speed.

1. Increase plantar flexibility of the ankle

This simply means that the ankles must be loose and the toes need to be able to point a long way down. Great plantar flexibility is a must have for fast free and dolphin kicking, but it alone does not guarantee a fast kick. The good news is that the ligaments in the ankle controlling this motion are fairly small and subject to quick change. Dryland exercises are the best way to improve this motion. We recommend sitting on the tops of the feet with the knees in the air for extended periods to stretch these ligaments. One can also do ankle push-ups yoga style to stretch the ankle. I have also found by placing the feet under a low-lying couch and straightening the legs while leaning back will put a great stretch on the ankle.

swim2. Increase the strength of your kicking muscles

Some of this strengthening will take place in the pool but much needs to be done in the weight room. The quadriceps and hip flexors for the down kick can be strengthened by doing leg extensions from about 45 degrees knee flexion to horizontal. The hamstrings, lower back and gastrocnemius muscles used for the up kick can be strengthened by doing straight leg lifts in the prone position. We recommend 30 to 50 reps for each or to reach exhaustion repeated three times.

3. Practice lots of kicking

Think about it. If you average a stroke rate of 100 in the 100 freestyle, with a six beat kick, your leg stroke rate is 600 kicks per minute. Considering that you get no recovery time with your legs, that is a lot of demand you are putting on them. It is no wonder that the legs are usually the first part of your body to give out during the race. The legs need to be very fit.
At The Race Club, we recommend that you try to do some hard kicking sets in each practice and that at least once per week, dedicate the entire practice session to kicking. Be creative with kick sets but do lots of kicking.

4. Kick with alignment board and snorkel

While you may be able to kick faster with a conventional kickboard by using the board to buoy your body up, you will never swim a race with your body in that same position. We think that by using the small Finis alignment board with your favorite monosnorkel, keeping the head down and in alignment with your body, you will simulate a more natural swimming position for your kick sets. It will also help you improve your streamline.

5. Use an elastic band below the knee to develop a tighter kick

Over bending the knee is a common problem in freestyle and dolphin kicking. Under bending the knee is not. An elastic band placed below the knee will help keep the knee from over bending in freestyle kick. It may also slow the kicking speed, but it will make the swimmer become more aware of the need to depend on ankle flexibility to increase kicking speed, rather than on knee bend.

In summary, do not underestimate the power of the kick to help you with your swimming speed. To develop a strong kick requires a sustained program incorporating drills, tough kicking sets and dryland exercises. If you need assistance, let us help you set up the kicking program. Stay the course and you will see great improvement in both kicking and swimming speed.

gary hall sr

Yours in swimming,

Gary Hall Sr.

Gary Hall Sr., M.D. is a three-time Olympic swimmer (‘68, ‘72, ‘76) who earned a medal in each of the three Olympic Games. At one time he held 10 world records in all strokes except breaststroke and was the World Swimmer of the year in 1969 and 1970. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.