Kick Got You Down?
How to improve novice swimmers’ flutter kick
Recently, a coach told me about watching his novice swimmers flutter kick. Despite a lot of effort, they weren’t going anywhere. The coach had tried wall kicks and a few other techniques to improve propulsion, but the swimmers’ skills were not advancing. He checked to see if they were pointing their toes, and they were. He had them wear fins, but that didn’t help either. What could he do to help his novice swimmers improve their flutter kick?
Many coaches run into this problem with novice swimmers. Rather than have them focus on pointing their toes, try telling them to imagine that their knees and ankles are connected by a single rubber band running down the length of each leg. Tell them to keep their legs long and loose and very flagella-like. (Most novice swimmers probably didn’t expect that ninth grade biology would come into play at Masters practice, but encourage them to get in touch with their inner paramecia.)
When working with new swimmers, we typically start them on their backs, hands at their sides for balance. In addition to the flagella tip, we tell them to imagine trying to kick a soccer ball with their toes. Instruct them to keep the ball floating on top of the water with their kicking.
We aim for a rhythmic kicking pattern and talk about feeling pressure on the water. The problem with actively pointing the toes is that when you do it, it makes the leg muscles flex and go rigid. With rigid leg muscles, the legs will go up and down but the water “gets out of the way,” so to speak—the legs and feet aren’t catching any water.
We preach kicking from the core with the leg just finishing the motion. The biggest struggle is usually with runners and folks from other running-based sports backgrounds; their ankles tend to be much less flexible than nonrunners. This is possibly the body's response to the constant pounding from the pavement.
We also find many people “bicycle” or push at the water with the tops of their feet, especially when using fins.
It can take a while for these folks to get the hang of it, but with a little effort and attention from their coaches, they tend to grow into very good kickers!