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Full-Leg Kicking

Think you’re a bad kicker? Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Scott Bay | March 29, 2016

Ask yourself: “Am I a bad kicker?” Do you go first on swim and pull sets and last on kick sets? Do you find a reason to adjust your goggles, go to the locker room, fake an injury, or modify the set when it involves kicking? Are your lane mates going around you on kicking sets? Do kick sets exhaust you? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be a bad kicker.

But don’t despair: You can fix this problem. Kicking is a skill just like getting a good catch and pull. Because it’s a skill, it can be taught. Though they may frustrate you, watch some of the good kickers at your pool and see what you can learn from them. You’ll likely notice that good kickers always:

  • Kick from the hip.
  • Keep the legs long and loose, almost as if the power comes from the core and the leg finishes it.
  • Kick symmetrically (up and down).

Learn this Magic

It’s important to note that learning to become a better kicker is a process that can take a long time. Although you can learn to be a more effective kicker right away, becoming an awesome kicker takes time. Long-leg kicking is the key. When you kick with a long leg, the power comes from the core and is driven by the hip. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you feel the effort in the tops of your thighs, glutes, lower abs, and lower back.

When working on your kick, remember that good kicking always:

  • Comes from the hip and uses the core. If you’re working on this and feel your hips rock a little, that’s a good thing! Drive or initiate the kick with the hips and let the legs finish it. Try it slowly at first!
  • Keep the legs long and loose. Many of us were told to point our toes as kids. This makes the leg very stiff and mechanical and is not very efficient. Instead, think of curling your toes as if trying to pick up a penny off the deck with your toes. This will put your foot in the proper position without making the leg rigid and allowing the knee and ankle joints to remain loose.
  • Keep your kick symmetrical. You can do this very well while kicking under water. When you kick under water or even on your back, you have to put pressure on the bottom of your feet as well as the tops. Focus on feeling pressure on the bottom and the top of the feet.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s a great idea to practice kicking by yourself first, without the pressure of a set or clock. Don’t worry about the time or the velocity but rather how it feels. Experiment with how wide your kick should be. A good way to start is with fins. You’ll need to be mindful of where you feel the effort. Many people are good at kicking with the top of the foot. It’s a motion much like kicking a ball and can be done with effort from the knee down. You shouldn’t push at the water with the top of your foot or fins alone and you should feel the pressure both ways—on the up beat and the down beat. Still not sure if you’re symmetrical? Try it on your side underwater or on top of the water. If you end up three lanes over, you might want to make some adjustments!

Being a good kicker alone is not the key to faster swimming, but it’s an important component alongside catching, pulling, and body position. Keep working at it and you’ll likely see some improvement, at the very least during those kicking sets you used to hate to do.

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About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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