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by Scott Bay

September 25, 2020

Social kicking is great, but you should be doing this instead

Social kicking is great, isn’t it? These long kick sets done with kickboards, with your head above the water, are a great way to chat with your lane mates and enjoy bonding with your fellow swimmers. Swimming, as most physical activities, is much more fun with a group.

But social kicking doesn’t provide everything you need for good swimming posture or kicking technique, and it can cause problems for your neck and back.

Getting the Most Out of Your Kick

Ditching a kickboard is important for helping you maintain a proper body position and prevent back strain. Social kicking tends to make you focus more on your down-kick than your up-kick. If you’re missing the up-kick, then you’re missing a lot of propulsion and strengthening of core muscles.

What do to? Here are a couple of drills that are great for working on a symmetrical kick. Hint: These drills are underwater, so ditch that kickboard!

Scuba Flutter Kick

If you’ve ever been scuba diving or snorkeling with long fins, you know you gotta kick from your hip. For flutter kick, your hip is the hinge, and the rest of your leg finishes the kick. For this drill, kick under the water with your eyes closed, activating from your hips and making sure you kick up and down. Up might require you to “paw up” at the water with your toes curled.

Am I doing it right? If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel the effort (not pain) in the tops of your thighs, lower abs, lower back, and glutes. The other feedback will be the feeling of water rolling down your legs and off your toes, both on the front and back of your body.

Adding levels of difficulty: For a challenge, add a few layers of complexity. Try it on your right side, left side, and back. Doing this drill with your eyes closed can be revealing, especially if you end up two lanes over. You should do this kick under the supervision of a coach or other swimmers.

Dolphin/Fish Kick

This is similar to the above drill but using a dolphin kick, and the hinge for this kick is your lower rib cage, not your hips. Your hips and the rest of your legs finish off your kick as your abs engage.

Am I doing it right? If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel the effort (not pain) in your upper abs, middle back, lower abs, and lower back. Yes, the rest of your lower body is engaged, but those are the parts that initiate the movement. You should feel the water rolling down the front and back of your body.

Adding levels of difficulty: Do this on your sides and back as well. You may find you like doing this kick on your front or back or a specific side more. When you kick on your side, it’s more of a fish-like back-and-forth motion. Use this mental cue to help you develop your underwater dolphin kick for use off starts and walls.

Final Thoughts

All swimmers have asymmetry to their kick because it’s just how land-based creatures are built. Your knees and ankles don’t bend the same both ways, so you can’t replicate the same motion in both directions.

Maximize propulsion by kicking both up and down, rather than just letting your dominant down-kick do all the work. Up-kicking on your stomach (or down-kicking on your back) will produce propulsion if you work at it. Underwater kicking is the key to developing it well.

By all means, use fins to help, but make sure you’re activating the right muscles in the right order. These drills can be practiced in backyard, recreational, and hotel pools.

Underwater kicking drills are great for improving your streamlined position for racing, but even if you never want to compete or you swim primarily for fitness, it’ll strengthen and stabilize all the muscles of your lower core and pelvic region, which provide stability and balance. It’ll make you more athletic, no matter your age or swimming goals.


  • Technique and Training


  • Kicking