The first-time Olympian has used her kicks to stand out from the competition
Paige Madden surprised many when she qualified for the Olympics in the 400 freestyle over established veterans. Her preparation allowed her to execute a race that closely mirrored her compatriot, world record–holder Katie Ledecky.
Like Ledecky, Madden relies heavily on her kick in distance races. With the 400 freestyle at the shorter end of the distance freestyle spectrum, don’t be surprised to see a six-beat kick from Madden throughout the entire race. It’s an aspect of her freestyle that Madden feels has helped her quick ascendancy in the sport.
Don’t Be Afraid to Overdo Your Kick
Madden says she performs at least three dolphin kicks underwater on each turn during her freestyle races. To make the execution of those kicks easier, she does more kicks off each wall in practice.
“If we have an aerobic set, I will try to do eight kicks off the wall to overdo what I would normally do in a race so it’s a lot easier,” she says. “If I do eight kicks in practice, it makes three kicks seem like nothing. Compared to other distance swimmers who only do one kick or no kicks, that gives me an advantage when it comes to the [turns].”
The Pull and Kick ‘Go Hand in Hand’
Madden understands the connection the pull and the kick have in a distance freestyle race. Even those who don’t kick as hard as Madden in a race make sure their arms and legs are communicating with each other to help set up the arm tempo and determine the strength of the kick.
Madden says the stroke rate and kick tempo “go hand in hand,” adding that the distance of the race dictates whether the arms or legs control the tempo.
“In a longer race, I try to start my rhythm from the upper body and the lower body comes with it,” Madden says. “If it’s a shorter race, I will start from the lower body because that will be more kicking than I would do in a distance race.”
Madden will put these different strategies to work in Tokyo in the 400 freestyle and as a member of the 4x200 freestyle relay. She used her differing philosophies to great advantage in the NCAA championships last March when she won the 200, 500, and 1650 freestyle events.
“In terms of stroke rate, I usually go by feel,” she says. “However, in the mile at NCAAs I did 11 strokes per  and counted my strokes. That’s a lot less than a normal distance person would do, but I think I do that because I’m a kick-driven swimmer.”
- Technique and Training