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by Scott Bay

March 17, 2020

Performing this simple progression will improve your kick and help you with your swimming

Kicking is a topic covered endlessly by swim coaches, and with good reason—it’s a vital part of swimming. To take your swimming to another level, you can develop a good kick from scratch by going through a simple learning progression based on what you feel rather than how gross motor movements are described.

How to Learn How to Kick    

You’ve probably been told to point your toes (like a ballerina) and bend your knee (but not too much) and kick from your hip when you’re learning how to kick. But just doing those movements doesn’t always translate into effective kicking

All swimmers are different, and what is easy for someone with a lot of joint flexibility might make someone with stiffer joints engage a different group of muscles to compensate and result in an inefficient kick.

Swimming is a sensory experience, so paying attention to the feedback you get from your body—how your kick FEELS—is critical. Here’s a three-step progression that works for both flutter kick and dolphin kick.

1. Underwater kicking

Your brain is important to helping you improve your kick, so don’t allow it to tune out. Kick underwater with a specific focus on how your kick feels. A good kick is all about the feel and how you put pressure on the water. Kick in a streamlined position or with your arms at your sides, whichever is more comfortable for you.

Internalize how it feels when you’re putting pressure on the water with your thighs, shins, and feet. Your kick should start at your hips for flutter kick and your lower rib cage for dolphin kick. Your legs just finish the motion initiated by your core. You should feel water “roll” down your thighs and off your toes.

The benefit of underwater kicking is that you can focus on the up and down motions in the kick. However, you have only a short amount of time to focus on this after you push off the wall before you’ll need to come up for air. Make the most of each push-off when kicking underwater and give yourself plenty of time to recover,

2. Kicking on your stomach

Once you’ve focused your attention on how the kick feels in its entirety while you’re completely submerged, your next challenge is to kick at the surface on your stomach. A lot of the force and pressure is on the top of your feet, but it’s important to think about how to do it.

If you kick with a kickboard, you’ll develop a strong down-kick. But that also puts your spinal alignment in a different position than when you’re swimming, and for some puts strain on the lower back and neck. It’s probably best to ditch your kickboard and kick in a streamlined position with a snorkel.

The key is to feel pressure on the water all the way down your legs, but especially on the tops of your feet. This is true for both flutter and dolphin kick.

3. Kicking on your back

The third part of this progression is the toughest.

Most Masters swimmers are used to kicking down with the tops of their feet, but when they’re inverted, a lot of them find their heels too far submerged and they’re pushing at the water with the tops of their feet. Sure, they can move—but not very well. Contrary to popular belief, backstroke flutter kick isn’t just upside-down freestyle flutter kick.

A lot has been made of the down-kick—the tops of feet and putting pressure on the water—but the best swimmers, especially butterflyers, also have a great up-kick. The mental cue when kicking on your back is to curl your toes and “paw back” on the water, so you also feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet.

Kicking Does Wonders for Swimming

Developing a good kick takes time and attention to detail. The best way to improve is to pay close attention to how it feels, rather than worrying about how fast you’re going. This is a learned, sensory experience, and it’s different for everyone. It takes time and experimentation to get it right. Your body will tell you, you just need to be sure you’re listening.

If you feel exertion in the tops of your thighs, your glutes, your lower abs, and your back, that’s good. If it seems hard or exhausting, that’s because this isn’t a natural movement, and the sequence of movements isn’t something we do outside of the water, so don’t give up. You’ll get extra speed and take a lot of stress off your shoulders. Kicking well will take your swimming to another level.


  • Technique and Training


  • Kicking