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by Scott Bay

April 13, 2016

Find the right rhythm for your body

Observers of elite swimming have noted that some of the fastest freestylers are flattening out—rotating less—specifically in the hips. This is especially true for the sprinters, who tend to drive their stroke with a flat kick, rotating only their upper bodies.

However, many Masters (and elite) swimmers have found success by moving the hips and shoulders together as one piece, rather than rotating the shoulders and keeping the hips flat. Rotating just the upper torso while keeping the hips flat requires a lot of flexibility, and that becomes more difficult with age.

Most Masters swimmers want to swim fast and efficiently, even if they don’t have the training or physical capabilities to perform like the elite swimmers, and the secret might be in figuring out how much and when to kick.

Conventional wisdom in coaching has always meant a strong six-beat kick for fast freestyle. But a six-beat kick doesn’t work for everyone. Here are some key drills and tips to help you figure out your ideal rhythm and frequency for kicking.

Zero to Six

This drill, which can be performed during a 200 or as a set of 4 x 50s, will help you figure out how many kicks not only just feel right, but also produce the fastest swims.

  • First 50: Swim without kicking at all—pulling, but without a pull buoy.
  • Second 50: Add a two-beat kick, which is usually one kick per arm stroke, and is opposing (when the right arm is stroking, the left leg is kicking).
  • Third 50: Add two more kicks to your stroke cycle, so you’re swimming with a four-beat kick. This usually means one kick when your hand enters and one during the propulsive phase, but see what feels best for you.
  • Fourth 50: Swim with a full six-beat kick, three kicks per arm stroke.

Complete the drill several times, making sure to get adequate rest so you can properly evaluate your kick without worrying about excess fatigue. Which kick causes you not to wiggle, twist against yourself, or feel unbalanced? Which kick, a two-, four-, or six-beat kick feels the most natural to you?

Toe-Tap Six

This drill will help you figure out common body position problems. Go through the same drill as above, only think about tapping your toes on the top of the water. This might help you adjust your body position and make your kick more propulsive.

Don’t Forget Everything Else

When concentrating on one skill or another, many swimmers will forget to breathe through the process. This makes for a difficult transition and can causes some swimmers to abandon trying. But don’t give up! Here are a few things that might help:

  • Do each repeat 25 yards at a time, rather than a full 50.
  • Use a snorkel—removing the motion of turning your head to breathe makes it easier to focus on the coordination between your arms and legs. Add the breathing back in when you’ve mastered your kick cycle.
  • Concentrate on the movements and doing it right rather than doing it fast.
  • Be patient with your progress. Learning a new movement takes time and will feel awkward.
  • Keep your legs close together and loose. Wide kicking slows you down, even if it feels like you’re moving a lot of water.
  • Increase the frequency of your kick slowly. Timing is the key and you can speed up later.

Practicing these two drills will help you find your perfect kicking rhythm—the one that feels the most natural to you and works with your degree of hip rotation. And becoming proficient in more than one means you have choices—you might use a two- or four-beat kick in longer races, and a strong six-beat kick when you sprint.

Whichever kick is right for you, finding it will make you more connected and efficient in the water, which will result in faster swimming.


  • Technique and Training


  • Kicking
  • Stroke Technique
  • Drills