A Question of Kicking

credit/ coachmegswim.com

credit/ coachmegswim.com


As triathletes, we spend a fair amount of time in the pool (or river, or lake, or ocean) swimming.  The real question, though, is how much time do we spend kicking?

It’s something I’ve wondered about for several years now.  I seem to think that the vast majority of triathletes don’t really swim.  I suspect that most triathletes – especially those in wetsuits – pull.  I’ve been known to do this myself.  At most, I seem to do a two-beat kick….and that is only to help maintain my body position when I’m breathing.

Why would we want to kick?  Wetsuits keep us in pretty good position in the water – right?  And, as soon as we get out of the water, we’re going to use our legs like crazy.  There’s no doubting that.  We’re going to cycle some distance and then run, too.  We should save our legs, conventional wisdom says.

And so we, the average age-groupers, probably don’t pay much mind to kicking during a race.  I’ll bet that sentiment extends into the pool for training sessions as well.

We might do a little kicking during our sets…but again, probably not much on the average.  Let’s consider what I do.  I typically only incorporate kick sets into my warm-up.  Usually, I do one set…5 x 50yds on the :60.  I almost always wear fins, as I have a really crummy kick and really tight ankles.  That set is not too hard, not too easy.  Plus, it makes me feel like I did a kick set.

About a week ago, I was having a conversation with one of the guys that coaches my son’s swim team.  I trust this guy immensely – and he has really helped me improve my swim skills significantly over the past year.  For some reason, we started talking about kicking and why he thought that kick-sets were underutilized in both age group swimming as well as triathlon.

Here’s his theory.  Kicking is not just about propulsion.  Certainly a high kick rate plus high arm turnover generally equals higher speed across the pool.  Moreover, a solid kick helps create good balance in the water, reduces dead spots in your stoke, and helps build strong hips and core…which are essential ingredients in having sufficient body roll in your stroke.  All of that makes sense to me.  In fact, as he talked about all of this, I was 100% on board.

That changed when he told me exactly how much kicking I should be doing.

Each swim set, according to this coach, should include 1000 yards of high quality kicking.  At a minimum.  Some should be with a kick-board.  Lots should be without one.  Most (as in the vast majority) should be flutter kicking.  Some could be dolphin kicking.  Very little should be breaststroke kicking.  Kicking on your side is good for working on balance.  Kicking on your back is also good for balance (and a change of scenery).  All said and done, though, each set should have at least 1000 yards of kicking.

WOW.  That seems like a lot.  My calf just cramped thinking about that!

So have I incorporated all this kicking into my swim sets yet?  Well….not exactly.  Frankly, given that most of my swimming happens when I’m pressed for time, devoting a good chunk of my hour swim slot to kicking just isn’t going to cut it for me.  I will, however, add this in when I have my longer sets planned (and hence longer time blocks).  At this point, my plan is for every 3rd or 4th swim to include a big kick set. 

I will also change my kick sets up too, just to keep them interesting.  Some sets will be with fins.  Others without.  I’ll use the kickboard some.  I’ll wear an old pair of shoes for other sets.  And then, I’ll add in what I’m calling the “Funky Breaststroke”.  Try this kick set the next time you’re in the pool.  Ditch your kickboard, and instead combine a flutter kick with a breaststroke pull.  I’m not precisely sure what this drill is supposed to do (other than make you work hard), but it’s fun!  And hard.

What do you think?  How much do you incorporate kicking in your swim sets?  How do you vary them up to make them interesting?  Do you think that we, as triathletes, should worry about kicking at all?


3 thoughts on “A Question of Kicking

  1. Ahhhh … The Great Triathlon Kicking Debate!!!

    I kick, actually kick a lot. I do sets with fins and w/o (these hurt). Probably do 1000m of kicking on avg, sometimes more, sometimes less. The reason I kick is because that is what swimmers do and I want to swim like a swimmer and not a triathlete.

  2. I’m not sure if I’m just not that good of a swimmer yet but the extra energy spent kicking hard doesn’t really result in any faster speed for me. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with effeciency of my kick but focusing 1000m on an average workout of 3000m seems a little overkill for this beginner. What has helped me tremendously is to focus my time on gliding and kicking just enough to rotate my hips and keep them in a great glide position.

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