Why is your kick important?
An efficient kick is the foundation of a correctly streamlined body position because it helps keep the legs up and plays a role in balancing the rotating body. For many swimmers this will be the primary objective of the kick – balance, stroke stability and body position. For others i.e., competitive swimmers and elite triathletes, the propulsion from a strong kick will also be important. Triathletes that are new to swimming should aim to develop an effective kick rather than assume that as a triathlete “I don’t have to use my legs” because of the importance of the kick in stroke stability and body position.
The perfect kick!
The freestyle kick has each leg “kicked” in turn rather than both at the same time.
Point your toes and aim to initiate the kick from the hip. Your leg should be fairly straight on the upbeat (as the leg is raised towards the surface of the water) with just a small amount of bend at the knee. The downbeat starts from the hip and travels down the leg, straightening out the knee as it does so. Your toes should be pointing slightly inwards so that you are pigeon toed and you should feel the pressure of the water against your feet during this downbeat.
The depth and width of your kick should remain within your slipstream. Imagine that your body is passing through a hole in the water. This hole should stay as small as possible. Any leg movement outside of this “hole” will create drag. The kick is not just in the vertical plane since the legs and feet should follow the body during rotation.
Timing is also important. As your hand enters the water, the opposite leg should be on a down beat. And you can also use different kicking speeds. A 2 beat kick which means two kicks for each full left arm and right arm stroke cycle, is mostly used by advanced long distance swimmers. A 6 beat kick is most naturally used by the majority of triathletes.
If you are just starting out in your swimming, focus first on kicking from the hips, pointing your toes, keeping your feet relaxed and remaining streamlined. Allow your timing to occur naturally.
What can go wrong?
Kicking with knees: Performing a kick using your knees only will not provide balance or propulsion. The kicking action will be well outside the swimmers slipstream so the legs will be causing drag and will be slowing you down.
Ankles flexed: If the ankle is dorsi flexed (this means that there is roughly a right angle between the foot and the shin), the downbeat of the kick will actually be moving water forward rather than backwards. Your feet will be acting like anchors in the water.
Wide and deep kick: Remember that you are trying to swim through as small a hole as possible in the water. A wide and deep kick will take your legs outside the slipstream created by your body and the resulting drag will be greater than the additional power created by a deep kick.