Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.
Leg strength and good ankle plantar flexibility are required to develop a strong flutter kick, but more is needed. Fitness of the leg muscles used in the kicking motion must also be developed to an extraordinary level. If a swimmer is determined to use the kick for strong propulsion, the way that most great swimmers do, then a six-beat kick is necessary and the legs need to be relatively fitter than the arms. Consider the following.
If a swimmer’s freestyle pulling stroke rate is 100 per minute (50 right arm pulls and 50 left arm pulls) then the kicking stroke rate with a six-beat kick is 600 per minute (300 down kicks and 300 up kicks). Further, unlike the arms that have a brief recovery period between each pulling motion, the legs never really get to recovery during the race. They work in one direction then in the other, relentlessly, in order to create meaningful propulsion. It requires a lot of conditioning in order to sustain that kind of effort for very long.
Think about it. What is the first part of the body that usually gives out during a race? The legs. Once the legs go, the rest is not pretty. Yet in spite of this, most coaches devote a small percentage of their workout time to developing a stronger kick. Too many coaches allow social kicking on sets, where swimmers will talk to each other while kicking along at a modest speed. That is not what is required to get the legs in shape for racing.
There are many creative kick sets to help get the legs fitter. One does not need to rely solely on traditional kick sets. First, I prefer kicking with a snorkel and Finis alignment board, rather than a traditional kick board. It creates a preferable body position, similar to the one has while swimming, and it eliminates social kicking. Here are a few of my favorite kicking sets that are tough, but will make the development of the legs more fun.
Tug-0-war kicking. Cut a ¾ inch PVC pipe into 18-inch segments. Find two swimmers that are approximately equal weight and kicking strength. Have the two swimmers wear snorkels and line up against each other in the middle of the pool, one swimmer grabbing the PVC pipe on the inside and the other on the outside. Keeping the pipe at the surface and the arms straight, initiate the tug-0-war and see which swimmer can kick the other to the end of the pool. Swimmers will kick harder than you ever imagined in this competition…and go for minutes.
Vertical kicking. With or without fins, have the swimmers kick vertically for 45 seconds, followed by 15 seconds rest. Repeat five times. With fins, I like to have our Race Club swimmers hold their arms in the streamline position for all 45 seconds of each set. Without fins, most swimmers will only be able to keep their elbows at the surface with the forearms and hands pointing up. I also like to use vertical kicking between swim sets. For example, swim 20 x 25 sprints with a 20 second vertical kick between each one on 30 seconds.
Wall kicks. Similar to the vertical kicks, have the swimmers kick against the wall with a snorkel all out for 45 seconds, followed by 15 seconds rest. See which can make the biggest splash and hold it for all 45 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
Kicking with weight. Use 5 to 10 lb free weights, held with both hands tightly against the chest. Kick with the snorkel and no fins for 20 x 25, as fast as possible. The idea is to not sink. Rest the legs or slow down and that is exactly what happens.
In summary, work hard on ankle flexibility, leg strength and leg fitness and see how much faster a swimmer you will become. It is the speed of the kick that most differentiates the greatest swimmers from the not-so-great ones.
Yours in swimming,
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