How to Build Stronger Freestyle Kick Mechanics

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.

To build a better freestyle or flutter kick, one must first understand where the propulsive power of the kick is derived and how to balance the two opposing forces of propulsion and frontal drag, in order to maximize the kicking speed.

The Battle Between Frontal Drag Forces And Propulsive Forces

As with the pulling motion, there is a battle going on between frontal drag forces and propulsive forces. Unlike the arms, however, where some propulsion is attained from the forearm, wrist and hand, all of the propulsion from the kick is derived from the foot. In fact, all of the propulsion from the kick comes from the down kick of the foot, not the up kick.

An Extremely Flexible Ankle

In order to create a propulsive force in the water, the foot, like the hand, must be moving backward relative to the water. There is really only one point in the kicking cycle where that happens and that is at the beginning of the down kick. For a very brief time, perhaps a tenth of a second or so, with the contraction of the strong quadriceps and hip flexors, enabled by an extremely flexible ankle, the foot moves backward in the water, creating the propulsive force. The amount of the force depends on the surface area pushing backward and speed or acceleration of that area. Both of those depend on strong leg muscles and great ankle flexibility.

Increasing The Plantar Flexibility Of The Ankle

There are only two ways I can think of to increase the surface area of the foot pushing backward on the down kick, short of growing a bigger foot. One is by bending the knee more in preparation for the down kick. The other is by increasing the plantar flexibility of the ankle, enabling the foot to start from a different position on the down kick. Bending the knee too much is a bad choice, as the frontal drag forces will more than compensate for the increased propulsion. What is the right amount of knee bend? You will see exactly in some of our upcoming Race Club webisodes. So that really leaves us with one good option for improving the kick, improve ankle flexibility.

Here’s some exercises to increase ankle flexibility:

Understand the Propulsive Phase of the kick:

Come to a Race Club camp or private sessions in Islamorada or Los Angeles. Sign up now for our Thanksgiving camps!  

Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr. [email protected] 
<http://[email protected] <


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6 years ago

When I kick without fins, I move backwards. I focus on head down (looking at the black line), I use center snorkel, I concentrate on NOT bending at the knee……..???Any suggestions?

Paul Harris
7 years ago

Hi there,
Just been reading through this discussion, as I am all but re-learning to Freestyle after many years of swimming breaststroke the mechanics of the body when in the water is something that I am still learning. This sort of discussion is great for my development & as I have tried to introduce this into my sessions, it is slowly but surely making sense & visible progress is happening. Keep up the good work!
Many Thanks.


7 years ago

My daughter has 20degree antiversion of the right hip that causes her foot to turn in at the ankle and it hits her left foot in the flutter kick or freestyle kick.
Using fins straightens it out but it turns back in when she takes the fins off.
She is doing therapy for the antiversion but is having a hard time kicking when she tires and the foot turns in again.
Any suggestions?

7 years ago

karta kredytowa bez oplat

Coach peak
8 years ago

Meaning using the top of the foot as propulsion. If you have ever worked with a beginner that kicks in place and goes no where it is because they are up kicking. If you were to use an up kick you would be bending your knee more and pulling yourself downward on your stomach or under on your back. Also if you were to put a swimmer on land on their stomach to kick they wouldn’t be kicking toward the ceiling. It’s a down kick. Good article

9 years ago

I would be interested to know if there is an unofficial record for, say 50m LC. If Cielo can kick it in 30 sec., can anyone kick faster than that? Presumably professional swimmers (and probably keen amateurs) keep records of how fast they can kick.

Reply to  Richard
8 years ago

Xu Qing can go a 28.5 with no arms :

9 years ago

I think the key word here is the vortex, it’s the same thing that allows a plane to fly: as a plane accelerate on the runway, a vortex forms behind it (the fluid, assumed laminar and incompressible, and frictionless for now, keeps a 0 rotational – that’s an invariant, but locally there is now a positive rotational around some region (the wing, which creates the lift – that a circulation creates pressure difference and so lift as a result of Euler’s equation-), and a negative rotational of the same magnitude in some other region (that region, which is the air vertex is typically leftover at the start of the runway, I guess there are visualizations of this in wind tunnels… Read more »

9 years ago

My child’s kick is worthless. Take away the arms and it is a total stand still. What’s wrong? The faster the kick the slower the kid. Help !

Reply to  mom
9 years ago

Come to the Race Club!