6 Sets for Developing a Six-Beat Kick

Freestyle with a six-beat kick is the final boss when it comes to kicking and swimming freestyle.

Having the skill level, coordination, and most importantly, the leg fitness to kick continuously at six beats per stroke cycle is no easy feat.

But make no mistake, mastering a six-beat kick increases propulsion, can improve freestyle stroke technique, and gives the gift that keeps on giving, a devastating finishing kick on race day.

Just how kick-worthy is the six-beat?

Bob Bowman credits Michael Phelps’ mastering the six-beat kick in training for taking Phelps’ freestyle to a world-class level.

On the decision to hold Phelps to the standard of six-beat or nothin’ when swimming freestyle in practice, Bowman offered:

“I had seen him do a six-beat kick sometimes when he was doing a 50 fast and his stroke looked good,” says Bowman. “From then on out he did a six-beat kick [all the time] and his training took a quantum leap. His performance in the meets, therefore, also took a quantum leap forward.”

A study with intermediate swimmers (Armen, 2017) also found that four-weeks of consistent six-beat kick swimming in practice yielded a reduction in time of 10.21% in a 50m time trial.

Outside of jumping into the water and simply swimming every lap with a six-beat, here are some of handpicked six-beat kick sets to introduce to your swim training.

Let’s jump in.

Set 1: Paddling and Kicking for Six

Starting off with some meat-and-potatoes work, let’s ease into things by incorporating your favorite set of paddles to slow down arm stroke tempo while integrating a six-beat kick.

Using swim paddles, which lengthen the stroke, essentially buys you more time to get the six beats of kick in.

Perfect for early days when mastering the timing of this skill.

  • 20×25 freestyle with a six-beat kick, with paddles – Take 30 seconds after each rep.

Using paddles in this manner is very similar to Overkick drill, a freestyle drill where swimmers kick with 2x tempo and perform arm strokes with 1x tempo.

The goal is here isn’t speed so much as it is getting all of the kicks per stroke cycle under your belt, setting the foundation for more challenging sets.

Set 2: Kicking it Up a Notch

One of my favorite all-around sets are kick/swim repetitions. I eat them for warm-up, pre-set, main-set, and sometimes even warm-down.

These are also perfect for transferring the constant, piston-pumping six-beat kick to regular swimming.

A lot of swimmers can kick with a high tempo when on a kickboard, but have a hard time transferring it over to regular swimming.

The key to this set is to maintain the kicking intensity from the first 25 into the second 25.

Bonus points if you can do this set long course, without a board, and using a swimmer’s snorkel, seamlessly transitioning from kick to swim.

  • 20×50 freestyle as 25 kick fast, 25 swim with a six-beat kick – Take 30 seconds after each rep.

Short course swimmers can alternate kick/swim and swim/kick on the 50s if using a kickboard.

Focus on a steady six-beat kick on the first 25 and then hitting that same kicking tempo on the second 25 when swimming.

Set 3: Six-Beat Blasters

Now that we’re getting the hang of this whole six-beat kicking thing, it’s time to crank up the speed and power with some variable resistance training.

The concept of this set is simple: round one incorporates light resistance, round two is without gear, and round two is overspeed with fins.

The result is that swimmers have a range of types of stimuli to experiment with and learn from, further encouraging mastery of the elusive six-beat.

  • 30×25 blasters as 10m kick fast (no underwaters, get straight to the surface and start free kicking) + 15m swim with the same intensity and tempo kick + 30-40 seconds after each rep. All fast.
  • 10 – with light resistance (DragSox)
  • 10 – no gear
  • 10 – with fins

As you progress and get stronger and faster, increase the resistance on the DragSox to keep pushing the envelope on building a stronger (six-beat) kick.

Set 4: Driving the Upkick

A six-beat kick is great, but you know what’s better? A six-beat kick that kicks powerfully in both directions.

Yes, we’re talking about mastering the upkick phase.

To help master this oft-neglected phase within the kick, we are going to incorporate some vertical kicking to promote a more balanced kick.

  • 20x [10 seconds vertical kicking strong + lean forward and swim the rest of the length fast, maintaining the same kicking tempo + 30 seconds rest]

The key is to maintain the same kicking tempo when vertical, leaning the torso forward into a horizontal position, and swimming across the length of the pool focusing on that upkick.

More experienced swimmers are welcome to use light to medium DragSox for this set to further “feel” the upkick and build lower body strength.

Set 5: Master Enduro

Really want to take your kicking and swimming to the next level? And get an awesome workout in the pool?

Pair 50s of kick with 50s of swim. This particular set has been a staple of mine over the years.

The set pre-tires the legs on the first 50 kick fast, challenging swimmers to maintain that kicking tempo and intensity on the second 50.

Pack a full water bottle and time for a cool down after this bad boy.

  • 20×100 freestyle as 50 kick all-out, 50 swim maintaining the kick intensity – Take 30-40 seconds rest after each rep

There are lots of fun ways to modify and increase the difficulty with this set as the season progresses.

For example, after you’ve done the 20x100s, on an interval of, say, 2:00, crank up the challenge:

  • 20×100 as:
    • 5 @ 2:00 + 1 @ 1:30
    • 4 @ 2:00 + 1 @ 1:30
    • 3 @ 2:00 + 1 @ 1:30
    • 2 @ 2:00 + 1 @ 1:30
    • 1 @ 2:00 + 1 @ 1:30

As you get in better shape, continue pushing the intervals and see how low you can get those “1” intervals.

Set 6: Six-BEAST Kicking

Six-beat oriented sets can play a role in your warm-up or as part of the pre-set before a kick-heavy main set.

Here’s an example of such a set that is perfect to prime the legs and swimming for some fast swimming in the main set:

  • 8×25 freestyle as 10m kick on side fast + 15m swim at 90% intensity on 50 seconds.

Legs, activated!

Incorporating this set into your daily workouts as part of your warm-up/activation process will help make six-beat thunder-kicking habitual.

Tips for Developing a Six-Beat Kick

Now that you have some foundational sets under your arm, here are some tips and suggestions for building that six-beat kick like a pro:

It’s skill and conditioning work.

Implementing a six-beat kick continuously—and not just when you are going full-max speed—is a bit jarring at first, even for more experienced swimmers.

It’s also taxing; kicking is much more metabolically inefficient compared to pulling (Rodriguez et al., 2016), which means you gotta get those legs in shape!

Be patient as you progress with this type of kick/swimming.

Attack it from multiple angles.

When trying to improve something in the water, whether it’s speed, pulling endurance, or in this case, a six-beat kick, tackling it from different angles speeds things up.

The more ways you tackle a skill, the more opportunities you give yourself to master it.

Rote repetition can be helpful, but variations within repetitions are the true secret sauce.

Use lots of rest as you accelerate into this training.

Kicking is exhausting. It’s metabolically inefficient and will tax you.

Progress with these sets, take adequate rest to maintain kick intensity, and as you improve and get the hang of it, decrease the intervals, extend the reps, and reap the conditioning gains.

The name of the game in the pool is progression.

Wrapping Things Up

Mastering the six-beat kick, while not necessary for every swimmer, is a big step for those looking to go full-throttle with their freestyle.

By mastering the timing of all those kicks with the pulling motion, targeting the skill and conditioning in a variety of ways, and steadily increasing the difficulty of the sets, you’ll be able to develop the weapon that is a six-beat kick.

Give the sets a try and unleash a rooster-tail of white water behind your freestyle in the pool.

Happy swimming!


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, author, swim coach, and certified personal trainer. He’s the author of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, anecdotes, and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level in the pool?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.


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About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, swim coach, and best-selling author. His writing has been featured on USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming, NBC Sports Universal, the Olympic Channel, and much more. He has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 …

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