This is part 1 of 3 in the series on how to get a faster, more efficient freestyle.
- Part 1 [You Are Here] – How to Kick Faster in Freestyle
- Part 2 – How to Pull Faster In Freestyle (for beginners and intermediates)
- Part 3 – How To Get Faster In The Water (On 3 Swims a Week)
Having a strong, smooth freestyle means you must have an adequate kick.
Ankle flexibility is a crucial component to your swim. The more flexible your ankles the more you can point your toes and thus make your legs more fin like during the kick. Many swimmers and triathletes who come from a running background have overly tight ankles. Unlike a tight muscle, though, which you can feel walking around, tight ankles are harder to sense until you actually try to stretch them.
Here are a couple of things you can do to get better at kicking:
1. Vertical Kicking. This drill has been around for a long time. Find water that is deep enough for you to kick in place. Let go of the wall, cross your arms, and kick in place in a vertical position (keep in a straight line), pointing your toes and keeping your chin above the surface of the water. Get your power from your quads and hips on this drill. Try 20 seconds at a time.
2. Use fins. Yes! I am a coach telling you to use fins. But not to “keep up” in workouts. IF you have ankle flexibility issues (Runner’s Kick), use fins for a few weeks, but wean off them as you get closer to your event. The shorter kind are best. I prefer Hydrofinz (see below) but other brands may work okay as well. Fins can increase your ankle flexibility, allow you to do swimming drills with ease, and strengthen the right leg muscles you need to kick.
3. Just stretch. In a seated position, take one leg and bring it out in front of you. Extend your feet and push your toes toward the ground. Hold for about 15-20 seconds, repeat with other foot. You can do this several times a day.
Before you shrug this off, let’s do a little test: get on your knees and point your toes behind you so that the arch and sole of your foot are facing up. Now sit down on your heels, pushing the top of our foot to the ground. Feel it? If you do, then you have overly tight ankles.
If it comes easily for you, try and hold it for a good 2-3 minutes. Focus on keeping from your knee down to your big toes flat on the ground. If you can make it through 3 minutes, then you are doing great! If not, we have some work to do.
An easy way to improve ankle flexibility is to do what we just did: sitting on your ankles. Think: Child’s Pose in yoga. If you want a bit more, you can also do this on a TRX by putting your feet into the handles and sitting back like we did before.
You can also use short nose fins like the Finis Zoomers in the pool. Using the appropriate fin will force your ankle into a more efficient, horizontal position.
Challenge: Stretch your ankles every day and increase your stretching time by 15 seconds each week. With a little effort, this 2 minute practice will make your kick more powerful.
*BE CAREFUL– if you have knee issues, avoid this exercise, and instead stick with using Zoomers fins in the water an just manually stretching your ankles periodically throughout the day.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to use a kick board to improve your kick. For distance swimming and triathlons, you are wasting your time with the floatation devices!
Remember: You don’t need a super kick to have a great race in a triathlon. Your kick is mainly for stability and body rotation. Have patience, stick with these drills, and you will master the freestyle kick before you know it!
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