Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kicking the Water

Freestyle Swimming Kick Training
Holden Comeau

If you’ve been struggling all season with the swim portion of your triathlon training, there’s a good chance that your freestyle kick is underdeveloped. Right now in the off season is a great time to get your legs going in the water. It’s going to take a little extra leg power, and this is the best time to spare it! Below is a reprint of an article I wrote a few months ago for Triathlete Magazine. Check it out and get to the pool! And if you’re having some problems, send me an email and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

"A big misconception that unfortunately persists among the triathlon community is that swim training for the sport requires little attention to the freestyle kick. This is hugely problematic, especially for triathletes who are relatively new swimmers, or for those who experience what feels like an unwarranted amount of effort in the pool. For both of these individuals, gaining control of the kick is the first place to start when attempting to improve their swim.

It is important to understand is that kicking for a triathlete is not intended to directly increase thrust (which the kick certainly could, albeit with a substantial effort). Instead, the freestyle kick should be used as a means of controlling the swimmer’s body rotation and position in the water. For many swimmers, this task is often put upon the pull, creating more effort for the arms than is needed.

With proper training – which involves patient concentration on both the dynamics of the kicking movement and also some pure muscular conditioning – a swimmer can gain enough control over the kick so that it can become both light and also relentless. Once this is in place, body rotation and then the arm stroke cycle can be successfully coordinated to the rhythm of the kick (on this point, there is substantial debate as to which ‘rhythm’ is most effective; 2 beat, 2 beat cross-over, 4 beat, 6 beat, even 8 beat kicking per stroke cycle, are all variations of the kick/arm-cycle coordination. In my opinion, it would be best to experiment with as many different kicking speeds as possible, and work to perfect the rhythm that feels most comfortable and natural. Most importantly, swim with the kick speed that feels most rhythmic).

A great way to get your legs going is to train with some swim fins. These are full-sized rubber training fins – not shorty zoomers. Full size fins encourage correct kicking mechanics (move from the hip and core, not the knee), and also illuminate for the swimmer how best to effectively apply power to water. The fins will ‘grab’ the water more dominantly in one direction, which, for freestyle kicking is downward to the bottom of the pool. Standard interval training with the fins and a kick board works well at intervals ranging from 100-300 meters, and intensity should remain fairly low for all but a few of these laps.

Full stroke swimming with the fins can also be helpful. The exaggerated resistance against the fins will encourage a swimmer to pay more attention to their kick while they swim. Also, the added body stability that is created by this ‘really strong kick’ can, in turn, allow the arms a better foundation against which the swimmer can leverage pulling power. Realization of this relationship – a better kick creates a better pull – will also mean a realization of increased speed!"

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