6 Styles of Swim Kick Techniques

I thought about how the four different styles of swim kick techniques really isn’t a correct statement the other day. And how most coaches would answer the question: How Many Different Kicking Techniques Are There? With four as their answer. But in actuality, there are six. In today’s blog, my plan is to deep dive into the Six Styles of Swim Kick Techniques to help you better understand why I think we should be categorizing techniques into a few more categories.

Let’s Get Started!

We all know there is four strokes, so how does that make six kicks? Well, we need to take into consideration the underwater portion of swimming and how much that has progressed since 2008. What the legs do while completely under the surface of the water – changes – some of the mechanics of the Dolphin Kick, that I believe these kicks deserve their own category. Let’s dig deeper into each of these swim kick techniques below:

1.) The Dolphin Kick (At the Surface)

The Dolphin Kick is a bidirectional kick that requires great strength from a swimmer to propel them forward in the pool from the whip of the legs back and forth. When swimmers are swimming Butterfly, the up-kick portion of this kick breaks through the surface of the water, while the down-kick portion of this kick stays below. There is a brief moment in time that the legs get to transition between up and down and ‘splash’ through the surface of the water before launching a swimmer forward. See the video below.

Example Swimmer Dolphin Kick with a Board.

2.) The Backstroke Kick

I love the Backstroke Kick because I really believe this kick does not get enough love from swimmers and coaches. Mechanically, yes it similar to the Flutter Kick – but it also has some distinct differences like breaking through the surface and having the water line to keep swimmer’s knees below. I find the Backstroke Kick can often have less knee bend compared to the Flutter Kick and also has the effect of gravity on the kick too. To learn more about how gravity effects the kicks on swimmer’s back, click here.

Example Swimmer Backstroke Kicking in a Streamline.

3.) The Breaststroke Kick

The Breaststroke Kick is essentially in a league of its’ own. It’s a completely different kick than the other five kicks and really has it’s own set of requirements and knees. A huge component of this kick is hip mobility and knee/ankle flexibility. Swimmers must be strong through their hamstrings and great at pushing water backwards with the insides of their feet to push themselves forward.

Example Swimmer Breaststroke Kicking with a Board.

4.) The Flutter Kick

My favorite kick. Honestly, this kick is just a great training tool for swimmers because it helps spike their heart rate with giving the shoulders a bit of rest. One of my buddies at UGA actually kicked the majority of the season and ended up winning NCAA’s, how did he do that? By kicking not just well, but fast. You can get a great workout from kicking alone. I also like how the Flutter Kick is a bit easier to do than a Dolphin Kick and you still get great engagement from the core and hip flexors. The Flutter Kick is fun to program for longer kick sets because of its’ aerobic nature.

If you’re struggling with how to progress the kicking part of your season plan, we just launched our kick season plans that mirror the length of our technique season plans. This will allow you to have a organized progression through all the strokes and six styles of kicks for your swimmers. 4 and 8 month plans are available for both here.

Example Swimmer Flutter Kick with a Board.

5.) Underwater Dolphin Kick (On Stomach)

They call it the fifth stroke for a reason, because it really is something different than the rest. Kicking underwater and having to push fully through the up-kick below the surface has greater strength requirements than at the surface. There is also less time for rest on plantarflexion. See the difference below.

Example Swimmer Underwater Dolphin Kick on Stomach.

6.) Underwater Dolphin Kick (On Back)

This Kick is a BEAST of its’ own. I do think that is why only CERTAIN athletes (predominantly Backstrokers) master this one. Changing swimmer’s orientation to upside down effects their buoyancy and ability to stay underwater. Plus, you have that feeling of tilting your head back and potential water going up your nose + needing to calm the nervous system while performing it. Regan Smith is one of the World’s Best Underwater Dolphin Kickers (see why below).


As you can tell all these kicks vary between mechanical differences to ones mirrored under the surface of the water. When underwater, flexing the foot happens 100% of the time – along with a bit more body undulation than can be obtained at the surface or what swimmers may prefer to swim with. If you need to purchase any equipment like a kickboard or a snorkel to keep working on your swim kicks, click here. Otherwise, next time you hear the question: How Many Swim Kick Techniques Are There? You know the right answer.

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

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