Kick Speed Determines Swim Speed!

Hi All – welcome back to Part III of our series on the Freestyle Kick. I know it’s been a minute since I wrote a blog post, and I feel like that just how it goes sometimes. Any who, if you haven’t had a chance to read Part I or II. Click the links below to get caught up:

Part I:

Part II:

Let’s get started!

In Part I we alluded and even connected with a previous blog post of ours titled: The Fastest Freestylers are the FASTEST Kickers! In this blog I talk about Allison Schmitt’s 200 Freestyle from the 2012 Olympic Games, where she won gold and had the best kick of anyone in the pool. My reasoning on why she was able to win Gold was because she is the BEST kicker in the pool. Let me explain…

As we said before in Freestyle (and Backstroke), the kick can create up to 40% of the entire propulsion generated for the stroke. In Breaststroke, it can be up to 80% and in Butterfly 60-70% – that’s a lot of weight on the kick.


Kicking requires using more of the larger muscles groups in your body, which means physiologically – you have to work harder (internally) to keep that same speed going. If you’re not in shape, kicking is everybody’s worse nightmare. That’s because the larger muscles in your body are SCREAMING for more oxygen, because they need ATP and using up that oxygen so fast – your heart rate sky rockets to keep up with the demand. BUT, if you’re in really good shape – kicking can still be hard, but it’s not nearly as demanding on your aerobic system.

It is possible to do longer swim sets kick and really test the legs (outside the arms) to get these larger muscles ready for meet day. I do believe most swimmers BEST seasons comes from when their legs are in the BEST shape. If you can kick fast, you can swim fast. And it’s not just kicking 500 yards, once – it’s doing repeats – over and over again.

A True Story:

A good buddy and old teammate of mine from college, William Cregar, tore his labrum the summer going into his senior year in college and actually ended up WINNING the 400IM at NCAA’s that year, by getting in the BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE and kicking practices to help his shoulder heal from surgery versus swimming.

Bill Cregar at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Credit: Tim Binning.

This is what Billy had to say after his 400IM win at the 2011 NCAA championships, “I’m not always the first one out, but I did what I do every day in training. It’s hard to kick that last 100, but I put my head down and kicked as hard as I could … When I got to the free wall, I put my head down and did not look. I just tried to get to the wall first.”

That swim was something that change the way I viewed swimming. How could someone who barely pulled ANYTHING an entire season come back and WIN? Let alone win one of the hardest races in our sport: The 400IM? It made no sense to me until I looked at the physiology behind what Billy did.

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So if you’re really looking to improve your swim speed, you heavily need to consider what your legs are doing. And yes, I give this advice even to my triathlete friends. I know there’s a huge debate on whether you should utilize your legs at the beginning of a triathlon – but I believe that really depends on the race distance you’re about to do and your background with swimming. A good friend of mine, Haley Chura, also another UGA alumni is a professional triathlete and Ironman who heavily uses the swim leg to her advantage, as that was her background prior to triathlon. But if that’s not you and you’re going into an ironman, I would make sure your legs are where you want them to be (and your body) physiologically before the race – which means you MUST train kicking too.

The Freestyle Kick is such a different set of mechanics compared to running or biking – don’t get yourself lost in the shuffle by not giving your kick the time of day it deserves.

So you heard it here first, folks. Get to kicking! 🙂

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

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