Right kick, right time: How to kick in open water

When was the last time you thought about your kick while open water swimming?

It’s a critical part of your swimming technique, and it can play a super crucial part in ocean swimming, but I find swimmers tend to kick too much when they shouldn’t and not enough when they should.

During the open water section of your swim – that’s the part outside of the surf zone – there’s no need for a fast kick (i.e. 4 to 6-beat) because all you’ll end up doing is tiring yourself out. The average swimmer’s kick is highly inefficient and even at its best may only account for 10-15% of propulsion.

What you should be aiming for, is a relaxed 2-beat kick (one kick on each leg for each two-arm cycle), this will reduce the energy expended while still assisting with body rotation and maintaining a high lower-body position in the water (reducing drag).

The surf zone is where a strong effective kick will serve you well, and it’s worth saving your energy for this section of your ocean swim.

In particular, there are four times when a faster, stronger, more effective kick will benefit you. These are when sighting, diving under waves, catching runners and body surfing.

When sighting, use a short energetic burst of kicking, coupled with a strong arm pull phase, as you prepare to lift your head forward to sight. This will assist in lifting and surging your head and shoulders out of the water and allow you a slightly longer dwell time to look ahead. Relax your kick as you roll your head to the side to complete your breath.

When diving under waves, start to intensify your stroke and kick as you approach the wave to give yourself slightly more momentum as you transition to your dive, then, while under the water – especially if you’re keeping your hands stretched out in a streamlined position – continue with a strong kick to maintain your speed, holding this as you break the surface and get back into your freestyle rhythm. Then relax.

When catching runners, time an increase in effort, in both your stroke and your kick, as the swell approaches, and hold it as you ride the runner, relaxing as you fall off the back of the swell.

And finally, when body surfing, much like catching runners, use a strong kick along with an increase in stroke effort to get your speed up to as close to the speed of the approaching wave as possible. The more speed and momentum you have the easier it’ll be to catch the wave. Whenever you’re on a wave, maintain a strong kick to stay on, and ahead, of the wave, and ride it for as long as possible.

Kicking is still an important part of your stroke, but make sure you’re putting the right effort in at the right time.

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