Lower body drills
No matter how good your swim stroke, a weak kick will leave you floundering. The kick is like the propeller of a boat, powering you from behind. Speed up and unlock your kicking power potential by focusing on lower body drills to hone technique and build leg strength.
Equipment to work the lower body
Fins help to make the kick in freestyle, butterfly and back stroke that bit easier and help you get a feel for the kick movement. They can also help to boost leg strength and ankle flexibility.
Zoomers have a wide blade for added resistance but are short, to help you kick quickly.
Ankle weights can be used to add a strength-training element to a swim session. They can affect your form, though, so need to be used wisely.
A kick board is essentially a float that will remove your arms from the equation so you can focus on the movement of your legs.
Poolside kicking drill
You can do the poolside drill for all four strokes, but here we’re covering freestyle. Stand in the water and place your hands on the edge of the pool. Keep your arms straight and your head and upper body relaxed. Keep the ankles close together and flutter the feet, keeping the legs on the surface of the water to avoid sinking your hips. The kick starts at the hip flexors, the muscles at the top of your legs. Slightly turn the feet inwards and keep your legs as straight as possible to avoid using your quads. You can test your legs are in the right position by creating a little white water – if your legs are too deep you won’t be able to produce the tell-tale bubbles of white water. Do the drill for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat five times. Do the drill at the start of every session to hone your kick.
Kicking drill with a kickboard
Push off, glide for two seconds and start kicking. Keep the legs straight and kick from the hips. Don’t bend the knees – any bend should come from the pressure of the water and not you. Relax your feet and ankles and flutter the feet. Start with one length (25 metres) and build to 200 metres at a time.
Relax the ankles, alternating a fluttering action of the foot near the top of the water for half a length with a deeper explosive kick creating white water for the second half. This drill will prepare you for when you need a big kick in a race: the start, catching another swimmer, or in the final 200m. Do this as a pyramid drill: 25m, 50m, 75m, 100m working hard with 10 seconds’ rest between.
Do one kick with your left leg, one kick with your right leg, followed by one kick with both legs together. Repeat. Keep the non-kicking leg as straight as possible and be sure to finish each kick with your feet together. Imagine your legs are spring loaded and avoid stopping your foot at the top of the recovery or you’ll increase drag and resistance and slow down. It’s tricky to get the feel for this drill initially so start slowly and increase the tempo as you get the hang of it.
This drill will encourage you to put an emphasis on your leg action whilst still allowing undulation – the mermaid-like movement that’s key to the butterfly stroke – in the rest of your body. Place your arms in front of you and do a sculling action while you focus on the movement of your legs. To make it harder, try undulation at the bottom of the pool with your arms to your sides while you kick your legs together.
Lower body land-based drills
Land-based moves that strengthen your lower body and boost flexibility will help you power up your kick. Add these moves into a weekly gym session.
Quads, glutes and hamstrings
Good old lunges, squats and deadlifts will work your hamstrings, quads and glutes in tandem, helping you to power up in the pool. The more weight you shift, the more strength you’ll build.
A good freestyle kick comes not only from powerful upper legs but flexible ankles too. Throw in some ankle circles and gas pedals (ie like you’re pressing your foot on and off the accelerator in a car) at the start of a workout to maximise mobility.