Do triathletes need to strengthen their kick to become a better swimmer?
When I was a swimmer K-college I did use my kick for propulsion in coordination with my arms. We did kick sets almost every practice and I was always the last swimmer because just kicking was slow for me. The first few years post-college when I continued to train for a triathlon, I changed my swim technique to maximize my upper body to propel me through the water, mainly three muscle groups: latissimus dorsi, rear delts, and triceps. The underwater pull is composed of “The Catch” and “The Push”. The Catch engages your lats and rear delts and “The Push” activates your triceps.
Here is an article I came across, the Kicking Debate, and give my viewpoint below.
I agree with Shaun “Comparing swimmers and triathletes is like comparing apples and oranges. Yes, triathletes swim, but many have overdeveloped quads and tight hip flexors.” Most triathletes learn to swim as adults, might come from a running or cycling background which can cause tight hip flexors and inflexible ankles. When they learn to swim they often use their legs for propulsion. Using the larger muscle groups can create breathlessness and fatigue.
I agree with Sara, using swim fins does encourage athletes to keep their toes loosely pointed, engages their quad and hip flexor, keeps their legs on the surface of the water like a pull buoy can. I also agree with Shaun “Two critical factors we haven’t talked about are buoyancy and body drag. Swimmers lacking buoyancy tend to kick wildly as sinking legs force the body underwater. I agree kicking sets are necessary; however, kicking with a board ultimately puts the body in an “uphill position,” wasting energy. Working on buoyancy drills is an even better way to turn triathletes into efficient swimming machines.”
I teach triathletes a technique to use their upper body to stroke their way through the swim portion of triathlon and save their legs for the bike and run. As a result, I don’t include much, if any, kicking sets in their swim workouts, although I often add breaststroke kick or dolphin kick with fins for recovery.
How do you get faster with swimming? Swimming is a technique, strength sport. Once you develop the technique with various balance, recovery, hand entry, catch and pull drills, then condition your body to become stronger with that technique by maximizing the amount of water you pull with every arm stroke, then increase your arm cadence without losing strength, distance per stroke, and you will come an efficiently, faster swimmer.
The main purpose of the kick is freestyle is to provide body balance, not propulsion, especially for triathletes. A proper kick initiated from your hip flexors and quads, and having flexible ankles, will allow your legs to stay on the surface of the water for body balance, it does not take much energy to achieve this. Since most triathletes will wear a wetsuit, you do not need to kick in a wetsuit.
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