I recently came across this article, Kicking Debate as well as other articles on the importance of kicking skills for triathletes and wanted to give my viewpoint.
When an athlete comes to me for swimming technique and comments that they need to work on their kick, the first thing that comes to mind is WHY? Sure, the proper kick from your hip flexors and quads is important for body balance and rotation, keeping your lower body from dragging on the bottom of the pool, I dont believe a triathletes kick should be used for propulsion in triathlon swimming, especially since most triathletes will wear a wetsuit and you should not need to kick in a wetsuit
Swimming is a technique, strength sport. Develop the technique with various balance, recovery, hand entry, catch and pull drills, conditioning your body to become stronger with that technique, 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 be come an efficiently, faster swimmer.
I was a swimmer K-college so understand how important kicking is for swimmers, even as a distance swimmer, my stroke has changed since becoming a triathlete. When I joined a masters swim group when I moved to Colorado from MI, post college, 3 years after I started triathlon, I changed my swim technique to to become a latissimus dominate swimmer. I taught my first adult how to swim in 2000 and over the years developed my swim technique to use upper body for propulsion in the water, engaging the athletes lats, maximizing their catch and pull and minimizing their kick.
Most swimmers started swimming in their youth, they have developed flexible ankles, core strength, and hip flexors and can use their large muscles to propel themselves in the water. Most triathletes learn to swim as adults, might come from a running or cycling background which can cause tight hip flexors and ankles and strong quads. When they learn to swim, often trying to use their legs for propulsion, quad dominant, larger muscle groups use more oxygen and can cause breathlessness and fatigue. 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.” I teach triathletes to stroke their way through the swim portion of triathlon with only upper-body strength 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 breastroke kick or dolphin kick with fins fins a as recovery.
Core strength and ankle flexibility is a necessary component to kicking with the proper muscles, hip flexors and quads, to breath the proper body balance and rotation. Synchronizing your kick with arm strokes is important for proper body balance and rotation, not propulsion. 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.”
5 Causes of Breathless Swimming
Ironman University Certified Coach, 16x Ironman Finisher, 8x Kona Finisher and author of "How To Swim Faster in 30 Days", Wendy Mader explains in detail, the 5 issues that can cause breathlessness in the water:
Not exhaling Immediately before you inhale
Dragging lower body
Kicking too much
Dropping your arm too soon when you rotate