Basking Shark tours 2017

Flippin’ Fintastic

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As endurance swimmers, we need to optimise our leg position behind the body so as not to create drag. However, it’s not as easily said as done as many of us suffer from shortened or tight hip flexors or lack of core and glute strength due to the unhelpful hip flexion that we all find ourselves subjected to in daily life, while sitting in our day jobs, or if spending a lot of time driving, cycling or running. This can result in poor leg position in the water that slows us down. 

The targeted use of fins for swimming and the use of specific drills can help improve strength and flexibility and allow us to maintain a better leg position in the water.

In addition, many swimmers are unaware of their leg kicking rhythm. Swimming with fins is an excellent way to develop co-ordination of your leg kicking rhythm, particularly if you are trying to shift the balance of propulsion from your legs to your arms. Anyone who has tried kick sets will soon recognise how energy demanding it can be using large muscle groups such as quads and hamstrings for forward propulsion, so decreasing the demands on our legs makes sense for long distance swimming. The Olympic marathon swimmers recently in Rio displayed a range of leg kicking rhythms, from a two-beat in the early and middle stages of the race to conserve energy to an eight-beat kick when putting in the final surge for the finish line. 

Even with the best leg kick in the world, an elite pool swimmer such as Ian Thorpe in his prime would still not expect it to generate more than 15% of his total propulsion. For an amateur swimmer we would expect significantly less effective kicking mechanics, resulting in perhaps 8 to 10% of the total. But for some people, their legs act more like anchors than a second engine. 

The following sessions are designed to assist in developing hip strength, effective leg kicking mechanics (from hips, not the knees) and co-ordinating a two, four or six-beat kick conducive to your individual stroke rhythm and type of event you are training for (e.g. endurance vs sprint).

Session 1

Warm up: 200m FS (freestyle) with fins on. Observe and tune in to your leg kick rhythm when swimming easily with fins on.

200m FS without fins. Identify if you naturally have a two, four, six or eight-beat kick.

8x50m as 25m kick on side and 25m FS. Aim to utilise correct kicking technique from your hips, with knees straight, ankles in plantar flexion and toes pointed. Swap sides after each 50m.

Main set: Contrast kicking

400m FS without fins, increasing pace to negative split (ie. swim the second 200m faster than the first). Note if your leg kick rhythm changes as you try to swim faster.

400m FS with fins, negative split. Aim to maintain your leg kick rhythm and increase stroke rate. Keep focused on functional stroke mechanics such as early catch, vertical forearm or more effective pull and finishing stroke to thighs.

400m FS with fins and paddles. Co-ordinate a two or four-beat kick with steady stroke rhythm.

400m FS with fins, focus on tapping toes together, legs straight, buttocks lightly engaged to utilise core and glutes.

400m FS positive split. Go out fast implementing a six or eight-beat kick and then settle on an individual kick rhythm to your sustainable pace.

Cool down: 4x100m easy. Contrast two, four, six and eight-beat kicking through each 100m followed by choice to finish without fins.

Total: 3200m

Session 2: Short and sweet lunchtime special

Warm up: 200m FS (freestyle) with fins on. Observe and tune in to your leg kick rhythm when swimming easily with fins on.

200m FS without fins. Identify if you naturally have a two, four, six or eight-beat kick.

4x50m as 25m kick on side and 25m FS. Aim to utilise correct kicking technique from your hips, with knees straight, ankles in plantar flexion and toes pointed. Swap sides after each 50m.

Main set: Contrast kicking

200m FS without fins, increasing pace to negative split (ie. swim the second 100m faster than the first). Note if your leg kick rhythm changes as you try to swim faster.

200m FS with fins, negative split. Aim to maintain your leg kick rhythm and increase stroke rate. Keep focused on functional stroke mechanics such as early catch, vertical forearm or more effective pull and finishing stroke to thighs.

200m FS with fins and paddles. Co-ordinate a two or four-beat kick with steady stroke rhythm.

200m FS with fins, focus on tapping toes together, legs straight, buttocks lightly engaged to utilise core and glutes.

200m FS positive split. Go out fast implementing a six or eight-beat kick and then settle on an individual kick rhythm to your sustainable pace.

Cool down: 4x500m easy. Contrast two, four, six and eight-beat kicking through each 50m followed by choice to finish without fins.

Total: 1800m

Equipment required

Long, flexible training fins develop a swimmer’s hip and leg functional strength and help promote effective movement patterns for efficient kicking. I therefore recommend FINIS Long Floating fins (long and flexible), TYR split fins (promote ankle flexibility as well as hip extension) or Aqua Sphere Alpha fins (most extreme version of floating fins for the ultimate in lift for lean and/or muscled legs). 

Short, stiff fins promote kicking from quads and knees and so are not recommended if you already have drag issues or find yourself out of breath frequently when swimming.

Cover August 17

Issue 5 August 2017

  • Improve your pacing: Take your training outside
  • Ice Maiden: Ultra swimming legend Jaimie Monahan
  • On Test: Wild swimming and swimrun wetsuits
  • Terry Laughlin: Swimming through cancer treatment
  • Coach's Advice: How to sight in open water

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