Back to Basics - Kick and Pull

Kick Yes

Implementing ‘old school’ training can bring about improvement. Quite simply, these methods work, particularly if you know what type of stroke you have and where it needs refining by bringing about a back to basics focus. A swimmer with a strong freestyle kick, whether they consciously or subconsciously use their legs for propulsion, will benefit from improving their rhythm, catch, pull, use of back and lat muscles by including ‘pull’ sets. Swimmers who barely kick at all, whether by choice or not, or have a low leg or hip position in the water will significantly reduce some of their drag co-efficient in the stroke by engaging an efficient streamlined kick from the hips. It is always quite amazing in a squad or club how a focus on leg kicking efficiency and engaging hip flexors and glute muscles to keep the leg mostly straight while kicking, provides almost immediate speed gains by not utilising quads and hamstrings, which create drag and are very demanding in energy terms. This is often a significant factor holding back the multisport athlete or land-based athlete turned swimmer! 

The sessions below help you work on the basics of kick and pull, with the benefits both bring to the stroke. Try to work out your propulsive ratio of kicking to arm stroke cycle, as employing the powerful leg muscles unless well conditioned with very good kicking technique, will only generate up to 15 per cent of your total propulsion. This is significantly less if you kick from your knees, using your quads and hamstrings. An underwater assessment such as a video analysis is the best way to reveal this ratio

Kick Yes
Kick No

Session 1 – Kicking focus

Warm up: 200 to 400m freestyle (+10 sec), 8 to 16x25m kick on front with board or sculling hands/arms (+10 sec), 4 to 8x50 pull with pull buoy between thighs (+10 sec)

Build set: Vertical kicking – swim to deep end of pool

4 to 8 x 60 seconds vertical kicking in deep water. 

Aim to maintain body and legs completely vertical, not leaning forward, engage through core by stretching chest and shoulders away from hips. Maintain strong kicking technique from hips, glance down in water (goggles on, look beneath water surface) observe whether you can see your knees bending or have a clear view of your plantar flexed feet (toes pointed). If you can see your knees, straighten out your legs, engage your core and glutes, stretch through front of hips (hip flexors) to correct your kicking technique. Apply this straight away into freestyle by swimming two lengths. 

Recoveries are two lengths easy swim, pointed big toes, tapping them together lightly and stretching out through core, hips, knees and feet.

Main set:

4 to 8 x 25m half length sprint with powerful leg kick, into half length easy freestyle tapping toes together. If swimming with a partner, swim side by side and race the sprints, cruise the easy freestyle +10 seconds rest

3 to 6 sets of split 500m:

200 freestyle at threshold/ CSS pace +20 to 30 seconds (easy leg kick)

2x100m at threshold pace +10 seconds (powerful leg kick)

2x50m kick on front with board/side (one arm outstretched the other by top side) or back (arms outstretched above head in streamline) +5 seconds 

No additional rest in between each 500m swim, straight into the next one after the kick set!

4 to 8 x 25m half length sprint with powerful leg kick, into half length easy freestyle tapping toes together. If swimming with a partner, swim side by side and race the sprints, cruise the easy freestyle. +10 seconds rest

Cool down: 200m backstroke (fins optional) 

Total: 2400m to 7600m 

Differentiate the set according to beginner, intermediate or advanced/experienced swimmer distances.

Session 2 – ‘Pull’ focus

Warm up: 200m freestyle (+10 seconds), 4 to 8x50m pull with pull buoy between thighs (+10 sec), 8 to 16x25m kick on front with board or sculling hands/arms (+10 seconds)

Build set: 

4 to 8 x 50m pull, pull buoy at upper thighs +10 seconds rest. Swim at aerobic pace (slightly slower than threshold/race pace, +2-3 seconds per 50m) odd numbered efforts in plantar flexion (toes pointed), even numbered efforts in dorsi flexion (toes pulled back towards shins)

4 to 8 x 50m pull, pull buoy at knees +10 seconds rest. Swim at aerobic pace (slightly slower than threshold/race pace, +2 to 3 seconds per 50m) glutes and core slightly engaged to maintain body rotation.

4 to 8 x 50m pull, pull buoy at ankles +10 seconds rest. Swim at aerobic pace (slightly slower than threshold/race pace, +2 to 3 seconds per 50m), work on keeping feet together by engaging through long body axis, core and hips.

Main set:

3 to 10 sets of split 400m:

200m pull @ threshold/ race pace +20 to 30 seconds (little or no kick, upper body focus on stroke rate rhythm)

Into:

4x50m freestyle @ threshold/race pace +10 seconds

+ additional 30 to 60 seconds rest

Cool down: 400m easy, choice of strokes

Total: 2600m to 6400m

Kick Yes2
Kick No2

Guidance notes

Kick= kicking on your front with arms streamlined in front either supported by a kick board or lightly sculling. This exercise develops shoulder and ankle flexibility and provides an excellent opportunity to assess kicking technique. If you feel the burn in thighs and hamstrings (or suffer cramp) then you are likely kicking ‘from the knee’ rather than the glute and hip flexors/core.

Pull = swimming front crawl with the pull buoy float lightly squeezed between the upper thighs. This encourages the swimmer to rotate through the long axis using predominantly their core muscles and utilise upper body and rotation entirely for propulsion.

Swim Smooth Squad training and Video Analysis sessions

Triathlon Europe provides weekly Swim Smooth squad training in South West London. The squad enjoy training all year round in fabulous indoor and outdoor 33m pools. Fiona offers 1-2-1 video analysis sessions and stroke correction sessions on weekday mornings and weekend Swim Smooth workshops.

Find out more: www.fionafordcoaching.com

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Issue 42 October 2020

  • Q&A with Jaimie Monahan - marathon swimmer and Queen of the Ice
  • Autumn swim adventures around the UK
  • The science behind cold water acclimatisation
  • Reviewed: The Best Open Water Goggles
  • The often deadly history of unsupported marathon swims

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