Kicking for Dummies: Swimming Tips for your Legs

Kicking for Dummies: Swimming Tips for your Legs

Kicking for Dummies: Swimming Tips for your Legs

When improving your form, it never hurts to have the best tools to help in reaching for your performance goals. My favorite tools as I work on my kicking are my waterproof iPod and headphones from Underwater Audio. It is so great to play my favorite tunes while I swim laps. I even downloaded swimming tips from Olympic athletes to listen to while I swim! I recommend the Swimbuds Sport headphones with your iPod for superior sound quality in and out of the water. With the variety of tips included you’ll be sure to find that perfect fit and watertight seal. Clip your iPod to your suit or cap and get kicking!



Why do you even need swimming tips for your kick?

Michael Phelps

Bryan Allison Photo via wikimedia

You’ve heard that your arms do all the work when you swim.  That’s why swimmers get such toned shoulders and biceps.

Just look at the size of Michael Phelps’ upper body versus his lower body!

It’s true that your legs provide only a fraction of your power (max. 15%), but they can also create a lot of drag if you aren’t careful……

That’s why these swimming tips for a great kick are so important!


 Ankle Flexibility

If you’re a runner, you may struggle with this.  Running is safer with less flexible ankles, since you are continually pushing off the ground.  You don’t point your feet or stand on your toes.

Swimming is the opposite.  If could look closely at an Olympic swimmer’s toes while she kicked, you would probably notice that they are bent past straight.

This creates the least possible drag, keeping them in line with your body and creating a smooth surface for water to rush by instead of catching it (which happens with inflexible ankles).

Kick from the Hip

The single most important thing about kicking in the water is….

Keep your legs straight.

swimming kick from the hip proper technique

Technique Tips Photo via

We already know that flexing your ankles causes drag.  Think how much bigger your legs are than your feet.  Bending your knees is essentially the same thing, causing your legs to have a much larger surface area.

Surface area = drag

You want to allow for some natural bend in your knee as you kick.  But keep your legs as straight as possible and use your hips and core to generate motion.

Aside from creating less drag, your legs get tired faster than your core, so you are being more efficient and conserving energy!


Point your Toes

The more you point your toes, the less drag there is with each kick.  And if you’re kicking 3 times per stroke, that adds up fast.

Think of your ankles as oars in a boat.  If you turn them flat against the direction of the water, you slow down.  If you turn them so the thin side is hitting the water, you have no drag.

You always want to choose the “no drag” option!

But it gets worse.  Not pointing your toes can actually make you go backwards!

Think about it, if your feet are flexed, then every time you kick you’re actually pushing water towards your body, which is the WRONG WAY!

Ankle flexibility will help with this.  Just like anything, the easier it is to point your toes, the more likely you are to do it.


Control and Timing

clock time

Keep your legs straight.  Ankles straight.  Feet pointed.  It all sounds so rigid…..are you afraid of cramping up and not being able to focus on anything else?

You don’t want to be tense when you’re swimming. Ideally, you should relax your muscles while maintaining good control over your body.  Keep everything in line, but not so tightly that you lose flexibility or your natural motion.

This ties in nicely with kick timing.  You also need to keep control over how often you kick.

Use the 2 beat kick if you want to save energy in your legs. Kick once for every time your arm enters the water.

Use the 4 beat kick if you think that 2 is a little slow, but you aren’t trying to book it.  Kick twice per stroke.

Use the 6 beat kick if you care about speed.  Kick 3 times for every stroke.  This is the standard timing used in competitions and races.

Even though you’re only kicking 3 times per stroke, the speed and effect that you can achieve varies greatly depending on how hard you kick.  More isn’t always faster.  Harder is faster, too.



After you absorb these 4 swimming tips, keep working!

There are lots and lots of drills you can to do self-evaluate your kick right now and then try to improve it.

Vertical kicking is great for focusing on keeping your legs straight.  Get in the deep end and instead of treading water, do a flutter kick.  Keep your arms crossed and try to stay in place.  If you want to stay above the water, you’ll need to keep your legs straight

swimming fins finis zoomers

Zoomers Fit Fins,

and generate the power from your hips and quads.

To work on pointed toes, try swimming with fins and feel the difference.  Flex your ankles and see how much drag you generate with fins on.  It will be impossible not to notice.  Now point your toes and see how much propulsion you get that way!  You’ll be amazed.

Improving ankle flexibility will take a little longer but isn’t hard.  Try sitting back on your feet for a few minutes each day.  Once it gets easier to sit like that, try staying in that pose longer.  After a few months you’ll be able to bend them like a pro!


Your Thoughts

What’s your favorite drill for improving your kick?  And which one of these do you need to work on most? Tell us in the comments section!


About the author

Melanie graduated from Dartmouth in June with a degree in Linguistics and works at Underwater Audio because she loves music and swimming! She is a newlywed and enjoys hiking, tennis, and playing with her dog in her spare time.

» More blog posts by Melanie




    Mar 13


    Hi- a runner/ cyclist. I can swim well with pull buoys( crawl) but when they are home, doing front crawl is tiring. So I know my weakness- my kick. I’ve tried the ankles / feet pointed and pushing down with my chest to raise feet up etc but I still struggle. I just tried short blade fins today- it was a bit weird at first. Unless I moved the flipper with my toes/ ankles I ended up screwing it up! As opposed to pointed toes and locked ankles without fins, the find forced me to use my ankles to propel forward. Also- my feet wanted to float up and break surface which wasn’t good at all. Can you offer any advice?? Thanks

      Mar 17


      You may be happy to know that many triathletes struggle with the same problem! Both running and cycling rely heavily on knee movement, while a strong flutter kick relies mainly on the hips. Although I haven’t seen you swim and am certainly no expert, I may have a few tips that could help you strengthen your kick.

      First, think of your legs as straight projections from your hips. Pretend your ankles and knees don’t even exist. Try swimming like this, just to feel how your legs act as dead-weight in the water. Straight legs, pointed toes, kicking up and down, up and down.

      Once you can feel how inefficient your legs are when they’re completely tense, relax your knees and ankles. I noticed that you said without fins you lock your ankles and point your toes. This is good, to an extent, but you don’t want them to be tense. They should be pointed but not tense or inflexible.

      Think of how a whip works: its strength and speed comes from the flexible wave-like motion that moves down the rope all the way to the tip. Your legs should be acting as whips, sending motion from your hips down through your knees and ankles, cutting through the water.

      Ideally, once you begin to relax your legs, the motion from your hips will travel naturally down your legs and generate a strong, reliable kick that will propel you forwards.

      If you still can’t find the happy medium, try going to the other extreme: use your knees to kick through the water like you’re cycling. This should be dragging you backwards, even worse than keeping everything straight, but now you know how it feels to do it wrong!

      Practice with different hip-knee-ankle ratios, experimenting with what movement feels right to you and when you go the fastest. Your movement should be mainly hip, with natural knee and ankle movement following from the wave motion that you are generating. Stay relaxed, keep your head down (yes, this can affect your kick), and keep practicing!

      *Also, it’s normal for fins to cause your feet to float, since they themselves are designed to float so you don’t lose them in the ocean!

    May 20


    Nice tips Melanie.
    I have just started swimming and I know that I tense up in the process of keeping legs straight and feet pointed, so much so, that I feel a vein pulling painfully in my right leg. But I really don’t know how to relax… Every time I relax, I end up bending my knees and flapping both the feet together. Also, my legs and hips start to sort of, vibrate and I feel a roll from side to side. My instructor says that shouldn’t happen. I am confused what to do… Please help.

    Jan 23


    My daughters feet hit each other in freestyle stroke. She has 20degree antiversion in her right hip. That causes her right foot to hit her left foot. Fins work but when taken off her foot turns in again and hit her other foot. Any suggestions or tips to correct?

      Jan 31

      Customer Service

      Hi Joe! Everything I’ve read recommends doing exercises to strengthen the muscles that would help keep her foot aligned. For example, curling her toes like she’s picking up coins from the bottom of the pool would strengthen her foot. Plus she could do the exercise both in the pool and at home – even practicing with real pennies in the living room!

      Good luck!

        Feb 08


        Thanks for the suggestion!
        Have you ever heard of this happening to other swimmers?

          Feb 14

          Underwater Audio

          Not this specifically, but it seems similar to other issues I’ve heard of/encountered. 🙂

    Aug 09


    I am a 74 year old fitness swimmer. My weakness has always been my kick. Without fins I barely move. I have always used long fins for the kicking part of my workout, but recently decided to try Finis Z2 Gold Zoomers and Sporti Silicone fins because I read shorter fins improved leg strength. I’ve used them in two workouts so far and have to say I get very little propulsion. It’s frustrating and embarrassing. I get many compliments on my swimming form, but I’d like to be able to swim faster. I had both knees replaced six months ago, but have made a full recovery. I’d like to know what I can do to improve my kicking technique, as obviously something is lacking!


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