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How often should a swimmer kick when swimming freestyle?

A reader asks "The best distance swimmers use a 6 beat kick. Should I use it?"


Updated November 11, 2012
The freestyle kick - 2-beat, 4-beat, 6-beat, 2-beat crossover, What do I use when swimming freestyle? This swimming question, often asked by swimmers, is one best answered by that swimmer. How? By a little swim or kick test in the swimming pool. The answer to how much you kick when swimming freestyle today might not be what you do 6 months from now if your swim technique and conditioning improve.

Which kick to use is dependent on your stroke timing and body position. While it is true that many great distance swimmers use a two-beat kick, there are also some that will do other rhythms.

Experiment with it. If you have no problem holding body position and good technique with a two-beat kick, then use it for some test sets, and compare the results with those from test sets using other kicks. Compare your times, ability to hold a pace, and your perceived level of effort (or how tired you feel when done). For example:

  • 6 x 100 on 3:00 minutes, fastest possible speed.
    • Record the time for each 100 and level of effort.
    • Expected result - These should be the fastest in average per 100 but may have the biggest drop-off per 100 as the set progresses.
  • 10 x 100 on :10 seconds rest, holding the fastest possible pace.
    • Record the time for each 100 and level of effort.
    • Expected result - These will probably be faster than your 300 speed, but with less drop off as the set progresses.
    • You may have a big drop-off between the first few, but then settle into a rhythm.
  • 9 x 300 on :10 seconds rest, holding the fastest possible even pace.
    • Record the time for each 300 and level of effort.
    • Expected result - These should be the steadiest pace, although you are still working hard, you will probably, almost automatically, drop into a pace you can hold either during the first or second 300.
Do these over a few days or weeks with different kicks, always trying to do the same routine the day before and day of the test - the same warm-up, the same pre-workout food, etc. Compare the results of the tests - which kick was fastest for test #1? test #2? test #3?

What else does the test tell you?

  • Test #1 is the technique you would use for 200's and below.
  • Test #2 is what you would use for 200's to 400's.
  • Test #3 is the technique for 400's and above.
You might begin and end a 400 with the technique from test #1 and use the technique from test #2 or #3 in the middle. You might use #1 for the first 25 of a 1500, then settle in to #3, drop into #2 for a breakaway, then back into #3, then #2 for the last 50 or 100 meters, dropping into #1 for the last 25.

Training, fitness, flexibility, strength, and strategy will determine which you will do at each point during a race. If you know what these different techniques tied to kick are for you, and what they do for your speed and energy level, you can make some good choices.

You can add some extra leg work to your workouts, use flippers, or change the way you kick by changing your body position - try kicking while on your side or back sometimes. Try it and let me know what you find. With a little work, you may find yourself kicking as well an Olympian.

Swim On!

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