Thoughts On Kicking?

swimmergirl23swimmergirl23 Member
edited March 2012 in Beginner Questions
I have a question about stroke mechanics that I am hoping some of you can answer! So I have a very kick-driven stroke, which I know is kind of rare and not ideal for long distance swimming. I generally keep a 6-beat kick going for all of my pool events and shorter (5k or less) OW swims. I have been told that trying to maintain this for 7-8 hours is counterproductive/a waste of energy, if not impossible. On the flip side, I have also heard that my kick helps keep me warm, and I'm kind of a cold water wimp (like MIMS will be a cold water swim for me haha). Since I've never swum this far before, I would love any advice on whether I should focus more of my efforts on trying to develop a more energy-efficient and upper-body driven stroke, or whether I should work on my kick more with the hopes that I can keep it up the whole time? Thanks!


  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    This is a very interesting question!

    Always take advice given over the internet with a grain of salt, but.... my inclination would be to "be yourself." You've probably been swimming since you were quite young, right? I think swimmers who start early often naturally develop strokes that are suited to their bodies - that take advantage of strengths, and de-emphasize weak points.

    In your case, as you developed as a swimmer, apparently a natural 6-beat kick emerged - which you use even in distance events. If a 6-beat kick comes naturally to you, that's probably how you're most efficient in the water. (I wouldn't make this assumption with an adult-onset swimmer.)

    In my case, I've always had a strong upper body & shoulders, combined with weak hips - so I naturally developed a pull-heavy stroke.

    The people who say a 6-beat kick is counterproductive for a marathon swim are probably people who don't have natural 6-beat kicks. For them, holding a 6-beat kick for 7-8 hours is impossible. For you, it might not be. For you, it might actually be most efficient.

    But the only way to find out is to do a long training swim with your typical 6-beat kick, and see how it goes. If your normal mile-strength kick becomes too tiring, perhaps try a somewhat lighter kick, while still maintaining the 6-beat rhythm.

    Let us know how it goes!
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I had a natural 6 beat kick. It took a few years for me to develop an effective 2 beat, and now its second nature. I certainly spin a little faster when I start a swim to generate heat and get my blood pumping. I reserve the 6 beat for those times when I need to move the work load around as I will also vary my arm speed a little. I think its beneficial to be able to switch back and forth as necessary.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited March 2012
    A couple follow-up thoughts.

    A 6-bk would be unusual for a 7-hour swim - perhaps even impossible for most people.

    I agree with Mr. Barra that it's useful to have multiple "arrows in your quiver" (a @Kaizen_Swimmer phrase, yes?), to deal with different conditions and different states of fatigue.

    Very few could pull off a 6-bk for MIMS... but @swimmergirl23 might be one. She's been quite successful with her current stroke. I'd be wary of messing with it I would absolutely advise against messing with it 3 months out.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    Wow...I thought based on the title of this discussion that this would be like a poll. My answer to the title is: Kicking sucks. ;)

    Seriously, though, I am one of those adult-onset swimmers that Evan mentions. I do a two-beat kick, unless I'm about to finish or pass or just starting, when I do a 6-beat. I like to kick the hell out of my legs at the end not really because I think I might finish in the top (which won't happen) but mostly because if I don't, then when I stand up at the end, I get all woozy. If I kick a lot at the end, the blood rushes to my legs and I am more able to stand w/o falling down!

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • Thanks for the thoughts everyone! Very much appreciated!
  • mmeadmmead Charter Member
    My two cents worth....(as requested via email by Evmo himself)

    While I in general agree with Evmo's "be yourself" sentiment, I think that kicking tends to limit those 6-beat kickers in ultra distance.

    Consider that the best pool swimmers in the world are getting about 30% of their propulsion from their kick, even though the muscles in your legs are HUGE and using up 50%+ of your energy. These are the the guys and girls who can kick a 50 underwater no breath faster than you or I can sprint a 50 freestyle. Compare that to someone like me, who was the only person on my Div. I college swim team of 60 people allowed to wear zoomers for kick sets.

    I've tried it all! I dragged my legs across the English Channel and have tried to hold a 6-beat kick for a 10k. What I found was that the less that I kick, the more I can redirect that energy to maintaining a higher stroke rate. I do kick some (i don't recommend treating your legs like dead weight) but as little as possible to keep my body position high. I kick more in freshwater than salt (buoyancy), and more in cold water than warm (when the water is warm, I'm in danger of overheating if I kick).

    While my theories may not work for you, one thing does work for everyone: experimentation. Take some time to play around a bit and see for yourself!
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    MM, your kick sets from the workouts in the forums kill me. And that's with wearing zoomers. But in a pool I have no problem with kicking, unless I'm pressed for time, like for a lunch set. But of the 6 OW races I've done, I've stuck to a 2-beat kick except for start, passing and finish.
    Don't even get me started with how much I practice bilateral breathing and then what happens when I race...subject for another discussion.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganSenior Member
    Yes, kicking sucks. I've never had a kick, hate kicking. But I've been experimenting with it recently to see if I can add a kick. I kicked for a whole mile (6 beat) about a month ago and was impressed with myself, tho winded. Kicking changes my breathing (more often), and my stroke (much faster) and tires me out, and I find it distracting. Guess that means I need some leg training. But I'm not all that motivated. I've never been fast, so increased speed doesn't entice me. My legs don't drag, heels are at the surface, so I don't worry about kicking for balance or alignment. I usually kick, tho, when I'm doing a race, at start and finish.

    Everyone is different. I would say that if kicking works for you, why fix it if it ain't broke?

    Experimenting is always good tho (except before an event). I'd like to take a couple of years of kick practice to make up my mind about whether kicking does anything to help me on any distance over a mile. Bottom line is, I really enjoy my stroke and swim style, so I don't really care if it's an oddity to not kick.
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    When I swam in high school I was always embarrassed by my weak kicking. It wasn't until I returned to swimming a decade later that I read about the 2 beat cross over kick. For the first time I didn't feel like I was alone in this world.
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    I don't know how many times my high school coach pulled me out and made me do push ups for not kicking. But, kicking always threw my stroke off and I hate it. I try to do some kicking/fins in training, just to keep myself balanced. But, it's great to be a marathon swimmer and have an entire family of non-kickers. :-)
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    As our friend Abby 6-beat kicks herself to a thorough domination of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, it is worth recalling this thread.
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    And only about 10 weeks since she did her first 6 hour swim! Awesome and congrats to Abby. Cause it wasn't easy it there.

  • Thanks Donal! Congrats to you too! We made it :)
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    I have to amend my answer above. For MIMS I trained to kickfast on my back ( no floatations assist) for 2 minutes. I used this for the first time at MIMS where I kicked hard on my back during feelings. I don't know if this had a significant effect on my time, but it did help to keep my head in the race.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    bobswims wrote:
    For MIMS I trained to kickfast on my back ( no floatations assist) for 2 minutes. I used this for the first time at MIMS where I kicked hard on my back during feelings. I don't know if this had a significant effect on my time, but it did help to keep my head in the race.

    Hadn't thought of training for this. I guess during such a long swim you would have several feelings going through your head. ;)

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    I also trained my kicking more than usual for MIMS. It was a complete waste of time for me due to the heat, which was unfamiliar to us cold water swimmers, which caused more dehydration and despite an assiduous attempt to stay hydrated during the swim I got foot cramps when trying to up my kicking rate in the first half of the swim.

  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    I agree that dehydration was definitely a problem at MIMS. It caught me a bit off guard. I was prepared to deal with at Tampa last year, but totally underestimated the risk at MIMS. I did not have cramps, but a friend of mine did. My infrequent urinations should have brought it to my attention. I was so glad to get out of the Harlem and into the somewhat cooler water of the Hudson.
  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
    I just wanted to give this thread a bump and see if @swimmergirl23 can share any conclusions she came to about kicking for long races?

    I am looking to do my first 10 miler this summer and have a similar kick dominant stroke. I am one of those swimmers that @mmead alluded to who can kick a 50 underwater faster than I am able to sprint a 50 on top. When I do pull sets in my workouts, taking my kick away normally equates to about a 3-6 second per 100 yard drop in my speed since my upper body is so weak. While I don't want to kick too hard and burn out my legs half way through my race, I am also afraid that dropping my kick down to a 2 beat kick might cause me to over work my arms and be unable to finish the race.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    Welcome to the Forum, @Cole_G!

    Long story short, Abby didn't change her stroke, stayed with her natural 6-beat, and dominated MIMS. She doesn't directly address her kick in her race report, but you may be interested to read it:

    She's busy with med school so isn't around the forum much anymore, but you might try sending her a PM.
  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
    Thanks @evmo, I am very excited to have found this forum! It's nice to know there is such a supportive and informative community of marathon swimmers (especially since everyone I used to swim with in HS and college think I am crazy for considering marathon swimming).

    That's a great write up, and it sounds like she completed that swim with relative ease. Her story makes me very excited to one day take on MIMS myself. And it's good to know I don't really need to consider major changes to my form going forward.
  • I am a "competitive-swimmer-since-birth" type too and also use a six beat kick throughout long swims, although not at the same intensity as in short races or pool events. Like @evmo said...."be yourself" is just my stroke. I put less effort into it than I would for a 1-3 mile OW race or any pool event. At Charleston (12 miles) I was steadily 6 beat kicking the entire race. I picked up the effort into my kick the last three miles. I think having a solid kick can be really useful for when your arms get a little tired, especially if you are really RACING a long way rather than swimming to complete the distance (ie...for me, anything longer/more difficult than Charleston)
    Sometimes I switch to a 2 beat kick, but honestly it is more to play mind games with myself, like it feels like doing a different stroke for a little bit.
    As far as using kicking to stay warm, I kick fast on my back holding onto my core for a little bit, or do really sloppy fly kick...that seems to get the circulation moving!! A regular free kick doesn't seem to do much.
  • allanl16allanl16 Miami, FloridaMember

    Sorry to bring this topic back up, but I think there's good information provided already and don't want to start a new post. I grew up swimming with coaches who placed a heavy emphasis on kicking and I guess a 6 beat kick comes natural to me at this point. I was wondering if it would be more efficient to learn a 2 beat kick, or just keep my natural kicking rhythm but toning down the intensity for longer swims. I'm swimming a 20k in a few months and want to make sure I'm as efficient as possible.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited April 2017

    @allanl16 said:
    Sorry to bring this topic back up, but I think there's good information provided already and don't want to start a new post.

    That's the preferred way. Gold star for bumping interesting old threads!

    I was wondering if it would be more efficient to learn a 2 beat kick, or just keep my natural kicking rhythm but toning down the intensity for longer swims. I'm swimming a 20k in a few months and want to make sure I'm as efficient as possible.

    Kicking in long-distance swimming is all about body position and balance (i.e., maintaining them). To some extent, the efficiency of a 2-beat vs. 6-beat depends on stroke tempo.

    Below about 55 strokes per minute, there's a danger of a "dead spot" between the beats of a 2-beat kick. This can be seen in many TI-style swimmers, who are often coached to use a 2-beat kick AND reduce their tempo. In this case, more frequent kicking can help you maintain consistent balance / body position..

    Above 75 SPM, and it can be tough to move your legs fast enough for a 6-beat kick, so a 2-beat may be preferable.

    55 to 75 SPM (where many of us are) is a sort of neutral zone where you should experiment with all variants - 2-beat, 6-beat, or even a 4-beat.

    A 4-beat kick means a 3+1 rhythm (kick-kick-kick-KICK ... kick-kick-kick-KICK). With the single kick timed with the breath.

  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Senior Member

    I used to use a 3+1 kick, with the KICK timed not with the breath but right after the breath (I glided while breathing). Then I discovered the 2-beat, learnt it, and now it's what I use the most (even for sprints).

    I use the 3+1 to avoid monotony, and to give my arms some rest. I use it as well in following seas (waves coming from behind), because in that case I can't get a right rolling balance with a 2-beat.

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