The Kick in Triathlon Swimming

I recently saw advice on a triathlon forum to develop/improve the propulsiveness of the kick to become a faster swimmer.

As a triathlon coach coaching triathletes, 95% of whom are not former competitive swimmers, are swimming 2100-4200yds in a race (much, much farther than your typical competitive swimming event) in a wetsuit that adds a lot of buoyancy to their legs and who have to bike and run a long distance after their swim, my opinion is that the kick should be viewed as an aid to body position and balance first, propulsion a very, very distant second.

In my opinion, the best kick for a triathlete to have is one which does no harm. Rather than “powerful” or “fast,” its “effective”:

  1. Lifts your feet up at the surface of the water, getting them inside the tube created by your body moving through the water.
  2. Feet are kept inside this tube. That is, you don’t have a leg swinging out all crazy every other stoke, getting outside of that tube and creating a lot of drag.
  3. Is an aid to and does not hinder body rotation. An ineffective kick will simply get in the way of the natural rotation of your body in the water.
  4. It’s not a tool to increase propulsion, helping you go _that_ way.

For this reason, I don’t recommending kicking sets, especially with a kickboard, with the goal of developing a more powerful kick. I would rather have that time spent doing drills to improve body position first, propulsive swimming (better catch) second.

In my opinion, the swim leg of a triathlon should basically be a pulling event: legs only doing enough to help/do no harm to body position, not being used as another propulsion tool. The pull is a much better tool for that job and your arms are done working for the day when you exit T2.

Rich Strauss
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8 comments
  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    Yes, with the caveat that the tendency when pulling with a pull buoy is to rotate less than you would if you were swimming. I'm a former competitive swimmer, 98% of my time in the pool is pulling only, but I try to focus on good body rotation.

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    Yes, with the caveat that the tendency when pulling with a pull buoy is to rotate less than you would if you were swimming. I'm a former competitive swimmer, 98% of my time in the pool is pulling only, but I try to focus on good body rotation.

  • Suzanne Atkinson
    REPLY

    Rich, Amen to this post, except for one thing. Rather than a pulling event, swimming is a core event. I divide swimming into a right half/left half activity. The “pull” is powered mainly by body rotation, which is where the function of the legs is best utilized. I never have my swimmers do either kick or pull sets, as both disrupt the body's function as a whole. Keep up the great writing.

  • Suzanne Atkinson
    REPLY

    Rich, Amen to this post, except for one thing. Rather than a pulling event, swimming is a core event. I divide swimming into a right half/left half activity. The “pull” is powered mainly by body rotation, which is where the function of the legs is best utilized. I never have my swimmers do either kick or pull sets, as both disrupt the body's function as a whole. Keep up the great writing.

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