Ask the Coach

Start line of an Ironman triathlon
December 22, 2016

Dave Sheanin


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Question for the Coach:

Dear coach, when I swim I feel like I have to kick very deep (big kick). I was told to try and rub my toes together but if I try to do that I feel like I am going to drown. I do not understand why I am so off balance. Any thoughts?

Answer from Coach Dave:

The kick has two primary functions in freestyle swimming.  It provides propulsion and it is the foundation for the rest of your stroke (rhythm, rotation, and stroke rate).  You should develop a kick that is propulsive but, more importantly, sets the pace for your entire stroke.  If you kick with very long and deep strokes, the amount of time you take to kick a cycle may be slowing your entire stroke down.  That will keep you from swimming to your potential.  Learning a comfortable and efficient 6-beat kick is a great starting point for most swimmers and triathletes.  If you take the time to develop a great kick, it will be a lot easier to maintain balance in the water and swim faster using less energy.

Use the following drill to test whether your kick is propulsive.  Place your hands against the wall with your palms flat (don't grab the gutter).  Begin kicking with your arms extended and your face in the water (superman position).  If your palms don't stay flat against the wall, your kick isn't propulsive.  To correct your kick, rotate your knees inward until your big toes touch.  Then slowly rotate your knees back toward neutral until your toes are not rubbing and your palms stay flat on the wall.  Kick using your glutes and quads with relatively straight legs.  You'll have to experiment a bit to find the right position for you‚ different for different swimmers.  Having an experienced coach watch and correct you is a big benefit but you should feel it connecting when you have it right.  Your heels will break the surface and your palms will stay pressed against the wall.  Once you have the right position, you can experiment with different depth, frequency, and intensity.  As long as you stay pressed against the wall, you're probably doing it right.  Take a look at this video to see the drill in action.

The advice you received about rubbing your toes together is just the starting point out the final outcome.  Each time your toes hit each other, it messes with your overall stroke cadence and that is likely why you feel off balance.  So take some time to perfect your kick.  It may come quickly but if it doesn't, be patient and continue to work on it until it's natural.  Without the proper foundation of a properly executed and propulsive kick, it will be tough to improve your overall stroke and feel comfortable in the water.

To contact Dave with your swim question, use the link below. 

Coach Dave Sheanin is an advocate for aligning triathletes with their race goals. He believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. He encourages you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.  

Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.  Coach Dave was honored by USA Triathlon with the Community Impact Award.

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