Increase ankle flexibility for a stronger back half of your swim stroke.
For any swimmer, the kick is typically the most undertrained, underappreciated and underdeveloped swim skill. Since most triathletes kick slowly, it also offers the greatest opportunity to increase swimming speed. The pace of your kick determines your baseline swimming speed and separates the truly fast swimmers from all of the rest. However, improving your kick is not an overnight fix. It requires a months-long program including stretching, strength training the legs and core and lots of pool training.
The question is, “is getting a faster kick worth the investment?” If you want to make a significant breakthrough in your swim time, it is. The kick not only helps to propel your stroke, it also serves three other important functions: It provides lift to help reduce frontal drag, it creates a part of the counter-force (along with body rotation) that you can pull against to improve your distance per stroke and it helps sustain a more constant speed instead of slowing and re-accelerating with each pull.
How To Speed Up Your Kick
Ankle flexibility is a huge issue in developing kicking propulsion. Increased ankle flexibility serves the same function as the flick of a fish’s tail to provide propulsion, and without it, even the strongest legs won’t kick fast. The extra plantar flexion of the ankle is relatively easy to get with the right dry-land exercises and stretching (see right).
Also, consider the level of leg fitness you will need. Unlike the arms that have recovery time during each pull cycle, the legs never get a rest. The feet are moving continuously, and in both directions until you finish your swim. (No wonder the legs are always the first body part to get tired in a race!) To help condition legs to perform that kind of relentless activity, look for kick-specific strength exercises in our next issue.
You need the right kinds of kick sets in order to improve your swim, beyond just meandering down the lane on a kick board. The third installment of this series will give you the best kick sets to build power and speed.