The Overglider Kickstart

If you have tried to make your stroke as long as possible you might well have introduced a pause-and-glide into your stroke timing, we call this sort of swimmer an Overglider for obvious reasons! We've covered the perils of Overgliding previously on the blog but let's look at a knock-on effect that pausing and gliding can have on another part of the stroke.

The Overglider Kickstart

Overgliders are very focused on their efficiency in the water and are trying to lower their level of effort, in doing so many adopt a 2-beat kick style. This means that for every full stroke cycle (two arm strokes) the swimmer performs two kicks rather than the traditional six kicks of a flutter kick, the idea being that two kicks takes less effort than six.

If you have a distinct pause-and-glide in your timing then you are faced with the problem of re-starting your stalled stroke at the end of the glide. With a two beat kick this is a greater problem because not only is your lead arm stationary during the glide but your legs are stationary too! In this situation the Overglider commonly uses a distinct kick-start action to restart their stalled stroke.

Above the water this is hard to spot but from below it is very obvious:

The irony is that while Overgliders are very focused on lowering drag, many have introduced a very large source of drag with such a large knee bend showing their thigh and back of the calf into the water flow (at its worst in the third frame above). This in turn lowers their body in the water adding even more drag.

Stroke Style And Kicking

A two beat kick looks simple but it is very hard to perform well because it requires that many other parts of the stroke are well developed. A swimmer must have an excellent catch technique and swim with great rhythm and timing to integrate the two beat kick action into their stroke.Without these elements in place the kick-start action is caused and/or the swimmer sinks lower in the water in the gap between kicks.

Our thoughts:

- Only consider switching to a two beat kick if you are an advanced level swimmer with a good catch, rhythm and timing, potentially seeking to develop economy in open water events over 2km. Head Coach Paul Newsome did exactly this to good effect in 2009 in preparation for his English Channel swim in September 2011, but it wasn't easy and his stroke style changed considerably in the process.

- A two beat kick is best suited to those with a shorter punchier style such as Swingers.

- For those aiming for a long smooth stroke style, a light flutter kick makes much more sense. The continuous action will help you avoid the kick-start and it will lift you up higher in the water (ultimately lowering effort, not increasing it). Try it the next time you swim, be objective and see how you go against the clock with it.

- If you can feel yourself kick-starting in your stroke it's also worth giving your kicking technique a tune up, see here.

Swim Smooth!


Vasily said...

Hello, Swim Smooth! Thank you for your blog!
I'm a lousy swimmer (20 min for 1 km) and definitely overglider. I'm going to begin to train for half Ironman distance next year (never did triathlons before), and I doubt that I could finish swimming 1.9K with 6 kick with fresh legs, would you still recommend using 6 beat freestyle for that kind of event?

PS Sorry for my English, I'm not a native speaker...

Scott said...

I currently am using a 4 beat kick and have found I am a serious overglider. One problem I am having is incerasing my stroke rate. My "ape index" is between 6 - 7" and I am 6"4" tall. My long arms don't want to go as fast as it seems I need them to. Any suggestions?????

Paul said...

Hi Vasily

Good on you for taking up the challenge of a half ironman so early in your TRI days! A 6-beat kick does not have to be a hard kick, just simply a gentle, continuous flutter out behind you...being a triathlete myself we are not looking for you to increase propulsion / effort by kicking like this, purely to reduce drag and improve your profile if you are like Chris in the pictures above.

Hi Scott

As someone so tall with a massively long reach, you're always going to suit that longer, smoother stroke style. This is what you should stick with, albeit developing the rhythm side of things. There's some good points on how to do this here:

A 4-beat kick should be fine so long as you're not doing what Chris is doing in the pictures above (i.e. kickstarting with a dropped knee).

Hope this helps.


David said...

Hi there,

I've been reading your site for years and have recommended it to countless friends for swimming tips. I took the 2 tests early on and it nailed me as an overglider, not only in terms of stroke mechanics but also the personality type usually associated with that stroke.

When I read this post, it made me question if I have a kick start. I know exactly what that looks like underwater, since I've corrected that in other swimmers I see in the pool. And I am fairly certain my legs don't do that - but I'll be checking with an underwater camera. The other thing is the stroke delay, which I slightly do, I think. My turnover is about 60-64 strokes per minute, and perhaps 64-66 strokes in sprint triathlon race conditions. I counted strokes during many sessions last year, using your tempo trainer. When I paid attention to my stroke the last 2 swims, I don't really feel I have a catch delay, but maybe a tiny one I'm just not picking up on.

One thing I do for sure is I have a basic scissor kick. I "save" my legs for the bike and run in triathlon.

So as relates to this article, I tried to do a gentle 3 beat kick per stroke, then a 2 beat kick which has a pause, and the 3 beat was tiring right away! The 2 beat was ok, and did seem to invite more hip rotation (which is good, I think), but my 100 repeat times didn't get better. I train touching the wall in 1:26 to 1:30, depending on effort, and push off on 1:40 or 1:45, depending on what workout I'm doing. My race tempo for 400 yards in sprint triathlons is usually right about 1:25 to 1:28 per 100.

My goal is to swim faster and to engage my legs and kick, like your post said. If I fall into the category of overglider, but not exhibiting the characteristics excessively (not a big pause, don't kick start, but do think long, 60 spm, but with scissor kick), what drills can I do? Would it seem like the one thing that could speed up my 100 repeats is to get a real kick going?

Thanks in advance!

Adam Young said...

Hi David,

If you're in the 60-66 SPM region then you're not a classic overglider because your stroke rate is too high, classic overgliders are normally in the 40-53 SPM range. Saying that you may have a slight pause in your stroke timing to work on removing. By the way, how tall are you?

If you have scissor kick, make sure you get an overhead or front view shot when you get your video work done. Are you crossing over with your lead hand just in front of the head? That's the classic reason for a scissor kick. It might not happen every stroke, perhaps just when you breathe.

You could try and develop a stronger kick but for most of us adult developers, aiming for more kick propulsion isn't an option - we don't have the flexibility for it. When we work on kick development it is normally aimed at improving technique to lower effort and improve the swimmers body position, not develop propulsion as such.

How to improve your swimming? Lower drag (tidy up that scissor kick and improve your alignment/body position if needed) and develop your catch and pull technique to improve arm propulsion...

Hope that helps,

Adam Young
Swim Smooth

David said...

Thanks for your reply, Adam. I'm amazed - you are 100% on the money with your comment about hand crossover when breathing. That's exactly right! Since I right breathe 75% of the time, I'm aware (both by feel and by seeing it in video) that when I breathe on the right, my left arm does indeed crossover. I was thinking more about the idea of kickstarting while swimming yesterday, and I suppose to a small degree I do that, albeit with straight legs. My legs stay still, and then after finishing a breath and as my hand enters the water, the kick seems to not only get the hips turned over, but sort of pops me forward. In a bit of a sudden propulsion. I guess I'm a modified kickstarter! Or something like that. Let me know when someone from Swim Smooth will be in Florida so that I can get some direct feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to read my comment and responding.


Adam Young said...

No worries David. If you get that video on youtube then let us know and we'll take a look.

Alison Darley said...

I think I am an overglider and I put way too much effort in. What do you suggest I do to counter this and get faster turnover at the front end of my stroke. At only 5 feet tall I am trying to swim like I am Phelpsy, clearly it's not gonna work!

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