Why Are Women Better At Kicking Than Men?

If you've performed kick sets in the pool you might well have noticed how women tend be much better at kick sets than men. Of course there are exceptions to this but it more often that not holds true across a spectrum of adult swimmers. Why is that?

There are two main reasons:

1. Flexibility In The Hips, Ankles And Feet

Last week on the blog we posted this image of a female swimmer showing good kicking technique:

This is actually the amazing Lucy Charles-Barclay, an elite swimmer turned pro triathlete who holds the swim record at the Hawaii Ironman.

Compare this to our age group swimmer:

The difference is his body position is immediately obvious but notice how stiff his ankles are in comparison to Lucy's such that he can't easily point his toes.

Also notice how tight he is in the hip flexors in comparison, bringing the knee forward and down in the water:

Of course this comparison is a little unfair as Lucy is an elite athlete with a decade of competitive swim training behind her but these differences commonly bear out between male and female adult swimmers. Whilst men can be stronger than women this also tends to come with much less flexibility, and as we can see here this is bad news for their swimming.

So if you are a man (or indeed a woman) in this position, what can you do? Perform regular gentle stretching of course and slowly loosen off those tight areas. As you'd expect, the Swim Smooth Guru contains a full stretching routine to achieve just that (subscription required): www.swimsmooth.guru/streamvideo/cLi/qC/ankle-calf-hip-flexibility/

2. Q-Angle And Toe In

A second key difference between men and women is the natural angle of the feet and hips.

When we kick we want the toes to be turned inwards:

This toe-in position (also commonly called being "pigeon toed") increases the effectiveness of the kick. Many women naturally revert to being pigeon toed when they are not thinking about it (e.g. when standing) whilst the default position for men tends to be toed-out:

Partly that's due to women's better flexibility in their hips, knee and ankles but it also comes from the fact that women tend to have wider hips and so the legs naturally angle inwards towards the feet creating natural toe-in. In the jargon this inwards convergence is known as Q angle and on average women's Q angle is 4.6 degrees more than men's*.

Of course there's not much you can do about the width of your hips but when you swim you can focus on what your feet are doing and where they are angled. If you think about turning your feet in and brushing the big toes as they pass you'll be in a good toe-in position. Maintain this focus even whilst you are breathing to the side (when you may find your legs have a tendency to separate):

But Does Your Kick Really Matter?

You might well have heard that as an adult swimmer you should be looking to develop nearly all of your propulsion from your arm stroke and very little from your legs. Your arm stroke being a far more efficient and effective way of creating forward drive.

At Swim Smooth we certainly agree with this - as an adult swimmer the main purpose of your leg kick is to lift you high in the water (reducing the drag of your body) with minimum effort and with minimum drag introduced by the kick itself.

So if you are bad at kicking (from the reasons given above) does it matter? Actually yes it does because not only will making these improvements give you a little propulsion from your kick but much more importantly they will also lift you higher in the water with less effort and reduce drag from the kick itself.

In other words, improving your flexibility and kicking technique is sure to make you a better swimmer - not just during kick sets.

Swim Smooth!


Five Ways Fins Can Improve Your Swimming (Without Using Them For Drills)

Perhaps the single best tool you can buy to help you develop your freestyle swimming is a good pair of swimming fins (also commonly called flippers). Swimming with fins gives you extra propulsion and support in the water, allowing you to focus on developing a particular area of the stroke much more easily.

Elite swimmers use fins for "overspeed work", allowing them to swim faster and really work their kick hard in doing so. For that reason they often use short "zoomer" style fins:

Whilst short fins fit more easily in your swim bag, generally we don't recommend them for age-group adult swimmers as they don't provide enough propulsion for most adults and their stiffness can place unnecessarily stress on your ankles.

Instead, we recommend a longer rubber fin such as the Finis Floating Fins:
These are long enough to provide good propulsion but the rubber is highly flexible, reducing the pressure on your ankle joint. You can see them in our swim shop here: https://shop.swimsmooth.com/products/finis-floating-fins

(Note you might have a pair of long plastic diving/scuba fins in the back of the cupboard but these are best avoided as they will be very stiff and place a lot of stress on your ankles.)

Using Fins To Improve Your Swimming

Fins are probably most famously used for performing Swim Smooth drills such as 6-1-6, Broken Arrow and Javelin. However, even without performing any specific drills there are some great benefits you can gain from swimming with fins during your sessions, especially for relatively new swimmers.

Here's five benefits:

1. Practise Breathing Bilaterally

As we discussed here breathing every 3 strokes (bilateral breathing) is hugely beneficial to your stroke but many find it challenging at first. Breathing every 3 becomes considerably easier with the support of the fins whilst you adapt to it.

Use fins to practise bilateral breathing the next time you swim but don't overkick with the fins on (it's tempting) or you'll burn a lot of oxygen and place pressure back on your breathing. Focus on a nice smooth exhalation into the water and kick gently but with a nice rhythm.

2. Keep Your Head Low When You Breathe

If you are quite new to swimming and feel you are still working on the basics of freestyle, then it's likely you are lifting your head clear of the water to breathe:

Doing this causes you to press down on the water with your lead arm (losing you propulsion) and it lifts the whole front end of your body up, sinking your legs (adding lots of drag).

Instead you should keep your head low when you breathe and use the trough of the bow-wave to find air:

The support from the fins will help you develop this technique as it can feel strange and disconcerting at first. You'll be moving quicker with the fins on too which makes the bow wave bigger and easier to access.

Find out more about bow wave breathing here: www.everyoneactive.com/content-hub/swimming-swim-smooth/bow-wave-breathing/

3. Kick With A Straighter Leg

Many adult onset swimmers bend their knee excessively when they swim:

This sinks the legs low in the water and burns a lot of oxygen and energy.

Instead you should kick more from the hip with a straighter leg, keeping a slight softness at the knee to allow a small amount of bend:

The good news is that swimming full stroke freestyle with fins naturally pushes you into a straighter leg position. Swimming steady paced freestyle with your fins on for 200 to 400m allows you to get the feel of a better leg kick technique.

4. Gently Stretch Your Ankles

Not only do fins help you keep a straighter leg when you kick, they also push your feet into a straighter (plantar flexed) position:

This reduces drag and helps bring the legs higher in the water.

As discussed above, stiff plastic fins will force you into this position aggressively, so are best avoided. However a pair of soft rubber fins will apply a light stretch and gently increase your ankle mobility over time. After a few months of regular use (little and often) your ankles will be better able to achieve a good kicking position.

5. Experience "Overspeed"!

Just like elite swimmers by swimming with fins you too can experience moving through the water significantly faster than your normal pace. This helps you feel the water better, get an appreciation of streamlining your body more effectively and helps you develop a sense of "purpose" to your stroke.

Overspeed work should only be performed for short distances (perhaps 50 to 100m at a time) but if you feel a bit "one paced" in your stroke it can help you break out of that rut to faster swimming.

But What If My Pool Won't Allow Fins?

In some countries around the world (notably the UK) it is common for pools to not allows fins in public lanes. If you're in this predicament then it's well worth asking the pool staff if there is a session during the week where fins are allowed - perhaps an evening sessions with adult-only lanes. If not then ask your pool manager to create one.

For those pools that have a blanket ban in place then it's well worth travelling a little further once a week to find a pool where they do allow fins - they really are that beneficial to your development in the water!

Swim Smooth!

SS Podcast Episode 19 Anna-Karin Lundin - Swim Smooth Coach And The World's Smoothest Swinger!

We've just released a new episode of the Swim Smooth Podcast for your listening pleasure on your favourite podcasting platform:

Episode 19 - Anna-Karin Lundin, Swim Smooth Coach and the world's smoothest Swinger!

Today we speak with legendary Swim Smooth Coach and Olympian from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Anna-Karin Lundin. The interview takes place in sunny Mallorca, Spain immediately after the BESTFest 2019 of Open Water Swimming, of which she won a few of the age-group events outright against some very strong competition.

If you've never seen Anna-Karin swim, start off by viewing this *awesome* clip here:

We talk candidly about Anna-Karin's early successes in swimming (primarily as a breaststroke swimmer), her participation at the 1988 Olympics as one of the youngest swimmers at the entire event, her early burn-out and retirement, and then her renaissance through her coaching in Gothenburg and venturing outdoors into the open water swimming arena!

Paul and Adam (above with AK) also discuss her development as a coach and how she came to join the Swim Smooth team:


We hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed recording it! You can find out more about Anna-Karin's background and her coaching services at www.simcoachen.se

Swim Smooth!

The Waterpolo Drill - Add Some Punch And Rhythm Into Your Stroke

When moving from pool to open water swimming, the number one mistake swimmers make is to think open water is just pool swimming but without the walls. It's actually anything but!

Open water swimming requires a distinct set of skills, including:

- Being comfortable swimming close to other swimmers
- The ability to swim straight without a black line to follow
- Being able to navigate accurately around a course
- Knowing how to execute effective drafting behind or alongside other swimmers
- The ability to cope with disturbed water conditions

The last of those - coping with waves and chop - is very important but often overlooked. Traditional swim coaching teaches swimmers to develop a long stroke technique, minimising the number of strokes taken. More often than not this is a bad thing to do in the pool but in open water it can be disastrous because it lowers your stroke rate (cadence)  - killing the rhythm of your stroke.

Developing A Better Stroke Rhythm

To excel when swimming or racing in open water you need a good sense of rhythm in your stroke. This helps you punch through disturbed water, either from waves, swell and chop from the prevailing conditions, or that generated by other swimmers around you:

Try and use a long smooth stroke in these conditions and you'll hugely underperform because you get stalled when a wave hits you in the gap between your strokes and have to reaccelerate your whole body mass again on the next stroke. The more efficient way to swim is to apply propulsion continuously from one stroke to the next.

(Thinking of avoiding this by seeking out clear water? And as we discussed here, you actually can't, even on an otherwise flat lake: www.feelforthewater.com/2014/01/like-it-or-not-you-cant-avoid-yellow.html)

So as part of your preparation for open water swimming, you need to work on developing good rhythm in your stroke. But what's a good way to develop it?

A key drill is Waterpolo, watch Swim Smooth's interpretation of this exercise here:

Waterpolo involves swimming with yours eyes above the surface of the water as you would expect. However, with Swim Smooth's version of the drill we only perform this over short distances (start with just 10-15m) but at sprint pace. In this way you push the pace very hard and swim at a high cadence/turnover.

Focus on maintaining a strong tempo, getting into each stroke quickly at the front. If you struggle to perform the drill at all, try using a large pull-buoy or don a pair of fins to help bring the legs up at the rear.

Perform Waterpolo regularly in your training and your ability to increase and sustain a higher stroke rate will improve, whether you are swimming easy, steady or hard pace.

The footage above is taken from the Swim Smooth Guru. Subscribers can see all 44 Swim Smooth drills (and discover exactly how and when to use them) here: https://www.swimsmooth.guru/subsection/dg/drills/

Subscribe to the Guru today and get to work improving your swimming! : https://www.swimsmooth.guru

Swim Smooth!

SS Podcast Episodes 17 & 18 - Recovering From Injury And Our Mallorca Mashup!

We've just released two new episodes of the Swim Smooth Podcast for your listening pleasure on your favourite podcasting platform:

Episode 17 - Insights Into Dealing With Injury And illness In Swimming And Triathlon

After a two month hiatus owing to Paul dealing with a very bad back injury and some reflections and adjustments to his day to day schedule, the boys are back with a podcast recorded two months ago on sunny Mallorca. We strongly recommend this episode for those of you struggling with work / life / training balance as well as those of you currently dealing with injury and illness, and are maybe in a reflective state yourself. If you're going great guns at the moment, you might want to skip this one or send it over to a friend who might benefit from our musings.

This show was meant to go out immediately after recording but sadly a big relapse of his back injury has seen Paul out of action for a further two months. It's a little ironic, as the aim of this show was to talk about some of the insights and research Paul and Adam had gleaned over the years with respect to sleep, HRV, over-training, injury and illness which has further spilled out into everyday life for Paul in particular.

Given that the show includes some snippets and insights from Paul's first dip back in the water and what that felt like with the view to showing you how you might also return to activity after a hiatus (for whatever reason), it felt prudent to hold this episode (and the next two) back until this blip was properly overcome. But we're now there (fingers crossed and thanks for your patience), so on with the show!

Related links:

Oura Ring: ouraring.com
Peter Attia / Matt Walker (Why We Sleep): peterattiamd.com/matthewwalker1/
Dan Plews: www.plewsandprof.com/our-story

Episode 18 - The Mallorca Mash Up!

Recorded in June 2019, this is a "mash up" of interviews and snippets of advice from open water swimmers and coaches enjoying the fabulous BEST FEST of Open Water Swimming in Colonia Sant Jordi, Mallorca:

Including interviews with legends of the swimming world such as Jazz Carlin (double Olympic silver medallist) and Jack Burnell (open water swimming extraordinaire and Olympian). Recorded live on the beach prior to and immediately after several of the events, this is sure to tickle your taste buds for jetting off to amazing locations to swim in azure waters with hundreds of like-minded souls!

Find out more about next year's event at: www.bestopenwater.com

See you there in 2020!

Swim Smooth!

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