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!



Sergey said...

Great post as always, thanks! In my opinion, one more thing we should keep in mind. Women have relatively more body fat than men. And it gives an advantage in buoyancy.

Richard said...

Agreed. I did a test just last night. Ladies float on their back like they are in the red sea. Pass the cocktail... The guys, sank like a brick.

Oliver K said...

It seems that at the level of professional swimming, males have no problems with kicking. All the great flutter-kickers I have heard of are males.

That casts doubts on the narrative of the article. To me, articles like this one are indeed a main part of late-starter males being "bad kickers".

It seems likely to me that female late starters would do more kicking exercises than male late starters, since it's part of a typical female workout routine, de-emphasising the upper body, while emphasising the lower body. On the other hand, who does motivate a male late starter to do kicking exercises? All over the Internet he hears "don't do it", and "you can't do it anyway".

I believe more kicking exercises would be of enormous health benefits to males.

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