Friday, February 21, 2014

Should You Be Using A Two Beat Kick?

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Traditional swim coaching taught everyone to swim with a flutter kick:

(click images if animations do not play)

The legs are kept nearly straight with only a subtle bending of the knee and pointed toes behind the swimmer. Technically this is called a '6 Beat Kick' because for a full arm cycle you kick six times. This isn't something you have to think about the timing of, if you focus on a light flutter kick when swimming freestyle then the timing will naturally fall into place.

Great swimmers such as Natalie Coughlin, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps use this style to great effect.

You might have heard of a much slower style of kicking called a two beat kick:

For a full arm cycle, the swimmer kicks twice. When performed well, it's like a switch-kick moving between the two positions.

The advantage of this kicking style is that it uses less energy and so can be more energy efficient over longer distances. Elite swimmers such as Laure Manadou, David Davies and Shelley Taylor Smith won many gold medals using this technique. It's used in pool events but is especially common in elite open water swimming and triathlon.

Which Style Is Best?

So which should you use when you swim? To make the two beat kick style work effectively you need all these elements in place in your stroke:

- You need a good catch technique pressing the water backwards effectively at all times.

- You need an absence of a pause and glide in your arm stroke timing.

- You need good rhythm to the stroke moving continuously from one stroke to the next.

- You need a developed kicking technique, kicking from the hip with very little knee bend.

- You need a reasonable level of natural buoyancy.

Having all those elements in place in your stroke is going to mean you are already a pretty decent swimmer and if you swim in a squad you will swim in the faster lanes.

If you don't have all of those elements in place then a two beat kick won't work well for you at all, you're much better off with a light 6-beat flutter kick while you develop your stroke technique. This doesn't have to be very energy consuming if you kick with a small motion and light effort.

In the long run as you develop your stroke technique - and if it fits your natural style - you can start to work on a two beat kicking technique.

Kicking Style By Swim Type

If you're a classic leg-sinker like an Arnie or a Bambino then although a six beat kick takes a little more energy in itself, your body will be lifted higher and this will reduce drag and so reduce your effort level overall. For you a light six beat kick is the most efficient style as it helps lift your legs higher in the water.

Many swimmers try and combine a two beat kick with a pause-and-glide in the stroke (the classic Overglider) as they are looking to use as little energy as possible when they swim. Unfortunately this causes them to stall between strokes and sink down low in the water - this is a very inefficient way of swimming.

A common stroke artefact that develops with Overgliders using a two beat kick is the Overglider Kickstart (see here). The swimmer has to use a big knee bend to literally kick-start the stalled stroke, creating a huge amount of drag in the process:

Notice how this swimmer's body position is much lower
than the more efficient swimmers above.

Overgliders are best off using a six beat kick while they work on improving their catch and their rhythm and timing. If you migrate towards the Swingers style then a two beat kick could serve you well in the long run but most Overgliders have ambitions to be Smooths for which they should stay with the six beat kick.

The Kicktastic is a swimmer who likes using a powerful 6-beat kick. For yourself developing your swimming is about taming the power of the kick whilst developing your catch and pull. We'd recommend keeping the 6 beat style but moderate the effort levels to improve your efficiency.

The elite swimmers who use a two beat kick are those with a shorter stroke but a faster turnover - Swingers. The continuous nature of the Swinger style, moving continuously from one stroke to the next, means they don't need a flutter kick to keep their momentum going. The two beat kick simply helps drive their body rotation which in turn drives the arm stroke.

Not all Swingers use a two beat kick but it naturally complements their style and allows them to turn their arms over quickly without having to kick extremely rapidly to keep up with the pace of the arms.

That leaves the Smooths - the swimmers who use that long smooth stroke style to devastating effect. The six beat flutter kick suits their style and falls in naturally with the longer stroke timing. Sometimes when cruising at steady pace (for them!) the kick will drop in and out but when at full racing speed, the kick becomes continuous and powerful to lift them high at the rear.


Swim Smooth's coaching philosophy is to only think about developing a two beat kick if you are quite an advanced swimmer starting to develop a refined Swinger style of stroke. If you are still working on the basics of your stroke technique such as breathing, alignment, body position and catch setup then you are going to be much better served using a light 6-beat kick. And if you tend towards the Smooth type, then 6-beat is going to be the best style for you in the long term too.

Swim Smooth!

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