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In this day and age, EVERY swimmer needs to be doing great kickouts.
In a long-course race, kickouts can be 25 percent -- or more -- of your race. In short-course races, you can swim half your race under water if your kickouts are good, so it’s important to work on these at every practice.
When I work on my kickouts, I’m training two different things. I’m training breath control... and I’m training technique. And the technique is all about learning to flow and learning to find your rhythm.
For me, the best rhythm is a medium tempo. I’ve tried fast and small kicks. And I’ve tried big, huge kicks. And I’ve found that a medium-size kick -- a medium frequency or amplitude -- is what works best for me... because that’s where I find the most power.
It’s all about experimenting with different rhythms to find what feels comfortable to you. In this clip, my coach is timing me to see how fast I can get to a certain point, using different amounts of effort and different rhythms. This is a great way to find your perfect tempo for the kickout.
The power for the kickout comes from the hips. But, as you can see here, the hips are only part of it. I’m using everything.
If we slow it down, you can see that the kick starts with the hands. You don’t want this to be a big movement. It’s just a very small move that brings the shoulders and chest into play.
The motion gets bigger and bigger as it spreads down the body to your hips. And when the motion gets to your hips... that's where the actual power comes from.
In this clip, watch just my feet and legs. Notice that I’m kicking both ways. I’m kicking up AND down.
When you’re on your back, kicking up is natural. It’s kicking down that you have to think about.
I don’t want to say that I focus my kicking down, but I focus on keeping it even. The up part happens naturally and then I have to make sure I’m kicking downward -- equally.
If you don’t kick equally, you’re not going to stay under water. You’re going to go up. So you have to balance the up and the down when you kick.
Watch the feet again and notice that they’re simply following the motion of the hips.
A lot of people tend to kick from the knees down, and they’re not using their hips. Ideally, your feet should simply follow your legs.
When you kick from your knees, you’re going to feel what your feet are doing. But if you kick from your hips, your feet are just flowing along from the movement initiated by your hips. When you get it right, it’s sort of a snapping motion.
For me, the kickout is all about flow. Sure, it’s important to work on ankle flexibility and pointing your toes, but for me it’s the flow.
Training the flow can be done with a couple of drills. In this one, you lie on your stomach in Superman position and try to flow across the pool without kicking.
You’re trying to get a dolphin movement without a big downkick. You don’t want the kick to be moving you across the water. You want your rhythm to be flowing you across the water.
This is a very slow drill, and if you’re trying to do a 25, it takes forever. But this is how you find your rhythm.
You can also try this drill on your back, and this one will help you find your rhythm and learn to balance your upkick and downkick.
Try not to kick with your feet or your knees. Make the flow and the rhythm come from your core and flow down through your feet.
These two drills bring up another important point, which is that it’s extremely important to know how to do butterfly to do backstroke. So it’s good to work your kick equally on your stomach and your back.
The more balanced you are with kicking on the front and the back, the faster you’re going to be -- not just in backstroke but also in butterfly.
In the next few clips, let’s focus on the angle of the body during the kickout. Some swimmers, like Misty Hyman, kick completely on their side and this works for them.
What works for me is to push off straight on the back, and then I rotate just a little bit. If you can learn to do this on both sides, you can use it to check out your competition in a race.
I’m flat or just slightly to the side when I dolphin, and then I angle a little bit more to the right as I get ready to take that first stroke.
I always pull first with my right arm. So I always finish the kick so that I lead to my right side. Here you can see that as the right hip goes down, the right hand anchors... and then I rotate forcefully to the other hip to get good rotation into the breakout.
Lots of people ask me how many dolphin kicks they should take. This depends on your training and your technique.
One thing I can say is that, in a race, you want to be consistent, and this means being consistent in how far you go rather than how many kicks you take to get there.
It won’t do much good if you go 15 meters under water after the start and then 3 meters on all of your turns.
The start can be your longest kickout, but you want all the other kickouts to carry you about the same distance. And in the 100, you probably want to travel a little farther than in the 200.
As you can see, I travel pretty far on my kickouts. And to train for this, you just have to do it. You have to work on holding your breath.
In a race, I take 10 to 12 kicks on the kickout. In practice, I take 6. But I take 6 kicks off every single wall.
It doesn’t sound like much, but in a 3-hour practice, if you can take 6 kicks off every single wall when you’re doing butterfly or backstroke, that’s at least half your workout. It’s really all about working on it in practice.
And we definitely do a lot of underwater-25 sets.
To have a great kickout, you have to train two different things: breath control... and technique. If you train these things every day, you’ll have great kickouts when you race.