Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tri Tips: Swim Coach Laura McPhie- Kick: How, Why and When?

From Nic: Recently was contacted by about sharing an article. They are an online swim training program that allows you to customize your program along with stroke analysis and personalized coaching options. I thought this was a perfect article to share as many of us are heading into off season and will be in the pool during the winter. Laura also shared a swim set for you to try out (plastic ziplock not included).  Read more about Laura and L2Swim at the end of the article. 

Kick: How, Why and When?
By Laura McPhie at

Lets talk about kicking in practice. Historically, triathletes have tended to be anti-kick, often falling on the argument that triathletes shouldn’t kick during a race so not to kill their legs, so they don’t need to practice kick with kick focus sets. More recently, swim coaches have been on the debate of kick with a board or without one. I’m a fan of moderation. Kick should be used by everyone for fitness, body position and propulsion but there is a right time and place for a kick-set and there is a point of diminishing returns.

Kick is an excellent way increase your effort in practice without worry of stroke breakdown – aka. you can go harder for longer without practicing bad habits. Anytime my swimmers hit the water after being away from it for any period of time, we kick fast first while working good quality swimming and then integrate in high effort or heart rate control swimming later in the training period. I find it encourages all the negatives that kick can provide when done badly – lazy body position and incorrect leg use.

That leads into the second reason kick is excellent and my argument for triathletes doing kick sets – body position work. Your legs and core are what dictates your position in the water. Men have a tendency drag their legs and women settle either really high or low with their hips. Either way means you are using your legs improperly, have poor efficiency and need more energy for swimming. The more you kick, the more you train your muscles to settle with ease into the right place. The ideal is that you control how much effort it takes to use your legs for proper body position at the surface of the water and for pace change. Triathletes, my reason for you kicking is so that during a race, your legs are strong enough to hold your body position and still get out with legs ready to race. The care is to not overwork the kick and shift the balance of muscles to one not optimal for biking and running (not my love for moderation).

Propulsion is a little easier to understand. Clearly kick moves you forward (unless you happen to be one of the unfortunate few that is currently literally kicking backward, point your toes and get your feet up, it will help). The efficiency of that forward propulsion is sometimes debatable. You want the effort expended to align with the speed gained. This takes a bit of time a patience. Make sure your kicking from your hip and upper legs and your feet are near the surface of the water. Try to isolate your legs and keep your head and body still during the kick-only parts of the set. Keep the kick small and contained with a constant (quick) rhythm.

Finally, because everyone loves some drama, the swim debates regarding kick. I have been all out attacked for my stance on kick, normally online by Triathlon enthusiasts. The attack is normally that kick on a board is bad for swimmers, creating an awkward position in the water. Agreed, which is why mixing it up is nice. I have taken my stance from a variety of coaches, but more recently from Canadian high performance coach Ben Titley. Kick with a board, but not all the time and when not kicking with a board, do so in a useful body position. Now his swimmers and my swimmers and the swimmers of L2Swim have very different reasons to do kick, but generally swimmers are poor at kicking and a variety of types of kicking at a high pace will improve that. For newer swimmers, I like kick for all the above reasons and because it increases comfort and confidence in the water.

Hope that helps increase your understanding of why we kick!



2 or 3x

75 BP Kick  on 10 sec rest

  • BP Kick: Hold a position right before you start a pull and after your recovering hand has left the water.
  • top hand is palm down fingers down.
  • head in line with that arm, in a neutral position.
  • body tilted on its side, trying to be long in the water, make sure your hips aren’t sitting backward.
  • recovering arm is out of the water, bent with a high elbow and a loose wrist.

25 Fast on 30 sec rest

  • as far as you can Underwater Kick
  • surface on your back and kick the remaining distance.

3 x 50 Kick on Board - Best Average on 1:10/1:20/1:30 or 30 sec rest

100 DPS on 30 sec rest

Laura.JPGIf you need a breakdown of their jargon, ck out their FAQ HERE

Info about Coach Laura:

Ms. McPhie has over twelve years experience as a competitive swim coach. her experience ranges from beginner triathletes to Olympic swimmers. She has served as assistant age group coach for the Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club, head coach for the University of Western Triathlon Club, and assistant youth coach for the Toronto Swim Club. In the 2013/2014 season Laura will serve as the Head Age Group Coach of the Dorado Stars.
Like all of TriBloggers posts, this post is NOT sponsored.  
Just helping share the sport of triathlon and those in the industry.  

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