A Different Way To Use The Legs
You might be expecting us to describe how to ‘kick’, but instead we’d like to show you a different way to view the role of the legs in freestyle.
Here are some of our observations…
- The rapid fluttering most people are doing is doing more to hold the lower part of the body up, near the surface, than moving the body forward.
- Most people think kicking is necessary or at least helping them move forward better, when it is not.
- Most people do not have the big feet, flexible ankles and hips, good kick mechanics and muscle tone to make kicking worthwhile, even when they do a lot of kicking sets to try to make it better.
- Flutter kicking might possibly assist with very short distance racing (if you have the features noted above), but arguably is not a good use of energy for distance and recreational swimming.
We propose a better way to use the legs…
Once you have connected the legs to the torso frame and have learned to establish balance in the body in the fundamental skills, the legs no longer need to kick to hold the lower body up. The flow of water under a straight, unified bodyline will take care of most of that.
With the legs freed from lifting the lower body, we propose these roles for them instead…
- Their primary role is to remain an extension of the torso frame (the fuselage), enabling more lift with the flow of water underneath, and less drag with a longer (straighter) bodyline.
- They are placed into a ‘counter-balance’ position in coordination with the streamline side of the body to increase stability in that asymmetric streamline position.
- In this counter-balanced position they are poised to press and assist the torso in its rotation by adding leverage.
- Only a single press of one leg is needed as the torso turns.
The legs coordinate with the movement of the upper body while minimizing motion which would increase turbulence and drag around the body. This minimalist approach to propulsion saves enormous energy and lowers the rate of fatigue during intense swimming efforts.
Different Kicks For Different Purposes
First, you may appreciate a view of the 2-beat leg press in action. [insert link to Mat demo]
The flutter kick is meant to provide linear thrust; it is meant to push backward on the water to push the body forward. In contrast, the 2-beat leg action is meant to provide rotational thrust – the press is meant to push downward on the water to lever that side of the torso upward, rotating around the spine. The two kinds of leg action have quite different purposes. If you lay with a kickboard in the water and flutter, it will move you forward, more or less. If you use a 2-beat press pattern you will notice that it does not push you forward; it rocks the body from side to side instead.
The decision to use a flutter kick or a 2-beat press is a matter of trade-offs. In the flutter kick the leg action must be disconnected from the torso action in order to produce linear (rearward) thrust that is added to the torso rotation and the pulling action of the arms. But those are two separate actions in separated sections of the body. The body is divided at the waist so that the lower part (legs and pelvis) can move in a way that serves the kick and the upper part (arms and shoulders) can move in a way that serves the arm strokes. And, even for those with suitable physique and good kick technique, flutter kicking takes a lot more energy for a modest increase in thrust. It may be worth the expense for experienced short distance pool swimmers, and it might be tactical to use it at the very last meters of a longer race, but it is a questionable expense for long distance swimmers, especially those who are not set up with good kicking features, fitness and technique for it.
Why A Leg ‘Press’?
More recently we’ve begun to use the term ‘press’ instead of ‘kick’ to emphasize the intent of the leg motion – we’re not kicking the water like kicking a ball. One leg is pressing downward to enable the torso to more easily rotate in the opposite direction – a basic lever. On that downward press, the lower part of the leg is seeking water resistance against itself (to have something to press against) and the rate of the press is meant to be proportional to the rate at which the torso is rotating. A swift kick would be much faster than the torso is turning and thus the wave of force it sends into the body would pass through before the torso can make use of it. A slower press against sufficient water resistance allows the leg to stay engaged over a longer period of time, allowing more force to be transferred into the torso.
This slower press and downward direction makes the 2-beat action more suitable for rotational thrust and makes it less suitable for linear thrust. A small rapid flutter kick is more suitable for linear thrust and less suitable for rotational thrust.
Why A ‘2-Beat’?
We recommend and teach (in this course) a ‘2-beat’ leg press, which indicates that there is one single action of the legs for each torso rotation, or 2 presses of the legs for the two torso rotations per stroke cycle, hence the ‘2-beat’ name. Any other movement of the legs than this would be increasing turbulence, and working against the stability of the torso in streamline position. Any other movements are not only unnecessary they are costly.
A flutter kick is where there is 4 or 6 beats per stroke cycle. (Note that there are different ways to make a flutter kick and they are not equal in their cost and effect.) A flutter kick could be used, if done skillfully, but those who can do that tend to be swimmers from an early age where their bodies were able to develop the features that make for an effective kick. It is rare to see later-onset swimmers develop a useful flutter kick, but it is possible. There could be reasons to develop a good flutter kick and we would be glad to help one learn how. But in this course, we teach a 2-Beat Leg Press as a core skill for swimmers seeking efficiency skills. It becomes an excellent foundation for learning an efficient flutter kick later on.