What if we told you that kicking too much might actually make you swim slower?
Yep, you read that right. When it comes to your freestyle kick (also known as flutter kick), more isn’t always better.
Let’s take a look at what proper freestyle kick technique looks like and break down the two-beat, four-beat, six-beat and eight-beat kick patterns to help you swim faster with less energy.
How to Swim Faster
There are only two ways to get faster in swimming: Increase propulsion and decrease drag.
If you want to make quick speed gains, focus on reducing drag, which is the amount of resistance your body creates in the water. Refine your technique and improve your bodyline to minimize drag when you swim.
Related: How to Decrease Drag When You Swim
Increasing propulsion is also self explanatory, but it takes a bit more time to achieve. From a kicking perspective, you want to kick more water so you swim faster with every kick. Many swimmers do additional dryland training outside the pool to build muscle that allows them to pull more water, but technique also plays a role in propulsion.
Now let’s apply these concepts to your kicking technique.
Breaking Down Proper Swimming Kick Technique
Many swimmers have a kick that’s way too big, because they think that they’ll pull more water and swim faster with a bigger kick. And while it’s true that a larger amplitude kick will move more water, it also creates more drag, which slows you down.
Good kicking requires you to find a balance between power and drag. For the optimal kick, try to reduce the amplitude. Keep your kick smaller, and try not to kick outside of your bodyline. Generally, about 18 inches (or half a meter) is a good starting point. Think small and quick instead of big and slow.
Many beginner swimmers also bend their knees too much when they kick. Your flutter kick should come more from your hips than your knees. When you’re kicking correctly, your knees will bend, but your quads and hip flexors will be doing most of the work.
How Much Should I Kick When I Swim?
Your kick can help you establish a rhythm in your stroke. Depending on who you are, the pace that you’re swimming and what feels comfortable to you, you may swim with one of the following kicking patterns.
In swimming, kicking patterns are often referred to as “X-beat kick,” with each “beat” noting one kick. In the examples below, the right and the left leg are considered individual “beats.”
No kick. This applies during pull sets. If you do this without a pull buoy, your hips will sink and you’ll swim slower as a result.
One kick per arm stroke. This is how most swimmers swim. This kicking style is most often used during warmup, cool down and longer distance sets, and is great for providing stability to keep your hips in the proper position without expending too much energy.
Katie Ledecky, one of the best distance swimmers in history, swims with a two-beat kick in her longer races. If she tried to kick more than that, she’d tire herself out too quickly and wouldn’t have all the world records she has today!
Two kicks per arm stroke. Most people don’t swim with a four-beat kick, because it often includes a pause in kicking during the breath in freestyle. Due to this pause, you won’t be as stable as you swim.
You may end up doing this kick if you transition from the two-beat kick to the six-beat kick in the middle of a set.
Three kicks per arm stroke. This is higher intensity, and you’re likely swimming shorter distances when doing this kick style. Your legs contain a lot of large muscles and require a lot of energy, so you may find that you tire yourself out more quickly when you try to maintain a six-beat kick for long periods.
Many elite swimmers will swim with a six-beat kick in shorter races like the 200 freestyle.
Four kicks per arm stroke. This is a very rare kicking pattern that we usually only see in the fastest elite swimmers and in some beginner swimmers.
Are those beginners totally crushing it right out of the gate? Nope. When beginners do an eight-beat kick, they’re kicking too much and their arms can’t keep up with their legs. And on top of that, the swimmer will be super exhausted after just one length of the pool.
On the other side of the coin, very few elite swimmers can maintain an eight-beat kick in races. With four kicks per arm stroke, it becomes difficult to maintain a consistent stroke cadence. American swimmer Natalie Coughlin is famous for doing this.
Which Kick Pattern Should I Do?
In short, it’s good to be able to swim with multiple kicking patterns. But depending on your swimming goals and your skill level, your kicking style will vary. If you’re a beginner, we recommend focusing on the two-beat kick for now.
If you want to compete and swim shorter, sprint events, work on the two-beat kick, but also train yourself to swim with a six-beat kick to maximize your power in those short races.
2,000M Swim Workout to Improve Your Kick
This workout incorporates all the different styles of kicking to help you get a feel for them. Log this workout in the MySwimPro app to see in-depth data after your swim, including splits, SWOLF data, heart rate and more.
For more kick-focused workouts, check out the Kick Technique Bootcamp Training Plan.
- Distance: 2,000 meters or yards
- Duration: 40 minutes
- 1×300 Freestyle @ 4:20 Easy, 2-beat kick
- 4×50 Kick @ 1:00 with fins
- 1×200 Pull @ 2:30 build, 0-beat kick with paddles and pull buoy
Main Set (2x)
- 1×300 Freestyle @ 3:40, negative split, 2-beat kick
- 4×50 Freestyle @ 1:00, best average descend, 6-beat kick
- 3×100 Freestyle @ 1:25 Easy, 2-beat kick
Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite drill or swim set to improve your kick technique. For more swim workouts, technique tips and Training Plans, download the MySwimPro app!