For the introductory strokes development group swimmer, a heavy emphasis should be placed on kicking ability. An efficient leg kick promotes an optimal body position for each stroke. This is crucial for the efficient application of limb force and minimum resistance in the water. An efficient leg kick develops the distance per kick, which in turn affects the distance per stroke. As a result of this efficiency, speed is increased. Kicking also helps to develop core strength lower back muscles.

Kicking abilities quite often diminish as the swimmer advances in other areas. Consequently, it is crucial that there is a strong emphasis on kicking in the introductory strokes development group program. An efficient kicking ability and optimal body position greatly enhance hip stability in breaststroke and butterfly, and facilitate trunk rotation with minimum resistance in freestyle and backstroke.

Kicking should be done in equal amounts per stroke, and should be incorporated with strokes swimming and drills.

Swimmers should keep their legs loose and relaxed when kicking. Young swimmers have the tendency to tighten up and confuse kicking harder with kicking faster.


The use of swimming aids is important for developing kicking ability. The most commonly used teaching aid is the kickboard, which should be introduced in the learn-to-swim and water safety programs. The kickboard should be thin enough to sit comfortably in the young swimmer’s hand. Initially, the swimmer should hold the kickboard with the hands apart, fingers on top and thumbs underneath (as in answer Aabove)

As the skill of the swimmer improves and their confidence grows they should hold the kicboard by the sides, with hands approximately shoulder-width apart, fingers curled under and thumbs on top pointing in the direction of propulsion (as in answer B above). Why? Holding the board at the leading edge (the one furthest away from the swimmer’s face as in answer C) tends to keep the swimmer too high in the water and force the hips down too deep; holding the kickboard at the edge closest to the swimmer’s face with fingers on top of the board reinforces a dropped wrist position, which is a difficult fault to correct.

As skills improve and confidence grows, the introductory strokes development group swimmer will not rely heavily on the kickboard. If skill quality is maintained, the advanced hand position should change in order to prevent a dropped wrist when releasing the kickboard to initiated a stroke (when doing drills of how to stroke). The wrist-up position (ie wrist higher than fingers) must be maintained when releasing the kickboard and this cannot be achieved with a hands-on-top-of-the-board position (as in answer D).

The hand position and the size of the kickboard should change as the skill level improves. Use a of a smaller board should be recognized as an achievement in the introductory strokes development group. The kickboard’s size can be reduced – just cut off the back end of the board. Alternatively, the board can be turned sideways, which also increases resistance.

For advanced kicking and body position skills for backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, introductory strokes development group swimmers can advance to just holding a large rubber band or a tube band. Swimmers should concentrate on a greater kicking effort and a locked, elbow-in body position.

Drills for developing kicking ability


Side lateral kick

  • Face looking at the bottom of the pool under armpit.
  • Chin on chest with cheek on shoulder.
  • Chest and trunk facing side of pool.
  • Opposite hip and shoulder out of the water with that arm extended by side.
  • Breathing should be performed every four seconds, or number of kicks, according to ability.

Equal practice should be given to each side. However, a weak side should be given slightly more exposure to improve skill. This can be learnt with fins, gradually progressing to no fins as long as the skill level is maintained.

Tip: The relationship between head and hips in swimming is important. Generally if the head is up, the hips are down and if the head is down, the hips are up. Using a kickboard that is too large makes the body and head sit too high in the water, forcing the hips down, and an inefficient kick results.

1) Side lateral kick. The head should be relaxed and in a neutral position (ie as if standing and looking straight ahead).

2) Breathing position – the swimmer should minimize head movement.

Side lateral kick with half recovery and scull

Kick position is exactly the same as the side lateral kick, but with a slight sculling motion on the leading arm concentrating on a wrist-up position. the recovery occurs with the arm by the side, lifting first the shoulder then the elbow with a relaxed but controlled movement and with the forearm and fingers dragging on the water’s surface. The arm rises to 90 degrees, directly above the head and level with the chin, and returns to the side every 4-6 seconds or per breath.

In the elbow-high position the inside line of the thumb should be in the same plane as the outside line of the elbow. Ensure that the elbow does not over-reach above the line of the head.

Side lateral kick with half recovery and scull – the head in neutral position.

  • The kick position is the same as for the side lateral kick.
  • The leading or lower arm makes a slight sculling motion with the back of the wrist flexed slightly upwards.
  • The opposite arm recovers by lifting the elbow until the upper arm is at 90 degrees to the body, directly above the head and level with the chin.
  • The forearm is relaxed but controlled and fingertips drag along the surface.
  • The recovering arm returns to the side with a smooth and controlled action.
  • This is repeated every 4-6 seconds, per breath or after a designed number of kicks, eg 6, 12.

This drill can be repeated to the one side for a set distance, a breath being taken by rolling the chin up to the shoulder. It can be repeated on the other side, or the half recovery concept can be introduced while holding a small kickboard or pull buoy in the lateral position. That is, it can be practiced using just one arm or both arms, with or without an aid being held.

Side lateral kick, sculling, half-recovery and body rotation.

Breathing is executed with a body roll, not lifting the head independently. If the swimmer is breathing correctly with the body rotation, one eye, the corner of th mouth and one ear will remain in the water. Kicking and sculling continues throughout the drill. This can initially be done with a small kickboard and no scull just as it can be learnt without a scull or kickboard. It can also be learnt with one-third recovery if a half recovery cannot be performed first.

Arms folded kick

The swimmer assumes a prone position in the water, face down and back of head at surface. Lower arms are folded on top of each other, hands lightly holding elbows. Upper arms surround the ears. Breath is taken on a set number of kicks by lifting chin forward after exhaling under water. The swimmer must keep kicking during breathing to ensure a smooth continuous movement. Instructors should ensure that swimmers maintain a steady, even, balanced kicking rhythm especially when breathing. This position increases the resistance experienced by the swimmer, which means they have to work harder in the kicking drill, building strength and kicking power.

Kicking with arms folded – a great way to develop a strong kick

Torpedo kick with fins to increase ankle flexibility. The swimmer should stay relaxed and aim to kick with a smooth, even rhythm.

Torpedo kick

The swimmer assumes a prone position in the water, face down and back of head at surface. Upper arms are in contact with the ears, lower arms are extended forwards, with one hand on top of the other or ‘superman scull’- in a streamlined position.


The kicking positions for backstroke are developed from any one or a combination of the following:

  • arms folded holding kickboard to chest – this helps chin, back and head position.
  • kicking with a board held with straight arms over the hips to knees – this helps back arch and restricts any movement (knees don’t bump board).
  • arms extended behind head holding kickboard – this action simulates actual back body position without trunk rotation.

These drills can be mastered with and without fins. It is wise not to learn any skill that will need to be relearned at a more advanced level. Instead, skills should be learned to enhance the stroke’s execution and to lead to more advanced skills. This will ensure that skills are free of mistakes and improve the efficiency of each stroke.

Side lateral kick

The knees should not be lifted towards the stomach, thus breaking the surface. Swimmers should bend the knees just enough so that toes can ‘pull the water down then kick away’, stopping just short of breaking the surface. Kicks should be narrow and fast.

Arms should be kept by the swimmer’s sides. This can be practiced to one side at a time or with the body rotating from one side to the other on a set number of kicks by rolling the lower hip and shoulder to upwards position. The head remains steady at all times – a strong, steady, stable head position is a consistent factor in quality backstroke swimming.

The face looks at the sky or roof of the pool, ears resting on the water and chin and cheek pushed sideways against the shoulder. This can be practiced against the lane or side of pool. However, the knees should not break the water’s surface.

Breaths can be taken as required or can be on a set rhythm. For example, swimmers can learn to breathe in as their left hand enters the water, then exhale as their right hand enters the water. Breathing out hard must be reinforced continually. As in freestyle, the leading hip should be clear of the water or at least on the surface.

This drill can be learnt with fins, gradually progressing to no fins as long as the skill level is maintained.

The swimmer adopts the same body position as for freestyle, but with the face looking at the sky or pool roof.

Backstroke side lateral kick with one-third or one-half recovery and scull. The swimmer’s head should be relaxed and in the neutral position.

The arm hand to shoulder, should ‘reach for the sky’. The one-third or half recovery starts with the lift of the hip then arm lifting over the hip to a 45-degree angle (for one-third recovery). The thumb should lead the recovery to 90 degrees and the little finger leads the arm’s return to the hip.

For half recovery, the arm should lift over the shoulder through the line of the hip to a 90-degree angle (above shoulder). The arm then returns to the hip, straight. The lift and return, as in freestyle, must be a controlled movement. The sculling is only slight but a deeper catch is emphasized. This can be taught with both hands by the side and alternately one arm extended in Superman position (hand and arm in line with shoulder).

Tip: Hip lifts the shoulder – shoulder lifts the arm – arm lifts the hand – HIP – SHOULDER – ARM – HAND.

Crossover kicking drill – backstroke and butterfly

Swimmer extends arms behind ears, hands on top of each other on the top of back. Fingers can be intertwined for extra stability, until a position is learnt.

The drill aids body position, kick and prepares swimmer for more demanding drills and skills.

Freestyle and backstroke

Hip rotators

By placing hands in the ‘hands in pockets’ position – elbows slightly elevated more for freestyle – and hands by side for backstroke, pressure is applied to rotate the trunk hip first while kicking. The pressure is applied to the side of the legs to act as a steering wheel, initiating rotation from the hips first.

The kicking must be continuous; however, the rotation should pause with the body facing one side or the other side of the pool. The rotation should be fast and explosive and the trunk should not stop when facing the bottom of the pool (freestyle) or the sky or roof (backstroke). The head must be kept stationary with as little movement as possible. The ears should be on the water line.

The sequence is: hip-shoulder-breathe then repeat to opposite side, in same order.

In freestyle, the swimmer may breathe when required about every four seconds or every three or four rotations in a normal freestyle breathing pattern with one eye and one ear in the water.

It is beneficial to have the introductory strokes development group swimmer develop body position, kicking technique and strength by converting freestyle into backstroke and vice versa. This practice routine is also beneficial when the swimmer, travelling in lane circles, can observe the oncoming swimmers.

The contrast of a straight arm recovery (backstroke) and an elbow high bent recovery (freestyle) is beneficial, as well as breathing (when required) in backstroke and the restricted breathing freestyle. Stroke count for both strokes over the same distances can also be compared. For junior swimmers, 12-15 strokes per 25 meters for freestyle and backstroke are recommended. This can be taught before side lateral kick.

Side view of hip rotators – freestyle ‘hands in pockets’ position.


The breaststroke kick ca cause difficulties at introductory strokes development group level depending on the quality of teaching at the learn-to-swim stage. Common faults are:

  1. foot turned up on one or both legs
  2. knees brought up under hips
  3. legs frog-kicking too wide with knees apart
  4. trailing kick or unfinished kick.

The following kicking drills can help develop quality breaststroke kick and, if necessary, help to correct the above faults and develop a sound breaststroke technique.

Wall vertical kick

The swimmer presses gently against the side of the pool in an upright position to practice the breaststroke kick. Knees, hips and chest are pressed against the side of the pool and chin remains at water level. This close-to-the wall position ensures that the knees do not come u under the hips. The kick can be practiced in group situations provided that the side of the pool is suitable (ie deep enough and without ledges). It may progress form holding the side, to hands by side with palms pressed against the wall or in a streamlined position with hands above head. It may then be practiced midpool away from the ledge. This drill should correct problems 2 and 3 above.

Inverted breaststroke kick

This kicking exercise may be practiced with a very small pull buoy or a ‘slice’ of a pool buoy placed between the thighs. Hands are by the side with heels touching hands at the top of the kick.

It may also be done with a kickboard over the thighs and knees, the knees remaining underwater with the lower abdomen and hips pushed up. Like all strokes, it may also be done in a streamlined torpedo position.

An emphasis should be on heels touching the buttocks at the top of the kick and kicking back heels first with toes pointing to the side in a fast, explosive action. The ankles must be squeezed together at the end of the kick while the head, back, hips and trunk are slightly pushed upwards.

To practice the knee-in, feet-apart, toes-out, arched-back position and head position, swimmers can do the ‘limbo’ at home on the carpet or practice walking like a duck on the pool deck as part of their dry-land warm-up routine.

Breaststroke kick without a board

Swimmers can practice with:

  • hands by side with heels touching hands
  • hands extended over the buttocks to touch heels
  • normal torpedo position
  • holding a rubber band with arms locked forwards, thumbs down and little finger up, for timing the breath and stroke commencement.

Another drill is to pull the feet up slowly to the buttocks, not allowing the feet to turn out until they reach the highest point of kick recovery. This is followed by an explosive backwards kick and finished by squeezing the ankles together. This drill enhances kicking ability. The emphasis is on pulling feet up slowly, turning them out and kicking back (toes pointing sideways) quickly.

Tip: the most effective swimming propulsive movements go from SLOW to FAST – that is, the movement starts slowly (usually providing the opportunity to ‘feel’ then ‘hold’ the water), then the limb accelerates as the movement progresses.

For instance, in breaststroke kick, the kick begins slowly as the heels are drawn up to the buttock. The swimmer then ‘feels’ the water with the instep of each foot and kicks backwards aggressively, accelerating the feet until they come together.

This ability to accelerate limbs during swimming movements is a fundamental aspect of fast swimming.


Butterfly kick should be taught without a board first, unlike the other strokes. After this has been achieved learning to kick with and without a board is most beneficial. Using a kickboard will stabilize the upper body and help promote the correct movement for the young butterfly swimmer.

Butterfly kicck is perhaps the one stroke that swimmers learn kicking easily and most do it naturally with minimal instruction. However, the timing of the arms, breathing and kick can cause learning difficulties. Teaching the arms and breathing over short distances initially is more important than teaching the kick at this stage.

Side lateral dolphin kick

This drill teaches kicking both ways – ie in both directions, up and down.

Torpedo underwater dolphin kick

This can also be done with hands by side. Butterfly kick using lateral head on ear position, the prone ‘Mermaid’ underwater kick and kicking on the back, with both hands by sides, are best for beginners. These positions help teach the two-way action of feet and the hip movement. This skill can be varied – either streamlined or hands by side – but it is better to practice both, thus ensuring optimal but efficient knee bend. The use of excessively long fins will inhibit rather than promote the development of a quality dolphin kick.

1st picture: Side lateral dolphin kick – the swimmer needs to focus on a rhythmic kick working in both directions.

2nd picture: Torpedo underwater dolphin kick – an even, rhythmic kick is crucial.

Crossover dolphin kick (back only)

Arms are extended behind ears, with one hand on top of the other on the top of the back. Fingers can be intertwined for extra stability, until the position is learnt. This drill ensures a high hip position while allowing the coach to check the swimmer’s mobility in the upper and lower body.

Vertical dolphin kick

The emphasis is on developing a strong, even, balanced kick in both directions.

With all the kicking drills it is important that the swimmer be skilled with and without fins. A greater emphasis must be placed on instructing the swimmer to practice dolphin kick with speed and continuity.

Vertical dolphik kick with arms extended above the head

When working on dolphin kick using fins, the swimmer must point the toes to the bottom of the pool at the completion of the backwards and downward kick and to the roof at the completion of the up-kick.

Dolphin kick is performed for butterfly, backstroke and freestyle events. The swimmer must consistently practice this skill in all positions, both below and above the water over short distance. The emphasis should be on correct technique and speed.

Tip: Kicking is an important skill in swimming. However, the commercial reality is that parents do not pay to see kids kick up and down a pool for an hour! Coaches should teach correct kicking skills and then have swimmers incorporate their kicking skils into swimming and drills works throughout the session. As most drills are performed at kicking speed (ie the kick provides the propulsion in most stroke drills), drill sets can be used as additional kicking practice sets.

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