1.) Focus on the “up kick”
Often times when swimmers start learning the dolphin kick, their emphasis is on the down kick. This is for a couple different reasons, but the main one being that a swimmer creates the majority of their propulsion in this downward phase. About 80% of the propulsion created in the dolphin kick comes from the down kick. The other 20% comes from the up kick.
Ideally, a swimmer should bend their knee to at least 120-degrees during the up kick phase–but no more than 90-degrees. An excessive knee bend can be detrimental to the dolphin kick as a whole.
In order to create the maximum amount of propulsion possible, a swimmer must activate their glutes and hamstrings, along with forcefully bringing their heels back towards their bum and bending their knees. From this loaded position, a swimmer then plantar flexes their feet and forcefully extends the knee while contracting the quadriceps muscle to create a powerful and quick down kick.
If any phase of the up kick is not done well, then the following down kick will not be as powerful. The up kick is like pulling back an arrow on a bow and arrow. In order for the arrow to fly far and with speed, one must put the proper amount of tension on the string. A loaded string will always fly an arrow further and faster than a relaxed or slightly contracted string.
2.) Think about initiating the kick starting at your chest
Most often swimmers are told to initiate their kick with their hips. But in actuality, the hips flex and extend due to abdominal and lower back strength. If either of these areas isn’t as strong, it will affect that swimmer’s dolphin kick.
Next time you are performing the dolphin kick-start by thinking about engaging the muscles from the lowest portion of your sternum. The undulation pattern seen in a dolphin comes from the highest portion of your upper body rippling down to the lowest point (the big toe).
If a swimmer can initiate the rippling effect from a higher starting point, their proceeded down kicks will be more powerful.
3.) Point your toes
Everybody kicks faster with fins, but why?
Fins do a great job of putting a swimmer’s feet into a flexed position, along with increasing the surface area of the foot in general. Once the fins are off, if the swimmer isn’t thinking about plantar flexing their foot, their foot will go into a relaxed position with the toes dangling at the bottom.
By having the toes dangle at the bottom, this increases the amount of drag on the swimmer and also, decreases the surface area of the foot. Unfortunately, there are no races that allow swimmers to use fins, so the best thing we can do is plantar flex our toes. This will increase the surface area of the feet for the swimmer, along with reduce drag as he or she swims down the pool.
Try pointing your toes in your next kick set and let us know what you think!