How Much Should You Kick When Swimming?


swimming feet and swim kicks

There is much debate about how much you should kick when you swim, with pro sprint swimmers kicking like crazy and triathlon swimmers hardly kicking at all, but how much should the average regular swimmer kick?

As a general rule, how much you kick when swimming depends on the swimming activity, for example, a 2-beat kick is great if you need to conserve energy or want to do long distance, a 4-beat kick is good for a moderate pace and a 6-beat kick is typically used by swimmers who want speed.

Swim Kick Type When To Use This Swim Kick
2-Beat KickUsed to conserve energy and longer swims. Typically used by the average regular pool swimmer.
4-Beat KickUsed by those who find the 2-beat kick a bit too slow. It will be faster but will use more energy.
6-Beat KickUsed by those who want speed and a high-intensity workout. Typically used by competitive sprint swimmers.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The difference between 2, 4, and 6 beat kicks and how to use them
  • Whether you should kick while swimming
  • How to swim without kicking
  • How to swim-kick effectively
  • How to improve your kicking technique

What Do We Mean By A 2-Beat, 4-Beat & 6-Beat Kick?

When we talk about 2, 4, or 6-beat kicks in swimming, we are referring to the number of kicks per stroke when swimming freestyle, which is also known as the front crawl.

What Is A 2-beat Kick In Swimming?

A 2-beat kick is one of the most commonly used kicks in swimming as it conserves energy, allowing swimmers to swim for longer.

As a general rule, a 2-beat kick involves taking one kick per arm stroke. Therefore, over one stroke cycle (two-arm rotations), the swimmer kicks twice. Which is how the two-beat kick gets its name.

This is the most economical kick and is a big favourite amongst triathlon swimmers as it allows them to save their leg energy for the run and bike sections of the triathlon.

The 2-beat swim kick can be tricky because it requires more balance. As the swimmer is kicking less, the legs are doing less “stabilising” work and the body will rotate more from left to right.

Rotation, as you swim, is essential, as you will move more efficiently through the water. According to the total immersion swim technique, fast propulsion is more about body rotation and position than actual kicking.

If you are struggling with maintaining your balance as you swim with a 2-beat leg kick, I recommend checking out the swimming drills for balance as part of the total immersion swim technique.

Here is a very detailed 2-beat kick analysis. You will see that there is one kick, per one arm stroke.

This video also shows how to match your kick with your arm strokes too:

What Is A 4-beat Kick In Swimming?

Faster than the 2-beat kick, the 4-beat kick involves twice as many kicks per swim stroke cycle.

As a general rule, the 4-beat kick involves kicking twice per swim stroke. The interesting thing about this kick is the pattern. When you see it in action, it gives the impression that there is a pause in the kicking.

Here is a video of a 4-beat kick swimmer. Notice how it appears that he pauses as he kicks.

What Is A 6-Beat Kick In Swimming?

It is very easy to spot the 6-beat swim kick as it is fast, with lots of turbulence in the water.

As a general rule, a 6-beat swim kick involves six kicks per swim cycle or three kicks per arm stroke.

Typically used for going fast, the 6-beat kick is a staple amongst sprint competitor swimmers.

If you are familiar with the timing of a waltz, count “one-two-three” and “one-two-three” for each pull stroke.

I use the 6-beat kick when I am trying to improve my fitness as it is exhausting and gives a great cardio workout.

Are You Supposed To Kick When You Swim?

As a general rule, when you swim, kicking helps stabilise you in the water and helps with some propulsion. However, kicking is not the source of swim power.

Body rotation and hip action are really the sources of power and efficiency when you swim, with your legs only contributing to a maximum of 15% power overall. Therefore, should you kick at all?

In addition, the harder you kick, the more difficult swimming becomes, while your swimming technique may not improve.

For balance, you will most likely need to do some basic kicking, and the 2-beat kick is perfect for this.

If you’d like to learn more about the different kicks in swimming, then take a look at my article exploring different swim kicks with detailed examples:

Can You Swim Without Kicking?

It is possible to swim without kicking, and if you are recovering from an injury such as a knee injury, for example, it is possible to avoid kicking fully when swimming.

It is important to stop drag when you swim, and in order to swim without kicking, you need to ensure that your legs don’t sink, pulling you down and creating drag.

To counteract this, push your upper body and head down into the water.

The further down you push your head into the water, the higher your legs will be in the water – a bit like a seesaw – which will reduce drag created by dangling legs.

If you want to avoid all kicking completely, you can use a training aid such as a pull buoy.

This is a floating device you place between your legs that will keep your legs high in the water, and remove the need to kick.

This swimming aid pull buoy can also be very useful to allow you to focus on and improve your arm stroke technique without worrying about your legs or getting exhausted by your swim kicks.

How Should You Kick When Swimming?

Here is a basic formula to follow to work on your swim kick technique.

I like to memorise mantras when I swim to help me remember the technique in the pool.

Here is my leg technique mantra: “Straight Leg, Knee Down, Knee Stay, Straight Leg, Recover”

This is what each piece of the mantra means:

  1. Straight Leg – Start with a straight leg. This is fundamental as the starting point of the kick as it will keep you buoyant and flat in the water.
  2. Knee Down – relax your knee and drive it forward towards the bottom of the pool.
  3. Knee Stay – once your knee is below your hip, keep it there.
  4. Straight Leg – with your knee bent, below your hip and staying in position, straighten out your leg. This motion causes your ankle and foot to be under pressure, which causes the forward motion. It is useful to keep your ankle and foot “floppy”.
  5. Recover – once you have followed through with step 4, your leg will be naturally pointed and straight in the water, and it is time to go back to the starting point and repeat.

How Do You Know You Are Kicking Correctly When Swimming?

When you are self-teaching swimming and trying to improve your swim kick technique on your own, it’s difficult to know if you’re kicking correctly.

In this situation, it’s helpful to know what a good swim kick “feels like” when done correctly.

As a general rule, when you are swimming well and have a good leg position in the water, you will not become too fatigued, your legs do not burn with overuse, and your legs will be high in the water. As a result, you feel you are swimming with less drag.

Your legs should feel relaxed, and if you are keeping your ankles and feet loose and floppy, you might feel a slight tenderness on the top of your ankle region from the pressure of the water.

Your ankles should never feel sore, or overworked; if you experience this, stop and reevaluate your technique in case you are at the start of an injury.

Your leg will point in the water, a result of the water pressure.

If you find you are deliberately making your legs straight with your toes pointing, reassess your style as this straight-leg position with a pointed toe should come about naturally without conscious thought.

In the recovery phase, your leg should be straight and remain straight as it floats back up to the starting position. You should not bend your knee during this step.

In summary, you will feel much more relaxed and swimming becomes more effortless.

If you want to know more about the basics of learning to swim, take a look at my article How Do I Learn To Swim By Myself? A tested guide for adults.

Happy Swimming!

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Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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