What Are The Types Of Kicks In Swimming? (With examples)

Kicking is often an overlooked swim skill as it only contributes to a maximum of 15% swim power. For beginners and intermediate swimmers, this number could be significantly less, therefore for many, their swim kicking skill is something that can be improved.

As a general rule, there are four main types of swim strokes and three types of kicks in swimming. These three swim kicks are the flutter kick, which is used in both the front crawl and backstroke, the dolphin kick used in the butterfly stroke, and the scissor kick used for the breaststroke.

In this article I am going to discuss:

  • The different kicks in swimming
  • Which swim kick is used with each swim stroke.
  • Examples of how to do each kick
  • Tips on how to improve swim kicking technique.

The Three Main Kicks In Swimming

  1. The flutter kick used with front crawl / freestyle and backstroke.
  2. The scissor kick used with breaststroke
  3. The dolphin kick used with the butterfly.
Swim KickSwim Stroke Used
Flutter KickFront Crawl / Back Stroke
Scissor KickBreast Stroke
Dolphin KickButterfly

1 – The Flutter Kick

Typically, the flutter kick is used with the front crawl swim stroke, which can have different kick rhythms depending on the level of speed required.

The front crawl is one of the most common swim strokes and also one of the fastest. It is this speed that has led many people to refer to the stroke as ‘freestyle’; however, the freestyle is a category of swimming competition in which the swimmers can choose their fastest swim stroke, and many swimmers opt for the front crawl.

Mastering the right flutter kick can improve the speed of your front crawl even further.

The three main types of flutter kick swim rhythms:

  1. 2-Beat Kick: This is kicking once per arm stroke (twice per full stroke cycle)
  2. 4-Beat Kick: This is kicking twice per arm stroke (four times per full stroke cycle)
  3. 6-Beat Kick: This is kicking three times per arm stroke (six times per full stroke cycle)

When is each flutter kick rhythm used?

Which flutter kick rhythm you use will depend on how fast you want to go, or how much energy you want to conserve.

The Flutter KickWhen To Use
2-Beat Flutter KickFor long-distance or to conserve energy
4-Beat Flutter Kick For moderate speed
6-Beat Flutter Kick For fast speeds and sprint competitions

When to use the 2-beat flutter kick

Kicking requires a lot of energy, therefore, beginners, long-distance swimmers and triathletes tend to use 2-beat swim kicks as this will use less energy overall allowing the swimmer to swim for longer.

When to use the 4-beat flutter kick

The 4-beat flutter kick will be moderately faster than the two-beat kick and requires more energy as part of your workout.

If you find that the two-beat kick is a little too slow for you, or that the two-beat kick does not create enough propulsion to get you moving well in the water, then the four-beat kick is a good option to try.

When to use the 6-beat flutter kick

The 6-beat kick is high energy and fast kick that will produce the most amount of speed.

Typically, competitive sprint swimmers use this kick or competitors who need some extra speed towards the end of a race.

You can use this kick if you want speed, or to get a great cardio workout as it requires a lot of energy. It will get your heart and lungs pumping hard.

How To Do The Flutter Kick

Whatever flutter kick rhythm you choose, the technique for the flutter kick is the same across all flutter kicks.

Here is a great video showing how to do the flutter kick.

2 – The Scissor Kick

The scissor kick is a classic kick used in the side stroke however it can be also used in the breaststroke.

Unlike the flutter kick, there are not any varying kick patterns with the scissor kick. You simply kick your legs outwards and inwards simultaneously in a scissors motion. Your legs will need to bend at the knee in order to create a power scissor kick.

Overall, the scissor kick takes a lot of energy and is a great cardio workout. The scissor kick is also great for burning calories. [source]

Here is a brilliant demonstration showing how to do the scissor kick.

3 – The Dolphin Kick

This is a kick that I need to work on!

Typically used for butterfly stroke and when swimmers push off the wall for propulsion, the dolphin kick is a swimming kick that is often overlooked by swimmers.

The dolphin kick takes a tremendous amount of energy, is fantastic for your abdominal and stomach muscles and burns a lot of calories.

For competitive swimmers, a good dolphin kick can make a big difference to swim times, as with a good dolphin kick, swimmers can make the most of their wall turns and underwater propulsion.

Tips To Improve Swim Kicking Technique

1 – Ankle Flexibility

Having flexible ankles is an important part of a good swim kick technique. [source]

I used to play a lot of football in my young adult days. As a result, I have very rigid ankles that produce a poor kick.

If you are a runner or do other sports such as football, there is a high probability that you now have rigid ankles and an inefficient swim kick.

I have found that using training fins is a great way to stretch my ankles and improve flexibility.

Training fins (like these ones on Amazon) are shorter flippers, suitable for pools, that will allow you to feel what a good swim kick feels like.

Be careful not to overdo it with training fins for a start. If your ankles are rigid, gradually build up your training fin times. Otherwise, you may overuse or sprain your ankle ligaments, as your ankles will not be used to such a workout.

To learn more about ankle flexibility, check out this article which covers the topic in detail, Is Ankle Flexibility The Secret To Swimming Faster?

2 – Use A Kickboard

A kickboard (like this one on Amazon) is a floatation device that swimmers hold while they swim, ensuring that all the propulsion is coming from the swimmer kick.

Using a kickboard is a great way to isolate your swim kick and build up your kicking strength and technique.

By holding onto the kickboard, we can forget about our arms and just focus on our legs.

To learn more about kickboards, here is a link to an article reviewing a list of the best kickboards for swimming.

3 – Practice Vertical Kicking

Vertical kicking involves finding a deep body of water where your legs are not touching the ground. Place the arms across the chest or out to the side for balance, and kick in a vertical, upright position.

This workout will also help with ankle flexibility. [source]

Vertical kicking is like treading water, however, the legs are vertical and kicking using the same technique as the flutter kick – just vertically.

Your body profile should be narrow and straight in the water.

Here is a demonstration of how to practice kicking vertically:

Final Thoughts

Swim kicks are an important part of swimming, but are often very difficult for new swimmers and produce only a small percentage of propulsion. As a result, the swim kick technique is often overlooked.

However, some minor improvements to our swim kicks can have a great impact on our swim performance and fitness overall.

If you consider yourself to have a hopeless kick, don’t worry, you are not alone.

By spending a bit of time with swim aids such as kickboards and training fins, you can dramatically improve your kick and improve your overall swim performance.

To improve your swimming technique I recommend that you check out the Total Immersion Swimming Method. This is how I learned to swim and greatly improved my swimming technique. Here is a link to the swim course on Udemy.

Happy swimming!

What’s Next?

Ever wonder how much you should kick when swimming? Check out my article here that debates this question in detail.

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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