The dolphin kick, also known as the “fifth swim stroke”, is an incredibly powerful swim kick.
The dolphin kick is a great exercise that works your abs. The dolphin kick does not use isolated leg kicks but uses total body motion in the water that engages your core muscles. As a result, your abs will get a great workout as you propel yourself through the water.
For many, myself included, the dolphin kick is the key to going fast and maintaining momentum in the water. However, it is also a great workout that will build your core muscles, including your abs.
In this article I want to look at:
- Is the dolphin kick good for abs?
- How do you do a dolphin kick?
- What muscles does the dolphin kick work?
- When do swimmers use the dolphin kick?
- How do you breathe when doing the dolphin kick?
- Why is the dolphin kick fast?
- Does the dolphin kick burn calories?
- How many dolphin kicks should you do?
- Drills & Exercises To Practice Your Dolphin Kick
Is Dolphin Kick Good For Abs?
The dolphin kick will give your abs a great workout and is definitely a good way to work on your core muscles.
All swim strokes will work your abdominal muscles as you pull and twist your core in the water. However, the dolphin kick is particularly effective for abs.
Unlike other swim strokes where there is an isolated kick, i.e. one leg kicks and then the other, the dolphin kick is a total body movement. This means that you must use your entire body to move through the water and not just your legs and arms.
Because your entire body is moving, you must engage your core muscles to get the propulsion needed and, as a result, your abs.
Most of the power of the dolphin kick comes from the mid-section core muscles, as you must move your body up and down like a sine wave.
This movement works your entire core and takes a lot of strength, making this a great swim kick if your focus is building abdominal muscles.
How Do You Do A Dolphin Kick?
When doing a dolphin kick, the main focus is moving the whole body up and down.
First, you make a streamlined position by stretching your hands out in front of you with your head squeezed between your arms.
Next, you typically start from the shoulders and focus on a full-body undulation, pulsing your body up and down in the water, just like a dolphin swims.
Most of the power comes from your hips pulsing up and down, which will cause your legs to pulse up and down and your knees to bend.
It is possible to start the dolphin pulsing from any part of the body you choose. For example, you can experiment with moving your hands first, then your upper torso, hips and legs.
When starting a new stroke, it is always a good idea to experiment so you can get a good feel for the mechanics of the stroke and appreciate how it should feel when done correctly.
Here is a great video showing how to do the dolphin kick well in the pool:
What Muscles Does The Dolphin Kick Work?
The dolphin kick is a full-body workout that is fantastic for the core and abdominal muscles.
The dolphin kick can be subdivided into two motions, up and down, that work two sets of muscles.
The upward motion of the dolphin kick uses muscles on the front of your body, including the:
- Hip flexors
The downward motion of the dolphin kick uses muscles on the back of your body, including the:
- Lower back muscles
The downward kick of the undulating pattern creates the propulsion needed to move forward in the water.
This downward kick starts with the hip flexors and continues until you extend your knees fully, which will engage your quads.
The upward kick is just as important to perfect as it is the recovery phase of the kick which gets your legs in position to repeat the pattern.
During the upward kick, your glutes and hamstrings also contract.
Overall, it is a great body workout and after a few lengths of doing the dolphin kick, you will feel your stomach, core, and muscles coming alive!
When Do Swimmers Use The Dolphin Kick?
As a general rule, swimmers will use the dolphin kick when diving into the water, or to maintain momentum when pushing off the wall after a flip turn. In addition, the dolphin kick is the kick pattern that is used when doing the butterfly stroke.
Typically, swimmers will use the dolphin kick to gain speed, as it is faster to swim underwater using this method.
The dolphin kick has a fascinating history and only hit mainstream swimming competitions in the 1970s. Although the kick was around before that, it was Jesse Vassallo who started using the dolphin kick as part of his racing method, completing two or three dolphin kicks on race starts and wall turns.
In the 1980s, other swimmers explored the idea of using a dolphin kick as part of their racing strategy, as it quickly became apparent that it can improve a swimmer’s speed in a race.
By the late 1980s, the dolphin kick was a key component for many competitors, with the majority of backstroke swimmers swimming 20m dolphin kicks underwater in 100m backstroke races. That is 20% of the race underwater! [Source]
Here is a fantastic clip from the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul where we see most of the swimmers maintaining a high speed underwater by doing the dolphin kick.
In this clip, we hear how the swimmer can go so fast underwater doing the dolphin kick and then we see the actual race, with most of the swimmers sticking to underwater dolphin kicks instead of on the surface backstrokes.
Because of this, in 1991, FINA stepped in and restricted underwater swimming for the competitor to a maximum of 15m.
If you are competing today, you must surface and stop your underwater dolphin kick by the 15-meter mark, otherwise, you will be disqualified.
How Do You Breathe When Doing The Dolphin Kick?
The dolphin kick, when used at the start of a race, or in general, is completely performed underwater.
Therefore, before you push off the wall or dive in, ensure you have taken a breath.
If you watch the great dolphin kickers such as Michael Phelps, you will see him grab his breath at the tumble turn and, as he pushes off the wall and breaks into the dolphin kick, he starts to exhale through his nose.
By the time Michael is ready to come up for air, his lungs are emptied and he can start breathing normally as he breaks into his front crawl or butterfly stroke.
Why Is The Dolphin Kick Faster?
It is widely accepted that swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface. I have covered the details of this in greater depth in this article.
The dolphin kick is fast as it maintains the momentum gained from a tumble turn or dive start.
When you dive into the water or push off the wall, you want to get as much power and speed from these actions as possible.
By doing the dolphin kick at these stages, you are maintaining this momentum and speed for longer, making the dolphin kick a fast stroke.
There is a lot of power generated from your hips and legs in the dolphin kick, making this a fast and powerful dynamic movement in the water.
Does The Dolphin Kick Burn Calories?
The dolphin kick is a full-body movement that burns a lot of calories.
Although it is unclear how many calories just doing the dolphin kick alone with burn, the dolphin kick forms the basis for the butterfly stroke, which is by far the greatest burner of calories from all the swim strokes. [source]
As an example, for a bodyweight of 75kg, swimming 1000meters in 40minutes, the butterfly stroke will burn on average 725 calories, which is 38% more calories burned than doing the front crawl for the same length of time, which burns approximately 525 calories. [source]
I have compared the different strokes and how many calories each swim stroke burns here:
How Many Dolphin Kicks Should You Do?
The number of dolphin kicks you do will depend on your swimming skill level and technique.
Michael Phelps takes seven dolphin kicks before he surfaces however, most swimmers should take between two and three dolphin kicks until their dolphin kicks become faster than their surface stroke.
Michael Phelps has one of the best dolphin kicks in the world. His underwater kick is fast and powerful.
For the average swimmer, your dolphin kick may not be as fine-tuned and as a result, you should take fewer kicks.
If speed is your goal, you need to look at your surface stroke (i.e. front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly), and decide which is faster.
For example, if your front crawl is faster than your dolphin kick, then only do three dolphin kicks from the dive start and breakout to the front crawl as quickly as possible.
Once your dolphin kick is good and faster than your front crawl, you can stay underwater for longer and increase the number of dolphin kicks you take.
Drills & Exercises To Practice Your Dolphin Kick
There are some fantastic drills and exercise videos online to help you practice your dolphin kick and start you improving your technique.
This is one of my favourite tutorial videos from US Masters Swimming on how to do the dolphin kick, from start to finish.
By just completing these exercises in the water, you will be working your core muscles and toning your abs.