I attended the Central States Swim Clinic this past weekend, and talked to a number of coaches and swimmers about underwater dolphin kick. The consensus was that the “5th stroke” of underwater kicking has certainly made a big impact on our sport, and most all athletes at the elite level have mastered the discipline. Similarly, even within a club program, the fastest swimmers leveraged their walls and kicking more often than others.
If the correlation is there, then why doesn’t everyone do it? I’m sure there are many answers to that question, but for simplicity I have broken down the answer into two parts:
Part 1: Education
This may seem obvious, but the undulation motion that creates the dolphin kick must be learned properly. It is not about kicking the legs as hard as possible, but rather learning to kick from the core and the chest. Think about starting the kick at your sternum and transferring that wave motion down through your body to your toes. Too many swimmers kick from the knees and try to push their hips out of the water. This motion will inevitably create excess drag and tired legs.
Think about how a dolphin swims. They do not just wag their tail back and forth, but rather use their entire body to create a fluid undulation motion through the water. This movement can be most easily learned through the use of the Foil Monofin. Furthermore, when the dolphin kick is done properly the core will provide all the power for the kick so that the swimmer does not tire as easily.
Part 2: Dedication
The athlete (and coach) must be driven. Just working on the underwater kick during a specific kick set is not enough. Work on it throughout the entire practice, even warm-up and cool-down. Set goals to take 5 or 6 kicks off EVERY wall and then try and build on that number throughout the season. Give constant reminders until the underwater kick becomes habitual. Imagine how much faster and less tired you will swim if you can carry your momentum off the wall and take 2-3 less strokes per length!