How to Increase Kicking Speed Without a Kickboard

Don't ditch your kick board yet, but know there are some viable and better ways of doing kick work available to you.

The kickboard and pull buoy have been staples at the end of the lane ever since I can remember. But over the past decade or so, we have seen more swimming gear fill up those mesh bags swimmers keep poolside with various sizes of paddles, parachutes, DragSox, swim snorkels, and more. As a result, the kickboard has lost its status as a go-to piece of equipment for swimmers.

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Complaints against the kickboard are well known. First, if you are suffering from swimmer's shoulder, having both arms above your head exacerbates the impingement. Second, and this is specific to freestylers, there is no hip rotation when you use a kickboard—unlike when you are swimming. Third, your body is out of alignment when you kick on a board—with your head picked up, your hips naturally sink to compensate.

Although the kickboard may get a bad rap these days, it is still necessary for swimmers to spend time improving their leg power and endurance. Whether you want to improve your breaststroke kick, dolphin kick or flutter kick, you must spend time on it. Most swimmers simply don't kick hard enough to materially increase their kick capacity.

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When you are ready to ditch the kickboard, here are two ways to improve your kick.

1. Kicking with a snorkel

Watching a group of swimmers kick with snorkels is a bit surreal. The pool is quiet and still except for the brightly colored tubes sticking out of the water, occasionally spouting like blowholes as they glide across the surface of the water. Swim snorkels have become wildly popular with competitive swimmers, and when it comes to kick work, it is easy to see why.

The snorkel allows you to kick on your front, with proper head and hip positioning. The variations are nearly endless—you can kick on your side with one arm extended, both arms above in a tight streamline, or even with your arms at your sides.

2. Vertical kicking

This is my favorite manner of kicking, because it is extremely versatile. Vertical kicking is exactly as described: Find yourself a quiet corner of the pool, align yourself vertically, and kick to keep yourself afloat and your head above water.

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Some key points with vertical kicking:

  • Don't make large, slow kicks—the goal is to power up your kick with fast, narrow kicks.
  • Brace your core. Vertical kicking puts you in a position where you can engage your core and focus on kicking from your hips. If you are looking for a good lower-back and core exercise for swimmers, perform ten minutes of Vertical Dolphin Kicking in sets of 50 seconds with 10 seconds rest.
  • Focus on the up-kick. Vertical kicking targets the weak side of your kick. Most swimmers use the up-kick as passive recovery during the kick cycle. Vertical kicking forces you to balance your kicking motion. (In vertical kicking, this is the phase of the kicking motion when your foot is moving backwards.)

The Takeaway

Fads in sport will come and go. Equipment that was the hot new sweetness yesterday tend to fade as newer, shinier toys come along. While my kickboard will never leave the chlorinated confines of my mesh bag, there are some viable and better ways of doing kick work available to you.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: SWIMMING | GEAR