How to Develop an Awesome Underwater Dolphin Kick

Michael Butler
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The Dolphin Kick Goes Mainstream

When you first hear people mention the dolphin kick in swimming, it can be easy to assume that it’s some sort of mythical lost swimming technique. However, it’s an actual method used by many triathletes and even swimmers.

To do it, you simply spread your feet and push them away from you underwater. It’s a great way to make your swim technique faster while also strengthening your core, legs, and shoulders.

The powerful kick was popularized by the amazing Australian swimmer Kieren Perkins. During his 1996 Olympics single-scull race, he used it to help him beat his own world record by 0.3 seconds. To maintain his lead, he used dolphin kicks for most of the 25-meter laps.

But while he never lost his lead at the 1996 Olympic Games, Kieren never went on to win the champion’s title. That was claimed by another Australian, Grant Hackett, who was also a dolphin-kicking fanatic.

Breaking Down How to Get Better at Underwater Dolphin Kick

To become a better underwater dolphin kick, it’s worthwhile breaking the skill down into its component parts. The skill begins by pushing off the wall, continuing to kick while your arms extend above your head and staying balanced. The kick ends by getting your body back underneath you as you approach the wall and you are ready to push from that point.

This is the basic concept for a solid underwater dolphin kick. The real work is understanding how each part that makes the kick work so you can refine each step.

Once you can achieve the positions listed above, you will find the dolphin kick much easier. The kicking motion has many benefits, such as improved strength, speed and agility, which is why it is a valuable skill for any swimmer.

If you’re anxious to start, you may start by reading a book or watching a video. If you’re comfortable, remember that practice makes perfect.

The Technique Behind a Powerful Dolphin Kick

A dolphin kick consists of the shortest and most powerful of all the swimming strokes. That is why breaststrokers and backstrokers use this stroke to build speed and power. When it comes to dolphin kicking, less is definitely more.

The dolphin kick is a fast technique that creates high drag and resistance. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can’t achieve a fast dolphin kick without a technique that fits your individual body type.

So what are the key elements to a powerful dolphin kick? And, in turn, how can you achieve the best possible kick? You will need to correctly align your body in relation to the water, establish a rhythm, and use your arm and leg muscles to maximize strength and minimize energy.

Early Vertical Ankle

If you want to get good at doing the butterfly, you’ve got to strengthen your ankles first.

The vertical ankle kick is a flutter kick done vertically. Vertical means that you kick forward and upward, straight ahead, as opposed to flutter kick horizontally.

The first thing you’ll need to do is develop your ankle flexibility and strength.

To start this process, do some flutter kicks while standing in the shallow end of the pool. What you’re trying to do is get your ankles more flexible to move in the proper direction.

When you’re comfortable doing them standing up, get into the shallow end of the pool, get on your belly and start doing vertical flutter kicks.

Once you’ve gotten confident doing this, you can raise your torso up and try out the various modifications of the flutter kick.

With each start and stop, you’re going to be training your muscles to learn how to fire quickly, precisely and powerfully.

By raising your feet up, you’ll activate the muscles around your hips, abs, and legs. Each time, hold at the peak for a 5-10 count and then lower your feet back down.

Kick like a Ferrari, not a Mack Truck

If you want to build a well-blended and balanced core, the focus should be on stabilizing the muscles that are holding you upright. That is, your abs and back. A strong core will make you faster and more efficient because you’ll swim with a tighter body. This is achieved by engaging the transverse abdominis (TVA) during your kick.

The TVA is a muscular sheath that runs horizontally across the abdominal cavity. It is made up of various fibers that attach to the inner wall of the abdomen and wrap around the entire abdominal cavity like a corset.

To increase the power of your kick, start by bending forward slightly at the hips and aligning your body so that your shoulders, hips and thighs are in one line. This keeps your upper body relaxed.

With your hands in front of you, lift your hands to the surface of the water. Your hands should be directly under your chest. Keep your elbows bent.

Get a feel for kicking with your legs and body staying in one line. Then, exhale and kick hard and strongly to push yourself through the water.

Every stroke after that should be done with the same feeling. Your legs and body will work together to move you through the water. You should feel a strong contraction of muscle in your upper belly and ribs.

Use your core/hips. (Not your knees!)

A dolphin kick is a type of swimming kick that is done with full body rotation. The greater the degree of body rotation during the swim, the faster your body will be moving forward. And in order to rotate your body faster, you’re going to need the right kicking mechanics.

First, you need to understand that the best swimming kick is not the one that move your legs the fastest, but the one that moves your body the fastest. The three main principles of the best kick are use your core/hips, keep your elbows in, and a full body rotation. (With a sidenote that the fastest kick in the world is useless if you can’t stay afloat to use it!)

Use your hips/core. This is by far the most important part of the kick. Your core is the part of the body that allows you to rotate your body in the water.

Focus on this part of your kick and you’ll find you’re moving much faster.

If you’ve ever seen swimmers that are able to move faster through the water then you, chances are they’re using their core more. Strive for that and you’ll be swimming faster in no time.

Kick in front of you.

The dolphin kick is a technique you can use when you are swimming freestyle laps to make the laps faster. It’s actually a normal kick that you can use for breaststroke or any style of swimming where you kick your legs.

The difference is that this kick is performed with a raised, tight, and streamlined body. This is what actually makes it faster and more efficient it.

The dolphin kick is an alternating kick that provides a great method for moving forward at a fast pace. It’s an excellent technique for developing strength in the upper body, core, calves, and glutes. While the alternating kick will tire you out quickly, it also makes the freestyle stroke more efficient.

In order to achieve the streamlined position, the kick is performed at both the hip and the knee. Note that the kick does not drive though the water, but rather propels water down the body where it is pushed away from the body in front of it.

Make sure to work of your ankle flexibility and strength by performing stretches and exercises before you start. Start practicing the kick by kicking to the side of your body and then transferring your weight forward, using the momentum into the next kick.

Mind your toe speed, and no breaks between up and down.

You want to develop powerful, consistent kicks, no matter what stroke you’re practicing.You don’t want your kicks to look like a drunk cast member from “Duck Dynasty.”

The easiest way to tell if your dolphin kicks are powerful or sloppy is to see if the kick hits the surface of the water. If the surface of the water is disturbed when you swim, then the kick is powerful; if not, then you need to work more on your kicking motion.

And even if the surface of the water isn’t disturbed, you still need to be consistent with your kick. If you have breaks between up and down, then you’re slowing down or even stopping your momentum under water. And you don’t want that.

To help you get started, repeat this mantra: kicking motion is like a chain, not a series of breaks.

Never Stop Practicing: Like any other skill, even after you get the basics, you must keep practicing every day to stay fit.

Be a two-directional kicker.

The dolphin kick is actually two kicks: a carving kick and a flying kick. For the flying kick, which is the part where you switch from up and down kick to side kick, you’re kicking towards your feet, which is the best way to maximize your speed and distance. Once you’ve mastered the flying kick and want to go faster, you can swap from up and down to side kick. The less you do up and down kick, the faster you’ll go.

For the carving kick, you kick your legs from the front to the back, and from the back to the front. The key is to kick for a shorter amount of time. If you send out too many kicks too quickly, you may tire out too quickly. Sending out too many kicks too quickly will also not help you go faster because you won’t have a chance to finish your muscle contraction and start a new one.

Add Mobility Work for Greater Range of Motion

Since the dolphin kick is the most important part of developing an efficient free-diving kick, we used front and side lunges with mini-band resistance to improve range of motion and flexibility in the hips, groin, and lower back. These are the same areas that tend to tighten up and become inflexible when we spend a lot of time inside.

I always have a mini-band handy in my office for clients when I’m working with them in the water. Adding a band to some of your warm-up drills is a great way to incorporate this active recovery component.

If you want to take your dolphin kick underwater, you’re going to have to strengthen your hip abductors, adductors, internal and external rotators, and hamstrings. (Yup, I paddled everyone’s favorite muscle group right in there!) These muscles generally take a beating when you’re training with a traditional kickboard.

Classical ballet training can also help improve your dolphin kick. Anyone who has danced knows how important it is to train the glutes and hip flexors in the front, back, and side of the leg. You need to have the strength and mobility to pull those muscles into a lot of different positions, or you’re going to find yourself locked up on the beach.

Strong Ankles = Strong Fly Kick

The popular rescue fly kick may be one of the easiest techniques and highly visible, but it’s a great place for new swimmers to start. Most swimmers need to improve their ankle flexibility, ankle strength, and leg strength, so the rescue fly kick is an easy and doable way to help with that.

Fun Fact: Many swimmers consider the fly kick the “dolphin kick” or “tread water kick” because it looks like the tail of a dolphin.

When you exercise just your extremities, you direct most of the stress to the weakest point. In this case, that’s the ankles. In other words, ankle strength is the limiting factor for most swimmers, so it’s a good idea to dedicate a lot of attention to strengthening and stretching your ankle and feet.

Two of the best ways to improve your fly kick are to do simple mini-band exercises from the side of the pool, and to regularly tow a buoyancy belt with fins.

Putting It All Together

With proper breathing technique and the right kick board, there is no reason why you can’t master the under water dolphin kick. Just make sure you don’t rush it.

The only way to really improve your technique is to practice and at the same time, be patient so you can refine it. As you become better, you can challenge yourself with more advanced kicks and routines.

But most of all, have fun.

Make it a fixture of your training.

A properly executed Dolphin kick is when your legs flex at the hip and extend at the knee. This is where the power in your kick comes from.

In order to effectively execute the Dolphin kick underwater, you need to be comfortable breathing through a snorkel first. It’s a lot like swimming in that you’ll automatically stretch your arms out as you breathe in and breathe out as you turn your head to the side to breathe out. Generally, the swimmer’s head should be facing down in front of them just like when they’re in an arm recovery and streamlined position.

When you’re a beginner, remember to work on the mechanics of the kick first before you progress to attempting full dolphin swims.

Breath control during swimming = Breath control during underwaters .

Let us look at this the other way around. Suppose you have a great underwaters and you want to improve your breath control during strokes. What will you do? You will work out on your underwaters and then adjust your breathing technique.

No matter how good you are in your strokes, you will never be able to play competitively unless your breathe control in swimming is perfect. The same goes for the other way around.

Here is a technique that helps you master both at the same time.

Step 1: Fill a deep diving tank or a shallow swimming pool with a water depth of about 6-8 ft.

Step 2: Get into the tank, face the side wall and start to swim at your normal training pace.

Step 3: You swim with your normal strokes, but just make sure that you cover the entire pool. Do not stop next to the side wall.

Step 4: Do one lap (20 breaths) and then turn around to swim another lap. Keep doing this till you have swam 5 laps. When you turn around and swim the 6th lap, you will be swimming against the flow, which is good. This is what makes this exercise fun and challenging. And this is when you will start playing with your breath control.

Vertical kick.

Dolphin kicks are an excellent exercise to build leg strength, shoulder endurance, and a beautiful kick.

Take a short swim. Make sure you are not tired when you begin. You are going to be in the low position for a long time.

Start in freestyle or breaststroke.

To begin your kick, push off from the wall to create some forward momentum.

Then lift your arms out of the water and switch your breathing pattern to breathing to one side.

Turn your head sideways and maintain the streamline position with your face as though you are looking at your shoulder.

Kick down and forward with the tops of your feet.

Kick three to five times consecutively while your head is out of the water.

Switch sides.

Kick down and backward with the tops of your feet.

Kick down and forward with the tops of your feet.

In Closing

If part of your goals for the new year include being more active then you should definitely consider a sport like swimming. You can either do laps at your local pool or even join a swim club so that you can meet other swimmers and have something to work toward.

Swimming is a great full body workout and one of the few exercises you can do year round, no matter the weather. Before you sign up for a class however, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about some of the basics.

That’s what today’s post is all about. In it, you’ll learn the proper form for the basic swimming strokes. You’ll also learn about the skills you’ll need to master before you can swim without the help of a lane line.

When you’re done with this post, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when you first start swimming. You can move on to intermediate swimming skills and pool workouts.

Before you go, let’s quickly review some of the things you learned today.

Ready to take your dolphin kicking to the next level?

If you’re a beginner, being able to do a basic but good dolphin kick is just fine. But if you’re a more advanced swimmer and you’ve been practicing your dolphin kick for months or even years, it’s time for you to kick it up a notch. Take things to the next level without losing that fun, dolphin-like feel. The easiest way to accomplish this is by applying different kicking techniques.

A simple way to do this, according to Zack Furness, founder and owner of summer camp swim school, is to widen your kicking range and move faster. You can do this by kicking your hands and legs away and putting your arms and legs in the correct position.

Here’s what you need to know about widening your kicking range.

Put your whole face in the water and kick your hands and feet away. Your arms should be stretched out as soon as you get past the horizontal. Your legs should be stretched out as soon as you get past the dolphin kick wall. It is ideal if you can adjust your dolphin kicking so that your body creates a triangle shape.

Once you have your whole face, arms, and legs in the water, kick your hands and feet in the water.