Vertical Kicking for Swimmers: How to Develop an Insane Kick

Michael Butler
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Going vertical allows you to really focus on kicking from the core .

To begin vertical kicking, stand in front of a mirror close enough that you can see your legs and feet. Place both hands on your waist or hips and pay attention to your leg and foot positions.

Spend a few minutes looking at your kick. Make note of your leg and foot positions. Pay attention to how your feet are pointed, how your knees are bent, if your knee is over your toes, the angle of your foot and ankle. Look at your toes, how straight are they. While some of this is likely correct, most swimmers have some room for improvement, so it’s a good idea to honestly evaluate your kick.

Then kick a wall. It’s difficult but not impossible. The key to kicking the wall is to keep the ball of the foot and toes in contact with the wall the entire time. The closer the ball of the foot and toes are to the wall, the easier it is to kick.

Vertical kicking forces you to hammer down on the upkick.

Vertical kicking also forces you to maintain a straighter leg at the catch.

As a result, you start to develop a really strong downward kick and that’s going to generate the kind of power that’s going to push you through the water faster.

The challenging part of vertical kicking is getting your lower body out of the horizontal position while you’re vertical and struggling to stay that way. In this first version, the legs are only slightly bent. You only need a little bit of bend to create an angle between the thigh and the vertical leg.

Another challenging part of vertical kicking is the transition from vertical to horizontal. The body naturally wants to transition to horizontal at the fastest possible speed and that in turn results in too much of a kick angle. I see it at meets all the time, where swimmers that are kicking at a vertical kick angle turn over completely and their feet sink.

There is a way to practice this, and I encourage you to do so. I first demonstrated the transition drill in Swim Smooth, but I’ve seen it all over the place on the internet. You won’t be able to make it to this kick angle if you’re really fighting your body to stay vertical, so simply control your glutes at a certain angle. Transition smoothly from that angle to horizontal.

Vertical kicking forces you to maintain an even kicking motion.

The key with vertical kicking is to keep your hand on the bottom of the pool at all times. When doing regular, horizontal kicking, the tendency is to follow your head, and your hand will come out of the water. Do this, and you’ll break the rhythm of your kick, get fatigued, and you may even injure your shoulder.

By keeping your hand on the bottom of the pool, you guide your legs up, and you force yourself to balance on your fingertips. This is the same position as on the block, and it helps you see your legs in a good position in the air. Should you kick too high, it feels awkward, and you correct your kick. This will increase your effective kick rate, and you’ll get more power out of each kick.

This technique is extremely beneficial because it concentrates on the high part of your leg kick. It prevents your legs from mimicking the motion of a flutter kick, which doesn’t use the muscles effectively enough and wastes energy. This technique forces you to maintain an even kick in both the up and the down part of the leg kick.

You can crank up the resistance.

Turn the workout up a notch by increasing the speed of your kickboard or adding more weight. You can also put your kicks in a choppy body of water for extra resistance and to reduce the chances of sinking your board.

Making kicking your time your main form of cardio will work you like you’ve never been worked before. Additionally, it’s one of the most transferable aspects of fitness – when you start running, you may notice that your kick actually pushes you ahead of your non-kick-skipping peers.

And when it comes to race day, you’ll literally take your competition down.

It’s easy on the shoulders.

Vertical kicking for swimmers is easy on the shoulders. Why? Because this drill involves a single kick with the instep.

If you’ve ever experienced problems with shoulder pain while swimming, you know how significant this is!

Vertical kicking for swimmers also helps you improve your faster swimming speed. It is a great and easy way to get more out of your kicks and make sure that they are executed properly.

This drill works your legs in a different way than freestyle swimming and helps improve your entire body rotation, speed, and streamline. It also helps you with your kicking mechanics and with maintaining proper body position while you’re swimming.

While we often focus on improving our freestyle stroke, we always forget about other areas of our swim stroke. Kicking is an integral part of swimming and it takes just as much practice to improve your kick as it does to improve your freestyle stroke.

So, if you want to improve your kick, try doing some vertical kicking for a few minutes each day.

A Sample Vertical Kicking Set

Body position:

  • Lean forward with the upper body at about a 45-degree angle below the surface.
  • Push your hips back to keep your body horizontal under the water.
  • Stand on the toes of both feet.
  • Raise your buttocks off the kickboard so that only your toes are resting on the board.


  • Use regular swim fins, short butterfly fins, full-foot fins, or no fins at all.
  • Kick with at least one and preferably two feet at a time.


  • Relax your arms and hands.
  • Kick both feet at the same time, striving for a whipping peak (a high, narrow kick) rather than a flat, wide one.
  • Aim for a fast, gradual turnover (caused by leg speed, not kick volume).


  • Try to kick with as little splashing as possible.
  • Maintain a smooth, high kicking speed throughout the whole of the kick.

Exhale during the kick.

Exhale during the kick as you would during a flutter kick, except that the inhalation occurs to the side rather than below the surface. This leaves a clear path for the exhaled air to escape from the mouth.

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This is a technique used in freestyle swimming by elite swimmers that is intended to force a faster turnover rate and thereby increase the speed at which a swimmer is moving their arms in the water. To improve their velocity at the catch, swimmers will begin this technique with straight legs and will kick up and down continuously and at a high rate of repetition.

The purpose of this fast kicking is to force a higher turnover of the extended arm during the arm pull. When the kick is correctly performed, a swimmer’s hips will lower slightly below the surface while the leg is extending but will rise toward or above the surface while the arm is pulling through.

The primary benefit of this technique for swimmers is that it can dramatically improve turnover rate, which may in turn increase arm velocity. As the swimmer’s arms pull through the water, their hand will first push water downward, which will then rebound from the surface back upward. When the arm is completely extended and the kick is extended as well, the upward rebound of water will push the lower legs below the surface. The resulting pressure from the water causes the swimmer’s hips to rise accordingly.