Dolphin Kick: The elusive 5th stroke

As a young swimmer, I remember watching the Olympic games and being in awe with the ease and efficiency of the swimmers kicking underwater off of each wall of their races. For years, I tried many different ways to improve my underwater dolphin kick, but unfortunately had very little to no success. Since my time as a competitive swimmer, I have had the privilege of working with some very high level coaches and athletes, as well as the opportunity to research and try different ways to help athletes improve their dolphin kick. 

Here is a brief overview of three key points for any swimmer training dolphin kick.

Three Dolphin Kick Keys

1. Build Up

Like any skill, the underwater dolphin kick must be built up and implemented into your training one step at a time, with the emphasis on executing those kicks and subsequent swimming at race intensity. This means that the most beneficial and quickest way to improve your race applicable dolphin kicks is by executing race pace sets. So often swimmers are told that “doing more kicks off of each wall” in practice will improve your kick. To some degree this is not incorrect; if you are a beginner, any dolphin kick will certainly be better than nothing. However, for the seasoned swimmer, simulating race intensity/conditions and making your walls a part of this training will help you adapt and improve in all aspects of your game. Additionally, the emphasis of quality over quantity when starting out is a must….. 

2. Keep it real

Implement your underwaters in a realistic fashion that does not “take away” from the swimming portion of your paces. For example, a swimmer performing 25s at 100 pace who can only consistently take 3 kicks off of every wall is better off mastering the 3 kicks, then trying 4 kicks on select 25s, until 4 kicks becomes the norm, instead of pushing for a number than can only be hit once or twice. Too often a swimmer who is capable of 3 kicks will shoot for 6 or more until failure, resulting in a sub race intensity/effort for the remainder/majority of the set. Building up is always better and more sustainable when looking at the scope and long term plan of training. Is it bad to push your limits and find out what you are capable of? Absolutely not! But, once you get a hold on your limits (specifically quality kicks that do not take away from your above water speed), work to incrementally build that number of kicks and distance off of the wall.

3. Turn, turn, turn

Practicing your kicks coming off of a turn as opposed to a push can also be critical to your underwater dolphin development. I believe this is because there is a stark difference between your initial body position coming off of a push compared to a turn, which changes how you initiate your dolphin kicks, the depth of your body for the first few kicks, and also your body position for your first few kicks. Practicing turns at race pace with your intended number of race kicks is huge for developing excellent underwaters.

Interested in learning how our coaches teach the underwater dolphin kick at Excel Aquatics of Albany NY? Check out this YouTube video of one of our coaches providing video analysis for a competitive collegiate Backstroker.