Under The Sea
Dolphin kick is a stroke like all the others and must be trained as such if swimmers expect to improve their underwater ability. As outlined in Strokes Made Simple, effective dolphin kicking can be distilled down to 4 key technical elements. However, for dolphin kicking to be FAST, these technical elements need to be trained consistently.
Skill acquisition and physical development are part of the same training process. While executing skills in isolation is a great starting point, these skills need to be developed at speed and under physiological pressure so that they can be executed in races at high speed under significant fatigue.
Below are some basic ideas about how to develop great underwater skills.
1. You have to do it.
Dolphin kicking underwater is a distinct stroke. There is a distinct skill acquisition and physical development process that must take place, which occurs independent of the other strokes. If you don’t dolphin kick, it won’t improve.
2. You have to do it underwater.
Kicking on a board can be good. Kicking on your back can be good. Neither will replace kicking underwater. You have to be under water consistently to get better under water.
3. You have to do it all the time.
To become great at underwater kicking, you have to dolphin kick off all of the walls all the time. In addition to dolphin kicking while swimming, it needs to be specifically addressed in some form every day. There are so many options that boredom should never be an excuse.
4. You have to do it fast.
Kicking under water is not about efficiency. It is about SPEED. Dolphin kicking is advantageous only when it’s faster. If you want to dolphin kick fast, you have to dolphin kick fast.
5. You have to do it while they swim slow.
Dolphin kicking is a habit. Are swimmers doing kick-outs during warm up? Are they kicking out in warm up? Are swimmers executing dolphin kicks during their aerobic work? If not, why not? It’s another opportunity to get better. Dolphin kicking should be part of every lap; when it’s not a choice, it’s easy.
6. You have to do it while they swim fast.
If swimmers aren’t required to dolphin kick during speed work, pace work, or whatever you call race-specific work, it won’t show up in meets. Require it when it matters most.
7. You have to do it in every way possible.
Great dolphin kickers can dolphin kick in every context. Every context puts pressure on a different component of the skill and the body. Master them all and the complete skill will be mastered. You can kick in different positions, for different distances, at different speeds, with different types of resistance, etc…They all have value.
8. You have to do it under pressure.
Great dolphin kicking skills need to be executed on the last wall as well as they are executed on the first wall. How are swimmers being prepared to do that? They need to be dolphin kicking under high levels of physical and psychological pressure, with regularity.
9. You have to OVERtrain it.
How many dolphin kicks do your swimmers plan to execute in their races? They better regularly train to do more than that. Practice needs to be harder than competition, and when it is you KNOW it will be there when it matters. If a swimmer plans on taking 5 kicks for a 200, then swimmers need to regularly be exposed to a variety of sets where they are taking 7 kicks. Suddenly, 5 kicks seem easy.
10. You have to develop specific strength for dolphin kicking.
Use resistance can overload the physical systems responsible. Where and how the load is placed will shift the stress to the appropriate muscular systems. They all need to be developed to maintain posture and skill at high speeds under fatigue. All of the skills in Strokes Made Simple can be overloaded to develop the specific strength needed to execute these correctly under pressure.
Great dolphin kickers aren’t created by happenstance. They are the result of a systematic approach to develop great underwater kickers. Are there some individuals with a natural affinity? Of course. To be great, and for a swimmer to achieve their potential, there needs to be devoted effort to being great underwater. With effort and a holistic plan, it can happen.