Ultra Short race skills – Underwater phase


Guest post by Jez Birds, originally posted on SwimPath

In keeping with our favourite tradition of fast stuff first, here’s a great little ultra short race skills set to improve the all important underwater phase in order to maintain that speed off the block and wall…

Firstly, apt to reiterate that the purpose of the underwater kick is to maintain speed off the dive and turn, not to develop it! In contrast to a running sprint where speed needs to be built rapidly over the first part of the race, a swimmer is never again travelling as fast in the water as the moment that they first enter after the dive! And never again in the race until the short accelerative burst off the wall…

This is important as it massively dictates the way we should be thinking about how we kick! And without at this point delving too much into the wonderful world of hydrodynamics, or that of Newton’s laws of motion – it will probably suffice to say that the larger/wider/bigger an object is travelling through the water, the more the resistance there is slowing it down and that the more we move in the opposite way in which we wish to travel, again the greater the consequence.


Here’s a quick snapshot of a swimmer performing underwater kicks with an excessive knee drop and we can see that as the knee bends to store energy ready to kick, the forward momentum off the wall is compromised owing to the thigh pushing water (propelling) in the opposite direction! Not only is frontal resistance increased greatly but the pitched knee then sets the angle for the down kick, which instead of driving water backwards, sends it diagonally down, the hips go up and the snowball continues! This could be mirrored with a horizontal thigh but an excessive heel lift creating the same effect but on the top side. Either way lots of effort here is needed but it just results in more energy being wasted as no speed is maintained and resistance is high = slow break out!!

So in order to maximise the maintenance of speed we want the kick to be small and fast, from the hips and as much as possible remain within the depth of the widest part of the body (usually the rib cage).

The kicks should stab backwards with the ankles plantar flexed and the torso and arms held in a fixed streamline position.

We also want to be able to endure up to 15m of these fast kicks without compromising energy expenditure: this is where the ultra short set comes in…

Try 12x15m underwater kicks @ 35-40 seconds.

The rest will not be quite enough to fully recover and fatigue will start to set in as the set progresses. Aim to fight the fatigue and maintain the fast tempo of the kicks – but remember, if it all breaks down, take a break!

Gradually your endurance to completing the set will improve and from there performing it 2-3 times per week will improve the speed at which you kick further as well as maintain your gains and promote the skill for transfer into race day!

Give it a try, small and fast! And do it first…


Photo by brianc

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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