Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You Should Try Kicking

So here's the thing.

When I swim - I don't kick.

Never have.

Not even as a kid (at least as far back as I can remember anyway).

Swimming has pretty much always been an activity that only involved my upper body. Sure, there would be the occasional flutter of my feet as I moved about in the water but these flutters were few and far between. Normally my legs just follow me around the pool and enjoy the break from running and cycling.

I casually told Doug this a few weeks ago and he gave me a very odd look. Apparently this is not normal??

Pretty much every time I've made any comment since then about swimming and speed - his reply has been consistent. "You should try kicking".

Well, of course I've tried kicking. When I started this whole swim adventure last fall I tried kicking. All it did was make me feel completely unbalanced and it seemed to slow me down. When I only used my arms, I seemed to move through the water like a torpedo (although not as fast as an actual torpedo) but as soon as I added my legs I felt like I was floundering around like an injured seal. I convinced myself that my legs dangling behind me were actually aerodynamic and I was saving time by not creating drag by kicking.

I tried again, halfheartedly, a few times but just didn't like the whole kicking thing. It never felt right - kinda like waving your arms madly above your head while running.

Not that I do that of course.

My triathlon is now 12 sleeps away so I'm starting to get a little nervous about my swimming prowess. So yesterday morning I got into the pool and decided to stop my halfhearted attempts and just do it. I forced myself to kick. Not crazy churn up the pool like some of the folks there but a smooth, controlled, consistent kick.

I hated it for the first few lengths because I felt wobbly, I felt slower than normal and I every time I stopped focusing on kicking I stopped kicking. It was pathetic actually. Kinda like if you stop thinking about walking and just end up standing still on the middle of the sidewalk.

Enter my head if you will. At the start of my length I always say the number out loud (in my head) so I don't lose count.

Length one: "One!" "kickkickkickkickkickkickkickkick - gawd I hate kicking"

Length two: "Two!" kickkickkick what should we have for dinner tonight? dammit I stopped kicking kickkickkick"

Length three: "Three!" kickkickkick ooh, cabbage rolls would be good! seriously?!?I stopped kicking again. Must. FOCUS. on. kicking"

Length four: "Four!" kickkick I hate kicking. Omigod I stopped kicking because I thought about how much I hate kicking instead of thinking about kicking. I suck"

It might be a good time to point out that the pool is 25m long so it takes me just about 30 seconds to swim from one end to the other. I couldn't even focus on kicking for 30 seconds straight.

This went on for a while and then the lifeguards did their first fifteen minute rotation.

Holy bananas!

Since I can't see the clock very well, I always use the very predictable lifeguard rotation as a gauge to see how fast I'm swimming. On a typical day, I swim 22 lengths before the first lifeguard change. On a good one, I swim 24.

Yesterday, I swam 26!

Maybe there IS something to this kicking thing. The next 15 minutes went a little better because I was no longer focused on reminding myself to kick. Instead I was focused on trying to feel whether I was actually moving faster or not.

Thirty minutes in and I had swum 50 lengths instead of my usual 44-46.

I finished 80 lengths in 46 minutes.

Normally I finish them in 50.

I knocked 4 minutes off my time just by moving my legs. And I probably only moved my legs 50-60% of the time. Imagine how super fast I'll be once I actually have the mental fortitude to focus on kicking for the entire 30 seconds!

For someone who cycles and runs, you'd think I'd know all about using my legs but apparently some lessons are a little slower to be learned than others.


  1. Omg. I just laughed out loud at work. That was hilarious. I can just imagine being inside your head. I'm glad you discovered kicking and I was a little shocked too when I read that you swim without it. Swimming is such a mental sport. Gotta remember to do so much and it requires a lot if focus and coordination! Good for you... Kickkickkick.... Ha

  2. Ha!

    I spend a lot of time looking at other swimmers at the pool. Beyond the usual "Who's that new person?" and "Wow! They look fast/fit/hot/etc.!" there's a lot of "What's that fast person doing with their stroke to be so fast?"

    What I've noticed is that the really fast people have a kick but a barely noticeable one. It looks like they aren't using their legs at all, but then it's possible to detect just a bit of a whip action right at the end of the pull they do with their upper body. It's not fair really, because it looks like it also involves coordination to have a upper body stroke and kick that both emerge from the core at the same time and are tied into whole the body roll thing, too.

    In case you haven't guessed, coordination isn't always my thing. I'm actually faster when I use a pull buoy to prevent my legs from doing much of anything at all.