The following guest post by TI Master Coach Gary Fahey was originally published on Mar. 16, 2014.
A blog post discussing kick strategies landed in my inbox a couple of weeks ago, much of it advocating a six-beat kick (6BK) for all but the most skilled of swimmers.
While I disagree with this premise and the example presented through the .gif in that blog post, I agree with the writer that long distance and open water swimmers should use their legs primarily for stability rather than propulsion. The energy cost of propulsive kicking is simply unsustainable.
Total Immersion advocates for increasing speed through smarter choices rather than greater effort. Among the most fundamental of those choices is to improve core stabilization—which is a critical foundation for a mastering 2-Beat Kick (2BK) skill.
One adjustment, I suggest to my swimmers is to experiment with the depth of the extended arm. When they do, they learn that a very shallow extension causes the legs to sink. But so does reaching too deep.
Reaching too deep breaks the body line where arm and torso connect. Picture a see-saw plank with a collapsible hinge: applying pressure at one end would not exert any influence at the other end. But when you open that hinge to establish a single, structurally sound plank, then adjustments at one end affect what happens at the other.
Sinking legs can be counter balanced by finding the optimal angle or depth at which to ‘spear’ your arm forward. Spearing 12 to 15 inches below the surface tends to shape the body into a balanced, stable and sleek line. Adding a moderate forward stretch (eliminating laxity) will bring tone to the core, strengthening the connection between front and rear.
In the blog post, the coach suggested the swimmer had improperly matched a 2-beat kick to his overall mechanics, which explains the dropped legs. His suggested fix was a 6BK.
This misdiagnoses the problem and offers an energy-wasting solution.
My view: By extending too deep, the swimmer breaks the connection from extended hand in front through legs at the rear. Like the plank with a broken-hinge, balancing forces in front cannot act upon the rear.
If he ‘speared’ a few inches shallower (which would also direct more energy forward) he would increase structural integrity in his aquatic posture and bring his legs into balance.
Once he corrects his balance problem, the 2BK would not only be an appropriate match for his swimming style, he could likely scale back on his current degree of knee bend and further reduce drag. More stability = lower energy cost.
Compare the red lines in the still frame image at top (taken from the other writer’s post) to the image from TI Coach Shinji Takeuchi’s top-ranked YouTube video. Shinji extends to a shallower end point, which draws his body into a sleek line. His legs draft cleanly behind him and the energy cost of his 2BK approaches zero.
This illustrates a simple solution to sinking legs—one which results in kicking less, not more.
Besides this misdiagnosis, this blog post also drew a distinction between two styles of 2BK. TI advocates the Shinji 2-beat kick which connects the kick downbeat to the spearing arm.
The other writer advocates a style used by very high tempo swimmers like Brooke Bennett in this clip in which the downbeat of the kick connects to the catch phase of the stroke.
The high tempo 2BK style is an extremely challenging configuration that can be done successfully by high-mileage, experienced swimmers, but is too exhausting and difficult for the vast majority.
The blog writer rejects the efficacy of the TI 2BK, which he calls a “kick-start” that compensates for what he calls “over-gliding.” I think the “kick-start” 2-beat kick is just fine for most purposes, certainly at tempos of 1 stroke per second and up.
There are legitimate pros and cons to selecting any kicking pattern, and not room here to discuss them all. My primary goal is to show improvement-minded swimmers that they can opt for efficiency rather than effort.
If you want a more effective kick, you can achieve it through balance and stability—a choice that conserves energy rather than wastes it. Most swimmers already do far too much of the latter.
Editorial Note– For a step-by-step breakdown of the mechanics of the 2-beat kick, see this related post:
Gary Fahey has been a Total Immersion Certified Coach since 1998. He teaches swimming full time through his Fort Lauderdale-based company, Stroke Doctor Swimming. In 25 years coaching competitive swimmers, he has qualified athletes up to the US Olympic Trials level. Contact Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org