No Kickboards image 4

(Photo credit: Simply Swim)

This post was originally published by Terry Laughlin on December 29, 2010.

Here’s the 4th in my series of counter-reviews of  “swim tools” featured in the Active swimming newsletter article 5 Tools to Spice Up Your SwimmingHere’s an excerpt from the piece on kickboards: “Kickboards are another staple of the competitive swimming world.  When you use fins, kick hard so it becomes aerobically challenging instead of just a gentle cruise up and down the lanes.”

My rating: 1 out of 5 – Use kickboards if you think of the pool mainly as a good place to “get exercise.” Avoid if you hope to improve your swimming.

Unlike paddles, kickboard training poses little risk of injury (unless you do excessive breaststroke kicking).  And it’s adequate as a form of general fitness training.

That’s the extent of anything positive I can say on their behalf.

As the article says, they’re a “staple” of the competitive swimming world. I think mania would be a more accurate term. I’d estimate that swimmers worldwide devote a collective 1,000,000 (one million) hours a week to kickboard training, believing it’s good – even essential – for their swimming.

Contrarian that I am, I consider it an appalling waste of human potential.

How did this mass delusion take hold? Blame the “Body Parts Theory of Swimming Mechanics” which goes like this: “You have an Arms Department responsible for pulling you along and a Legs Department responsible for pushing you ahead. Since we train body parts separately in the weight room, do it in the water too.”

Lately it seems many coaches are competing over who can devote more of the workout to plowing up and down on kickboards. With so many leading coaches taking part in an arms, err legs, race, it’s a rare coach or swimmer willing to take the risk of Just Saying No to Kickboards and actually discover whether the apocalypse – or better swimming – results.

In an admittedly anecdotal experiment, I’ve done just that. From 1996 to 1999, while coaching the sprinters at West Point – considered the most “kicking reliant” of all events — we never did a single lap with kickboards.

Surprisingly, no one ever complained that their legs “died” during a race. Not only that, but the group as a whole had off-the-charts improvement and dominated all competition — who were not risking untrained legs.

I swore off kickboards personally nearly 20 years ago. Previously I’d trained as hard and faithfully on kickboards as any teammate. This helped me kick fast repeat times on fast intervals while pushing a kickboard in front of me.

Attempting to use my whole body in races? That was another matter entirely. There, my legs always betrayed me. My kick was ineffective and my legs still fatigued badly.

Since I kicked the kicking sets, on the rare occasions when I attempt a 50 kick, my time is pathetic and the effort exhausts me.

But when I race, my legs now contribute significantly to my speed – and never fatigue. (A result of assiduous work on learning to coordinate a 2-Beat Kick as a part of integrated whole-body movement. But that’s a topic for another blog.)

Which proves that what kicking sets train you to do is push a kickboard across the pool. The best way to train your legs for the role they’ll perform while swimming  is to use them while swimming– we call that Whole Stroke.

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