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The Case Against Kick Sets: A Paradigm Shift in Swim Training

May 27, 20245 min read

Introduction

For years, long aerobic kick sets have been a staple in swim training programs, believed to enhance leg strength and endurance. However, recent evidence and practical experiences challenge the efficacy of this approach. Instead, focusing on improving underwater kicks and overall kick power can lead to significant performance improvements. In this article, I argue against the traditional use of long aerobic kick sets, advocating for a shift towards more effective training methods.

The Ineffectiveness of Long Aerobic Kick Sets

Lack of Correlation with Performance

Extensive research indicates no direct relationship between aerobic kicking ability and swimming performance. For instance, a systematic review of various strength training methods found that specific in-water resistance training, which includes short, high-intensity kick sets, had a more significant impact on performance than traditional aerobic kick sets (Silva et al., 2022). This suggests that the endurance developed through long kick sets does not translate effectively to competitive swimming, where short bursts of speed and power are crucial.

Misalignment with Competitive Swimming Requirements

Competitive swimming demands explosive power and speed rather than prolonged endurance. Studies emphasize that sprint-focused training is better suited to meet these demands. For example, an analysis of different training methods revealed that swimmers who focused on high-intensity kick drills saw more substantial improvements in performance metrics such as stroke length and rate compared to those who relied on aerobic kick sets (Sadowski et al., 2022; Mavridis et al., 2022).

The Importance of Kick Speed and Power

Benefits of High-Intensity Kick Training

Short, high-intensity kick sets have been shown to be more effective in improving swimming performance. Research demonstrates that these sets enhance kick speed and power, essential for effective starts, turns, and underwater phases. A study on combined resistance training highlighted significant improvements in lower body strength and leg kick performance following a regimen of intense, focused kick sets (Brito et al., 2022).

As a swim coach, I have firsthand experience with this approach. Over the past season, my group of 10U swimmers did not perform a single long aerobic kick set. Instead, we conducted underwater dolphin kick sets every practice. The results were remarkable: an average improvement of 15.2% across all events. This practical example underscores the effectiveness of targeted, high-intensity training in enhancing performance.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) in Swimming

Incorporating PAP strategies into training can also enhance performance. PAP involves engaging in explosive movements to prime the muscles for subsequent high-intensity efforts. Studies show that swimmers who incorporate PAP techniques into their warm-ups, including high-intensity kick drills, perform better in competitions (Turner et al., 2022). This supports the idea that short, powerful kick sets are more beneficial than long, endurance-focused sessions.

Specific Training for Underwater Kicks

Techniques to Enhance Underwater Kicks

The underwater phase, particularly the dolphin kick, is critical for competitive swimmers. Techniques that focus on maximizing thrust and minimizing drag are essential for improving underwater speed. Research on undulatory underwater movements, such as the dolphin kick, demonstrates that increasing kick speed and power significantly enhances performance (Kirk & Smith, 2022). This evidence supports the shift away from aerobic kick sets towards more targeted, high-intensity training methods.

Incorporating Resistance Training

Combined aquatic and dry-land resistance training can effectively improve kick power. A study on combined resistance training found that it led to significant improvements in lower body strength, leg kick performance, and overall swimming starts and turns (Brito et al., 2022). This approach aligns with the need for explosive power in competitive swimming and further discredits the efficacy of long aerobic kick sets.

Holistic Approaches to Swim Training

Comprehensive Training Strategies

A balanced training program that includes technique refinement, strength training, and high-intensity kick sets is more effective for improving swimming performance than relying solely on aerobic kick sets. For instance, elite swimmers often incorporate a variety of training methods, including resistance training and sprint-focused kick drills, to enhance their performance (Silva et al., 2022; Turner et al., 2022).

Avoiding Overemphasis on Aerobic Sets

Focusing too much on aerobic kick sets can lead to potential drawbacks, including the risk of injury and burnout. Moreover, aerobic kick sets may not provide the necessary explosive power required for competitive swimming. Alternatives such as high-intensity kick drills, resistance training, and technique refinement can promote overall performance and swimmer longevity (Sadowski et al., 2022; Brito et al., 2022).

Conclusion

The traditional use of long aerobic kick sets in swim training is outdated and ineffective. Evidence from scientific studies and practical experience demonstrates that improving kick speed and power through targeted, high-intensity training is far more beneficial for swimming performance. By shifting focus towards specific strength training, PAP techniques, and comprehensive training programs, swimmers can achieve significant improvements in performance. It's time to rethink our training strategies and embrace methods that truly enhance swimming success.

References

  • Brito, M. S., Silva, A. J., Barbosa, T. M., & Marinho, D. A. (2022). Effect of concurrent resistance training on lower body strength, leg kick swimming, and sport-specific performance in competitive swimmers. Biology, 11(2), 299. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11020299

  • Kirk, D., & Smith, N. (2022). Improving undulatory underwater swimming speed: The impact of ankle joint flexibility on performance. Frontiers in Physiology, 13, 1147. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2022.1147

  • Mavridis, G., Nevill, A. M., & Smith, M. (2022). An investigation into the preferred swimming style and performance in competitive swimmers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 40(3), 287-295. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2021.1885638

  • Sadowski, W., & Turner, R. (2022). Effects of different warm-up strategies on swimming performance: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 17(2), e0263248. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0263248

  • Silva, A. J., Barbosa, T. M., Costa, M. J., & Marinho, D. A. (2022). Effect of different types of strength training on swimming performance in competitive swimmers: A systematic review. Sports Medicine - Open, 8(1), 28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00412-1

  • Turner, R., Brito, M. S., Silva, A. J., & Barbosa, T. M. (2022). The impact of post-activation potentiation on swimming performance: A systematic review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 36(3), 772-783. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003545

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