Continued from Part 1…
Forming The Kick
Conveniently, these two roles for the legs – CBF and 2BK – work together seamlessly. The counter-balanced foot position happens to be the poised position for the feet, ready to initiate the next kick on the 2-Beat Kick.
There are two main ways that the kick part can be executed:
- a linear kick with a bend of the knee and a contraction of the thigh muscles to press straight down with the foot (similar to the pathway of the flutter kick), or
- an arcing kick with a turn of the ankle and hip, using the muscles around the hip joint to produce torque, with barely a flex of the knee (and very little thigh muscle).
I won’t label these two versions either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It might be more of a pro/con situation. I think there could be situations where one version might be more suited to one’s need than the other, but I practice and teach the second form because it allows a powerful kick in a very compact space (= much lower drag).
The knee bend version is easier to learn, because it requires mastery of fewer details and retains some similarity to the familiar flutter. Depending on how complicated this seems to be for the student, I may expect a novice to start with a knee bend version to get things roughly in place. As she gets more coordinated, more comfortable with the basic connection, she can refine it towards the more compact hip torque version. I’ve seen brand new swimmers pick this up immediately, and I’ve seen experienced swimmers get really frustrated with the basic connection. (I am patient with everyone, but they need to be patient with themselves too.)
By generating the press of the foot with the hip torque muscles the action ties directly into the rotation of the torso, rather than indirectly with the linear knee-bend version. Some simple drills we use can quickly demonstrate how a simple twist of the ankle can influence the turning of the hips, and since those hips are already trained to be unified with the torso, this turns the whole torso. A small action with a big effect. Swim a ways with this version and then a ways with that version and you’ll clearly feel how the two different version mostly rely upon a different set of muscles.
How Does That Work?
In the 2-Beat Kick, the legs are connected to the torso (rather than being a disconnected, like a second motor in the rear of the body), and timed in their movement to produce rotational thrust together, or torque. In this arcing version, rather than pushing back on the water, or straight down, the foot presses in an arcing path to provide a bit more leverage for assisting the torso rotation than it could otherwise. The leg movements remain connected to the torso movements, never breaking alignment – the legs remain an firmly connected extension of the torso, and in the moment of the kick, one leg just slightly flexes at the hip and knee (rather than bend) to press and create leverage for rotation with minimal additional drag. (Remember to keep the inner thighs touching).
You may go back and watch this video of me swimming again to see how streamline my legs remain, and how little the pressing action of the kick really is, while providing great assistance to the torso rotation. Notice the simplicity, notice the economy of this motion. There are no other movements of the feet or legs between the moments the torso rotates. Just one single switch of the feet in back to correspond to one single switch of the arms in front. The skate-side foot is reaching up to the surface behind, and by locking in place (in CBF) it resists over-rotation of the torso. So each rotation should end at a distinct point and then the body slides forward, just like an ice skater placing that skate on the ice and sliding forward on that plane. (I really like the name ‘Skate Position’ that Coach Terry gave to this streamline position because it is an inspiring analogy for what we want to achieve on each stroke.)
I admit that this brief article is not sufficient to show you all you may want to know about how to go from no kick or messy kick to the 2 Beat Kick. But hopefully it gives you some improved insight about how to work on it.
One Sequence Fits All?
Here are the main dimension of the kick that I will work with the swimmer to dial in:
- The foot position (between kicks)
- The timing of the press, which needs to adjust to the tempo of the stroke
- The pathway the feet follow through the kick
- The pressure of each kick – the rate and duration of that press needs to match the intensity of the stroke
I have been teaching this for many years and I’ve enjoyed being with other coach colleagues as they teach it, so I can learn and share notes. After testing a range of approaches, I’ve held onto a selection of drills and a long list of focal points that allow me to break this learning process down into small steps, as small as the student needs them to be, as we develop those dimensions of their kick.
However, I’ve never seen one fixed sequence of drills that has consistently worked to unlock this foot rhythm for everyone, or even most. I never quite know which drill or focal point may work better for any particular student until we try some. So, after getting to know my student while working on the fundamental skills, I make a judgment call as to which drills to use first, and then I just see whether those are helping make the connection. If not working so well, we’ll try a few more, or change the focal points to get closer to the way their brain needs to make this connection. Like I said before, some people just need more help than others to make this connection and it doesn’t necessarily matter how much swimming experience they have.
Part of the challenge here is that the less-coordinated student needs to be more patient with doing the rehearsal drills. Some people are so anxious to get that kick going in their whole stroke that they don’t spend enough time in simple drills to let their body get deeply familiar with the basic foot and hip connection. If I see the student moving too quickly to the intermediate drills and messing up a lot, its not likely the 2-Beat Kick will magically show up next when they try to conjure it up in whole stroke. I will guide them them back to easier drills to spend more time training the neuromuscular system in the basic connection. I will recommend that they work on the 2BK as a side project for a while, and urge them to be patient for a number of practices to until the basic rhythm in the simplest drills feels so easy to do, automatic even. Then they can gradually pull that rhythm into their whole stroke using some transitional drills I have taught them.
OK – I am not going to divide this into another part. You get the last of it now…
When your legs and torso make that connection you know you’ve got it. Suddenly, the whole body feels like it is unified. A single propulsive stroke now makes fluid sense from ankle to fingers as the wave flows the whole length of your body. And, you get another boost in acceleration with that wave on each stroke. Once the foot joins in with proper timing to the torso and arms, the reason for our insistence on a particular timing the arm switch becomes marvelously clear. People who do not swim with this arm timing may likely not find the 2BK very satisfying because the two arms are not coordinated together, so the foot is left to coordinate with one and conflict with another.
If you’ve worked on this 2 Beat Kick before and found it confusing or you don’t feel you’re body has the rhythm quite right yet, then be aware that its an advanced skill relying upon the fundamental skills to be in place first. It’s fairly complex, involving fine-motor control of your extremities to come into close-enough timing with the gross-motor control happening along the center line of your body. This is not easy, but its worth the effort to learn.
It may be that you may need to get a bit stronger or a bit more precise with those fundamental skills. You don’t need to stop playing with the 2BK, but realize that as the front of the body enjoys more stability, more coordination, the feet will have an easier time finding their new role.
If you can’t feel where your feet at while trying to kick them, you might step back and first work on just finding the counter-balanced foot position in each streamline moment, before thinking about any sort of kick or pressing action. Just slide from Superman to Skate Position and pigeon toe that Skate side foot, positioning it above and behind the other (feet stacked, thighs touching). The touching of your thighs will help you sense where your legs are at.
You might benefit from working on connecting just one foot to your hip rotation, on just one side of the body. Then work on the other side. After you can get each leg fall into rhythm separately, then try alternating left-right-left-right. For this you might get into Superman Position and just alternate (slowly) reaching a few inches forward with the press of a foot on the same side.
If you have the opportunity, it might be helpful to get a different coach to give you his/her particular way of teaching this. Their way of describing it, or their set of drills might work better to unlock the rhythm in your brain.
Sometimes a swimmer comes to me with an approximate 2-Beat Kick in place already and they are doing it quite unconsciously. When they ask me to help them with it, sometimes I have observed that calling their attention to their kick can actually mess it up! I apologize, but explain that until they can consciously control their kick, they can’t really make any improvements to it. So we spend a little time deconstructing their action, breaking it down into components so they can awaken their awareness and consciously relearn how to form and modify the kick intentionally. This then allows them to respond to feedback and make adjustments that will make it more effective at each particular speed they train at.
Once you get that foot connection approximately coordinated with the torso and arms in front, you are ready for the more enjoyable and complex and speed-inducing synchronization practice. That’s another topic!
You may view this entire series:
- Your Kick And Lower Back Pain
- Why Choose A 2-Beat Kick?
- Learning The 2-Beat Kick – Part 1
- Learning The 2-Beat Kick – Part 2
And, if you like this topic, you may view some posts I’ve written on this in the past: