6 Ways To Develop A Powerful Front Crawl Leg Kick

Front Crawl Leg Kick

Front crawl leg kick is one of the first things we’re taught when learning to swim as a child. Try and think back to your first ever swimming lesson, sat on the side of the pool, splashing your legs in the water, while the teacher yells “straight legs and pointy toes” you get the idea…

So, if  front crawl kick is such a basic skill, why do professional swimmers practice it day in and day out? Well, although it’s a basic skill, developing a fast and powerful kick is much more challenging.

Let us take a look at the basics of the front crawl kicking action and how it fits in with the arm stroke and breathing patterns, then we’ll show you six ways to take your kicking to the next level.

Two Phases to the Front Crawl Kick

Phase 1 – The Downbeat

The downbeat provides the majority of the power and the it’s the most propulsive phase of the leg kick. It’s not the only part of the kick, but it’s the most important part, responsible for driving you through the water.

How to perform the downbeat?

It starts with hip flexion, as you push your leg downwards the angle of the hip decreases and your thigh starts to straighten. Your knee will naturally flex a little too, but try to limit too much knee bending (we’ll cover this in more detail later). As the hip extends and the thigh straightens the lower leg needs to catch up so the knee extends too and the full leg straightens. The foot and ankle will naturally extend with the pressure from the water, providing the propulsion for the stroke. At the end of the downbeat your leg should be fully straight and at it’s lowest point in the water.

Phase 2 – The Upbeat

Once the downbeat has been completed, you need to initiate an upward movement to bring the leg back to the surface of the water and get ready for the next downbeat. The upbeat will provide a little bit of propulsion, so bare that in mind when practising, work on the upbeat as well as the downbeat.

How to perform the upbeat?

The pressure from the water will naturally keep the knee straight and cause your ankle to flex. The main objective is to use the glute and hamstring muscles to get the leg back to the surface of the water. The higher the hips are in the water, the less the knee should have to bend to get the foot into the top position.

Muscles Used in the Front Crawl Kick

The driving force behind the front crawl leg kick are all of the major muscles in the legs. That’s the glutes, the quads and the hamstrings and calves. These muscles combine to generate power from the hip that transfers down the leg to the feet, to propel you through the water.

Now that we have an idea about how to perform the action. Let’s take a look at 6 ways to improve the power and efficiency of your front crawl kick.

 1. Increase Your Kick Rate

The front crawl leg kick is continuous, but the rate or speed depends on how dominant you want your kick to be in relation to your arm stroke. You can either use a 2, 4 or 6 beat leg kick, per double arm cycle, but don’t worry about counting, you’ll find the right range. Just go with what feels natural.

 2. Master Rotation Kicking Drills

To build a strong front crawl kick it’s important to practise all 3 kick positions, not just kicking on the front, but on both sides too. After all, the body rotates from side to side as you swim along and the direction of the kick changes. The legs generally keep in line with the body position to provide balance and assist the natural rotation of the stroke.

 3. Practice Isolation Kicking

Perfecting your leg kick will make you become a more efficient overall swimmer. If you’ve already mastered the basic technique we recommend some isolated kicking drills. Improving your leg strength will in turn increase your kicking power output to take your swimming to the next level.

4. Limit Your Knee Bend

The majority of the drive in the front crawl leg kick comes from your hip, so there’s no need for too much movement at the knee joint. Bending the knee too much is common, especially amongst beginner swimmers. Excessive knee bend will cause your feet to come up towards your bottom and you’ll essentially start moving yourself backwards in the water.

 5. Control Your Kick Depth

Depth of the kick is important, around 16 to 20 inches is perfect, but don’t worry too much about the numbers, just try to keep the kick small and controlled. A large kick can cause over rotation, loss of balance and a scissor action, which you want to try and avoid. The larger the kicking action, the more water you’ll have to move, making your kick far less efficient. Keeping your kick shallow maintains efficiency, make sure your ankles only just break the surface.

6. Increase Your Ankle Flexibility

As well keeping your kick shallow on a vertical plane, you also want to keep your feet close together, side by side, almost touching each other. The toes are angled slightly inwards to improve streamlining and maximise the range of movement at the ankle joint. Ankles need to be ‘soft’ with toes pointed throughout the downwards phase.

Kicking For Triathletes

The main objective for swimming in a Triathlon is to save your legs for the bike and run, so with that in mind, you’ll probably be using your arms and shoulders more. But, how does the kicking style change for a Triathlete compared to a pool swimmer?

Legs Sinking?

If you find that your legs are sinking it’s probably caused by either head lifting, too much rotation, or poor body position. Improving your leg kick isn’t necessarily going to cure the problem so it might be worth considering looking at the breathing aspects of the stroke to overcome the issue.