In 2005, the first day I jumped into the pool and swam my first real lap, I had no idea how to produce an efficient swim stroke and the last thing on my mind was how my kick integrated with the rest of the movements of my body. My basic method was the same as most other “human swimmers”….just pull and claw until you get to other end of the pool, turn around and do it again. Brilliant! However, even after I found Total Immersion (in 2006 by typing something like “best swimming method for triathletes” into google), my kick still pretty much was neglected. I learned TI by watching one of the older videos (Freestyle Made Easy) and then going to the pool by myself and practicing the drills. At this point, I don’t remember how much the video talked about learning a two-beat kick, but it certainly wasn’t something that I even worked on in my first year or so. I just kind of let the kick happen and that is how it was until earlier this year. Obviously, that meant that whenever I helped someone to learn to swim the TI way, I also did not really teach the two-beat kick. Now, don’t get me wrong, my swimming improved dramatically without learning a two-beat kick. I have no complaints about the method by which I learned TI and I think it can help people learn to swim better with or without the two-beat kick.
However, since I have learned a proper two-beat kick, I have noticed pretty dramatic improvements in my swimming. Most of the improvement I notice is in the level of effort it takes to maintain a given speed. When the kick is integrated perfectly with your stroke and you are only kicking once per stroke, the energy savings is profound. This is important for any swimmer, in my opinion, but especially for the triathlete (which is about 90% of the people that I teach…actually probably 99%) because they have to bike and run after the swim.
So, for those of you that are saying “what the heck is a two-beat kick”, let me just stop for a minute and explain. A proper two-beat kick is one in which you kick with a “flick” of the toe as the opposite arm spears forward. To be clear, this means that your right foot would kick when your left arm spears forward and your right arm pulls back. Your left foot would kick when your right arm spears forward and your left arm pulls back. Only one kick occurs per stroke. To see this in action watch the video below where Terry Laughlin explains why the two-beat kick is essential.
Now, after all that introduction, I want to get to the real reason that I am writing this blog. Obviously, Terry’s video already explains why the two-beat kick is important and many of you may have understood that it was important before watching the video or reading this blog. However, what I really want to talk about is how and why I feel you should incorporate the two-beat kick into your early TI drills.
Often, in my experience, the two-beat kick is taught later in the drill progression in TI swimming. However, I have found much more success as a coach by incorporating the two-beat kick almost right from the start. Here is how I often teach the two-beat kick:
Step 1) Progress through the Superman Glide, Superman Flutter, Laser Lead Flutter, and skate drills along with sweet spot breathing with only a light kick to maintain momentum when necessary during the drills.
Step 2) Introduce two-beat kick when the student has become comfortable in the skate position and can flow from sweet spot breathing position to skate position and back. These are the two drills that I use (NOTE: I did not make these drills up and do not intend to take credit for them. I learned them from TI coaches Dave Cameron and Helenita Jacobs):
- SG to Skate: Start in Superman Glide and use a flick of the right foot (a low amplitude kick from the hip) to drive the left hip down and end in the skate position on the left side. Repeat for the right side using a kick with the left foot. I usually have my students do one at a time, stand up, and then do another (I do not recommend trying to go from one side to the other side because we haven’t taught switch drills at this point).
- SG extension: Start in Superman Glide and use a flick of the right foot to drive the left hip down and simply extend the left arm (don’t pull the right arm back or go fully into the skate position). In this drill, you can easily return right back to Superman Glide and do the other side without standing up. You are simply feeling the rotation and forward extension that is created by your kick.
NOTE: If the student does not seem to be able to get the feel for kicking with the opposite leg (as is often the case), you can try holding their ankles while in the Superman Glide position and doing the kick for them a couple of times. I simply tell them which foot I am going to kick for them, which hand to pull, and on what count I will do the kick. Often, if they didn’t feel the hip drive before, they do when I kick their leg at the right time for them and then they are able to recreate it themselves.
Step 3) Teach Spear Switches and Swing Switches with light kicking only to maintain momentum as necessary during the drills
Step 4) Integrate the two-beat kick into Spear Switch drills and Swing Switch drills by doing three or less switches using the kick to drive the opposite hip and spear the hand forward.
Step 5) Integrate the two-beat kick into regular swimming by doing mixed drills such as doing three spear switches as in step 4 followed by a breath and then three regular swim strokes focusing on using the kick to drive the opposite hip down on each stroke.
Step 6) When the student has progressed through all of the TI drills and is now swimming full lengths of the pool, use the two-beat kick as a focus point for several lengths during their training. It seems to be most helpful to describe it as using the kick to drive the opposite hip down.
Now, this is just my way of teaching the two-beat kick and it seems to work well. However, some of the drills work really well with some and not so well with others so you may find that different progressions of drills work for different people. One thing to keep in mind if you are a coach and are teaching Total Immersion is that it can be overwhelming enough just to learn the normal TI drills without trying to integrate the two-beat kick. If it seems like the student is getting overwhelmed and frustrated when you insert the two-beat kick into the drill progression, then that is probably a good sign that they are not ready for it. You may need to back off if they become overwhelmed and try again later in the lesson or on another lesson.
Even though it is quite possible to overwhelm the student by introducing the kick this early, I have found that it is still more effective than introducing it later when the student has learned the rest of the TI drills and has begun to find some serious improvements in their swimming. Why? Well, it seems that what happens is that they find such drastic improvements from their new head position, arm position, overall balance, and streamlining that they become less concerned about what their kick is doing so it is harder to get them to focus on it. From my own personal experience, when I focused on learning the two-beat kick myself earlier this year it felt like I was back at square one. Before that I was swimming smoothly and felt great in the water….then all of a sudden I was all messed up again trying to learn the kick. Most people do not want to feel as though they are losing the progress that they have made. So, I find that it is easier to introduce it back in the early stages when they are still just doing drills and aren’t worried about losing any progress (because they usually don’t feel like they have made any at that point). If they don’t get it or they get overwhelmed, just bring it back in again in the later stages and nothing is lost.
While this blog seems to be mostly directed at coaches who are teaching TI, it is also applicable to those of you that are TI swimmers. Maybe you learned TI a while ago but you never learned the two-beat kick or maybe you are currently learning TI through the videos and you haven’t tried the two-beat kick yet. If that is you, simply try out the steps that I mention above for learning the two-beat kick and see how they work for you. Just keep in mind that the steps above are not a complete guide to the Total Immersion drills or the Total Immersion Freestyle swimming technique. They are simply some steps for integrating the two-beat kick into the TI drills that you can find in the Perpetual Motion Freestyle DVD or some of the older TI DVDs. In other words, this blog assumes that you are familiar with the TI drills such as superman glide or laser lead flutter and is not intended to teach you how to do those drills. Also realize that you may feel like you are messing up your stroke and going back to square one….but, trust me, it is worth it when you get the two-beat kick down.
As a final note, since I am a relatively new TI coach, I would love to hear any feedback from other coaches on how they teach the two-beat kick and when they start incorporating it into the lessons. I would also love feedback from swimmers on how they learned the two-beat kick.