3 Ways to Safely Improve Your Underwaters

Freediver underwater diving with monofin during freediving competition in London UK
Photo Courtesy: Jean-Marc Kuffer (Jayhem)

By Brittany Oxley, Swimming World College Intern

If you were to ask the best swimmers in the world what the easiest way to get faster would be, all would respond the same — improve your underwaters. Underwater kicking is considered the fifth stroke of swimming and is also the fastest.

Take a look at the most elite athletes and pay attention to their underwater kicking. Not only do they reach 15m off of every turn, but also they do so very fast and efficiently. Research has proven that the best way to improve is by becoming a better kicker and staying under water as long as possible.

The Risk of Shallow Water Blackout

However there are dangers associated with hypoxic training. The month of June is considered “National Water Safety Month.”

Shallow Water Blackout is the biggest danger with hypoxic training. It is considered a silent killer. It is caused from extremely low oxygen levels in the brain combined with low levels of carbon dioxide. The two together can result in a swimmer hyperventilating, fainting and drowning. No matter how experienced the swimmer, this deadly killer could strike anyone.

Tom Griffiths, president and founder of Aquatic Safety Research, advises people to hold their breath underwater for less than 30 seconds at a time.

Michael Phelps has also brought awareness to the issue. In a 2014 public service announcement, Phelps said, “If shallow water blackout occurs, it’s often fatal. But through education and understanding, it can be 100 percent preventable.”

Some coaches and swimmers believe that if a swimmer could hold their breath underwater and kick as far as possible, it would result in being a better swimmer. But with Shallow Water Blackout being a possible danger of hypoxic training, what are the most efficient and best ways to improve your underwater kick?

1. Kick for Speed, Not Distance

Ryan Lochte

Photo Courtesy: FINA Doha 2014

Start out with kicking to 15 meters as fast and as hard as possible. After all, when you are at a meet, you’re going to want to kick fast, not slow, underwater. Race the people around you to see who can get to the 15 meter mark first. Once this becomes easier, try going for 25 yards, as this will make holding your breath for 15 meters seem easier and more natural. Even kicking to 25 yards under water will not cause you to have shallow water blackout. Griffiths recommends holding your breath for under 30 seconds, and a 25 can be done in under that amount of time.

2. Keep a Tight Core

Core training

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

The shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line. By having good bodyline and engaging your core, it will make your dolphin kick more efficient moving through the water. Your kick will become stronger, as your core helps generate power. It will also hold your shoulders still so that you stay in a straight line while kicking. Doing abdominal exercises before practice or even in your spare time will benefit your underwaters while sculpting a stronger core.

3. Vertical Kick


Photo Courtesy: California Athletics

By kicking vertically for a few minutes after practice each day, you will notice results. You can kick with a higher power for longer than kicking horizontally underwater. When kicking upright, it is easy to tell if you have a strong up-kick, but weak down-kick, or if you have a weak up-kick and a strong down-kick. Vertical kicking will help you learn how to keep your body in line and allow you to see what part of your kick could use improvement. For making this more challenging, try streamlining while kicking, or holding a weighted object above your head.


  1. Kara Guenther

    ?? “safely” yeah sure. We do underwaters at 7,220 ft. Samantha Zavala

  2. Samantha Zavala

    I know right ??? not safe at all but “what doesnt kill you makes you stronger”