FINIS Tip Of The Week: The Fifth Stroke


Welcome to the “FINIS Tip of the Week.” Swimming World will be bringing you a topic that we’ll explore with drills and concepts for you to implement with your team on a regular basis. While certain weeks may be more appropriate for specific levels of swimming (club, high school, college, or masters), each tip is meant to be flexible for your needs and inclusive for all levels of swimming.

The tip for this week focuses on developing the ever important “fifth stroke”: underwater dolphin kick! Underwater kicking has evolved to become an essential part of almost any race, short course or long course, and has become one more skill that every swimmer should be working on each day in practice. The tips presented here are ways to refine your underwater dolphin kick and are considerations to keep in mind when applying this skill to your race plan.

Maintain Kick Tempo Through Breakout…

You want to be maintaining your kick tempo through your breakout so that you are carrying speed through your first stroke. Think about decreasing the amplitude of your kick as you approach the surface so that your kicks are smaller but still at the same tempo, which should help you focus on accelerating through your breakout stroke.

A great way to play with this is to grab a tempo trainer (an ideal kick tempo is around .4) and play around with holding a certain number of kicks off of the walls on short rest. For example, a set of 20 x 25’s with 8 fast dolphin kicks at .4 tempo on :30.

Stable Hips And Core…

While dolphin kicking undeniably involves some degree of whole body undulation, the main propulsion from the dolphin kick ultimately comes from the downward snap of your legs. In order to set up for a powerful down kick, your core needs to be engaged and your hips need to be controlled to provide a stable base for your dolphin kick.

More up and down movement in your hips does not mean you will have a bigger or stronger kick. Rather, think of locking the core in and driving the hips forward with each down kick to get set yourself up to maintain a fast tempo with a focus on what is actually going to propel you through the water.

Know Your Strengths…

While underwater kicking is so important now in swimming, that doesn’t mean that every person should be going the full 15 meters off of every wall. What is best for one swimmer is not going to be best for another, and figuring out what is going to be best largely requires you to play to each person’s individual strengths.

Whether they are taking 12 dolphin kicks off the walls or just 3 dolphin kicks off the wall, every swimmer in your program can benefit from having a plan for their dolphin kicks in a race and practicing them every day. Just like turns and breakouts, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every day to work on improving your underwater kicks. Happy swimming!

All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.