Focusing on the Fifth Stroke: The Underwater Dolphin Kick

Jun 22, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Swimmer in warm up pool before the start of the preliminary heats at the George F. Haines International Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

By Nicole Farina, Swimming World College Intern.

I grew up on a swim team with a coach who ingrained “four underwater dolphin kicks off of every wall” into my mind. As my swimming developed over the years, my body changed, my strokes changed, but my underwaters never seemed to. It’s like they’re a part of me that I’ll just never be able to take out of my swimming.

I recognize not everyone grew up with a coach like mine and had the same mindset as me. But, that’s okay. If dolphin kicks weren’t a main focus of yours in age group or high school, it’s never too late to make it one. And that’s one of the true beauties of swimming.

We’ve all seen Michael Phelps and Tom Shields perform their unreal underwater kicks that leave us in awe. The bad news is we can’t all be Phelps and Shields. They’re on a different level than most swimmers.

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Photo Courtesy: Agence France-Presse

But with that being said, look at the top finishers not just at the Olympics, but in the Olympics Trials, at NCAA’s, and even at your conference championship meet. They may be no Phelps or Shields, but odds are, they have a killer underwater dolphin kick as well.

That’s the good news. You don’t have to be a superstar Olympian to focus on, improve and execute your “fifth stroke,” as so many call underwater dolphin kicks. All it takes is a bit of determination, some extra time, and a little heart.

If you’re still wondering why exactly you should be focusing on them, here’s your answer.

Many target underwater dolphin kicks to only pertain to butterfly events. But they’ve been proved wrong time and time again as backstrokers, freestylers, and IM’ers of all distances come together to use this fifth stroke to their advantage. The more success that’s come from the use of underwater kicks, the more widely accepted it’s become, and the more it’s range of use in events have widened.

That’s right, having strong underwater dolphin kicks can help your 50 free just as much as your mile. Short course or long course, yards or meters, they give you that extra push that your swimming can’t always give you.

After all, when you push off the wall on your turns, that’s the fastest you will go in the water. We all know this, of course, since every one of our swim coaches has told us this fun little fact sometime during our swimming career.

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

But the trick here is to maintain that speed you get coming off of that wall, and hold onto it. Don’t let it slip. Use it to drive your breakout so you can let it drive the rest of your race.

Obviously, strong underwaters are key during a big championship-level race. But I’ll let you in on a secret–they’re just as important during your non-taper races, too.

Whether you’re feeling sluggish in the water or are just having an off day of racing, your underwaters can redeem you during a tough race. Maintain that quick kicking speed off of the wall for as long as you can to help boost your swimming speed if you’re struggling. It’s a lifesaver, especially in longer events. Like I was once told, the more time you spend underwater, the less time you have to swim!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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