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The Triathlete Blueprint newsletter #21-Stop Sinking Legs—Guidelines for Better Leg Kicks

Updated: Apr 8

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Let's discuss a common struggle for many: leg kicks in freestyle swimming. You might be asking yourself, "Why do I need to kick when I have these powerful arms to pull me through the water?" Stick around, and I'll explain why your legs are more than just built-in flotation devices.

Avoid Sinking Legs: Don’t Be the Titanic

First things first: sinking legs act like anchors. You wouldn't want to swim with an anchor, would you? Improve your kicks, and you'll feel like a car without the handbrake engaged.

Better Kicks with Fins

Put on some fins—not to look like Aquaman or the Little Mermaid, but to get the feel of an efficient kick. Let the fins guide your legs and help you understand the movement. Don't force them; instead, let them lead the way. You'll find that a good freestyle kick is similar to a dolphin kick, but done one leg at a time. Bonus: fins can also enhance your ankle's range of motion, a hidden benefit for better kicks.

Not Too Wide, Not Too Tight

A kick that's too wide is like trying to walk in clown shoes; it's inefficient and looks odd. Keep your kicks narrow and streamlined. Imagine observing yourself swimming from an underwater camera; you'll want your legs to be hidden behind you.

Ankles: The Secret Sauce

Relax those ankles! You're not kicking a soccer ball. Think of your ankles as flippers. If your ankle flexibility is questionable, use fins as drills, as mentioned earlier, and also consider stretching them on dry land. Kneel with your feet facing down and slowly sit back onto your heels until you feel the stretch in your ankles. Hold for 6-10 seconds and repeat 10-20 times. Progression: aim for longer stretching time and/or increase the stretch by sitting further back onto your heels.

Head Positions & Late Breathing

Sometimes a poor kick technique is the collateral victim of incorrect head positioning. If your head is too high, your legs will sink. Also, if your breathing technique is flawed, such as having late timing, it may lead you to compensate by spreading your legs for balance. So pay attention to maintaining a streamlined head position and work on your breathing technique. Doing so might help bring your legs back into alignment.

Do More Kicks to Do Less

It sounds ironic, but the more efficient your kicks, the less you'll have to rely on them for propulsion. You can then focus on your arm strokes, saving leg strength for biking and running. As a triathlete, your swim should not only be fast but also efficient, as you still have to bike and run afterwards. Kicking too much can drain a lot of energy if you're not accustomed to it. Therefore, train your kicks to make the few you do need as useful and efficient as possible.

The Wipe Down & Up Technique

You often hear that kicks start with hip movement. I prefer to explain it as an up-and-down wiping movement, similar to a dolphin kick. The most crucial part is the downward movement, where the tibia and the tops of your feet keep your legs from sinking and propel you forward. Two common mistakes are keeping your legs too straight and not bending your knees for the downward wipe. Additionally, your feet should point backward in an extended "ballerina" position. Bonus tip: Some coaches advise keeping your feet below the surface, but I recommend allowing your ankles to touch the surface as a way to ensure your legs are aligned with the rest of your body.

Stay Smooth

Your main propelling forces should be your feet and legs, not stiff wooden planks. You don't need to kick frantically to move forward; the more relaxed you are, the better. Stiff legs will only drag you down.


Mastering leg kicks in freestyle swimming can seem overwhelming, but it's essential for optimizing performance—especially for beginners triathletes with no swimming background. From choosing the right equipment like fins, to focusing on technique and ankle flexibility, each element plays a crucial role. Address your head position and breathing to keep your legs from dancing Tango, and remember, efficiency is key. By investing a bit of time in improving your kicks, paradoxically you'll find that you can reserve more energy for the biking and running stages of your triathlon. In short, better kicks lead to a more balanced and efficient triathlon performance.

Thank you for reading and see you next week!


Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:

1. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.

2. If you are looking for an online coaching service check here.

3. if you are in the Helsinki area and looking for the best training group check here


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