I’ve run marathons, but I can’t kick worth sh*t

This is a guest post courtesy of Abbie Fish of RITTER Sports Performance. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of swimming. Abbie is a stroke mechanics guru and believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice!

Excuse my language (it is very inappropriate)–but it got your attention didn’t it? ?

How many times have you heard or said, “I can run for miles, but I can’t kick for one!”

On my end, this situation has happened more times than I can count. I’ve worked with many top level triathletes and marathon runners who struggle with Freestyle kicking, even though they spend hours on their legs outside the pool. Most world class triathletes (besides Andy Potts—who swam in college) come from a running or cycling background. Most of their training was based on land way before they ever set foot in the pool.

With that being said, the transition from land to water isn’t impossible. You are definitely able to be a fast runner and swimmer, but your lower body and specifically, your feet, need to be conditioned (well) in each element to set you up for success.

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Proportionally in most triathlons, the swimming leg is the shortest portion of the race. In an Ironman, you have 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 2.4-mile swim. 8 hours and 10 minutes for the 112-mile bike. And 6 hours and 30 minutes to complete the 26.2-mile run. Essentially, the swim leg is about equivalent to 1/4 of the time spent on the bike and 1/3 of the time spent on the run.

So yes to all those triathletes in the world, you don’t need to be training as much as the pool as you should on land BUT you do need to make sure your base-line conditioning level (with swimming) is high enough to sustain a potential 2 hour and 20 minute FAST swim.

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Most of the master swimmers, I’ve coached swim 3x a week for 1-hour. That’s equivalent to 3,000 yards per workout (on a 2-minute interval base). An entire Ironman swim, is 3,960 yards.

According to Runner’s World, an elite runner runs anywhere from 100-140 miles during their peak week(s) training for a marathon. That means these elite level marathoners are training 4-5x the distance of the run in an actual ironman race, per week.

Not only as these elite marathon runners more than quadrupling their distance run per week—most have a background in the sport already.

If you are trying to transition from land to water, the short answer is—you need to spend more time in the pool. Right now, if you are swimming an equivalent of 3,000 yards, 3x a week—you are barely doubling your distance of an Ironman swim.

Take it all one step further and think about how much of those 3,000 yards are actually related to kicking. Maybe 400-500 yards? BINGO—that’s my point!

Most marathon runners or triathletes do not spend enough time in the pool getting their base-line conditioning up with swimming—let alone kicking. Most time spent in the pool is swimming freestyle or pulling and “saving” up their legs for later training.

In order to swim fast, you need to kick fast. But you cannot kick fast, without training with a fast kick. I challenge any triathlete or runner reading this blog to increase the time they spend kicking in the pool over the next month, along with increasing the intensity of their kick sets. After the month is over, let me know if you see a difference in your kick speed. I can almost guarantee you will.

So to answer our final question, does running impede your Freestyle kick?

Anatomically, it strengthens some of the same muscle groups and a few opposing ones. Also, it flexes the foot in the opposite direction–Dorsiflexion, not Plantar flexion. Good News is this increase in strength in the same muscle groups helps produce a stronger Freestyle kick and outweighs the strength increase in the opposing muscle groups. So, that leaves us with the only one real issue with running and swimming—running can decrease your plantar flexibility.

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In conclusion, if make sure your ankle’s plantar flexion are in check (perform the line test from Part II every so often), plus you include in your daily routine: stretching your calves/ankles, foam rolling your shins, and kicking a lot more in the pool than you normally would–there is NO reason you can’t combat the effects of running in the pool. It is 100% possible to be a fast runner and kicker, but you must take the time to develop your kick speed (just like your run speed) and make sure your ankle’s stay loose in the process. Happy Kicking!

Want more from Abbie? Click here for 3 ways to Improve your Freestyle Catch.

One thought on “I’ve run marathons, but I can’t kick worth sh*t

  1. I do believe most triathletes could benefit from a little more kicking in their training routines (add fins and you have a perfect aerobic recovery kick).

    However, especially in Ironman events the importance may not be as big. The addition of the wetsuit in those events those make the bigger part of the swim similar to a pulling set in training and you really do wanna keep those legs fresh for the road. A strong and efficient kick (which does need practice) for positioning at the start as well as position changes or breakaways is hugely important.

    Olympic distance or sprint events are a different beast on their own. And most likely the level of your performance will influence the importance of improving your overall kicking skills as well (most Age Group athletes should probably spend more times on this than Pros).

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